When I’m not talking with someone about bringing a ministry group to New Orleans, I worry that I may have promised someone else I’d get back to them and didn’t. If someone reading this falls in that group, please forgive me and call or e-mail me again. And when you call down here, please expect to redial a few times. Even when we call across town, the recording announces that all circuits are full or the network is down. Hit re-dial once or twice and it will ring.
For those given to impatience, you’ve arrived at a difficult time.
I’m given to impatience. I’m having a tough time.
No doubt, the Lord is trying to hone some of the rough edges off my character. Like this refrigerator business. Both our fridge and our freezer still sit outside the house, and will until the insurance adjuster sees them, sometime between 10 and noon on Saturday, October 29. Back on September 22, anticipating the ruined appliances, we stopped in Dothan, Alabama, at the Home Depot and bought a fridge. Delivery was promised for October 4. At home, we began living out of ice coolers, then later a small fridge and ice coolers. On Friday before October 4, a call came that the delivery would be made as promised. Alas, no fridge. Margaret stayed home the rest of the week so as not to miss it. Our calls went unanswered. Home Depot said they couldn’t get through either.
Finally, we had waited long enough, especially when we saw our son buy one locally and pick it up himself the same day. So Monday morning, October 10, we walked into the Home Depot and told our story. The lady made some calls to the delivery company and announced, “They don’t know where it is or when it will be delivered. There’s nothing more we can do. Sorry.” I said, “There’s something we can do. Where’s the manager?” The assistant manager, Marty Ayo, is a perfect embodiment of the Biblical phrase “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” He was kind and competent and exactly what we needed. We purchased another fridge, one we liked even better than the first, one which cost more but for the same amount as the first, and canceled the first one. Neil drove up at 5 pm and we carted it home. It’s the nicest refrigerator we’ve ever had; it’s beautiful; we have ice. My wife has decided to stay married to me a little longer. I thanked Marty Ayo for his kindness and apologized for our attitude. He showed his character even further when he said, “This was nothing. You should hear the way some people talk to me.” Yet he seemed completely unruffled.
As the old saying goes, God, give me patience–right now!
Tuesday we drove into Plaquemines Parish and God shamed me for my self-centeredness. From 5 miles below Belle Chasse, the devastation begins and does not cease all the way to the Gulf, nearly 80 miles downriver. Total destruction. Crazy, weird stuff. Eye-popping, jaw-dropping.
You’ve seen what a tornado can do to a narrow swath of land. Now, picture that same destruction over everything in sight. No house standing, but collapsed into piles of lumber and trash. Litter everywhere, rolled and crumpled sheets of tin, boats lying where no boat had ever been. A large truck hanging from a tree. Houses a block away from their foundation. Large shipping containers in fields a mile from the river, and one atop a house. We saw a huge ship that had run aground on the river levee, and when we drove nearer to investigate, saw that it was sitting atop a smaller vessel which had been tied to a pier. It had dragged part of the dock with it. Then came the ultimate bizarre spectacle…
Young Pastor Kevin Sartin saw it first. Kevin, Ed Jelks, Freddie Arnold, and I had driven the length of the thin strip of land all the way down to Venice, checking out our five Baptist churches in Plaquemines Parish, all of them in ruins, and now were returning north. Suddenly, Kevin said, “You know, I just saw a horse in a tree.”
We all were highly doubtful. “You saw a horse in a tree. And I saw an elephant driving a tractor.” Laughter. “Freddie, turn around and go back.” “I’ll tell you one thing, Kevin–if there’s no horse in that tree, you’ll never hear the last of this.”
But there it was. The water level had lifted the animal ten or twelve feet above ground and he had been caught in the limbs of a tree and drowned. Not to gross you out, but it appeared an alligator had chewed at its legs. By now, the horse had been dead for a couple of weeks and the body was dehydrated.
Venice Community, Buras-Triumph, Riverview, Port Sulphur, and City Price churches were all destroyed. Those five were the sum total of our Baptist work in that parish. The Buras-Triumph church appeared to have been well-built, however, and the sanctuary is salvagable, although their other structures were total losses, according to Ed and Freddie who know about these things. We prayed for the members and pastors of these churches, now scattered all over the country.
Pastor Nate Sims of Riverview, now living in Dothan, Alabama, said he does not plan to return. “We only had 20 members and even if they all returned home, that’s not enough. And I know some who are not planning to return.”
Return? To what? There’s nothing left. It is not a total exaggeration to say that from five miles below Belle Chasse, you could just about bull doze all the way to the Gulf and set fire to the pile. It is that wasted. Sad does not begin to describe how you feel.
