A few weeks ago, we cut our weekly pastors meeting an hour, back to 90 minutes. Today, we took a full two hours and didn’t want to quit then. Forty-two were present, twice as many as last week when some of us were in NC for the SBC’s annual meeting.
My opening words to the pastors are below, under the heading “Choosing Who Nominates You.” As the men and ladies trickled in (we started with perhaps a dozen present), Jim Burton of the North American Mission Board introduced Mickey Cason and Mike Carlisle from his team. Mickey has been on the ground here for 3 months assisting in the rebuilding, while Mike has just come to NAMB as V-P for missions mobilization. “This is on-the-job-training for Mike,” said Jim. He went on to say, “We’re trying to learn how to maximize our experience in the rebuilding of New Orleans, how to ride the wave of this momentum. We want to do more than gut out houses and pick up litter. We want to learn how to start churches and do evangelism in this city, to establish Southern Baptists better than ever in New Orleans.” For that reason, he said, he and his team came to listen to the pastors.
Mickey Cason said, “We are all in a fight for the soul of New Orleans.” Referring to the National Guardsmen coming to keep the streets safe, he urged everyone to tell their friends that New Orleans is secure and that it’s okay to come help.
Freddie Arnold had told me he would miss the first part of the meeting because he had to go downtown and get a demolition permit to take down a house owned by Gentilly Baptist Church. Yet, he walked in just as we were beginning. “It was a miracle,” he said. “Anytime you can get into the permit office and out in an hour, you know the Lord was there.” What had happened was that some bureaucrat talked with him and turned him away, saying he should come back next week. But a woman in the office recognized him and came over and hugged him. “I didn’t recognize her,” Freddie said, “but she did me. One of our pastors and I were in that office last year and we chatted with her, and led her to the Lord. She joined that pastor’s church and is still active. She said to me, ‘What do you need?’ And took care of me right there on the spot.”
Freddie urged pastors to keep Ridgecrest-On-the-River on their calendar for September 9. This day-long training event, normally at the seminary, will be held at the FBC of New Orleans this year, and is being planned by Jim Gifford of the Louisiana Baptist Convention staff. Dr. Gary Frost of the New York City Baptist Association will be the keynote speaker.
Our NAMB counselor-in-residence Joe Williams has been out for a few weeks. He said, “I see a lot of mental fatigue in our people. They say, ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’m irritable.’ We have to find the root causes for this so we can deal with the real issues.” He plans sessions for entire congregations soon.
James “Boogie” Melerine of Delacroix Church, meeting in the citrus shed, said, “We’ve averaged 71 for this month so far. But we have to do something. I cut short my message last Sunday. It was so hot, I told them as soon as I saw the 20th person fanning, I knew it was time to quit!” The Presbyterian church in that area, with perhaps 6 members, wanted to let them have their building and to become part of Delacroix’s congregation, but our understanding is the denomination threatened to sue if they did, so that ended that. “We’d like to buy a house or something in the area right now,” Boogie said.
Three staffers from the First Baptist Church of New Orleans were present. Inman Houston reported that the Baptist Crossroads Project has 10 homes under construction. “We call it the most hopeful place in New Orleans,” he said, “but it’s also the most colorful place. There’s so much darkness in the area and we’re brightening it up.” Across the street from where they’re working is a home being prettied up with new siding. The owners said they were undecided about rebuilding until they saw we were constructing a brand new neighborhood. “We have 225 World Changers in town right now and another 800-900 will be coming.”
Travis Scruggs reported on the relief recovery being done through FBC-NO. “Two weeks ago I told you groups were canceling due to the New Orleans heat. Now I’m reporting that God is replacing them with other teams.” So far, groups working through their church have gutted out 590 homes, along with other yard work, cars towed, etc. “Our goal is to hit 1,000 homes by September 1. Just think–one thousand homes–which is one percent of all the homes destroyed. Pretty amazing.” Travis urged the pastors to let them know anything they need–volunteer teams, masks, protective suits.
Scott Carlin said, “Nothing about our church is the same. Our church is more energized than it has ever been. This is an unprecedented opportunity for a new day.”
