Seen Any Angels Lately?

When Freddie Arnold stood before our pastors meeting today, he told of certain people who have ministered to him and to us in remarkable ways. Then he asked, “Who has been blessed by an angel lately? Stand and tell us.”

Lynn Rodrigue of FBC Port Sulphur told how a Georgia church is manufacturing a modular church building for their use. “When it’s finished,” he said, “it will be large enough for worship on Sundays and for us to house visiting groups during the week.” Port Sulphur is some 30 or 35 miles downriver below Belle Chasse, in devastated Plaquemines Parish. “We have one store in our town and one gas station,” Lynn said. Gas is over three dollars a gallon.

“We’re handing out food and water and supplies to some 500 or 600 people a week,” he said. “It must weigh 40 pounds and takes a wheelbarrow to bring it up to the car.” They have accumulated the names and addresses of several thousand residents who have received supplies. “As soon as I’m able,” Lynn said, “I plan to knock on their doors and say, ‘Hello. Remember me?’ and talk to them about the Lord, invite them to church.”

Where do the supplies come from? “From angels.” All over. Lynn said, “We never know who’s going to send what. But they keep arriving and we keep handing them out.”

Lynn told us how he searched for his missing boat for several days. He finally found it, squashed, lying underneath a neighbor’s house, a house that is now sitting in Lynn’s backyard. Not one house in Port Sulphur survived the storm. How depressing is it living and working amid such destruction, I asked. “I’m doing fine,” he said. “I’m excited about this opportunity God has handed us.”

Opportunity? Lynn and his wife and four children live in a FEMA trailer, all of 240 square feet. “We go back to Baton Rouge a couple of days a week, to remember what normal is all about,” he said. God bless them.

Lionel Roberts of the Saint Bernard Mission, next door to the vacated housing project of that name, said, “We are having church in our sanctuary. In fact, it looks better now than it did before the storm. We started out great on Easter Sunday, but have been declining since. Then, this past Sunday, Mother’s Day, we had a houseful, including 19 mothers. I suppose that means we had at least 19 families present.”

Lionel said, “Our angels have been the Adopt-a-Churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have been smothered in love and kindnesses. Our church has been so blessed.”

Norm Cannada pastors a Baptist church in Charleston, West Virginia. He has brought a group down that is working out of Metairie Baptist Church, and he’s bringing another group down next week. Angel Norm. He was in a group recently that confessed to being sick and tired of always hearing about Katrina. Several of the group murmured that we know how they feel, that we’re tired of it too.

Darwin Bacon of the Arkansas Baptist Convention came today. “I had hoped to make it last week. I brought a little encouragement to you. I wanted to give you something to enable you to take your wife out on Mothers’ Day. But I didn’t make it until today.” He explained, “I have some envelopes with some lunch money for you to take your wife out to eat. Our accountant needs you to sign for it.” He had the undivided attention of the group of 30 to 40 who attended today’s gathering. Angel Darwin. Angel Arkansans.

Darwin said, “I could have sent this to you. The mail works just fine. But I just felt the need to be here with you, to tell you we love you, we’re praying for you, and we’re with you in this for the duration.”

Interstate 10 from the west was a parking lot this morning. Two 18-wheelers collided on the overpass atop Williams Boulevard in Kenner, spilling chemicals. Some of our ministers were seriously late and some did not make the meeting at all. By mid-afternoon, only one eastbound lane was open.

We had a little fun, teasing Jay Adkins, pastor of FBC Westwego. He’s been in the news lately as a candidate for the 2nd vice presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention, in the meeting next month in North Carolina. I got him to the front, handed him the mike, and said, “Go for it, Mayor Nagin.” They laughed, which was all I was after. Jay said, “Several friends asked if they could put my name up for this office. When I protested, they said mine was the typical Southern Baptist church and that we need more young pastors involved in SBC life. Well, I’m young.” The pastor who will nominate him gave another reason: we need to keep this needy area of Louisiana before Southern Baptists. Jay admitted to being embarrassed by the to-do, then said he expects to be further embarrassed by coming in third in the balloting. Jay’s father is pastor in West Virginia and the current president of their state convention. So, maybe it’s in the blood. Everyone adores Jay, so, who knows….

This Sunday, May 21, at 3 pm, Jay’s church in Westwego is holding an ordination council to interview his associate pastor, Brian Scholl. If all goes well, the ordination will be held at 4 pm. You’re invited.

