Tornadoes and Other Goings-On Around Here

“The freight train woke me up at 3 o’clock,” Pastor Jay Adkins said. “I ran outside and saw the back end of that tornado plowing through Westwego. The path it left was narrow, but the destruction was total.”

Jay awakened his minister of youth Brian Sholle and they began searching through the dark neighborhood–the power was out although fires were springing up in the tornado’s wake–for anyone they could help.

“We ran into the police chief,” Jay said, “and he remembered me from Katrina when we were so involved in disaster relief work. He said, ‘I need your help, reverend.’ He had about 50 people, many of them women with babies, he had to take care of. He said, ‘I need diapers and formula.'”

Jay and Brian caught the manager of the local Winn-Dixie just as he was opening up. He emptied the shelves of those products and loaded them down, and they rushed back to help the victims.

Apparently there were three tornadoes in our immediate area last night, this one in Westwego which crossed the river into the Carrollton section of New Orleans, causing a lot of damage there, another in the Franklin Avenue/Pontchartrain Park section of Gentilly, and a third one somewhere. The Westwego twister took the top off a motel alongside the West Bank Expressway, which gave a hundred guests the surprise of their lives when rain started pouring in on their beds. Police shut down that section of the expressway all day, and closed much of the town of Westwego.

Only one person was killed. Stella Chambers was in her 80s and had survived Katrina. She was living in a FEMA trailer and excited that her flooded home had been restored and she was close to moving back in. The tornado picked up both her trailer and the two story house and spun them through the air. She died soon after the trailer dropped to the ground with her inside.

Jay Adkins had to get to his seminary classes this morning and was there when I caught him by cell phone. Later he called to say he was back in Westwego and doing what he could to help people. “The governor landed in her big helicopter,” he said. “It was sickening to see all the dignitaries rushing to squeeze into a photo with her when the Red Cross was over there knocking themselves out.”

When I arrived at our associational offices this (Tuesday) morning, Ninfa and Lynn announced that our power was out. To their great chagrin, they had to take the rest of the day off and go home. I know it broke their hearts.

I decided to drive over to the seminary on Gentilly Boulevard to see if it had survived the storm all right. It had. Inside the Hardin Student Center, a number of Baptist entities had set up displays to meet with students under the heading “Life Beyond Seminary.” Dale Huff was there from the Alabama Baptist Convention. He and I go back 25 years. Frank Harmon and Ed Deuschle were there from the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Frank and I were classmates in doctoral studies in the early 1970s, and Ed and I were neighboring pastors in Northeast Mississippi decades ago. My friend Milton Bost represented his Illinois Baptist Convention. From our Louisiana Convention, Gary Mitchell and Larry Badon were displaying their work. I bought coffee for several of these old friends and talked them into taking a break from their labors so we could catch up. It was the best part of a good day.

At 11 o’clock, everything stopped and we all went to worship in Leavell Chapel. Since I’m tomorrow’s speaker, I thought it would be good to hear the preacher for today and get a feel for things in advance. Dan Holcomb–veteran professor and a longtime friend of mine; I used to be his and Olga’s pastor–was at the pulpit today. He was introduced by his colleague Reggie Ogea as the senior member of the faculty. Dan Holcomb is a gentle soul with a dry wit, and he told the audience that with his longevity, when he retires and they give him a watch, it will be either a Fossil or a Relic. He said, “Age is a matter of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

His texts were John 1 and Hebrews 1, and his subject “The Enormous Exception.” In his book “The Everlasting Man,” G. K. Chesterton calls Jesus ‘the enormous exception.’ In the middle of all the religions of human history stands an enormous exception, a truth that seems almost too good to be true: the mysterious Maker of the universe has visited this world.

Dan’s outline was worth remembering: The exceptional life of Jesus, the exceptional love of Jesus, the exceptional labor of Jesus, and the exceptional liberating power of Jesus.

This was no “dry, professorial sermon,” if you’ll excuse the expression. He punctuated his excellent message with some great stories, some from his personal experience, some not. He said, “I can imagine the Lord Jesus praying: ‘Father, deliver me from my friends as well as my enemies.'”

Sooner or later, every worker in the Kingdom will understand that his major difficulties have come not from his enemies, but from his fellow team members. Dan told of a knight returning from battle, worn and bruised and bleeding. “Where have you been?” asked the king. “I’ve been fighting the king’s enemies in the West.” The king said, “I don’t have any enemies in the west.” The knight said, “Well, sire, you do now.”

The best line from today was this: “The road to good intentions is paved with hell.” I hastily sketched out Dr. Holcomb preaching that line, and on the inside of the note drew two seminary students. One is saying, “No wonder I have such a hard time getting an A in his class.” He got a big laugh out of it, which was the sole intent.

Back in the associational offices, the electricity returned at 12:30. That’s when I found out what Ninfa and Lynn do all day. They answer the phones. Mostly, however, I was alone, the place was quiet, no one dropped by–Freddie Arnold is attending a conference at Shocco Springs in Alabama–so I managed to write an article for Rick Warren’s Toolbox, one of my favorite internet magazines. I mean, Rick Warren’s organization has an internet mailing list of 175,000 pastors. Who wouldn’t want to connect with even a fraction of those!

Editor Tobin Perry asked if I wanted to write about how pastors can make the most of their vacations. I told him that once again he had pushed my buttons. I’ve made most of the mistakes one can make on this subject and belatedly learned how to make a vacation work.

One quick excerpt. Some time ago, my wife Margaret looked up from the family magazine she was reading and said, “Aha! Now I know why you’re no fun on vacations.” This had been a point of contention between us for years. We would take the children to the beach for a week and all I wanted to do was sleep or lie around and read. Meanwhile, the kids needed dad to help them build sand castles or catch fish or find shells. I was no fun and knew it, but did not have a clue what to do about it.

“This article says that it takes the average person 3 days of vacation to wind down from their job and then they start gearing back up for their work 3 days before the vacation ends. And since we take only one week, you are fun for exactly one day!”

We had a discussion about that and decided that when we could, we’d start taking two weeks back to back, or even three if possible. That made all the difference in the world. Our children–who are now adults with families of their own–will tell you that two lengthy vacations still stand out in their minds: the 1976 Bi-centennial vacation when we combined some Baptist denominational meetings with a trip into Virginia, then to Washington, DC, on into New England, and back to our conference center at Ridgecrest, NC. Then, in 1979, we borrowed a friend’s motor home and drove to our conference center at Glorieta, NM, and then the second week drove through the Rockies, staying in national parks that had hookups.

A pastor announced to his congregation that he and his family would be gone for two weeks of vacation. Someone in the back of the church called out, “The devil doesn’t take a vacation.” The pastor smiled and said, “No, and he’s not my role model, either.”

Jesus is. Thank God. In the storms of life, He is our only refuge. Speaking at the New Orleans Arena last March, Billy Graham referred to Hurricane Katrina and said, “Jesus is a very poor escape from the storms of life. But He is an excellent refuge in the storm.”