Monday, September 19, 2005

A Church Shelter in New Orleans

What follows is a long email from a pastor who kept a small church shelter up and running in the midst of the New Orleans crisis. I have emailed the pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and confirmed that it is true.

An update regarding St. Paul in New Orleans directly from the horse's mouth.--------------

Here is a brief report if you could send out to others I would appreciate it. I am away from my home computer and my office currently does not have a connection that works: )

You would have been proud of the church being the church and the community connected. By Saturday we were serving 200 meals a day out of the kitchen in the basement. People in the Marigny were donating all sorts of things for us to use. We received nothing from outside. We had no running water or electricity, but we did have gas. You would be surprised how handy swimming pools came to be. We bailed out water for flushing etc. and with a filter and boil the water was ok. We had generators running, refrigeration and a TV with all the latest useless media coverage. We had to make an agreement among ourselves to hold hands when we met a reporter so we didn't slap 'em. We were blessed by God in the midst of it all and the church was surely serving the community.

Security was a huge issue. Roving gangs of looters and druggies were breaking into places and attacking people. On Saturday we took in a woman in her 70's who had had a stroke and had had her house broken into and she was beaten up. She said, "You just cannot imagine what happened to me." When of the guys said that's a code for you can very well imagine what they did to her. We were pulling security at the church armed and night and careful during the day. We were protecting and housing around 35 people with kids etc. from the neighborhood. We were feeding most of the neighborhood.

On Saturday NOLA PD came (for the first time) and told us we would have to leave. They are not my heroes to say the least. Rachel, our daughter, and her fellow EMT's were deserted by officers in the projects of NOLA. They were forced to walk out over the Mississippi bridge over to the west bank. Last I heard she is attached to a MASH unit and working there. Mike, our son-in-law was working at Charity -- trauma center for the city. They were having huge problems with security there also. They all evacuated to Baton Rouge.

Anyway, as one group of NOLA police were telling us we had to leave, another group at the other corner were telling us that we were doing better than the shelters were at taking care of folks and to stay. The whole issue bacame moot when around 8 pm or so ten--that's right 10 -- SUV's loaded with national guard troops and border patrol agents rolled up with lights flashing, go out with their M 16's and told us we are getting you out. We cannot control the area, and the gangs that were down close to Poland Ave were now at Louisa -- about 6 blocks away. They have automatic weapons. We have busses reserved, how many do you need? You have an hour.

We gathered what we could -- about 100 people from the church and community and under armed escort were brought out. Some of the folks are in a shelter -- where God knows. The place we were going was filled as were the next two. At 4 am we let the bus go as it headed toward a shelter 20-30 miles north of Opelousas. If that was full it would be Shreveport or Fort Smith AR. We have heard from many of the members of the church and so far know of no casualties. One family was pulled from their rooftop as the water rushed in and caught them. There are a great many that we have no idea of their whereabouts.

I am working out of Grace Lutheran Church in Houma. I hear that Trinity in Baton Rouge is the current HQ for the Southern District. The church building is heavily damaged. It will need a new roof and the bell tower lost three sides and almost was unattached. The bell dropped somewhat and at evening prayer on Friday we could not ring it. It was nice to have a service of prayer that night. All the shutters need replacing, but we only lost one of the stained glass windows, and it really only needs some slight repair. As I have tried to get across to the Synod folks all that stuff in insured and it is only stuff. One cannot insure the ministry. I am working on getting relief for staff etc. I have spoken with Matt Harrison briefly and have made it clear we want and need to return and be part of rebuilding the community. We have had many offers of support and Kelly Bedard at Grace has told me that they are setting aside funds for church worker relief.

I know that you will hear a great deal about buildings, but buildings are not the church. I do not know how we'll rebuild this ministry at the present time, but that is my issue and it is always our calling. We have all sorts of stories of grace, of love, and mercy in our midst. We came together in a way that was pretty cool. When the Muslim store owner is praying with us in church after working at feeding the community, and a First Sergeant from the Israeli Army drives a car out with an ELCA pastor and my youngest son, saying, "I'll listen to you about Christianity if we can talk about Judaism too." And people from the community say that "our church" is taking care of all of us I know that I had a glimpse of what the church is supposed to be at its best. Sometime I will be able to share some stories, but trust me, God has been working here.

Blessings and peace Dave


A Person said...

That was very encouraging. Thanks for sharing it. I'm glad I ran across it.

Pavel said...

This was a wonderful email, Dave (thanks for sharing it, Mollo). With all the bad news out of NO, it's good to see God hard at work there, too.

mollo said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this email. There are so many uplifting stories out there. I hope this one gets the recognition it deserves too.