My mother sent us a copy of the recent “Daily Mountain Eagle” from Jasper, Alabama, with a large write-up about her and Dad. The headline: “Retired miner, 94, and his wife have lived and loved through almost a century of hard times.” Writer Lona Vines calls mom “a fiesty 90 year old who still cooks a full course dinner for her family at the noon hour.” (Mom tried not to be offended; she won’t be 90 until July 14.) Mom and Dad were married March 3, 1934, which means they are about to celebrate 72 years. The article says, “At 22, Carl asked for the hand of Lois Kilgore, a sweet, yet lively young woman he had met in church. Her father wrote a note to the judge giving his permission for the not quite-18-year-old to pledge her heart to McKeever. He has kept that note for 72 years.”
((Want to write them a note of congratulations? Carl and Lois McKeever. 191 County Road 101. Nauvoo, Alabama 35578. Thank you.))
Monday’s news. Labor shortages are crippling local shipbuilders. Bollinger Shipyards has canceled a $700 million contract it worked years to get, then took a pass on a $150 million job because high wages and scarce employees meant the company could not turn a profit.
A group of congressmen came to town Sunday and toured the ugliness Katrina inflicted on the city. One of them, Westmoreland of Georgia, said he has often been to New Orleans in better times, but since the storm his image of the city was formed by our crooked politicians, daredevil looters, and absentee cops. Over the weekend, he saw the city as it is, and met a group of leaders who call themselves Women of the Storm who have changed his opinion. “All we’d seen in Washington and on TV,” he said, “were people who did not give a good representation of what was going on down here.” He says he voted against the Baker bill recently, which would have created a buyout fund of $52 billion because it was an invitation to fraud.
Wednesday’s editorial cartoon fits here. Cartoonist Steve Kelley has Uncle Sam telling a guy, “I paid twice what I should have for blue roofs.” “And blew $900 million on the wrong type of trailers.” “Just storing them is costing another $25,000 a month.” The listener says, “Why didn’t you send the money directly to our state?” Uncle Sam answers, “Everyone knows you would have mismanaged it.”
Monday’s work. Freddie Arnold was in meetings in Alexandria all day Monday and Tuesday with disaster relief leaders, assessing and planning. I had an easier job. I’d spent Sunday night in Natchitoches with friends there–finally arriving through the icy highways at 11 pm after speaking that evening in Doyline–and had Monday breakfast with leaders of the First Baptist Church who are committed to helping us rebuild New Orleans. Then I drove to Alexandria, ran some errands, ate a late lunch/early dinner, and retired early.
Tuesday’s news. The governor presented her plan to help owners of flood-damaged houses with grants of up to $150,000 at a total cost of $7.5 billion. The catch is that it favors home-owners who choose to remain in the city rather than relocating out of the area. People are yelling to high heaven about that. “We are Americans and this is our tax money and we have a right to it.”
Front page says the reason Mississippi is treated so well by Congress is the influence of Governor Haley Barbour, who knows every Republican in Washington, where he used to be GOP national chairman. Democrats in the nation’s capitol say our governor was treated “less graciously.” (From all I hear, Mississippians on the Gulf Coast believe New Orleans is getting all the attention.)
The Corps of Engineers announces that our levees will be in place and working come June 1, the beginning of the hurricane season.
City Councilman Oliver Thomas says displaced residents of public housing who are not willing to go to work to help rebuild the city should not return. “We don’t need soap opera watchers right now,” he said. “We’re going to target the people who are going to work.” People in the audience voiced agreement, as did several other members of the council. Only in New Orleans would that be news. We’ve been a welfare city for so long.
Homeowners’ insurance rising by 30%. The main post office in New Orleans opened today for the first time since Katrina. Three people have been killed in recent days by police in our part of the world trying to immobilize them with Tasers. Four in Jefferson Parish alone since the Tasers were introduced less than 2 years ago. It’s 50,000 volts; why are we surprised?
