By Andrew Simmons and Jenny Fearnow One of us was recently in a staff meeting in which a supervisor asked, “Y’all took a N’awlins trip recently, didn’cha? I don’t know why people keep going down there. It’s just gonna flood again.” Yes, people are indeed still going down to the Crescent City after Katrina’s second, and more catastrophic, landfall on August 29th, 2005. So, why? Will our visits realistically change anything?
This thought occurred to at least we two, and likely more, of the Trinity Fellows and U. Va. Students from Reformed University Fellowship who made the trek to the Big Easy from Jan. 3 to 10 of this year. As we both hope to convey, the Lord’s kingdom made strong advances in New Orleans during that first week of 2009.
In addressing change, one must assume there is a pre-existing need. In New Orleans, people are still hurting: emotionally, physically, and mentally. Many have resigned themselves to apathy, tired of the long rebuilding process or extended unemployment. Some are still waiting for their houses to physically come off the 4-by-4 wood blocks that resemble a Jenga game. Driving through the now-famous Ninth Ward, we saw no street signs and no attempts, on the part of the city government, to rebuild; however, people are resettling there, living amidst brokenness.
The combination of compelling, audacious rebuilding and the seeming big-picture futility of it in the face of such wide destruction could cause one to question their usefulness there. And in some sense that is true - God is the only one that will bring about real peace and restore in our hearts a hope for it. In this respect, our very presence was an act of trust in God to work his sovereign good will to restore his people.
But we do get to play an integral part: as believers, we are called to bring peace to the city and reconciliation to hurt and brokenness. “…That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us,” says Paul in II Corinthians 5:19-20. God has made us ministers of his peace for His Kingdom. If we understood anything from being in NOLA, it was that lasting change comes only through the catholic Church. Members of RUF at the University of Virginia along with the Fellows, Redeemer PCA (Pastor Ray Cannata’s church), and the Annunciation Mission joined together to declare the gospel in word and deed within the Broadmoor district of New Orleans. Our short-term work projects meant nothing except in that they were rooted in the local church which could further a long-term relationship with community members.
By tearing up tile, scraping and painting, caulking and gutting, raking and pressure-washing, we participated in incarnational ministry. We did realistically change something. Sure, some benefits are visible even now. We gave a couple from the community leak-proof windows and a pleasant entryway. But some may not be for some time. We helped connect this same couple with the local church. Long-time development practitioner and Vice President for International Program Strategy at World Vision International Bryant Myers says that the Church is critical to genuine social transformation, “It is hard to imagine sustainable transformation without churches committed to soul care [development of personal faith] and social care [helping the poor and correcting injustices].” This truth was borne out in our own experience – the other groups we encountered aiding in reconstruction were, by a huge majority, evangelical groups of believers working in partnership with a local church.
So, to our surprise, there is indeed hope in New Orleans. This hope is found in a personal God who chooses to work through the local church and the Christians there that believe in His promises of restoration. We must remember that this applies not only to New Orleans, but to Charlottesville, as well. The church is the arm of God ministering real and lasting peace to its community. New Orleans, as that supervisor suggested it might, is indeed experiencing another flood – one of vital and engaged Gospel work that labors in the nitty-gritty of everyday life, not in spite of, but because of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom. So when the good times roll, know that the church is there.
If you want more information about the New Orleans trip or other service opportunities the Fellows are involved in please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or check out our NOLA pictures on the Trinity Fellows Blog at www.trinityfellowsprogram.blogspot.com. Also check out the RUF website and pictures at www.uva.ruf.org