Tuesday, Dr. Roger Freeman came by to visit. This outstanding pastor of Clarksville, Tennessee’s First Baptist Church formerly shepherded the FBC of New Orleans, leaving in 1993. I have great memories of his kind spirit and gracious manner. While we were catching up on each other’s news, his wife Priscilla called on his cell phone. I asked to speak to her and said, “I want to tell you my Sarah story.” Sarah is their 16-year-old, but she was about 7 when this happened. I figured they might have forgotten the incident.
That day, little Sarah was feeling sad for a certain lady in the church whose husband had just died. “She’s all alone now,” she said. Then she brightened up and said, “But she’s not alone. Jesus is with her. He’s in all fifty states and foreign countries.”
Roger laughed and said, “I had forgotten that! It was worth the drive down here to hear that story about my daughter!” I made him promise to tell me other ‘Sarah stories’ as he thinks of them.
Over the years many of my preacher friends have given me stories from their children which I still tell. Like the one from William Carey College’s Larry Kennedy’s son Steve, of the time he attended his first big church wedding and watched as the groomsmen filled the front of the church and the maids entered. As the bride glided down the aisle, Steve leaned over and whispered, “Mother, does she already know which one of those men she’s going to marry or is she going to decide after she gets there?”
I tell the story of Knoxville’s Central Baptist Church-Bearden’s Larry Fields whose little son John was asked to be a ringbearer in a wedding. John was notoriously independent and unpredictable, so when he behaved beautifully and never complained once about the tuxedo he wore, mom and dad were baffled. What could the bride have done to get John’s cooperation? The riddle was solved at the reception when John stalked up to the new husband and wife and asked loudly, “Where’s my fire truck?”
I know stories from Sans Souci’s Paul Moore’s daughter Rachel, from Vallejo’s Bryan Harris’ three daughters and son, and an entire encyclopedia-ful from my own children and grandchildren.
Children are precious. Even when they’re grown, they’re still our children. If you doubt that, ask my mom. Her six children are ages 62, 64, 66, 68, 69, and 70. (I asked her once if having senior-adult children made her feel old. She said, “No. It’s not my problem.”)
Jose and Othello Mathews need our prayers right now. This is the pastor and wife of New Orleans’ Discipleship Baptist Church, devastated by the floodwaters of Katrina. Lost their home, too, and are living in a trailer this side of Baton Rouge. A few weeks after the storm, Jose had a stroke and has been in therapy until recently. Then his mother died. Now comes word that their only son, 22-year-old Jackie, was shot in Houston the other day. Funeral in Baton Rouge next Saturday. They have one other child, a daughter. Jose says Jackie was a rapper and hung out with this particular group of friends because they were all rappers. A rival group–jealous, Jose says–came over with guns. New Orleanians, all of them.
Jose said to me Tuesday, “Someone said I’m having a Job experience. Well, I’m ready for the rest of the story, where God restores to him all that he had lost.”
I wish you could know Boogie Melerine of Delacroix Island’s Baptist church. This little congregation that lost everything meets in the nearby community of St. Bernard in a shed. (If you are confused about a St. Bernard Parish, a community called St. Bernard, a housing project in New Orleans by that name, and a church by that name in both Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, you’re not alone.) Wednesday at our LaPlace pastors meeting, Boogie had great news.
“We had five adults saved Sunday.” They had 54 for church Sunday, compared to the 25 they were running before the storm blew away their entire community. “Even more exciting about the five who were saved Sunday is that they’re all from Delacroix Island.” He smiled and said, “They were just like I used to be. Had no use at all for those Baptists until the storm changed everything.”
Boogie gave me a handwritten note on how Katrina changed things for them. “So far ten of our neighbors have accepted Christ as their Savior. God has opened my eyes to the needs of our community. Katrina has changed the face of our church.”
