Last Sunday morning Pastor Bobby Burt told the First Baptist Church of LaPlace about a silver smelter who was skimming the impurities off the top of the hot metal. Someone asked, “How do you know when you’re through, when it’s finished?” He said, “When I can see my face reflecting in the surface.” (II Corinthians 3:18 came to mind.)
FOR THOSE PLANNING TO COME HELP RESTORE THIS CITY
On Thursday, Freddie Arnold and I sat down with three of our North American Mission Board missionaries for some planning. Larry Miguez heads the Rachel Sims Center and the Carver Center in the inner city; Toby Pitman leads our work with the Brantley Center, just off Canal Street, normally a place for the homeless, but either there are no homeless in the city right now or hundreds of thousands are homeless–take your pick–so the center is being diverted to our use; and Terry Henderson, who heads Disaster Relief work for all of Southern Baptists. Since these centers, and the Friendship House too, have lost their clientele at the present, they are making themselves available for mission groups coming to help rebuild this city.
Here’s what came out of the meeting. This will be of interest to you only if you plan to bring volunteers this way anytime in the next 12 months.
For trained disaster relief groups coming to the city, contact Larry Miguez (504/891-2578) to make arrangements for a place for the group to stay. He will be able to schedule you for one of the centers, and give details on the situation, what to bring with you, the plans, etc. The work in Orleans Parish is going to require very specific kinds of clothing and preparation. (We think the same regulations will hold for St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes.)
For those bringing non-trained volunteers (such as your typical group of church members who want to come help for a few days), contact Aaron Arledge at 504/235-6462. Aaron is associate director of the Baptist collegiate ministry at Tulane University, helping Keith Cating oversee the student work on a half-dozen campuses throughout New Orleans. Right now, there are no college students; at least, none in school. So, Aaron has been reassigned to help us. He and Freddie and I will be working out procedures for lodging your group with local churches (sleeping on the floors of sanctuaries or fellowship halls) and getting into the neighborhoods to work. If your group falls into this category (that is, untrained by SBC disaster relief instructors), give us a couple of weeks before calling Aaron. The work in Jefferson Parish (Metairie, Kenner, etc) will not be as strict on the clothing, masks, etc., which volunteers must wear, but there are precautions you’ll need to take, particularly against mold spores which are everywhere.
Anyone with respiratory problems–or even potential ones–should not be planning on coming this way anytime soon.
By the way, Aaron Arledge just got married, so congratulate him. And pray for his bride. (smile)
Bear in mind there is still no power and water in 80% of New Orleans. Vast neighborhoods lie dead, with residents still not returned and those who have undecided on whether to rebuild or bulldoze or walk away. We expect some who are opting to walk away and not come back will change their minds as weeks go by and they give this further thought. We think they will see this as do-able. That’s when they’ll be ready for our help.
Meanwhile, the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, from their new location at 5290 Canal Boulevard, is establishing a food/water/helps distribution center for anyone in the area. Similar work continues at a number of churches, including FBC Westwego, Calvary, Luling and West St. Charles on the West Bank, and Riverside, Kenner, Highland, and Metairie churches on the East Bank. Several are beginning to wind down the food and meals, and transition to longterm volunteer support.
ON THE RACIAL SITUATION WITH OUR CHURCHES
In a recent “log,” I may have left the wrong impression. I was talking about the prejudice some African-Americans have about the Southern Baptist Convention, seeing it as all-white, when we have hundreds of A-A congregations throughout the SBC. We have 80 such churches in Louisiana and perhaps 25 in our Greater New Orleans Association. But that’s not the whole story.
A few years ago, when I was pastoring the First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the New Orleans airport, we started three new missions. One was in a trailer park the other side of the airport, one was led by Luis Arellano, met in our youth center, and focused on Hispanics, and the third was led by Carlton Morris, met in a small house on the back of our church property, and was directed toward African-Americans. In announcing this to the congregation and enlisting their prayer support, I called the last one an African-American mission. That week, some of the members of our church who are African-American sent word to me. “Are you suggesting we move to the new church?” Wow. I reacted quickly. Absolutely not. It just had not occurred to me how that was coming across.
