Samaritan’s Purse is shutting down their operations in our city. We’re pleased to have had their good people here for these 21 months since Katrina. We sincerely thank Franklin Graham and his team for their faithful service to God and this community.

Operation NOAH Rebuild–the ministry of the SBC North American Mission Board in our city–is committed to stay with us through August of 2008, and they have a full schedule planned for this summer. However, with the sale of the World Trade Center where NOAH’s Volunteer Village is housed, we’ll soon be going forward on a month-by-month basis there.

In a report Tuesday, NOAH’s David Maxwell announced that to date, this ministry has hosted 10,338 volunteers from 671 church or school teams, all of them here to help rebuild the homes and churches of New Orleans. The Volunteer Village staff served 62,702 meals and provided 27,293 “bed nights.” The NOAH office mailed out information packets to 1779 individuals, churches, or schools.

These teams have cleaned out 598 homes and have rebuilt 30 and have 126 under construction. Another 1,529 homes are still on the list to be rebuilt. They’ve cleaned out 3 churches, have rebuilt 4, have 11 under construction, and another 16 on the waiting list.

Okay, so far, so good. Those numbers are solid and fairly easy to find.

After that, the statistics get a little murkier. For instance, NOAH’s records show 509 gospel presentations by those 10,000 volunteers, resulting in 203 professions of faith.

In a meeting Tuesday with some of the NOAH and NAMB people, we suggested that in posting these numbers, they need an explanation concerning the last line, something to the effect that “this is only what was reported.” The actual numbers, we’re convinced, were far higher.

Consider these two aspects:

a) Many people come to our city and work and witness to people in the community but never fill out a report on their witnessing. God knows–and that’s how it should be–but we don’t.

b) NOAH is only one of many arms of Southern Baptist ministry in this city. Arkansas Baptists are working exclusively through their own headquarters at the Gentilly Baptist Church. Oak Park Baptist Church can house over 100 people in their building. FBC of Norco has visiting teams going into the devastated areas sharing their faith and ministering all the time. Down in St. Bernard Parish, Hopeview Church is the center for hundreds of volunteers from several states working in Chalmette. Furthermore, almost every one of our nearly-100 Baptist churches has hosted church groups in their buildings, teams that worked in neighborhoods and witnessed and loved and served.

So, what are the accurate numbers? God knows.

Now, personally, I’m content to leave the matter there and accept that “this is Kingdom ministry.” No one I know is trying to build a Baptist kingdom down here. However–and this is the flip side of that coin–when we lead someone to the Lord, we should not desert them but do all we can to assist that one to get into a good church and grow in Christ.

In Tuesday’s meeting, we were thrilled to hear of the work of the Southern Baptist mission centers in this city. Friendship House–a ministry for troubled women and their children–is run by Kay Bennett and Krina America, and they were glowing with reports of the Lord’s blessings. This center–in fact, all our centers–can host outside groups coming to town to witness and work. The Friendship House hosted a group of Oklahoma chaplains during Mardi Gras. They reported 2,515 face-to-face interviews with people during which they shared the gospel and gave out witnessing materials and first aid kits. They reported 25 salvation decisions, 12 rededications, and 12 prayers with individuals concerning pornography, addictions, etc.

First Baptist Church of Winter Park, Florida, gave the Friendship House their 29 passenger van. And then, Vestavia Hills Baptist Church of Birmingham was so impressed by the work of the Friendship House–who isn’t?–they invited Kay Bennett to go down and pick out a new van which they purchased. The 12-passenger van she chose will transport families to work and children to school, take community teenage girls on outings, and run errands for the center. Kay asks for prayers as they help women find daycare facilities in that area. Since Katrina, they’re almost non-existent.

The Friendship House is back up to full speed with computer classes, sewing classes, and such. The summer program for teenage girls in the communitywill kick off in a few days. Kay Bennett says her staff sometimes takes hot chocolate over to Lowe’s where Hispanic workers are standing around, hoping to be hired as laborers. Bearing a witness in every way possible.

Interested in learning more about the Friendship House or being on their mailing list? Contact Kay or Krina at 813 Elysian Fields Avenue, New Orleans 70117.