Craig Ratliff reported that FBC Arabi is merged with Celebration of Metairie. “The documents are being done this week.” A 4,000 square foot tent is being erected on the property. They’re giving away supplies, food, water, etc., to the neighborhood.
Keith Manuel and Mike Schultz from Calvary reported that their church is now being called “Fort Calvary” because of all the work headquartered there. “The key to our church is flexibility,” Keith said. “No group in our church is now meeting where it used to.” There is no adult education space, so they meet in the children’s building. A children’s educational building is being constructed. “God is providing the teams we need just as we need them,” they reported.
Eddie Scott of Christian Bible Fellowship is partnering with Celebration and they are giving away food, water, and supplies from their location in the Upper 9th Ward. “By 10 am, thirty or forty people are waiting in front of the church,” Eddie said. “We pray with them, witness to them.” The sanctuary renovation is on hold. The fellowship hall is needed more. “We need flooring and plumbing crews,” he said. “Monday, we have a team coming to hold Vacation Bible School.” He has only 20 of the original 400 members back, but so many others are moving into the neighborhood, they’re reaching a lot of new people.
Jesse Magee of Deliverance on Haynes Boulevard said, “We’re meeting on our property. Some people are driving long distances to get there. There’s not much life in the community yet. Only four or five trailers are in the area. Our key leaders haven’t returned yet.”
Kemp Johnson of the Urban Family Mission on Magazine Street, meeting in the educational building of Valence Street Church, said, “We have MissionLab groups coming June 25. They’ll be working in people’s homes, doing prayer walks, and such.” He has a block party scheduled for July 29.
Jung Park of the Calvary Korean Church has a few people meeting. He’s trying to get his family moved back here from Phoenix, I believe.
Donald Miller of Allen Temple said, “We have more visitors coming than members. Three have accepted Christ.” He is a chaplain at a state mental hospital, which gives him a different perspective on the local situation. “With all the crime and the killing of the five kids this weekend, it’s a mental problem,” he said. “You have mental patients in your congregation, and pastor, they need you.”
Jerry Darby of One Faith drives over each Tuesday from Alvin, Texas, near Houston. “Our church is like the original New Testament church,” he said, “meaning: scattered, and meeting in homes.” Formerly, his church members lived in New Orleans East and many lived in the St. Bernard Housing Project in the Gentilly area. None of those are living here now. “We have a few who live in Kenner now,” he said. He meets with them on Wednesday afternoons after our pastors meetings.
Lionel Roberts of the St. Bernard Mission said, “They will demolish the St. Bernard Project. This has been my prayer. It puts me opposite to some of our people who are fighting to keep it open.” Lionel, who was raised there and has long carried a heavy burden for the residents of this sad place, said, “We used to have a murder in that project every day. I’m not talking about the city of New Orleans, but that one project.” He went on to expound on the need of the city at the moment. “Men and women of God need to go into depressed communities and reach out. I’m heavy with this. This is my ministry, my calling.”
Gonzalo Rodriguez of Good Shepherd Spanish told of a church member offering him a vacation wherever he wished to go. “I’ve always wanted to take my family on an Alaskan cruise,” he said. And that’s what they did. He just got back. “I didn’t know how tired I was,” he said, “until we got away.” Several around him volunteered to take the next cruise if that church member was still buying.
Manuel Ponce of El Calvario Spanish said, “We have the land, and now need the money to build.” Their new site is in the midst of a vast community of Hispanics in Algiers not more than a mile below Oak Park where we were meeting. “Right now we’re meeting in the buildings of the FBC of Gretna. We had 65 last Sunday. God is providing.”
Tony Bellow of Hahnville Mission:”We have two churches coming to roof our buildings and do VBS, and work in New Orleans. We’ve purchased some new carpet for the church.”
Oscar Williams pastors the Good News Church, one of two congregations that have expressed the desire to join our association since Katrina. I told the group today, “Our credentials committee is not able to meet these days, but I told Oscar to act like he belongs, because we feel that way about him. He’s been more regular at these meetings than you have!” “Our old building has been torn down,” Oscar said. “We’re located near Franklin Avenue and people are beginning to move back in. We’ll be getting a building permit soon and getting started.”
