The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune for Friday, September 17, 2004, is filled with all the things you get following a giant storm. Large color photos of hurricane Ivan’s devastation along the Alabama and Florida coast occupy page after page, taking your breath away. Here is a picture of a five story condominium in ruins, while alongside it are one story homes still standing, seemingly untouched. Go figure.
Our governor’s office assures us that Mrs. Blanco does indeed plan to call a meeting of all the agencies and find a way to speed up the evacuation of the population of this city. We hear this every hurricane, but she’s new in office, so maybe she can pull it off. Stories abound of ten hour drives to Baton Rouge, only 70 miles up Interstate 10, and of citizens arriving in Memphis or Houston to find every hotel room filled.
New Orleans caught the western edge of Ivan, resulting in flooding and wind damage in the lower outskirts of the city. On the western side of the metropolitan area where I live, we had winds up to 40 miles per hour and barely a drop of rain. It was hardly worth all the trouble of boarding up, stocking up, and moving out. But who knew?
Thursday, as the highways clogged with returning citizens, I could imagine the conversations inside the SUVs and sedans: “I told you we should stay, but noooo, you just had to leave. And for what? It took 20 hours to get to your mother’s house, and who knew your cousins were going there, too?”
The funniest thing locally was the couple that showed up in a shut down French Quarter wanting to get married. They had driven a hundred miles down the interstate expecting to walk into a wedding chapel, and afterwards to honeymoon down the street. The bride said, “I wondered what all the traffic was about on the other side of the interstate. I mean, like, we don’t have cable or nothing, so we didn’t know about the hurricane.” You have to wonder about some people.
Freddie Arnold, our associate in the Baptist associational office and full-time church planter, is assembling a crew to drive downriver to Belle Chasse and prepare meals to feed the displaced. After a couple of days of this, his team may be reassigned to Alabama or Florida. This is one of the things Southern Baptists do best. After hurricane Charlie, twenty-eight or more Baptist crews from around the country descended on Florida, feeding people and manning chain saw brigades. It’s a wonderful witness to our hurting neighbors.
It’s quiet in the city today, as people return to their homes and take down the plywood from windows that haven’t seen light in three days. The porch furniture comes out of the garage again. Children, out of school for the rest of the week, can be found in every street and park, on bikes and swings and skates. The convenience stores are reopening, some still without gasoline after the Tuesday panic drained their tanks.
I find myself thinking frequently of the Florida couple I read about following Charlie, the first of the take-a-number succession of storms battering the Sunshine State this season. They had built their house specifically to withstand a hurricane, and it had. The walls were double-thickness, the roof was twice the roof of any other house, and the foundation was on something solid. (Matthew 7:24ff comes to mind here.) The fence around the house had slats spaced so the wind could get through. Charlie had done minimal damage to their house.
Seems there ought to be a sermon in that somewhere. I’ll let you dig it out.
We have a saying around our church that people ought to join a good church and get active about five years before they have a serious illness, lose their job, or have a death in the family. When the storm hits is no time to rush around with a hammer and saw, trying to shore up the building.
The newlywed couple who had no clue about the coming hurricane are not the biggest fools around. Far worse are those who know a storm is coming and do absolutely nothing to get prepared.
Preacher friend of mine says, “Everyone I know is either in a storm, just come out of one, or about to go into one.”
In the Matthew 7 passage referred to above, it’s worth noting that both groups went through the storm, the wise and the foolish. Both were probably frightened out of their wits. But one survived, the other did not. Jesus said it had to do with the foundation.
In the photo of the Florida condominium that collapsed, one notices that the upper stories appear intact. What happened is that the storm surge washed the sandy foundation away and the building had no place to stand. Jesus’ metaphor holds.
Following the Lord Jesus Christ, building your life upon His word, living in obedience, all of this does not stop the storms. But it gets you through them intact, makes you stronger for the experience, and enables you to pick up and go forward.
God bless our neighbors who received the full brunt of the latest storm. And God help the rest of us, because as the preparedness people say here in New Orleans, our storm is coming.