This morning the pastors were in great spirits. “I’m still glowing from last night,” one said, referring to the wonderful prayer rally at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans. Fred Luter was being congratulated on his incredible sermon. David Crosby was also basking in compliments for putting together that outstanding program.
At the beginning of the morning session, I told the pastors, “I’m going to list five biblical men. Tell me the characteristic that comes to your mind about each one.” Moses, Samuel, Noah, Daniel, and Job. Courageous and faithful, bold, prayerful, and persevering were mentioned. I said, “Turn to Jeremiah 15:1. God names the two best prayer intercessors He knows: Moses and Samuel. The question is why?”
We thought of the way Moses stood between Israel and God and refused to turn loose of either. And how Samuel (whose name means “Heard by God”) told Israel, “God forbid that I sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (I Samuel 12:23).
Next, I asked them to go to Ezekiel 14:14. God names the three most righteous men He can think of (and He ought to know them all!)–Noah, Daniel, and Job. In words reminiscent of Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, God warns His people that when He sends judgment, it does not matter who is within their walls. “Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, they could only deliver themselves and no one else!” He says.
Five of the greatest people God knows, each one worth meditating upon.
Our guests almost outnumbered the regulars. (Total attendance: 48) From the Louisiana Baptist Convention, we welcomed David and Patti Hankins, Wayne Jenkins, Mike Canady, Gibbie McMillan, and Ed Jelks. From the North American Mission Board, we recognized Jim Burton, Bill Taylor, and Richard Leach. The Baptist Message was represented by Managing Editor Karen Willoughby, who brought stacks of copies of this week’s “Katrina” issue.
David Hankins (Executive Director, LBC): I have three things to say to you: thank you; we know it’s not over; and we’re with you for the long haul. (Since I had given the pastors a sermon starter earlier, David gave one also. “How do we move on from here?” Philippians 3:12-14 1. Formulate a healthy perspective 2. forget a hurtful past. 3. find a heavenly purpose. 4. focus on a hearty performance.)
Wayne Jenkins (Evangelism Director, LBC): Our annual evangelism conference is scheduled for January 22-23 at the FBC of New Orleans. The theme: “Empowering Kingdom Growth: Revitalizing Your Church.” Some of the program personalities include James Walker, Frank Page, Robert Smith, and Ken Hemphill. Wayne asked the pastors for input on practical subjects for “breakout sessions” over those two days. We divided into small groups and came up with such ideas as: How to get church facilities up and running after a disaster, restructuring church staff following Katrina, establishing a FEMA trailer ministry, and how to relate to new people moving into the community.
Mike Canady (Missions & Ministry Director, LBC): When you have developed your rebuild plans, contact us at the LBC. We will help you look at the plans and resources you have–insurance, Katrina funds, money from your partnering churches, etc, and see if we can find additional money to assist you. We will work through the association. Mike added, “I don’t know if I have ever been prouder of being a Southern Bapist and being part of the network that cares and is working. Each time I come to the city, I see improvement, not only in the rebuild but also in the attitude.”
Steve Brackenbury works with the Marshall Association in Northeast Alabama (that’s Guntersville, y’all). “We have been bringing young people here most of the summer to do gut-out work. When we learned about the city being divided into 27 zones, we decided to partner with the churches in the zone which includes the Ninth Ward. We need to know what the needs are for these churches so we can develop a plan to present to the Alabama convention.”
Jim Burton, NAMB: We are here for the long haul. There has been a drop in volunteers due to school starting. Ideally, we need 250 volunteers here each and every week. But they’re hard to find. I’ve been to every Promise Keepers meeting promoting this. I think they’re going to come, but it takes people a while to plan their schedule. We’re approaching corporations that value public service. We tell them, “We have the infrastructure. We can get the building materials, and we can house 500 people a night. We want to help you. We are providing a service to your corporation.”
Tobey Pitman, director of Operation NOAH Rebuild: There are 5 branches of the NOAH project in New Orleans. 1. Our office at Calvary Baptist Church. We receive e-mails and phone calls and walk-ins. People come for information and to fill out the forms to have their house gutted. Volunteers wanting to come work call this number also (504/362-4604). We make arrangements for their work and for them to stay in the Volunteer Village if they wish. When possible, we ask them to give us a 6 weeks notice so we will have time to set everything up for them.
2. Construction. Steve Gahagan and Tim Agee are our supervisors. They visit the homes we’re asked to gut and assess the damage. They decide if this is worth renovating and is it something volunteers can do. If so, then they ask the homeowner what he/she can do to assist, such as buying materials.
3. Warehouse. Right now, we’re using one of our East New Orleans churches as a warehouse to store tools and materials. We have a bigger, secondary one in LaPlace where we can store truckloads of materials. We’re looking for an experienced warehouse manager, in case you know of someone.
4. The Volunteer Village in the World Trade Center, able to house 500 per night. We’re still working on getting a permit for the permanent kitchen there. (Presently, some of the food we serve we buy and bring in; some we have catered.)