Most of our Southern Baptist congregations throughout this area include a number of ethnicities in their membership. We have African-Americans, Spanish from throughout Central and South America, and a sprinkling of others. The old lines and categories do not hold the way they used to. Those of us in the 1940 generation are having to learn new ways of looking at things. Which is good. Just uphill.
One of our African-American pastors posted a note at the end of a recent “log,” in which he told of someone finding his church’s website, seeing that he was Black and offering to assist them in their recovery. All was going well until the fellow discovered the church was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He could not back out of his commitment and end that conversation fast enough. The pastor said to me, “I’ve been Southern Baptist all my adult life.” In fact, he was a member of the First Baptist Church of Kenner over 20 years ago when Ron Herrod was pastor.
To be fair, some Black pastors fear that others have transferred their membership from traditional African-American denominations to the SBC because this is where the money is. Our leaders of all races are working hard to prevent this from happening and to bless the other denominations. I know for a fact some of our Southern Baptist state conventions are sending money to National Baptists (a major group of Black churches) to assist their pastors and churches in the storm-affected area.
Prejudice is all around. It knows no boundaries, pops up when we least expect it, and undermines all we do to show the love of Jesus Christ.
When C. S. Lewis was about 10 years old, he announced to his father, “I think I am prejudiced against the French.” His dad said, “Why are you prejudiced against them?” The child said, “I don’t know. If I knew, it wouldn’t be a prejudice.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
SIGNS OF LIFE IN THE CITY
Friday morning, my son Neil and I spent 3 hours driving into New Orleans. He had not seen any of the devastation; in short order, he saw enough for a lifetime. We drove down Elysian Fields Avenue, Franklin Avenue, around Gentilly, and then downtown, the length of Magazine Street and home. Some of the darkest, deadest neighborhoods are beginning to stir. Piles of trash on the sidewalk indicate someone is cleaning out the soiled innards of those homes. Neil said a fellow working with the disposal of the thousands of refrigerators was quoted as mourning over each one. “A family went to the store, they shopped around, and bought each one of these appliances. It sat in their kitchen and they lived out of it. Now, it’s out here and ruined. It’s really sad.” How much more the homes in these neighborhoods, each one representing a broken heart and lots of tears. Say all you want to about “it’s just stuff,” but it’s more than that. It was the the furnishings of their home, containers of memories, investments of their hard-earned income.
What a pleasure to see Magazine Street looking clean and busy. Shops were open, streets were clear, and people were everywhere. Neil said, “Let’s find a cafe and throw them some business.” After checking out the blown bell tower in Valence Street Baptist Church (it’s being repaired by Pastor Gene Lee of Bridge City church) and the halfway finished Global Maritime Port Ministry Center on Tchoupitoulas Street (volunteer workers were all over it), we wound our way back to something called simply “Diner,” at Magazine and Louisiana. The waitress said, “All we’re serving is eggs and bacon or sausage and pancakes. Want that?” Sure. It was terrific. The coffee was strong enough to walk outside on its own. “Six dollars each,” she said at the end. A bargain. We tipped her well. Her t-shirt bore the warning: “God knows when you don’t tip.” I like to think He sees when we do and do it right. My daughter used to wait tables for Shoney’s; to this day, I tip for her.
We have company coming this weekend. The director of missions for a large city in the Northeast is spending the weekend with us. I’ll spend Saturday giving him pretty much the same tour Neil got Friday. Sunday night, the minister of missions of a Nashville area church arrives, and Freddie Arnold spends the night with us. Those two will get the air mattresses and their choice of the living room floor, den floor, kitchen floor, etc. And in the best tradition of boarding houses everywhere, they will share the one bathroom. Ought to be fun.
Several times a week, people are contacting us to find the names of people in need in our area, pastors with children, ministers who lost a car and would like to receive one, that sort of thing. My job is being a conduit. Connecting those with something to give with those who desperately need it. I love this role.
I think the job description for the rest of my life has been established: A conduit for God’s blessings. I’ll take that in a heartbeat.