Another New Orleans Update
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.
posted by Jason Sampler at 8:37 PM