Hong Fu Liu of the New Orleans Chinese Church and his wife (pronounced Show-Shen; don’t ask me to spell it!) presented me with a lovely painting of a scene native to their home country. Above the reeds and birds, Hong Fu lettered a verse from Nehemiah 8 in Chinese calligraphy, they signed their names again in Chinese, and wrote in English a little dedication to me. It’s so lovely, we’re having it framed. And just in case any successor of mine in the associational office ever goes looking for it, IT’S MINE!!!
Hong Fu’s church has a group coming from Houston to lead a VBS soon. To our surprise and delight, he has invited our pastors group to meet in their church in the future.
When I mentioned that we will be needing a host church on the East Bank after the end of July, Gonzalo Rodriguez quickly threw up his hand, volunteering. David Crosby said, “Good! I want them to serve a lot of tacos and enchiladas and such!” Gonzalo said, “We can do it!”
Anthony Pierce of Evangelistic Church travels over each week from Lafayette. “We had a group from Knoxville restore the upstairs of our building. The first of July, we will begin worshiping there. This group worked so hard–if it stood still, they painted it!” One of the special blessings was their gutting out a home for a 73-year-old grandmother, who was so encouraged by that, she’s still blessing God. “A group from Kentucky is giving a block party tomorrow. And next week, a team from Morristown, TN, will do a backyard Bible club. Three more groups are coming the second week of July to restore the sanctuary.”
Tobey Pitman, for years the veteran NAMB missionary in charge of the Brantley Center for the homeless of New Orleans, reports that the center will soon be locked up and his assignment is changing. Tobey is the new Project Manager for Operation NOAH Rebuild. “We have secured housing for 500 people per night in the World Trade Center downtown,”he said. I knew that was in the works, but today it was announced for the first time. My understanding is that some visionary had leased a couple of floors of this building right downtown on the riverfront and turned it into housing for volunteers with the understanding that FEMA would take it over. They were not interested, but God wanted the Baptists to step in and take it over. At lunch, Tobey was telling me how special the location is for groups coming to our city. I asked him to e-mail me, detailing all that he said, so I can post it here on this website for people to read and benefit from.
Keith Cating, for four years plus, campus ministry director for all our colleges in the New Orleans area, announced his resignation today. He will soon become BCM director at McNeese State in Lake Charles, which is his hometown. He’s been invaluable to us these years, and particularly since Katrina. We will hate to see him go.
Tom Pewitt, lay leader of Memorial Church, announced that interim pastor Fred Dyess is not with us today, because he and wife Ann are at Branson. “Today is their 50th wedding anniversary.”
David Crosby of FBC-NO is a man of ideas and vision, you’ve heard me say before. Today, with the recent killing of the teenagers on his heart, he asked, “Do we have a Baptist trailer or motor home we could put at that intersection on Danneel Street? We need a presence there. Let’s go over there and bear witness to those folks of the love of Christ.” We have no such trailer or motor home, but are asking the Father what specifically to do here.
David said, “Another thing. On August 29, let’s buy a full page in the Times-Picayune and say,’New Orleans, we are praying for you.’ Give our report to the city about this first year. Tell how many meals we’ve served, homes gutted out, that sort of thing.” He laughed and said, “The Lord has someone who will provide the 12 thousand dollars for that page.”
David said, “I feel so blessed to be surrounded by the Southern Baptist Convention. They’ve heard our cry. Baptists are behind us. They’ve done a lot, and I want them to do more. We’ve had 7,000 volunteers in our gut-out ministry over these months. Folks, let’s claim these streets for Christ!”
He led the prayer and we went to lunch. Oak Park is hosting a churchful of teenagers and adults who are part of World Changers, and feeding us all in shifts. This is a busy place with a large team of volunteers who take great care of all who enter.
As David said, “We are so blessed.”
Jim Burton said at the top of our meeting, he wanted to hear from the church leaders. That’s why the meeting lasted a full two hours. He did.
