When you don’t go to the office, but stay at home and work from the computer and telephone, then hop in your car and meet with people all over town, it frequently feels like Saturday. Since we have not worked in our associational offices since the last Friday in August, most days have seemed like Saturday.
This Saturday–oops–Thursday morning, I had an interesting e-mail from a lady I’ve never met, but who has read these articles for several years and occasionally replies. She went to dinner Wednesday night with a group of Girl Scout mothers, even though she has only sons. “Of the ten present,” she wrote, “I knew only three.” When the meal was served, she blurted out automatically, “Shall we say grace?” Silence prevailed, and then a couple of women said, “Good idea.” So she did. That little event turned the conversation to religious matters. What church do you belong to? they wanted to know. She said she was a “closet Catholic,” meaning a former Baptist married to a Catholic and sending her children to a Catholic school because of a promise she made to her husband. After a bit, two of the women present identified themselves as new in the area and trying to find a church. She recommended they visit her old church, the Baptist church where a good friend of ours pastors. Her note said, “I promised to go to church with them Sunday to help them find it and make the adjustment.”
I called the pastor and shared this with him. He’ll be watching for them this Sunday.
We cleaned out the associational offices Thursday. For the past week or two, we’ve had electricity in the offices, but no phone service and no water. Secretaries Ninfa Rodriguez and Lynn Gehrman and pastors David Lema and Manuel Ponce’ joined Freddie Arnold and me for the cleaning party. We hauled three refrigerator units to the curb and swept and mopped and dusted. The one grocery store that’s open in that part of the city was serving fried chicken, so that’s what we had for lunch. As a way of reminding us that we live in a city-on-life-support, we lost electrical power in much of the building. The people from Entergy came out and worked for hours trying to correct the problem. If you can’t handle frustration, you’re living in the wrong town.
Friday, a foursome from a strong church in Central Louisiana arrived. We spent a few hours touring the city and seeing some possible churches for them to adopt or sponsor. Their church has over $130,000 in cash waiting to be invested locally. At the end of our day, when we sat down in McDonald’s for a final recap before they returned home, they realized the needs here are so overwhelming, as one said, “Ours is just a drop in the bucket.” Referring to one of the churches they had seen, a deacon said, “It would take millions to turn that situation around.”
The good news, however, is that no one church has the burden for all of anything. This is a joint effort of the Lord’s people all across this land. A pastor friend in Florida e-mailed me, “I have $1500 to send to some church. Tell me where to send it.” A little here, a little there, and eventually, the job gets done. The people at our Southern Baptist International Mission Board have known this for years. This is how they bring in over $100 million every Christmas for our Lottie Moon Offering.
After the Louisiana group departed, a phone call announced another group from Alabama was just arriving. They’re working over on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and wanted to see the local situation and find a church they could partner with. As always, I’m delighted to serve as matchmaker.
On Saturday morning, for the first time in a long time, I performed a wedding. Jenny Ruiz and Luke Tixier were married on the front lawn of LeParvenu Restaurant in Kenner. I’m so rusty, I had to study the marriage license to see where everyone signs. But it felt good to be doing normal pastoral work. LeParvenu is situated in a little development called Rivertown, with the Saints Hall of Fame and a planetarium nearby. On one side stands the Children’s Castle, and on the other the Toy Train Museum. I couldn’t resist making the connection that to many people, love and marriage are make believe, but beginning your marriage at a restaurant is a fitting metaphor. Marriage is a lot like cooking a meal: the right ingredients, hard work and much learning, a servant mentality, and in time, something delicious results.
Rick Lopez called. A large team of workers from the First Baptist Church of Brevard, NC, has been down there working, gutting out Lake Forest Baptist Church in East New Orleans. “They were fantastic,” he said. After they tore out all the spoiled insides, the group had even brought big trucks along to haul off the debris. Lake Forest has no one living in the neighborhood and no power, even if they did, but eventually, the people and the church will be back. When the people come back, they will find a church home sitting there ready to welcome them.
This morning (Saturday) was the first meeting of “The Gathering,” a worship service in Baton Rouge for displaced residents of St. Bernard Parish. John Jeffries, of Chalmette’s First Baptist Church, now residing in that city, worked out the details with some other ministers and parish leaders and Florida Boulevard offered their facilities. They had seventy or eighty in attendance, which was a phenomenal beginning. The worship portion was followed by an information time led by some parish officials. “The best thing,” John said, “is we had someone volunteer to lead the music next Saturday. I had to do it myself today.” John’s wife Genny was able to attend, surprisingly. She’s been recovering from major surgery, and continues to need our prayers. My understanding is “The Gathering” continues each Saturday at 10 am at the Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in B.R.