5. The Personal Ministry to the Homeowners. Rayna Pittman is in charge of this area, working with our volunteers in witnessing, praying, ministering.
Tobey told how he brought a friend, Carl Franzella, to look at the 3 floors of the World Trade Center soon after they opened. The floors were hard, bare concrete. Carl said, “You need carpet here!” Tobey: “You think so? That would be nice.” (The fact that Carl was a carpet dealer was not a coincidence. Tobey is one sneaky fellow.) Bottom line: Carl had 24,000 square feet of what he called “God’s carpet” gathering dust in his warehouse. Before the hurricane, a five-star hotel had ordered this carpet for their own renovation. After the storm, they still have not reopened. In fact, they called Carl and canceled the order, paid for the carpet, and told him it was now his. All that expensive carpet is now being trod upon by men and women and older youth from around the nation here to help us rebuild the city. I understand the Franzellas are members of the FBC of Covington. A wonderful Latin phrase comes to mind: “Carpet Diem.”
(That’s a pun, Ginger.)
Tobey mentioned that Saddleback Church in Southern California has brought 1700 volunteers to the city over these months. Recently they found out about the Volunteer Village (I suggested they read it on my blog!) and they’ve made arrangements to start boarding here. He reports they are committed to helping rebuild New Orleans for the next 3 years.
David Crosby suggested to the NAMB people that next year when they promote the Easter Offering for North American Missions (also known as the Annie Armstrong Offering), they “put a Katrina face on the offering material.” He said, “You’ll get twice the money you did this year! Plus, it will let Southern Baptists know what is happening with the money.”
Alberto Rivera is promoting the “Vision Tour” scheduled for Friday, October 6, in our area. Visiting preachers and others will tour areas of New Orleans in need of new churches, and local host pastors are needed to team with them.
Scott Smith, Highland: We would not be here today if not for the Cooperative Program. We have learned what the Cooperative Program really means. All these people have been coming to our city to help us. Now, our churches need to be ready to send mission teams to parts of the country that need us.
We reminded everyone of the training available on Saturday, September 9, Ridgecrest on the River at the FBC of New Orleans. Churches need to call the associational office to register members who will attend.
Our wonderful hosts for these Wednesday meetings, El Buen Pastor Iglesia (“Good Shepherd Church”) and their pastor Gonzalo Rodriguez have invited us to meet with them each week through October. Everyone is excited. The lunch today was catered by a member of their church who owns Carretas Restaurant on near Causeway in Metairie. A friend who attended today said, “How can I join this group? I’m not a pastor, but I am an ordained minister.” I said, “There is no membership. Most of the guys are pastors and our main concern is the rebuilding of the city and our churches, but anyone is invited.”
Anthony Pierce, Evangelistic Church: “This pastors meeting each Wednesday means so much to me. I look forward to the fellowship. Thomas Glover told me about it the first time and urged me to come. I had never attended many of the associational events prior to this, but now I’m here every time.” He drives over from Lafayette, over 2 hours west of here. “My church is now multi-ethnic. We just took in a young Spanish gentleman named Juan this past Sunday.”
Wednesday night on the NBC Nightly News, I caught Brian Williams’ interview with President Bush taped Tuesday in the Ninth Ward. Looking closely, I noticed they were standing in front of the Baptist Crossroads Project, those colorful houses our people are building with Habitat for Humanity. Thanks, Brian and George W. Appreciate the publicity!
Wednesday morning, this happened three times before I left the house for the pastors’ meeting. I fielded e-mails from people wanting to come to New Orleans with their church or college groups and needing information on what to do and where to stay. I told them all the same: “Go to www.joemckeever.com and on the right side of the page, click on ‘If you’re coming to N.O.’ There’s a lot of information there, and toward the bottom, you’ll find out about NOAH and the Volunteer Village. Those are the answers to your questions.” I always add, “Let me know if you run into a problem.” I don’t expect to hear from them again. They’ll talk to the super folks at the NOAH office and be welcomed into the pipeline and have a great experience working here.
Tuesday, I had lunch with Karen and Kelly Campbell of East Tennessee. Kelly works with The Appalachian Project and Karen is volunteering in the NOAH office here. She told how the phone rings endlessly, but answering it and dealing with the hurting callers gives her so much joy. “They’re often at the end of their rope when they call us,” she said. “Sometimes I cry with them.”
When I was pastoring, sometimes people would come into our church office needing help. “I’ve been turned down by the other churches in town,” they’d say. Or, “I didn’t know where else to go, so I came here.” It soon became a matter of pride as a follower of Jesus, if you will, for me to say, “Well, you’ve come to the right church. We’re going to help you.”
That’s what I like about the great folks at NOAH. They’re here to help. And brother, are they ever! We feel so blessed.
I was thinking today about the incredible collection of pastors and denominational leaders and other faithful servants the Lord has assembled here for these days. What a ‘human resources’ department He must have!
We are so blessed.