Heaven, Hell or Maybe Just a Fallen Earth

Brand-new Baptist Director of Missions Duane McDaniel entered a local store the other day. A clerk said, “I detect an accent that’s not from around here.”

Duane said, “We must moved here from Honolulu.”

“You moved here from Hawaii?”


The clerk called, “Hey, Charlie, come here! This guy just moved to New Orleans from Hawaii.”

Charlie comes over, takes a good look at Duane, and then says dramatically, “Welcome…to…hell.”

The Jefferson family probably thinks it’s hell these days.

Nine-term Congressman William Jefferson was found guilty last week in a federal courtroom on 11 charges of corruption and racketeering. A jury nailed him for misusing his office in order to line his pockets (and stock his freezer, you may remember).

Jefferson will be in court in October when the judge reveals the number of years he will be serving for his crimes. Most people expect between 15 and 20.

Decades ago, the mayor of New Orleans, Dutch Morial, called the future congressman by a nickname that stuck with him all these years, identified his achilles’ hell, and proved to be his undoing: “Dollar Bill.”

Moses Jefferson, the congressman’s older brother, goes on trial today, Monday, August 10, 2009, for his own kind of corruption. In peddling an educational program to the Orleans Parish School System, he allegedly bribed Ellenese Brooks-Sims, president of the board, to support it. She has confessed to the crime and received a sentence of some length (I forget how long). Others involved in the crime have also confessed and are expected to testify against Jefferson.

And then–this goes on and on–in January, Mose, his sister Betty Jefferson (former tax assessor for New Orleans), and his mistress, former N.O. council member Renee Gill-Pratt, all go on trial for misusing money the state legislature appropriated for a charity in our city. The Times-Picayune has revealed how these three controlled everything about that agency and lived high on the hog with its funds.

You know you’re going to have a bad Monday when the front-page headline has your name in big letters across the top with “…heads to court for first trial.” The first? Yep. More to come.

Attorneys for Mose Jefferson are trying to get this trial moved, insisting locals have been poisoned against his receiving a fair hearing. That’s partially because of the William Jefferson verdict–Mose’ name came up often in the proceedings–and partially because of the local media’s relentless coverage of Mose’ doings. A judge will decide.

Last week, the attorney for Mose Jefferson asked the judge to declare his client indigent so the court could appoint an attorney and the state pay his bills. The judge ruled that Mose owns property that can be sold, and he is anything but indigent.

Lest anyone misinterpret anything we’re writing here, no one–absolutely no one that I know of–is gloating over the misfortunes of this well-known and highly-connected family. We grieve over every aspect of it.

Speaking of grieving, the murder rate is escalating astronomically. Every morning, newscasters talk about “a double murder last night in the whatever-block of wherever-street; police are asking anyone with information to call Crimestoppers.” It’s that way again this morning.

Our New Hampshire granddaughters are with us for a week. Leah is 19, Jessica, 18, and JoAnne, 11. Last December, when Leah was down for a few days, she was awed by the daily news reports of the killings. When they arrived Thursday, Leah quickly saw that nothing has changed in New Orleans. Sunday she said, “We leave our doors unlocked in New Hampshire. You almost never hear even of a break-in.”

Last week the news was about a grisly murder just now being discovered. A French Quarter guy had apparently murdered his girl friend and cut up her body so it would fit inside a trunk which he then kept in the back of his car. Only when he had to leave the city hurriedly–vacating his apartment–did he abandon the trunk. When the landlord was cleaning out the rooms, he made the discovery.

Some years ago, I enjoyed reading the novels of John Sandford (the titles all have the word “prey” in them). He writes well and the books are frequently on best-seller lists. I finally gave it up because his stories were too brutal, the crimes all beyond one’s imagination, the reading too depressing. “Things don’t happen like that in real life,” I concluded.

Turns out I was wrong. I’m still not returning to those novels–I don’t need the grief; we have enough of it here without paying good money to import more–but I have to give him his due.

A long time before I moved to this city, living in Birmingham and reading of happenings in New Orleans as though from another planet, I ran across this little item.

At the same time the Salvation Army was holding its convention in New Orleans, the city was also hosting a large gathering of sales people from some industry. One day, a member of the sales convention–a fellow who had spent too much time on Bourbon Street and imbibed too freely–was standing on a street corner waiting for a bus to transport him back to his hotel. At the traffic light, a Salvation Army bus pulled up to the corner. The drunk staggered up and beat on the door. The driver opened it and the fellow got aboard.

For the next few blocks, the drunk observed the people around him as they sang hymns and prayed together in little groups. One fellow was telling another of a scripture he was memorizing and someone else was talking about a local resident he had led to Christ.

The drunk called to the driver, “Hey, buddy–let me off at the next corner.”

Later, the drunk was telling a fellow conventioneer about that brief bus ride with the soldiers for Christ.

“I was miserable,” he said. “It was hell.”

Just depends on one’s perspective, I suppose.

Pray for New Orleans. So much to do, so much further to go before we’re done.

Pray for our churches and our pastors.

2 thoughts on “Heaven, Hell or Maybe Just a Fallen Earth

  1. “The city of New Orleans,” Operation NOAH Rebuild,” “Del Archer” (a man in New Orleans that a team from our church witnessed to that, as far as I know, has never received Christ as his Lord and Savior), and “those recovering from hurricanes” remains on our churches prayer list. And like every name/situation on our list, these are read aloud and prayed for weekly. Yes, Bro. Joe, there are those outside of New Orleans still praying.

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