What We Learned From a Hurricane

Friday night inside the central dining hall of Alexandria’s Louisiana Baptist Building, over 200 men and women attending the “Disaster Relief Roundtable” were feted with a banquet at which presentations were made to a number of dedicated volunteers.

If you’ll allow me to say so, the best award was ours.

A special award to celebrate a long history of disaster relief work has been created and named, most appropriately, “The Freddie Arnold Lifetime Achievement Award”. The first one went to–again, most appropriately–Freddie Arnold himself. I have no idea how it feels to receive an award which is named “for” oneself, but each year hereafter, other faithful DR workers will be receiving the Freddie Arnold Award.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, or one more deserving.

“Was Freddie surprised?” my wife wanted to know. I expect he was clued in when he picked up the program and saw printed: “Presentation of Freddie Arnold Lifetime Achievement” by Dr. David Hankins, Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director.

What most surprised him was looking up and seeing his entire family walk in just prior to the dinner: wife Elaine, daughter Julie Johnston and son Zac, and son Kerney with Jacob and Katie. I picked up my notebook and moved over to their table to share in the joy of the occasion.

Waylon and Martha Bailey of Covington’s First Baptist Church were the featured speakers. This incredible couple are heroes for many of us in a hundred ways. Martha gave a brief testimony about their church’s heavy involvement in disaster relief in the first few days and weeks following Katrina’s blow-through in late August, 2005. Time and again, she said, when their workers needed certain supplies a truck would pull up loaded with that very thing. It was a time of miracles.

Waylon began: “On August 29, 2005, the person in this room who knew the least about SBC disaster relief is the one standing before you. I had no idea what it was or how it functioned. I was given a crash course, however.”

Waylon shared “10 Things I Learned on the Way to a Hurricane,” and like a good pastor, passed out fill-in-the-blank sheets so everyone could take notes.

1. “Hurting people live in a classless society.”

People in big houses, people in mobile homes, and everything in between–it no longer mattered after the hurricane. Everyone was in the same boat and needed help. Older people told me this is how it was during the Great Depression: everyone was in the same predicament.

2. “The cavalry is a beautiful sight.”

When Martha and I drove back home after the storm, trees were down everywhere and buildings were wrecked. We checked on our house–47 trees were down, but the house came through pretty well–and then drove to the church. Thankfully, the church did not receive too much damage, but what was especially thrilling was the trucks and RVs all over the parking lot. Baptist Disaster Relief people from Oklahoma and Arkansas and other states had arrived and were already at work. It was just like the oldtime western movies where the settlers are in trouble and worrying that it’s all over, then the cavalry appears and you know everything is going to be all right.

3. “You are not cutting trees, you are giving Hope.”

The chain saw crews said, “Pastor, we’re ready to go to work. Just show us where.” Well, I knew our city, so off we went. I put them working in the yard of one of our people, clearing trees out of the driveway, and went off to scout other locations, checking on other families in the church. But the chain saw people could not get away. Once the neighbors saw them working in the first driveway, they came over and asked them to “do my house next.”

I told these crews, “You’re not cutting trees. You’re giving these people hope.” Hope is a wonderful thing.

4. “The Church is a place where people care.”

For weeks, our church parking lot was the busiest place in town. People who could not find supplies at the Target across the interstate from our church, were told to try our church. We usually had what they were looking for–and everything was free. At one point, a trailer arrived containing one million dollars worth of baby products, pampers, wipes, etc. Lots of young families live in our area, so we had no trouble giving these away.

There are two things that cannot be said in Covington for a long, long time: 1) the church is only after my money, and 2) this church does not care about this community.

5. “Christ has equipped the church to minister to the needs of people.”

The amazing thing is that among the volunteers, we had people who could do everything we needed. It was a lovely picture of the Body of Christ, each one doing his part and using his gifts, no one trying to do it all, and the needs being met.

6. “A church which does not minister is a ‘soulless’ place.”

Our people were hurting and disoriented for a long time. With 40 percent of our people working across Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, and now that city being devastated and shut down, a lot of folks were in big trouble. Many were transferred to other cities and states almost immediately. And with all this going on, we were amazed how many people came to us and thanked us for being there for them. They wondered where their church was, why it wasn’t doing anything. Now, some other churches were working–it wasn’t just the Baptists, thank the Lord–and we’re grateful for everyone that was out there serving the people. But some did nothing. And that is so sad.