Likewise, Edgewater Baptist Church on Paris Avenue in New Orleans, still meeting in the tent on their parking lot, is reaching out to its neighbors. Pastor Kevin Lee said, “We’re having 10 or 12 visitors from the neighborhood each Sunday, along with about 45 of our own people. Each Wednesday night we do a cookout on the parking lot and a lot of locals come. It’s a whole different group from the Sunday crowd.” Kevin’s church has been hosting collegians who come to help New Orleans. “This week we have a large group of students from UCLA and MIT,” he said. When I expressed amazement at that, he added, “I understand about 50% of them are Christians.” So, the witnessing goes both ways–to the neighborhood, to the volunteers.
God surely does interesting things, doesn’t He. Wendy Scott, wife of Pastor Eddie Scott, is the assistant dean of the Tulane Law School. “We have lots of law students working in the neighborhood, gutting out houses, and helping people.” She added, “We’ve had a Bible study at the law school for years, and I think that has given us some credibility with the students who aren’t Christians.”
Kevin Lee tells the college students to record their experiences, to keep a journal, and when they go back home, to tell others of their experiences. “God is using that to light a fire in the hearts of other students who want to come, too.”
Deacon Tom Pewitt of Metairie’s Memorial Baptist Church was effusive in his praise of Nashville’s Woodmont Baptist Church. Pastor Jon Roebuck and the members spent the weekend down here. “They provided a meal for our members on Saturday night. Their pastor and choir took the Sunday morning service, and then they provided everything for the block party Sunday evening. They did it all. They are wonderful people.”
Brent King reported on the groups of youth which Metairie Baptist Church has been hosting, including some from Bladeville, Tennessee. “They’ve brought in a shower trailer,” he said, “and are leaving it here as long as we need it. They remade our youth room, and brought it up to date.” Brent said the church has lost half its congregation since the storm. Some of the youth staying at Metairie church were driven to St. Bernard to work with Boogie Melerine in distributing boxes of cookies and gifts to residents living in FEMA trailers, and of course witnessing to them. Brent said, “It was unbelievable. Instead of being suspicious of visitors, these people were hungry for fellowship. They would talk with our people for a solid hour.”
That theme–the hunger of the residents for someone to talk with–kept recurring. Rudy French said, “I can tell you a little of that, if I can get it out without crying.” He paused, then said, “My wife and a pastor’s wife were visiting down there. They went to one trailer where the couple had lost their home after the hurricane, and then just a few days ago, their little child died. They were devastated. And they had no resources for dealing with it. The husband was handling it the only way he knew how, with a bottle. Rose and the pastor’s wife sat with them and cried too. The woman said, ‘I didn’t know there were good people in the world like you. People who care.'”
Jerry Darby is living in Alvin, Texas, but makes the Wednesday pastors’ meeting almost each week. Today, he said, “I came over a day early this week. I did the funeral of a woman who had committed suicide. She was living on the West Bank, and just got tired of all the stress. She used a pistol.” Stress is everywhere. Unless a person has inner resources for dealing with it, they’re in trouble.
A casino spokesman was bubbling over on television Wednesday morning, so delighted that citizens are finding relief from their stress by losing money in his establishment. And they accuse churches of “using” people.
Rudy French has developed a real evangelistic ministry through the gift boxes taken to the FEMA homes. “We run out of stuff,” he said, “and have to go back and make up some more boxes.” He told how a group from a church in Athens, Tennessee, had two residents to come to know Christ standing at the doors of their trailers. Boogie Melerine told how he met someone from the island who asked if he knew Rudy. “The nicest man I’ve ever met,” the person said.
Tim, pastor of a church in Milledgeville, Georgia (I’m sorry to have forgotten his last name), was with Jay Adkins of Westwego’s FBC. Tim grew teary-eyed as he paid tribute to the local ministers for staying here when they could just as easily move away to other churches in distant cities. He told of the Lakeshore Baptist Church in Waveland, Mississippi, that has been given an incredible opportunity by the Lord and is responding magnificently. “Our association in Georgia has adopted them,” he said. “Before the storm, they were running 50. Every member lost their houses and the church building was destroyed. Now they’re meeting in quonset huts and tents, and they’re running 250 in their services! They’re having about 200 a day come to their ‘store’ for food and supplies, and they’re running low.” Tim said, “If you know of someone wanting to send foodstuffs to the Gulf Coast, have them get in touch with Pastor Don Elbourne at 228-671-6315.”
