It’s hot in New Orleans. Summer, which officially arrived last Thursday, did what she normally does–arrived in mid-May and threw a blanket over New Orleans and made herself at home like she owned it.
A group of youth and sponsors from Faith Baptist Church of Texarkana, Arkansas, are doing the summer camp at Highland Baptist Church this week. While spending Tuesday morning drawing all the kids, I said to one of them, “Good thing you’re Southerners. You know about hot weather.” He said, “Yeah…but this is something else.”
Yes, it is. It’s called the humidity.
When we moved to this city to attend seminary over 40 years ago, one of the first things Margaret and I did was buy an air-conditioner. We’d managed in Birmingham, Alabama, with only a window fan, but it was “something else” down here.
The Wednesday pastors meeting welcomed 25 today, about normal for the summer months. Thuong Le of the Vietnamese Baptist Church just returned from 2 months in his home country, teaching preachers, and brought with him a minister who is going to establish a work in New Orleans East where so many Vietnamese live. Pastor Le said, “After his initial 3 months are up, we hope to have found the finances to support him so he can continue the work.”
(As always, for a complete account of the pastors meeting, go to www.bagnola.org where administrative assistant Lynn Gehrmann posts her notes.)
“Since we’ve been taking visiting church groups into New Orleans and the lower parishes,” Rudy and Rose French reported, “we have felt that we need to be knocking on doors in our own neighborhood of Norco.” Rose told us, “The problem was what to use to get people to open their doors and talk to us.” She thought of the baskets of toiletries and household items they’ve been distributing in St. Bernard Parish–and that’s where Rudy was today–and said, “The people of Norco did not have a lot of hurricane damage, so they don’t need that. They needed something else.” So she asked the Lord.
“Flashlights,” she said. “Everyone down here needs a flashlight for hurricanes. You lose power and can’t see a thing. It’s part of a hurricane kit, or should be.” She and Rudy headed for the home supply store and found good lights for $3 each. She made up stickers for the flashlights identifying the name, address, and pastor of the church, adding, “When we work in other parishes, we always put the nearest Baptist church name and its pastor on the baskets so they’ll know who to contact. So we did it with the flashlights too.” With a marker, she wrote “John 3:16” and “God loves you.”
Unfortunately, Rose did not have a chance to test the market with the flashlights. She and Rudy had to drive to Canada for another series of his health treatments. So, minister of education Kenneth Tew took over. Two Sundays ago, when I preached for FBC Norco, Ken told the people he was picking up a team of seven flying in from Denver that night. Five were Chinese Americans. During the week, Ken explained they would be going out into the neighborhood around the church with the flashlights sharing their faith. He taught them how, but it was clear that these young people were scared out of their minds. They knocked on doors and when the evening was over, had led two people to faith in Christ.
The Frenches returned from Canada late Sunday night. Rudy was at our early Monday morning meeting of the Unlimited Partnership at the seminary, and Rose made the Wednesday pastors meeting. She said, “I can’t wait to get into the neighborhood with the flashlights and tell people about the Light of the World, and see what God wants to do.”
“We have eight ready to be baptized,” said Jeffery Friend of Suburban Baptist Church. “We had two join the church a week ago and three this past Sunday.” We offered to lend the church the association’s portable baptistry. He said, “We have a baptistry at the church, but the heater is broken. I told the church it makes no difference. I said, ‘I’m from Mississippi. You don’t heat the creek!'”
Becky Hughes said, “I need to tell you something that Kenneth Foy taught me.” Now, Kenneth Foy is a counselor and until Katrina was pastor of New Life Baptist Mission near the seminary. Becky is the pianist at Riverside BC in River Ridge and married to Matthew, the minister of music. She said, “We were talking about working to improve the relationship of blacks and whites, and he said something I’ll never forget. ‘When the Lord tells you something, don’t think too much about it. Just go do it.'”
Becky and Matthew were on a long drive into Florida with children Levi and MacKenzie, heading to Grandma’s house. Just before they left, a church member said, “The Lord said to give you this,” handing her some money for gas. After a long morning on the highway, the family stopped at a rest area in Florida and stretched their legs.
“I noticed this black lady with two little children. She looked like she was having a tough time of it. We stayed around the rest stop a little longer than we usually do, and I noticed this lady was parked next to our van, and she was also lingering. That’s when the Holy Spirit told me to give her twenty dollars of the money the friend back home had given me. I argued with the Lord for a moment. Then I noticed something else.”
