Friday, March 21, 2008

Katrina Relief Urban Project Part II

Intervarsity is partnering with a local church in St. Bernard's Parish that housed us and coordinated all of our work. Adullam Christian Fellowship is a storefront church founded in 1996 by Pastor Randy Millet and his wife Jill. It is definitely not the kind of church I would usually want to attend. But it was definitely the kind of church I needed to attend last week. Again, I said the word "powerful" keeps coming to mind and that is what I see at Adullam - a power-filled ministry.

If you have ever seen the movie The Apostle with Robert Duvall then you might have a clue as to the kind of preacher and pastor Pastor Randy is. I can't really say that Pastor Randy had a sermon prepared the Sunday we attended his church. But I can say that he had a word from God. That is to say, he preached.

He preached life into what is otherwise a dead community. St. Bernard's was washed completely away by Katrina and Adullam Christian Fellowship lost 9 out of 10 of its membership to displacement after the storm. (In fact, Pastor Randy's mother-in-law was one of the ones who lost their lives in one of those nursing homes.) But I gotta say that Pastor Randy is literally preaching St. Bernard's back into existence. What were once dead bones are now alive again and that little church is becoming an incubator for the Gospel, not only in the New Orleans, but across the world. Mark it down.

So what did I learn? Pastor Randy runs with folks like Benny Hinn and a bunch of other church movers like that. Not the kind of guy I would have chosen to bring a bunch of skeptical college students out to see. I was thinking, "O man, I'm gonna have to do a lot of explaining." But man, there was something very very real about what was going on in worship and I looked up and about half the students who came with us were dancing in the aisles by the end of the service. And those who weren't dancing basically said, "Hey, it wasn't me, but I really appreciated being a part of it all."

St. Bernard's Parish ain't gonna come back to life by boring exegesis. But it is gonna come back - it is coming back - by the proclamation of a Jesus who is alive and wants dead bones to dance.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Katrina Relief Urban Project Part I

I rolled in from my trip to New Orleans early Sunday morning. When I talk about the trip the word that keeps coming out is "powerful." God is doing powerful things in New Orleans. And God is doing powerful things in the lives of the 150 or so college students who I went down there with. I would even say God is doing something powerful in my own life as a result of this trip.

Being that it is Holy Week and I have three services to prep for I am not going to try and put all my reflections into one single narrative form. I just don't have it in me.

But I do want to share a few key points. I'll do this in a series so as to give us all a break.

First, the devastation. It has been nearly three years since Katrina hit and most of the 9th Ward and St. Bernard's Parish, where we served, still look like they did two or three months after the storm. Most of the debris has been moved and most houses have by now been gutted, but very few have been repaired. It looks like a neutron bomb exploded, leaving something like 50,000 hulled out homes.

Those among our group of 150 or so who had been down to help with relief before said it was somewhat disheartening to return for a second or third time and see so little progress. The initial waves of volunteers who responded early on have substantially diminished since 2005. Ergo, so has the rate of progress.

One image from all this was particularly poignant. Most buildings still have the numbers spray painted on them right after the storm. There is the date and time that the building was searched, along with how many animals were found dead. At the bottom very prominently is the number of dead people found inside. All the buildings I saw had zero as that final number. I suspect most buildings where dead were found have by now been either repainted or completely demolished.

So now when you walk by you just see block after block of zeroes. None dead inside; but no one alive.