Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Thoughts From the Bayou

The sun is coming up here in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Folks are stirring in the West Bank towns that line the Mississippi River across from the Big Easy. Soon the school buses will be running their routes and the West Bank Expressway will be a flurry of activity as the heavy commuter traffic pours across the Harvey Canal bridge and makes its way to the bottleneck of the toll booths at the entrance to the huge "Crescent City Connection" bridge.

The family is beginning the Monday morning ritual. Michelle is up and dressed and coordinating the movements. She is somewhat like the Energizer Bunny, and rarely winds down. Quint is walking around in a sleepy haze, getting ready for another week of school at the Marrero Academy. Jay has a Ph.D seminar all day on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus and he's rushing through the morning activities, trying to get ahead of the traffic. Meanwhile, little Canon is still snoozing in Momma and Daddy's bed. He's there for two reasons. First, he likes it in there, and secondly because I've had his bed for the last three nights.

It was seven years ago this month that three guys from South Shore, Kentucky and I helped Jay move his household goods and furniture to this part of the world. I chuckled when one of his new church members mentioned that Westwego was located "on a ridge". While it had no earthly resemblance to any ridges I had ever seen in West Virginia or eastern Kentucky, it is, in fact, on a strip of land which is eight feet above sea level , and located between Bayou Signette and the Mississippi River. It is an old fishing and shrimping community, but Westwego's main growth came with the railroad which opened up transportation across the Atchafalaya Basin and to points westward. In fact, they tell me that the town actually got it's current name from the railroad conductors cry of "West we go!" as the trains were departing the station.

Seeing our older son take his wife and our two year old grandson nearly a thousand miles away, was terribly difficult for Linda and I. After all, his younger brother had just returned from four years in the Marine Corps and we felt so blessed to have both boys and their families there in our home town. We had the luxury of having two little grandsons to spoil, one a two year old and the other a toddler. But that wouldn't last long. Jay was called to pastor the First Baptist Church of Westwego and he enrolled in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to further his theological education. Seeing that part of our family depart for the Delta was really hard to accept.

The first three years were the toughest for us (and probably for them as well). Jay completed his undergrad work at Leavell College and enrolled in the M.Div. program with a specialty in Biblical languages. The church he served was an older congregation that had been through the usual ups and downs of a 71 year old Baptist Church, including a split several years ago. There were some challenges, but Jay was up for the task. The church had previously used seminary students as pastor, so he fit in fine. The parsonage was not in the best shape, and while Jay was very busy with school and ministry, Michelle had to deal with the domestic engineering issues, and the old house presented plenty of those.

Then, everything changed with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

That great disaster affected everyone in metro New Orleans and all who lived along the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast. Jay's studies ceased for the time being as he became engulfed with the work of being a "Disaster Pastor". He was instrumental in working with the Georgia SBC Disaster Relief Teams that set up feeding units in Westwego. He worked to bring help to the crews who were tasked with the restoration of the Seminary campus, by helping provide a shower trailer, and having SBC prepared meals brought to campus by the Red Cross ERV's. His church building was damaged, and every member was affected in some way. Many of the older folks moved away, and younger families faced loss of homes and jobs. The old parsonage was miraculously spared and, although in poor repair, allowed Jay and his family a safe haven to live in while ministering to others who were in turmoil.

Now, four years later, thanks to the help of many mission groups from all over the country, FBC Westwego has been totally remodeled. The old fellowship hall has been gutted and refurbished as the church's administrative offices. The church has purchased other adjacent properties which include a building that will serve as a youth building, and a newer, although smaller, house for a parsonage. The biggest change, however, is the actual makeup of the congregation. It is younger, more vibrant, and less fettered by the extra biblical traditions that often hinder church growth.

When I leave Jay's house for the seminary guest house today, and head home again early Thursday morning, it won't be nearly as tough as it use to be. That's because I know they are exactly where God wants them to be right now. There is a strange, inexplicable peace that comes with that knowledge. How could we possibly question a merciful sovereign God?

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