Two Items In Wednesday’s Paper
This one is almost funny. A Christian non-profit group is tearing down houses in St. Bernard Parish at a rate to shame the commercial outfit brought in by the local government. “At no cost to government or the homeowners, a national non-profit group bulldozed 250 St. Bernard Parish homes in two days, 42 percent as many as the parish’s paid contractor has knocked down since it started demolitions May 10.” Christian Contractors Association works for the Lord Jesus Christ, not for cash, whereas Unified Recovery Group has other considerations, I suppose. Parish officials are embarrassed and putting pressure on URG to get a move on.
We may have a high noon confrontation in the making. City leaders are reluctant to adopt the new flood-elevation advisories recommended by FEMA which call for new and renovated homes to be raised at least 3 feet above the surrounding ground. If this is not done, some believe federal dollars coming to help rebuild the city will slow to a trickle. The paper expects city, state, and federal leaders to clash in coming days over this issue.
Choosing Who Nominates You
Late one night last week, some of us were sitting around in the cafe area of the Sheraton-Four Seasons in Greensboro, NC, following a long day of convention activities. “No Other Name,” the incredible Nashville threesome, was doing a mini-concert on the stage in front of us while we sampled the hotel’s ice cream. Then as some guests walked by. headed to their rooms, my friend Don suddenly jumped up and ran after them. Five minutes later, he was back. “That was Forrest Pollock,” he said.
I said, “I didn’t know you knew Forrest Pollock.” (Louisianians remember him as former pastor of Istrouma Baptist Church of Baton Rouge; now leading a great church in Brandon, Florida.) Don said, “I didn’t. But after the way he nominated Frank Page for SBC president today, I wanted to know him. If I ever run for office, I want him to nominate me.”
Next day, I ran into an unsuccessful candidate for one of the vice-presidential positions. I had missed the election, so he told me the outcome. He said, “I had the wrong guy nominating me. I should have chosen someone else.”
I told him a lesson I learned about that the hard way many years ago when I was serving as a trustee of our International Mission Board. Baker James Cauthen was just retiring as our executive, and Keith Parks would soon be following him, so the boardmember we chose as president would have a crucial role during the transition. I decided the best candidate on the board would be Travis Berry, a former missionary to Brazil, and at the time, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Plano, Texas. He was a statesman in every sense of the word, with a gracious manner, good presence, and excellent experience. I had a good candidate. Unfortunately, Travis did not have the best nominator.
Board member Ralph Smith was pastor of the great Hyde Park Baptist Church of Austin, Texas, and light-years beyond me in political and people savvy. He was to nominate Jack Patterson, pastor of a church in Richmond. A good guy. But I was convinced I had the better candidate.
I went first. That was my first mistake. I gave it my all, enumerating all the logical reasons Travis Berry would be an excellent choice for this crucial time. They nodded; apparently they agreed.
Then, Ralph Smith came to the podium and handed me my head. He was warm, positive, funny, upbeat, charming, and quickly had them eating out of his hand. Jack would be the better candidate, he said, simply because he pastors in the same city where the Board is located, allowing the new executive to call on him easily and often. Period. That was it.
It wasn’t even close. Jack won handily. Because he had a better nominator, pure and simple.
The politicians know this. Even the Apostle Paul had this lesson down pat. Really. It happened on his second missionary journey soon after he, Silas, Luke, and others arrived in the Macedonian village of Philippi.
“As we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having the spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, ‘These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.’
“She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.” (Acts 16)
It’s not that what she was saying was wrong. She had the words right, but she was the wrong person to be commending these servants of Christ. To be recommended by her was to leave the impression they were like her, that she was part of their team and they hers. Her commendation would actually diminish the men and weaken the impact of their ministry. Satan knew that, too, which is why he did it. Better no word of commendation or even opposition from certain quarters than a good word from the wrong person.
Think of witnessing for Jesus Christ as nominating Him to people who are undecided or even in opposition. You are giving them reasons to choose Him.
No one is going to choose Christ in a vacuum, just waking up one day and saying, “I think there’s a Lord named Jesus and I’m going to live for Him.” Someone has to tell them. To commend Him. Nominate Him, if you will.
Throughout the New Testament, God is adamant that certain ones are unqualified to bear witness for Him. Hypocrites, compromisers, the rebellious, liars, cheats, and the like.
Paul said to young Timothy, “If a man makes himself clean from these things, he will be a vessel for honor…useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (II Timothy 2:21)