Tuesday’s work. While Freddie continued his disaster relief meetings, I ran by to welcome the new editor of the Baptist Message, our denominational weekly in Louisiana. Kelly Boggs and I met last summer in Nashville at the Baptist Press booth where I was sketching people and I worked on him a bit, trying to capture those cavernous dimples. He’s a terrific guy and we are blessed to have him in the state. We in the bayou country are grateful that he and managing editor Karen Willoughby pledge to give on-going in-depth coverage of the rebuilding of this city. Later in the day, Kelly told me this week’s paper was just off the press and loaded me down with two stacks to pass out to our people at the Wednesday pastors meeting in LaPlace. This issue features a lot of stories of our New Orleans pastors, people, and churches. They had emblazoned across the front a quote from Anthony Pierce, one of our pastors: “It doesn’t amaze me anymore what God can do but it never ceases to amaze me how God gets the job done.”
At noon, Freddie and I joined with all the directors of missions in the state for our quarterly gathering at the associational office in Pineville. After lunch and following several guests who shared about their ministries, we were given the floor to present our DVDs and answer questions on the comeback of New Orleans and how to get church teams involved. Editor Kelly Boggs sat in the back and said not a word, but was doubtless amused by the easy camaraderie of this group.
I got home in time to watch the last of American Idol. Indirectly, that has a little bearing on my Katrina story. My grandchildren love this program–along with millions of other Americans–and last year, they drew me in to the last portions of the series. This year for the first time, I watched it from the beginning and discovered it to be the most entertaining thing on television. I don’t know when I have laughed as much or as hard as beholding some of the people who were dead certain they were the stars of tomorrow, who gladly walked out there and faced Randy-Paula-Simon with their bizarre attempts to sing and absorbed their comments, then stalked off in a fury at the nerve of those know-it-alls for shooting down the next super-star. What planet do these people live on? The Katrina aspect is this: the laughing was therapeutic. I’d like to write a thank-you card to all those who did not make the cut on Idol, but who furnished America with some great moments. After an hour of that show, I’m a new man. Laughter is so healing. “Doeth good like a medicine,” Solomon said and he was right.
Wednesday’s news. Lots of folks down this way are concerned about the plans to sell the operations of major ports–including ours–to a Middle Eastern Arab company. It may be all right, but it seems scary.
The company manufacturing the Taser gun that has caused the deaths of 120 people worldwide is now looking into adapting the stun-effect into a shotgun. You’d think they would be trying to make it safer.
Wednesday’s work. Around 60 of us–pastors, staffers, wives, a few guests–met at First Baptist LaPlace this morning. I shared Robert Jolly (FBC Cumming, Georgia)’s letter (a couple of articles back) in which he told of challenging his people to triple their Christmas offering goal of $50,000 in order to have enough money to help their adopted church in New Orleans and to meet their budget. Bottom line, they received over $300,000 and met their budget and are doing some exciting things in missions. “Had he been like a lot of pastors,” I told them, “He would never have done that. He would have been afraid to challenge his people to triple their goals and give sacrificially.” I shared from Mark 4, the stilling of the stormy sea, and Jesus’ asking the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” We have to choose between fear and faith. Fear does not trust God; fear gives in and backs down and retreats in the face of obstacles. Faith is confidence in the living Christ; faith takes Him at His word and goes forward. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God,” according to Hebrews 11:6. Without faith, it’s impossible to do a lot of things–live the Christian life, lead a Christian church, and love the Christian’s God.
Jerry Darby spoke to our group about the new day of cooperation our ministes and our churches are experiencing. “We are working together for the first time.” Anthony Pierce amened that and added, “God has placed us here. I wouldn’t trade this day and time for any other time in the history of the Church.” Anthony and his wife were the guests of the Baptists of New York State recently. “They flew us to Syracuse,” he said, “and put us up in their mission house next to the church, then gave us keys to the church.” He smiled and said, “Some of us have had to lead a church for years before they’d give us a key.” He is still singing the praises of the New Yorkers for their kindnesses. “I thought Southerners invented hospitality,” he laughed, “but I’m going to have to revise that.”
Pastor Le Ngoc Thuong of the Vietnamese Church said, “I’m glad to be here because every week we have lunch.” (Laughter) “At our church, we have 150 members. I am asking each one to reach one more person, and we will have 300.” He has his people involved in the Billy Graham Crusade, and they are baptizing some new believers this Sunday.
The work goes forward, a little at a time. It is indeed a great time to be here.