Larry Miguez and Linda Middlebrooks work with Rachel Sims Mission Center and Jennifer Fanning works with the Carver Center, both in the Uptown (inner-city) area of the city. They also host church teams that wish to stay in their buildings and minister to children and families in the neighborhood. Linda told of a church, in Texas I believe, that contacted her to say, “We’re a small church and have no money, but do you have someone who needs encouragement we could help?” She did indeed and put them in touch with a particular family. We do not know the extent of their contacts with this little family, but soon the church people arrived with a brand-new car they had purchased for them. Then, later, they sent an entire truckload of furniture for them. Linda had to tell them the family did not have a house to put it in. The furniture was stored and is now being used by the family.

Sorry, I know I should have taken better notes. But our Tuesday meeting with the missionaries of NAMB and the NOAH people lasted from 9 am to 2 pm and the brain slows down after a while. Only later does it hit you, “Hey–that’s a great story.”

The Rachel Sims Mission Center is located at 729 Second Street, New Orleans 70130. Phone (504) 891-2578. When we asked what their prayer needs were, Linda Middlebrooks said, “Pray for us a van. The one we’re using now has 200,000 miles!” Someone suggested they contact Vestavia Hills or FBC Winter Park!

Jennifer Fanning reports that displaced New Orleanians who come back to the neighborhood for funerals have begun asking to hold their “repasts” at the Carver Center. The word ”repast” simply means “a meal,” but in this case it refers to the after-funeral gathering and meal for the grieving family. So far, this year Carver has hosted 14 or 15 of these, once or twice with crowds as high as 80 or more. The Carver staff likes the idea of the center becoming a uniting place in the community. The Carver Center is located at 3701 Annunciation Street, New Orleans 70115. Phone (504) 897-2434.

In Wednesday’s pastors meeting–attended by 50 or more–we welcomed Bob and Jane Christian from Texas, here as Mission Service Corps volunteers and now directing the Hopeview Rebuild Center in St. Bernard Parish. Bob is retired from the Corps of Engineers (that got a groan from the group!) and they are lovely people.

Ken Taylor brought his seminary class to our meeting. This group of 20 or so young men and women attend classes at the seminary’s various extension centers and are on campus just for a few days. He brought them to our meeting in order to meet some of the pastors and get a sample of what’s going on in the city.

I invited the students to ask questions of the pastors. “What is your biggest challenge?” was first. Four pastors walked to the microphone and expounded for 20 minutes on that subject. There’s no one big challenge. Everything is a challenge, from getting up in the morning to locating your dispersed church members to finding money and resources for rebuilding.

“I’m from McCalla, Alabama. What do you need that a little church like ours could supply?” We need church teams to come help us, we need money for rebuilding churches and helping pastors & staffs financially, and we need prayer.

An hour before the meeting, the morning mail brought a letter from Dr. Paul Brooks of the First Baptist Church of Raytown, Missouri. He included a sizeable check to help our people who are still suffering from Katrina. He signed his letter, “Your flying buddy.” I’m sure he laughed when he dictated it and I laughed when I read it. He had dredged up a memory we both have probably tried to forget.

Decades ago when Paul was a very young pastor and had just gotten his pilot’s license, he and some men in his church bought a Cessna 150, the smallest passenger plane on the market, probably. Room for two people only, but not both their luggage. The Monday following his getting his license, he and I flew that plane from Jackson, Mississippi, to Atlanta for a conference. Okay, he flew it; I sat on the right side trying to read the air map. “Hey, Paul–we’re over here. We need to be up there.” It would have been comical if it hadn’t been so serious.

The really scary part came on the way home. We had planned to refuel at the Bessemer, Alabama, airport. As we neared it, we discovered it was closed. So we headed back into the air cutting across the rural countryside toward Jackson. Now, I’m no pilot, but I can read gauges. Both tanks were emptying fast and the needles were dancing a jig. I suggested that we refuel at Forest, Mississippi, 40 miles from home. “I can see the fuel truck down there on the side of the airport,” I pleaded. He assured me we were fine. And we were.

After refueling in Jackson, Paul announced, “The tanks hold 22 gallons.” (Or whatever.) “I put 21 and a half gallons in.”

I have a feeling that when we get to Heaven, when the videos of our earthly existences are replayed, we will discover that experiences like that one were far more numerous than we could ever imagine, that the Holy Spirit jerked our skin out of the fire on many occasions and saved our hides more times than we ever knew. We’ve been living by grace for decades.

Paul and I have reminisced about that plane ride and even laughed about it on several occasions. Paul admits he learned an important lesson that day, and the last time I asked, he’d given up flying. One smart dude. And a great friend for nearly 40 years.

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