March Madness is over! No, not the NCAA basketball tournament, but the blitz of college students who swarmed into New Orleans during their various spring breaks. I don't know all the numbers, but I do know there were thousands of college students in our city over the course of this month. In the last four weeks, our church worked with approximately 500 college and high school students (including a few groups of middle-aged, working adults). We've had people from California, Conneticutt, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Georgia and all places inbetween (I even met a couple today from Idaho; they are vacationing in New Orleans and wanted to help gut out a home so I partnered them with one of our groups this afternoon). All told, those groups gutted out approximately 65-70 homes. I'm looking forward to June when the number of groups kick up again and we see 100-200 volunteers/week work through our church, but I'm grateful for a short reprive for the next few weeks.
Let me share two stories of encouragement and two prayer requests. First, last week one of our neighbors (a person whose house we gutted two weeks ago) stopped by my trailer to talk for a bit. He had a question and stopped by to ask if I could help him. It turns out we sat and talked about lots of things for about 20 minutes. Then, he looked out the window and said "My wife just drove by." We walked outside and his wife had doubled back around when she saw his car parked by my trailer. She and their daughter got out of her car and the whole family came in my trailer. I had one donut left (thanks, InterVarsity, for bringing donuts every day) and I offered it to her. I think I’m her best friend now! The four of us sat and talked about life in Gentilly for another 20 minutes. They were very comfortable and relaxed, which was a great encouragement to me. We have invited them to countless events over the course of many years, but they were never interested. After we gutted his house, he brought his family to a Wednesday night service. He said they'd come to a Sunday service as well. This family never would have stepped foot on our property for a worship service before Katrina. Now they are talking about how they plan on coming on Sunday morning. We are thankful to God for that.
Second, a lady whose house we gutted a few weeks ago stopped by today. Her name is Olivia and she’s a policewoman for NOPD. A group of men from the Kansas City area (shout out to the KC group) gutted her house on the first week. She was on patrol and saw me outside. I walked over to talk with her. Our conversation was nothing spectacular, but she would never have stopped to speak with me had we not served her. We know that not all of the homeowners we serve will be responsive to our message of hope through Jesus, but we are grateful to God for those whom He brings our way. Of the 70 or so houses that we have gutted in the month of March (a number a bit short of the 1000 that I originally suggested; oops), about 7 or 8 families have expressed interest in spiritual matters or attending our services on a regular basis. These are the ways in which we measure our ministry. Not by the number of homes we gut, but by the ways we can affect people's lives.
There are two things that I would ask you to pray about. First, this ministry is a daunting task. Those who have come this month worked very hard for one week, but then went back home to their normal lives (I've done this on multiple times, seeing the hurt of places like Bangkok, Thailand for two weeks and being broken, but then going back home and forgetting most of what I saw). New Orleans, and specifically Gentilly, is where we live and minister. This is our home. Seeing the hurt and despair of homeowners is a daily occurrence. Sometimes it is a bit unbearable. Pray that the members of Edgewater Baptist Church will remember and act on Galatians 6.9: "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." Paul, I think, is applying his teaching in Galatians 5 on the fruit of the Spirit. Let us not lose heart in being patient, kind, and loving those, especially those in need.
Second, as we have been out in the neighborhood, we are making a good 'name' for ourselves. More and more people are coming to the church to sign up to have their houses gutted. We have had to make some hard decisions regarding the criteria we put in place to determine who 'qualifies' for our help. It's not based on financial standing, for Katrina was no respecter of bank accounts. We aren't going to turn someone down because their house is too nice. If we spent our time looking for the poorest of the poor to serve, we would walk and endless spiral of always finding someone in greater need than the previous person. Instead, our criteria depend primarily upon geographic location of the home and the intentions of the homeowner. We are committed to serving Gentilly and specifically those who want to return to our community. This means we have to turn down many who come for assistance. The problem is that many of the other churches who are also gutting out homes are shutting down their lists. All of us are overrun with work, but not enough workers. Pray that God would guide our steps as we make decisions on who we help and who we reject. Also pray that God would send many more volunteers this summer. To those of you who spent a week in New Orleans, tell others about your experiences. Invite them to come, to participate in the rebuilding of peoples homes and their lives. Those of you reading but have not yet come, encourage your church to organize a team and come. There is no shortage of work to be done, nor a shortage of lives to touch.
Internet access is still few and far between for me, so updates are slow in coming. Let me start by saying Monday was absolutely the most stressful day of my life. Plans changed at the last minute and we received and extra 60 college students who were ready to work. The problem was they didn't have any tools and we had no idea they were coming. Everything worked out and the day got much better after lunch. It's been a stressful week, but I've loved coordinating mission groups to do ministry in New Orleans.
