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FIRST-PERSON: The big one finally hit New Orleans

NAUVOO, Ala. (BP)–The amazing thing to me — as a 15-year resident of metro New Orleans and the director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans — is that some are saying New Orleans actually dodged the bullet with hurricane Katrina. If that’s true, we do not want to see that bullet, is all I can say.

Here’s what I know:

— Our pastors and church members are scattered from one end of this country to the other. My associate, Freddie Arnold, spent hours this morning trying to locate pastors of some of our 60 mission churches and found no one. Keep in mind that all our cell phones have to go through the towers and centers that took the full brunt of Katrina, and you will understand why communication is nearly impossible even for those of us out of harm’s way.

— My wife and I, along with our son Neil and his family, left New Orleans Saturday around 4 p.m. and drove to Birmingham. The traffic was already getting heavy, and police were beginning the contra flow plan even then on segments of Interstate 59 going north from Slidell toward Hattiesburg. We checked into the Best Western Carlton Suites near Samford University, and with the indoor pool right down the hall, the three grandchildren experienced a mini-vacation. Along with the rest of the nation, the four adults were glued to the television news.

— The funny thing — I guess you can call it funny — is that Friday night, I had attended a Saints’ preseason football game in the Superdome without the slightest idea of what was ahead. Before the weekend ended, the dome was filled with citizens seeking shelter, and within another 24 hours had become a cesspool of heat and noise and filth.

— Our associational office is across the street from the University of New Orleans and right on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain — the address says it all: 2222 Lakeshore Drive — and doubtless is either under water or fairly well saturated with water. Freddie set the computer hard drives on chairs before leaving the offices Saturday. No one has any idea what we will find when we are finally able to re-enter.

— It is a bizarre feeling to be in anguish over what’s happening back at home, to be crying out to God on the behalf of those left behind, and knowing there is not one blessed thing you can do more. It’s the very definition of helplessness. Our daughter in law, Julie, could not reach her parents who had decided to stay at home in Slidell. Only on the Wednesday after the storm did she finally make contact to discover they are fine and had no damage. One of her brothers is bringing them a generator.

— My neighbor across the back street — we live in a western suburb called River Ridge — rode the storm out (“It was the worst night of my life; God really got my attention”) and called us the day after the storm to say our home had come through fine. A few shingles off the roof and the back fence knocked down by a falling tree from the neighbor’s yard. I’ll take that any day. Thank you, Lord.

— However, there is no doubt that within a half mile of my house, people’s homes and churches like Riverside Baptist are flooded. This is exactly how it happened in May 1995 when we got something like 14 inches of rain in one night. Our little ridge of land sits 13 feet above sea level and became an island of calm and safety.

— People are already asking me what they can do to help. The answers are as follows:

(1) Pray for God to guide in every decision being made. People are rescuing the stranded and caring for the hurting, draining the water, restoring utilities, etc.

(2) Pray for the Lord to be in charge of when and how people return home. Everything I see and hear tells me life in New Orleans has been changed forever by Katrina. That’s not all bad. Pray for the Lord to rule and reign in every change.

(3) Understand that no disaster relief teams can re-enter the city to assist until the citizens as a whole are invited to return. So there will be no church groups coming to help for months yet.

(4) Those who want to take up offerings or send money to assist churches and Baptist members and ministers in metro New Orleans should send checks to: NEW ORLEANS ASSISTANCE, in care of the Louisiana Baptist Foundation, P. O. Box 311, Alexandria, La., 71303.

— My family and I are with my parents on the farm out from Nauvoo, Alabama until further notice. We’ve been in touch with the office of the Louisiana Baptist Convention in Alexandria and will probably be borrowing some office space from a neighboring director of missions until we can get back in our place. Thanks for your love and prayers.
Joe McKeever is director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans whose cartoons are featured on BP Lighter Side. His website is www.joemckeever.com.

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  • Joe McKeever