Wednesday, June 21, 2006

10 Months After Hurricane Katrina

I am sitting in a hotel room in downtown New Orleans. I'll be here through late tomorrow afternoon. My primary purpose is to visit a ministry in St. Bernards Parish that has been working with those who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Before Katrina the parish was home to more than 70,000 people. St. Bernards Parish was hit particularily hard. As I drove through neighborhoods 10 months after the storm I saw hundreds of homes on scores of streets that were empty and uninhabitable. The destruction was almost unbelievable. It was hard to believe that all this time could pass, and so little reconstruction had been done -- in a country that has more resources and wealth than perhaps any other nation in the world. Over 20,000 homes and businesses were destroyed by Katrina. The pastor I was with today thinks it is going to take a decade for the area to recover. He could be right.

In the middle of all the destruction I visited a church that has been working in St. Bernards Parish since the storm. This despite the fact that it's building was covered by more than 10 feet of water and the pastor's home was totally destroyed. In fact, he drives 90 miles everyday (one way) so that he can lead this ministry that is bringing help and hope to the neighborhood. The church is feeding 350 people day, provides a food bank (there are no grocery stores within 10 miles of the church), a medical clinic, help for families in rebuilding homes and a place where the people of the community can come for spiritual help. This truely is the people of God in action.

Standing with this church is Operation Blessing -- and this week -- a team of young people from Pennsylvania and another group of Lutheran young people from Wisconsin. They are helping to feed people, clean up and rebuild houses, and build facilities for the church to more effectively minister in the community. These youth are staying at the church -- on cots that fill every available room and part of the worship center. There is no air conditioning and only a couple of bathrooms for the 100 plus people helping. I was impressed by the commitment of the church and the teams working in difficult conditions.

As I toured the neighborhood with the pastor I met a young woman the church helped after Katrina. The woman was a Vietnamese refugee who had married an American. After the church helped their family they came to church and committed their lives to Christ. Now they are serving the Lord by helping with the reconstruction effort.

Sometimes I get discouraged about the American church. We seem to be so self-centered, not interested in our communities and unwilling to make a difference. Then I see a church like the one I am visiting in New Orleans, and God reminds me that He is still at work -- and there are still are churches that are interested in making a difference in their community.

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