We had six groups work specifically with our church this week. An awesome group from the Coast Guard Academy worked very hard. A group of middle aged men from Kansas City were a real encouragement. The Mercer University BSU were diligent workers. Two InterVarsity groups (Boston and Florida) provided some needed humor. A BSU from Memphis did all that I asked, and more. I don't have the final numbers calculated, but I'm pretty sure these groups gutted out approximately 20 houses this week. This means 20 families are one step closer to rebuilding their homes or selling them and starting over. In addition, yesterday one group was passing out flyers in the neighborhood. They shared the gospel with a guy who was working on cleaning up his sister's house. They shared the gospel with him and he made a commitment to follow Jesus. He had been thinking about it for awhile, but never thought it was the right time. Yesterday was the right time for him.
I have spoken with countless people on the phone in the last week. So many have expressed gratefulness for our help. Many ask what we charge and are shocked to hear our work is free. Someone came to our community cook-out last night and filled out a card saying he was interested in knowing about spiritual things. It is exciting times at Edgewater Baptist Church. Will you join us?
As I've said before, we are the only viable Southern Baptist church, and the only evangelical church, in about a 3 mile radius. We are reaching out to our community like never before. We would love to establish partnerships with as many churches as would be willing to help.
Some have asked about coming to New Orleans to help. I am in the process (as per my friend's suggestion) of creating a one page 'information packet' on our needs, our wants, and your opportunities to join us. If you or your church is interested, or you know someone who may be interested in a mission trip to New Orleans, please email me. Include your name, phone number, and church information. I will call you as soon as I am able and we can begin the journey of exploring if serving in New Orleans is a viable missions opportunity for your church or college group.
Well, I need to begin by apologizing for the long absence since I last posted. Life is totally different in New Orleans. I arrived on Monday and, for a welcome back present, I was in a wreck. Unfortunately, it was my fault. I was pulling into Metairie on I-10 and a guy stopped in front of me. I slammed on my brakes but still rear-ended him. No injuries and minimal damage to his vehicle, but a wreck nonetheless.
I slept on my pastor's couch Monday and Tuesday evening and on a friend's couch Wednesday night. My FEMA trailer was set up and had water and electricity, but I couldn't get my key. Finally, on Thursday I received a call saying that my trailer was open. I've been sleeping there ever since. It's not pretty, but it's my home for now. I'm always on the go, however. I have been helping coordinate the mass of college students that are coming to New Orleans to help gut out houses in the month of March. We are having over 100 college students work with our church just this week. We are hopeful to gut out 40 houses this week, and hopefully to keep up that pace for the entire month (NOTE TO READERS: In a previous post, I erroneously guestimated that my church would gut 1000 houses in March. Well, let's just say I was using that 'fuzzy' math. The numbers will be more like 120-140. It is no understatement to say I got quite a ribbing from my friends here in New Orleans who 'called my bluff' on the 1000 homes. They got quite a laugh out of it).
If you, your church, your local association, or just a bunch of people would like to send a team down to help, we would provide housing and food. We are looking for as many people as possible to touch lives in our community. These people are so grateful for any help. I found out today that each home we gut out (that is, ripping out sheetrock, tile, tubs, etc) to the studs saves the homeowner at least $5000. Folks, that is tangible service to many who can't afford to pay for such labor. I can't stress enough how open people are to being loved on during this time. I implore you to gather together a group, give up a week's worth of work, and come serve others in Jesus' name. We'll take you in March, April, May, June, July, whenever. We just desperately need as many volunteers as possible. There are no skills required. We will show you how to gut a house and you should already know how to love on people. It's a simple, but effective ministry.
Finally, I must confess that blogging will be taking a back seat for awhile. The closest place I can get internet service is a 15 minute drive and between church work and school work, I have little time for 'extra-curricular' activities. I'll be taking most of March off, just because of the sheer volume of college students coming to New Orleans. I hope to pick back up in April.
Please pray about coming to New Orleans to help gut out homes. Pray about how you can serve. Please pray for Edgewater Baptist Church as we seek to minister in the Gentilly area (if you want to learn about our area of New Orleans, go to Google Maps and type in 70122 and you will see where Gentilly is). Pray that people respond to tangible love expressed through manual labor, food distribution, and worship services. Pray that God would continue to raise up churches willing to restructure their entire budgets to help support our ministry in this city. Pray that God's people would effectively minister in a city who's nickname is "the place that care forgot about."