7. “Baptists–and others of God’s people–truly care for the least of these.”

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones who do, but praise God, we do! No one can ever question again the commitment of this denomination and our churches to helping people no matter their station in life. We helped the rich guy who lived in a mansion and drove the huge car in the same way we did the little guy. It didn’t matter. We showed them all the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was so overwhelming to see these disaster relief people take vacation from their jobs and drive hundreds of miles to the saddest place on earth and help us dig out. I will never be the same after this.

8. “You can’t outgive God.”

Now, pastors, you and I tell this to our people all the time. We just don’t believe it. When they start giving for other projects, we start worrying how we’ll be able to make expenses.

One thing we knew early on: we had to help the churches of New Orleans that were so devastated. I told our people I’d like us to give $100,000 to help them. So, we asked everyone to increase their offerings by 10 percent. We said, If you give 40 dollars a week, give 44 dollars. If you give 10 dollars a week, then increase it by 10 percent and give 11 dollars. For weeks following, we got lots of checks in the offering for 44 dollars and 11 dollars! But thankfully, we received a lot of checks with the big numbers, too.

As a result, we did not give $100,000 to the churches of New Orleans. We gave $200,000! What a blessing that was. And yet, God more than met all our needs during all this time.

(Waylon said, “I was not going to tell you all of this, but Joe McKeever is the biggest blabber-mouth in town and he’s already told it.” Thanks for the plug, my brother. We reported here last Fall how FBC Covington sent $10,000 checks to 20 of our churches.)

9. “Ministry to physical needs opens the door to talk about spiritual needs.”

I know churches that only care for the physical needs of people but not the spiritual, and churches that minister to spiritual needs, but not the physical. But we have an excellent role model: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He fed the hungry and healed the sick–and He forgave sin and died to redeem us forever.

10. “Jesus Christ is the only hope.”

That was true on August 29, 2005, and it’s true on January 26, 2007 (tonight).

During those long hard days when volunteers were arriving from Arkansas and Oklahoma and North Louisiana, I heard the strangest thing. They were working incredibly long hours and sleeping on the floor of our church building. We had no power, no lights, no air conditioning–and it was hot! I know the thermometer said it was only 95 or 96 outside but it felt like 115 degrees inside! And do you know what these people said to me? “Thank you so much for letting us stay in your buildings.” They said it again and again.

It was almost too much to comprehend.

Dr. John Piper tells of two 80-year-old women–Ruby and Laura–being killed in a car wreck in Cameroon, West Africa. They were there as part of a mission team and were killed instantly when their vehicle went off a cliff.

At the same time that happened, Reader’s Digest did a story about a couple, ages 51 and 59, who quit their jobs, bought a yacht, and were spending their retirement sailing up and down the Florida coast, playing, indulging themselves, and collecting seashells.

When you read that you had to wonder if this story was on the up-and-up, or if it was a spoof. Maybe a joke. But it was presented in all seriousness.

Contrast that couple with Rudy and Laura.

One of these days I will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at judgment. My life will be laid bare. Will I have to say, “Lord, look at all my pretty seashells”?

You have one life to life, friend. To use it in any other way than in devotion to Christ is a waste.

(Note: Dr. Bailey says he reads every word I post on these blogs–a truly humbling thought. So, I’m going to invite him to click on “comment” (below) and flesh out any or all of these points, and to add anything he wishes. Following the banquet a man asked if Waylon had this message recorded. He said, “No,” and then someone said, “Check Joe’s blog tomorrow!” We all got a good laugh out of that. Okay, here it is.)

2 thoughts on “What We Learned From a Hurricane

  1. Thanks, Joe!!! that was great.. You met up to your

    billing as the best note taker in USA.

    I will keep up with you thru your web-site. Have a great week.


  2. OK, Joe, it’s on the up and up! Better reported than I said. I love my brother in Christ! And, I appreciate all the heroes in New Orleans who are ministering to our great–but sad–city.

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