Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Orleans

A few days ago we returned from New Orleans where we had been with a group of 20 students and 4 leaders. I was left with two general observations:


One day, we visited the Lower Ninth ward, an area that is partially surrounded by the levees that broke. This is the area that received the most damage as a result of the flooding. I noticed that I didn’t see a high water mark on any of the buildings, and we were later told that was because most of these houses were completely underwater. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the destruction. Try imagining your entire neighborhood as a lake.

We were told any empty lots, meant a place where their used to be a house and about 1/3 to ½ of the lots were empty, while the remaining houses were almost invariably abandoned and greatly damaged. Occasionally, you would see a spot where the foundation of the house was still present, but nothing else. However, you could walk over the foundation and see perfect outlines on the ground of where all the walls between rooms formerly stood.

The things in the 9th Ward seemed surreal and divorced from reality in some way, all the way until I was dropping one of our kids off at home when we got back to Jacksonville. That’s when I realized that his neighborhood could be a spot on replica of what the 9th ward looked like before the hurricane. Narrow streets, small one story homes packed closely together, little vegetation, tucked away from view of the rest of the city. At that moment I could imagine that if that neighborhood were to suddenly lose half its houses and become uninhabited, it would be a replica of the lower 9th ward. All of the sudden, the magnitude of the destruction in New Orleans was much clearer.


Though New Orleans is nowhere near rebuilt and many of the residents have not and never will return. There was one very encouraging sign. Every poor person in New Orleans has been somehow let down by their government in the last few years, however throughout that time we were told that the church has been the hero. In general, the church organized evacuation efforts, served evacuees in their new hometowns, paved the way for many to return to the city, and was at the forefront of the rebuilding efforts with tens if not hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

You don’t need to know much about my views on government to know that I am not saying that the church, therefore should replace government, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. My point is that these examples from New Orleans are the church being what the church is called to be. It’s the church acting as people with a united purpose. It’s the church caring for and loving people. It’s the church emulating the Acts 2 model of fellowship.

It’s an exciting movement when the church is in the forefront as the hero, rather than disengaged or on the fringe.