Eddie Scott of Christian Bible Fellowship in the 9th Ward said, “People are moving back into our area. And a lot of the smaller churches are not planning to open up. Neighbors are coming up asking us, ‘When are you going to start having church again?’ I can’t wait.”
Tobey Pitman of the Brantley Center spoke of the various missions of the four NAMB centers. Presently, the Carver and Rachel Sims centers are hosting trained workers who come to help. The Brantley Center is hosting untrained volunteers, mostly college students. Kay Bennett’s Friendship House has been focusing on volunteers from Oklahoma. As the FEMA base camp in Algiers shuts down in a few days, our only other housing will be the churches. That’s why several are putting in shower units, to be able to accommodate them.
Tobey was in the FBC of Social Circle, Georgia, last weekend. “Two of their members had been to Westwego,” he said. “And I’ve noticed this in other places, that they wanted to come up and tell us about it. It’s like they now have a spiritual connection with New Orleans. They leave as different people. God is really using this.”
Marc Joslin is looking for a metal buildings construction company that will return his call and give him an estimate…Joe Williams announced that the “Ministry Fatigue” workshops will be held on Thursday, April 20, and Saturday, April 22….The “First Responders” event for April 8 is on schedule at the N.O. Arena, but we need more churches to participate and set up booths with events for children.
NOTE: We will continue our Wednesday meetings at FBC LaPlace through April, then move to Oak Park Baptist Church in Algiers the first Wednesday of May. We decided today to cut the weekly meetings back to two hours, from 10 to noon, beginning April 12. (Please pass this information along to any of our New Orleans Baptist pastors you know.)
Some of Wednesday’s News….
Last Saturday, thirteen candidates for New Orleans mayor journeyed to Houston for a debate in front of displaced voters, few of whom showed up. The event was well-publicized, even on the front of the Houston paper, but the candidates outnumbered voters. Everyone was puzzled by the poor response. “Perhaps they’re working on Saturday,” someone said, “Poor people often do.” They lived too far out from St. John’s United Methodist Church where the meeting was held. They couldn’t afford taxi fare. Apathy. Not planning to vote in the election. No one knows. The election will be held on April 22; a lot of questions will be answered then.
Very little polling of evacuated and displaced New Orleanians has been done since they’re so hard to locate. But a couple of groups teamed up and interviewed (“sampled the views,” the paper says) of 708 citizens now in 20 cities where our residents evacuated in large numbers. They were tracked down through acquaintance networks, they said, but do not claim the poll to be scientific. Results: 46% plan to return, while 17% do not know and 10% are not returning. Of those planning to return, 63% are unemployed and 37% employed. 72% were critical of all government leaders at every level.
The little community of Westwego on the West Bank just outside New Orleans has seen its drug arrests soar after Katrina. A 95% increase.
The Catholic parish of St. Augustine, closed by Archbishop Hughes, has become the focus of sit-ins and protests. Last Sunday poster-carrying protestors broke up the mass. Turns out the diocese had asked some members who are in law enforcement to be there, out of uniform, but carrying their guns. Catholics are divided on this matter, with many upset that armed police would be present in a worship service.
The lead article on Wednesday’s front page points out that even people who can afford to buy or rebuild a home in New Orleans are having trouble getting insurance they can afford. A typical couple had been paying $1800 a year prior to the hurricane. Now, Allstate will not cover the home and an entity created for just such circumstances, the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, is charging $3,900. The LCPIC is required by law to charge higher prices than its private market competitors in order not to be in competition with them. The state insurance commissioner says, “It’s very difficult but not impossible to get homeowners insurance. Our state cannot recover without the availability of homeowners insurance. Bankers tell me that, builders tell me that, and economists tell me that.”
