Today, I received a report from Brad Carter and Damon Parker, two of our partners in inner city ministry at New Life Church in Abilene. They shared with us the work going on in Houston with the Impact Church — an article appeared about them Friday in the Wall Street Journal describing their herculean relief efforts in Houston among the evacuees. Earlier, I had received a call from Steve Rolands, whose name is mentioned below, and he shared specific ways our congregation can help with specific people who have come as evacuees to our area, but who desperately want to settle down, make a home, and begin rebuilding their shattered lives.
We (our congregation and Heartlight) are partnering with the Carrollton Avenue Church that was situated near the infamous I-10 overpasses and Mercy Hospital. We want to insure that the presence of God's people returns to midtown New Orleans when the city is rebuilt. That rebuilding will start only after first taking care of the scattered Christians who need housing, and then stabilizing their lives that have been turned upside-down. (You can find out more about Carrollton Avenue by visiting their website.) Earlier in the week, Cary Branscum — a dear friend in Austin who is on our Heartlight writing team — helped us find families from Carrollton Avenue and help them get to their families in Tennessee. While there, Cary helped another couple of single moms with immediate needs in the shelter in Austin.
A dear friend and Life Group partner, Steve Ridgell and the Herald of Truth are making their second trip into Louisiana to care spiritually for those in the shelters. Folks worked into the night on Wednesday so that Steve's team could leave to bring more help to those who desperately need it.
My nephew, Derek, is on his way with 27 other students to give up their weekend to help with relief efforts and serving people who came to south Texas for refuge. Other students are preparing to leave next week. All around are people who are sacrificing time, money, and security to help others.
On and on I could go about those whom God is using in powerful ways to bless the broken and give hope and help to the hurting. I've included names because I want you to know that these are real people and that this is not religious hype. There are thousands just like them whose names you'll never know. However, their efforts are truly ministering to those who need the basics of life delivered with a touch of grace.
What follows is an email report from my next door neighbor, Wayne Barnard, who is also Dean of Students at Abilene Christian University. It offers just one glimpse at the way God's people are trying to help.
Please pause and give thanks for the good things God's people are doing. So often, we can find things to pick at that are wrong in the Body of Christ. Let's open our eyes today and give thanks for being part of a redemptive community that is showing itself to be more than Sunday talk. We know it is the true shelter in the storm. Please also pray that many folks can truly come to a saving relationship with Jesus and be brought into the redemptive life of real community because of the care and concern they have been shown in Jesus' name.
Here is Wayne's email report.
The time is 11:26 p.m., and this may not be very coherent (I’ve only slept 2 hours during the past 55 hours), but I must reflect my thoughts as I conclude two of the most significant experiences with our students.
I met more than thirty of our students yesterday at 8:00 a.m., along with Val Mascari, 6 of our WFF gentlemen, Mark Lewis, Charla Farrell, and Steve Sargent. We cleaned for four and one-half hours until the old Wal-Mart Store was ready to receive potential displaced persons. My heart was warmed as I worked alongside students and staff, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, and wiping down walls. We were quite the team, and I was blessed by the surprise and amazement of the Wal-mart regional manager when he came to the store at 12:00 noon and saw the sudden transformation. I also swelled with pride as Abilene officials marveled at the energy, spirit, and fortitude of our students.
Last night, Todd Ormsby, my son (Colin), and I drove to Lake Cisco Christian Camp to deliver a big-screen TV and 4 other TVs and DVD players donated by Best Buy and Circuit City. (Earlier that evening, Mimi and I had spent almost two and one-half hours with managers of both stores as they so willingly donated TVs, DVD and VCR players, and movies.) We set up the big-screen and one DVD player in the larger dining room for the displaced families (54 persons) to enjoy watching movies. We placed a smaller TV and DVD player in each of the cabins so that families could watch movies at night after it was dark. Todd and Colin returned home at about 11:00 p.m. and I remained at the camp to receive the families who traveled by bus from Baton Rouge (a 14 hour trip). The first bus arrived at 3:15 a.m. The people were exhausted, but very thankful to be out of the chaos of Louisiana. We immediately met their physical needs by feeding them, caring for their illnesses, and providing them with brand new pajamas and underwear. Mark Lewis, Steve Rowlands, Jeff Arrington, and 4 of our students (Collin Packer, Chris Field, Clint Askins, and Jeremy Webb) arrived at 4:15 a.m. before the second bus arrived. They were quite helpful as we continued to meet the needs of these additional families.
After we got everyone to bed at about 5:30 a.m., we stayed up drinking coffee and planning our processes for the day. Jeff Arrington and three of our students left early for a 9:30 a.m. class. Jeremy stayed to help out. Families started waking up and coming to the dining hall for breakfast at about 8:30 a.m. Our MFI and Clinical Counseling Graduate students arrived for training with Bob McKelvain as we implemented our plan for interviewing our guests and assessing their needs. By 10:00 a.m., 22 of our finest undergraduate students arrived on the ACU bus to help play with and take care of the children while others of us interviewed their parents and began helping families with their plans and expectations. At one point during the morning, Bob stopped me and asked if I had noticed what was happening. We stood in the middle of the dining room and marveled at our students playing with children, holding children, changing diapers, sweeping floors, serving drinks and food to families, interviewing parents, showing concern for peoples’ experience, and ministering God’s grace and mercy to a tired and devastated people. All I could do was weep. It was an overwhelming experience that I was missing because I was equally caught up in the sheer pleasure of being used by God to bless these amazing people. Their stories of survival, loss, and triumph were astounding. Their faith and hope were riveting. I was blessed beyond measure. Our students were literally connecting with people, spirit to spirit. I wish you could have been there. I wish you could have witnessed this awe-inspiring scene.
The day only got better as we developed close relationships by listening to stories and connecting with deep and contradictory feelings of devastation and victory. What blessed me most was the faith and resiliency of these worn-out people. Fathers who pulled their families to safety in small boats; mothers who lovingly cared for their children on cold floors, in crowded shelters, and on long, exhausting bus rides; and children who trustfully followed their parents on a bus to the little West Texas town of Cisco. One of my greatest blessings was holding little two-year old Bernard both early Thursday morning when he got off the bus crying, and later Thursday morning when he awoke crying. Both times, I was warmed by his quieted soul snuggled safely on my chest as he slept in peace. Providing him with such safety and security was absolutely overwhelming. I could only imagine the complete and amazing love of God for us all as He holds us in the safety of His arms, close to His breast.
The day ended with our new friends going off once again to their cabins to sleep in soft and safe beds. As I loaded the ACU bus with our wonderful students, I was struck by our coexisting exhaustion and blessing. We were spent, but we were full. God has truly been gracious to us in our experience today.
Tomorrow I will wake up a different person. I’m not certain what may lie ahead for my new friends, but I know that I have been touched by God’s grace, and I am not the same.
Lord, please bless my friends with your presence as they sleep. May their thoughts be protected from the devastation of their recent memories, and may their hearts be filled with all that is strong, so that they make awake tomorrow with a deep resolve because of your promise!
Thanks for your prayers, concern, and support.