Becky said, “She was driving a nice automobile, much nicer than our van. From all appearances, she was well off and did not need my twenty dollars. And yet, I knew the Lord was telling me to do this. That’s when I remembered what Kenneth Foy had said–when the Holy Spirit gives you instructions, don’t spend too much time thinking about it; just go do it. So I walked over to her car.”
“I knocked at the window and said, ‘You’re probably going to think I’m crazy and sometimes I am, but the Lord just told me to come over and give you this twenty dollar bill.”
Becky said, “The woman didn’t say a thing. She just dropped her head onto the steering wheel and sat there a moment. Then she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘You have no idea what I’m going through. I just this morning decided I had to leave my husband. I took the children and what we can fit in the van and we’re headed to my parents’ home in Florida. But I’ve been so afraid and wondering how we were going to make it and I’ve been praying. Now the Lord sends you to me. He is telling me that He is with me. We’re going to be all right.”
I glanced at Ken Foy as Becky was speaking; he was beaming. Any of us feel so rewarded when someone takes a word we taught and sees it work in real life. Becky said, “Just looking at her expensive car and thinking that she probably has plenty of money–I was about to talk myself out of obeying the Lord.”
I said, “This business about not thinking about it too much reminds me of a line from Ecclesiastes 11. ‘He who watches the wind will not sow and he who observes the clouds will not reap.’ You can always find an excuse to get out of doing your job.”
Recently, we reported here that the parish council in St. Bernard has passed a ruling calling for the first of their FEMA trailer parks to be shut down by late August and the others by next Spring. Parish President Junior Rodriguez has vetoed the measure, ending that matter for the time being. He says the residents of the 600 trailers need more time to make plans for other living arrangements. Everyone down there agrees people need to be moving into permanent housing, and they want these reminders of the crisis-days removed as soon as feasible. The only question is how and when.
In affluent Jefferson Parish, another debate is raging. The Parish Council is adopting a proposal by Louis Congemi to outlaw all the “taco trucks” seen around the community. With the influx of thousands of Mexican laborers to help rebuild New Orleans, these portable eateries have multiplied and apparently are doing a good business. Congemi, the former mayor of Kenner, says these trucks are no longer needed and are like the blue-roofs on houses in that they were needed at one time, but now that things are almost back to normal, ought to be gone.
A hue and cry has gone up from much of the community. “It smacks of discrimination,” some say, and my opinion is that’s hard to argue with. Only the poor Mexican worker dines at these meals-on-wheels, and they have no votes. (To be precise, the council is requiring that all such food-trucks have permanent rest rooms available for their customers. Which ain’t likely to happen, unless a second truck follows the first one, carrying two port-o-johns.) Critics are calling attention to the snow-cone and ice-cream shacks all over the area as well as the sidewalk hot-doggeries, none of which are required to have such accommodations.
Meanwhile, Orleans Parish, still light years away from normalcy, is welcoming the trucks and the Mexican workers.
One last bit of news. We’ve reported here that the Road Home program which is doling out billions of dollars of federal money to residents in order to rebuild hurricane-damaged houses is going to come up several billion dollars short. Our leaders have been appealing to Congress to make up the difference. Washingtonians have been sending word to our people that Louisiana needs to make up a sizeable amount of the money itself, and thus show Congress its good faith. Tuesday’s Times-Picayune reports that the governor and leaders of various state programs have found $1 billion in state money which will be diverted to the LRA program. This means the ball is back in Congress’ court now.
I finally gave in and went high-speed for my computer. I’ve sat here patiently night after night waiting for the dial-up and then all the labyrinth of clicks in order to get into this website. The other evening my granddaughter Abby sat at the computer in order to read what her grandpa had written about her. I showed her what to do. As the dialing began, she said, “What is that sound?” and I thought, “It’s the sound of the 1950’s–rotary phones! Time to upgrade.” So, the next night at suppertime when a sales person from my telephone company called offering a good deal for high-speed, I gave in. When the package arrived, Abby’s sweet mama Julie came over and installed it.
I’m sort of a family project, you might say. Son Marty does the webpage and all the rest of the family reads it and guides me along. I am most blessed.
It’s something else, if you ask me.