One little twist some homeowners policies have introduced is an exclusion clause against wind damage. These policies have not been covering flood damage and now they won’t cover wind damage. Since 1997, 63 companies have been given permission to exclude wind coverage from their policies. Consequently, homeowners are ending up having to buy three policies: a standard homeowners policy, a flood policy, and a Citizens policy. The Citizens company has already taken on 10,000 new Louisiana policyholders this year, giving them a total of 135,000 in the state. By the end of the year, that number is expected to swell to 200,000.
Want to buy a flooded bus for only $9,000? The New Orleans school system’s management firm is advertising on e-Bay, hoping that someone would like to own the ultimate Katrina relic, a beautiful, almost new, ruined bus that sat under brackish floodwaters for weeks. Someone checked and discovered that the internet auction site has more than 500 Katrina-related items for sale, everything from souvenir t-shirts to newspapers chronicling the storm to this school bus. And if this one sells–stranger things have happened–guess what? They have 249 more buses just like this one.
“Hey, Joe, I’m in north Georgia!” Pastor David Crosby had called to wish me a happy birthday Tuesday, and so I could wish him one, too, I suppose. We share the same date, March 28. I hit 13 the day David arrived, so that day in 1953 was big for both of us. “The First Baptist Church of Cumming has adopted our church, and they invited us to bring our entire staff over for a retreat.” David had just finished 18 holes of golf. Now, that’s my kind of church-adopting.
Pastor Scott and Jennifer Smith just got in, too. The FBC of Sun City, Arizona, had invited their family out for a visit. Jennifer said, “This is a church that runs less than 200 and their Lottie Moon Missions Offering was over $200,000.” The church sent a lovely offering to help the Smiths’ Highland Baptist Church in Metairie. Jennifer said, “The carpet we ordered for the sanctuary is arriving this week, and we still have to paint the auditorium. Where can we find painters?” I told her about the college groups swarming around our city and how to connect with them.
Someone asked this week about the trash littering our streets and how to bring in young people to pick it up. I suggested he check the newspaper each morning, looking in a Katrina-inspired category called “Meetings.” Wednesday morning, three cleanups were announced. A group calling itself “Katrina Krewes” is staging cleanups in two sections of the city, on Wednesday and Saturday from 9 to noon. And, a neighborhood association will be picking up trash at Canal and Galvez Saturday from 9 to three.
Now, I haven’t asked anyone, but I’m going to make a wild guess here: I’ll bet anyone who shows up anywhere there is litter will be allowed to pick it up. Hey, it’s worth a try.
What I Told the Pastors Wednesday Morning
“Here is a passage that I can almost guarantee none of you have preached.” I had their undivided attention. The text was Isaiah 62:6. “You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves….”
“Reminding the Lord may be the most unusual description of prayer you’ve ever heard. The Hebrew word is ‘mazkir,’ which comes from the root word meaning ‘to remember,’ and means ‘to cause to remember.’
“A mazkir was a court recorder, the person taking notes of all the transactions and dealings and promises the king made in court. The next time a defendant appeared for trial, the recorder reminded the king of his past record and any promises or deals the king may have made with him then.
“Have you ever noticed in Scripture how many prayers are filled with praises like these: ‘Lord, you opened the sea and let Israel walk through on dry land. You showered your people with manna from on high. You preserved them through the wilderness and gave them the Promised Land.’ You wondered what the point of that was. The one praying was reminding God of His faithfulness and of their dependence on Him.
“Think of your praying like that. Remind God in prayer of what He has done for you, and what He has promised. Remind Him of the needs you have brought before Him, and how much you depend Him each day.
“This is how the great men and women of Scripture prayed. They knew their history, they knew the Word, and they knew their God. By reminding Him of His faithful deeds and steadfast promises throughout history, they were inspiring themselves to trust Him.
“One of the things you and I do best is forgetting. We forget the blessings others give us and the kindnesses they show us. We remember the wrong things, too, like the hurts others afflict on us.
“When we pray, let us ask the Father to remind us to forget what we should and to remember what we ought, and to learn to pray as He taught us in the Word.”
Remind us, Father.