Steve Gahagan, project manager for NAMB’s Operation NOAH Rebuild, spoke of their plans for gearing up to rebuild homes and help restore lives. Steve said, “Diane and I see God’s hand in our being here at this time. And we plan to stay as long as He needs us.” I teased, “We want you to stay until we’re through with you!”

“The computers and file cabinets and tables on the sidewalk by the educational building are for you,” said Oak Park’s Joe Kay. “You don’t have to ask or sign anything. Just take what you want.” He explained that they are having to clean out areas of their buildings to make room for their renovation. Anything not taken from the sidewalk, he said, goes into the dumpster. We’ve been giving away books for pastors’ libraries in the same way. Sometimes Freddie brings the books, sometimes I choose some from my overcrowded shelves. “There they are,” we tell the pastors. “Tell what you want, take all you want.”

Joe Kay went on to say, “Lunch today is from Corky’s Barbecue, provided by one of our church members who wants to remain nameless.” Corky’s is everyone’s favorite. Absolutely no one left early. The fellowship around the tables went on for an hour after we dismissed.

“I look forward to these meetings more than I can say,” said Boogie Melerine of Delacroix. His church, meeting in a shed or garage or something in lower St. Bernard, was down a little Sunday. “We had 41. But we had some more new people, so that was great.” I’m preaching for him this Sunday, May 21, at the 10:30 service. Don Campbell, member of that church, teased me a little. “Bring your own paint bucket,” referring to the improvised seating they make do with.

We have so many churches that were destroyed or massively damaged and have yet to be rebuilt. Yet, I’m always encouraged to hear that these congregations are heroically trying to go forward. Oscar Williams of Good News Church told how his people meet in the building of Destrehan’s First Baptist Church. “They’ve been wonderful to us,” Oscar said.

We’re trying to get word to every church of the Bush-Clinton Katrina money that is being made available to help churches and the conference on how to apply for these grants at Oak Park Baptist Church on Wednesday, May 31, at 10 am in place of our normally scheduled pastors meeting. It’s open to all denominations and is free, thanks to leader Donna Long and the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

The phone call came in the middle of this afternoon. A pastor friend called to say, “I have a problem. I asked our church to set aside $150,000 to help the churches in the New Orleans area. But they didn’t do it. They’ve designated $200,000 for this.” I said, “Man, you have a real problem. I suggest you and I spend a few days on a Waikiki beach and discuss this problem!” He laughed and said, “Help me figure out what to do.” Ah, this is what I do best. Helping generous churches figure out whom to help down here.

I think what he’s planning to do is give $10,000 each to 20 churches. I told him I will gladly drive him around to see the churches and meet the pastors so he can personally administer these gifts. My friend the angel.

One of the most humbling experiences of my day comes when someone who reads this article, this blog, calls or e-mails to say, “I’m going to help that pastor you mentioned today.”

This morning, I was able to hand a check for $750 to one of our neediest pastors from someone who read of his situation here. And we gave a similar-sized check to one of our pastors for his church rebuilding, from a like source. That is more fun.

Thank you, friends. Friends who pray and friends who give and friends who come. You’re the best.

Angels, that’s what you are.

The Times-Picayune has endorsed Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu in Saturday’s mayoral election. “The next mayor must reach out” (to the many private foundations and corporations that want to help us rebuild). “The incumbent, Ray Nagin, has seemed disinclined, even averse, to seeking such help.”

The editor admitted to endorsing Nagin four years ago, and says, “Mr. Nagin is an honest man who has kept the best interests of the city at heart….” Then, adds, “…his aversion to the give-and-take of governing has proved a liability. From the start, Mr. Nagin has been unable to turn his larger ideas into realities. He has trouble communicating clearly with other officials and the public, and he has shown little ability to form and retain a team of talented managers.”

Landrieu has his own liabilities, the paper says. “Still, Mr. Landrieu’s considerable strengths outweigh his weaknesses.” “A pleaser by nature, Mr. Landrieu seems loath to upset anybody. To be a good mayor, he will have to learn how to be the bearer of bad news.”

The paper concluded, “In Saturday’s election, voters are fortunate to have a choice between two candidates of good character. But one has the better disposition and drive to rally New Orleanians to their city’s cause. Mitch Landrieu is that candidate.”

We’ll see if the Times-Picayune endorsement proves to be Mitch’s angel.