Many of you know that this past Wednesday night I announced that we would probably shift our focus temporarily (for one trip) from New Orleans to Middle Tennessee. I want to update you on that announcement as well as share some other information that might help you digest our decision to focus here for the summer.
To recap briefly for those who do not know our history, our high school group have served the Gulf area, specifically New Orleans and surrounding cities/parishes, since Katrina hit in 2005. Between our efforts and those of other groups in our church, we have taken 21 trips to the area and have served churches, homeowners, and school systems rebuilding their lives - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
As a result of those trips, our students have gained unique skills that lend themselves perfectly to the flood damage we are currently seeing among our friends and neighbors in Middle TN. Our students are experienced in gutting homes, treating them for mold prevention, installing insulation, drywall, flooring, and much, much more. As it became apparent to me that the rebuild effort in our area would be substantial and specific to the skills our students have acquired in New Orleans, I felt led to pray about the matter and discuss a possible change for our June trip with key leaders in our church and our student missions leadership. They agreed and communicated that they, too, had the same convictions.
After announcing our intent this past Wednesday night, I began to make phone calls to those who would be impacted by our decision to remain home for the summer. With each communication to those involved, I received more and more affirmation and confirmation that we were taking appropriate action.
- Matt Blair, Worship Pastor at Life Community Church in Wilmington, NC
Matt was my first phone call. He was to serve as our worship leader for the Mission Camp in June. Matt told me that he had not committed to travel expenses yet, so he would be able to make arrangements to come to Gladeville instead of New Orleans.
Matt also told me that the students at his church would be very interested in participating in the rebuild effort in Middle Tennessee. He suggested that we partner in our efforts to maximize the impact we can have on our community for God's Kingdom.
- Pastor Henry Ballard, Pastor of Christian Fellowship Church in Violet, LA
Pastor Ballard and I have been working together for our students to staff a camp at his church similar to our "KidzDays in the Glade." This camp was to take place during our June trip this summer. Circumstances at their church, however, had shifted our five-day camp experience to a three-day experience, and circumstances in the community had narrowed our target group for participation. The camp had not yet been advertised, so there would be no direct impact on his church our ours if we delayed our first attempt at this camp experience with Christian Fellowship Church.
Pastor Ballard commended our attention to our home and asked that I convey his adamant stance that we take care of and minister to those who are facing the same struggles he faced with his family and community due to Katrina. In fact, he shared with me his desire to work with his church toward the possibility of mobilizing a young adult team to come to our area to assist in rebuilding efforts.
- Chip Luter, Youth Pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, LA
Chip has been a friend of our ministry for several years, and Franklin Avenue Baptist Church feels more like our "other" church home than a place we serve. Chip was to be our camp pastor at the Mission Camp in June, but strongly encouraged us to minister to those in our area. He sends his regards and prayers, and plans to connect with us when we return to New Orleans in October of this year.
- Dr. Thomas Strong, Pastor of Metairie Baptist Church in Metairie, LA
Thomas and Metairie Baptist have been our dear friends and partners in our efforts to minister to those in the Gulf area. In fact, without the partnership in ministry that we share with Metairie Baptist Church, the scope of our work in the area would be much smaller and the logistics of continuing to chase our vision for that part of the country would be incredibly difficult.
We are so thankful for their faithfulness that has allowed us to continue to minister to people beyond the walls of their church and even outside of their parish to Orleans and St. Bernard. Thomas, like all the others, commends our decision. In fact, his exact words were, "I think that is best." He commits to continue to pray for our area and our ministry.
There were conversations with Tommy & Shirley Strong, Dave Shelley, and others who would have served in key roles for us for our Mission Camp. To sum up, all have agreed to join us for our new summer trip to our backyard. We will still have our High School Mission Camp, June 12 through 19, but it will take place right here in Middle Tennessee.
We are already working on the logistics of the trip, tweaking our transportation needs, redesigning our plans for food, and addressing the eight thousand other little things that accompany a trip of any sort. You can help immediately by praying for clarity, direction, and that those we help this summer will experience what we have seen on the faces and in the hearts of those we have served in New Orleans.
The true HOPE that we will bring is not drywall, new floors, insulation, or a salvaged home. And the HOPE we bring is not our work - but the "why" of our work. Our "why" is the transformational power of Jesus Christ. Our work here, as in New Orleans, is in His Name and so He will be made famous - so that His message of faith, hope, and love may be evidenced by our actions.