Ed and Freddie and I have seen so much devastation in recent days, we found ourselves making feeble attempts at sick jokes to lessen the pain. “Look–there’s a tavern without a roof. Open bar, I guess.” “And no cover.” A church without windows or roof: “Open door policy.” “Oh, look–they cleaned out the bank!”
We met some interesting people. Chris Legnon, who works for Entergy, our local electrical company, drove up to the church at Venice while we were checking it out. “You guys have a lot of work to do,” he kidded. I said, “Look who’s talking!” He said, “I’m thirteen years from being able to retire, and the only thing I’m sure of is we will still be working on this area the rest of my time.” He said, “It’s a catch 22 situation. No one can live in these buildings, so does Entergy restore the power down here hoping people will come? Or do we wait until they start rebuilding and then string the lines?”
For weeks after the storm Chris drove these roads,he said, seeing no one, overwhelmed by the desolation. “Finally,” he said, “one day I came upon an old couple who had come back to check on their house. It was in shambles. The man was just sitting there with his head in his hands. I stopped my truck and got out and sat with him. I kept telling him it was going to be all right. Just to have faith. And I prayed with him. And gave them soft drinks out of my truck. I did what I could.” Turns out the power man knows about real power.
At Fort Jackson–a marvelously preserved installation on the river, built in honor of Andrew Jackson just seven years after the Battle of New Orleans–we pulled in to check it out. “Is that a real fort,” some National Guardsmen in a Humvee asked. “It is indeed,” we told them, so they joined our little walk around the high ground. Being the history buff, I was glad to find an audience for my stories of how this fort and Fort St. Philip, just visible across the river, were placed there to defend our city. The three sergeants–Sampley, Garrison,Bearden–hail from Russellville and Springdale, Arkansas, and are volunteers. “We did security duty at first,” Sampley said, “but these days, we’re doing humanitarian work.” We asked for the privilege of praying for them, and on this historical sight, we prayed for our moment in history, that we might be faithful to God and to the opportunity to serve the needy all around us.
With all I had seen Tuesday, surely God was deepening me spiritually, making me a stronger man. Oh yeah. At 6:15 pm, I ran by Office Depot to buy ink for my printer. “Closed at 6 pm.” Well, I would get by the grocery store across town and pick up a few things. “Sorry, sir, we just closed.” Arghh!!
The trying of your faith worketh patience, I seem to remember from James 1:3. There ought to be an easier way.
Wednesday’s Times-Picayune carried a story from the Los Angeles Times about a Black minister walking into a Red Cross shelter in Atlanta and carrying with him collard greens, baked chicken, and macaroni and cheese which he wanted to serve to evacuees. The RC volunteer turned him away, saying they were unable to accept his food. How incensed this man was when he found that the fellow inside the building actually serving food was–gasp!–a Southern Baptist. Now, most people are impressed when they find out that the third largest disaster relief team in the USA, just behind the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, is the Southern Baptists, and that all our people are strictly volunteers who come at their own expense. But apparently not Rev. Timothy McDonald, who saw racism and something dastardly in this unholy arrangement of the Red Cross and Southern Baptists.
“That’s the reason they didn’t want my chicken!” he said, pounding the table for emphasis, speaking before a group of African American ministers. “Unless those of us who are committed to truth and justice speak, there will be nothing but greed that prevails,” he said, adding, “We have been called for something like this.”
No, Mister McDonald, you were not called for something like this. You were called to get off your racist-reactive-rump and to repent of your self-righteousness, to humble yourself and gird yourself with a towel and to serve your fellow man regardless of the color of his skin. That is precisely what those Southern Baptists whom you criticize are doing. Greed? They pay their own way and give until they have little else to give. Where is the greed, sir?
I know what the problem is, because I have a goodly share of it myself. It’s ego. His pride was offended and he struck back, hoping to salve his bruised ego. The racism and greed charges were the only sticks he could find handy, completely unaware they had been handed him by the enemy of God’s children, Satan himself.
Apparently, Reverend McDonald was ordained by another famous Reverend-in-name-only. Both he and Reverend Jesse Jackson enjoy sitting on the sideline and criticizing those in the arena who are actually getting the job done. Followers of Jesus Christ were called to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit the sick. Nowhere in the Scriptures were we commissioned to go into the world and criticize those who are doing the job. God called no critics. Not one. Just servants, workers, disciples.
Today, at our weekly minister’s meeting, one of our African American pastors volunteered to write a letter to the editor, pointing out that there are hundreds of Black congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention, including perhaps 25 in our association and 80 in Louisiana.
Sorry. I have a long way to go on this patience thing.
But I sure would like to have some of that chicken and collard greens and mac-and-cheese.