As promised, I am using this post to tell you about what God did during our Missions trip to New Orleans (NO), specifically Vieux Carre or the French Quarter. I'm am still reeling from His goodness, protection, and grace to us before we got to NO, during the trip down, while we were there, and on our return home. God is truly amazing. But He makes provisions and preparation and all else that you'll need to see His agenda through. That's just what He did for us.
I'd like to give you just a little background history on the general make-up and the religious make-up of the city. NO is an old city, with many areas being registered on the national historic registry for landmarks and architecture. Settlement was initially discouraged because of flooding based on how the city is situated on a major river (its low level--in fact, the city's elevation is 0 feet) and because of so many swampy areas. The French sent in inmates from to fill in the marshes and build levees for settlement and access. The ancestral population was a make-up of French, French-Canadian, Spanish (the city is heavily Spaniard and French influenced), Africans, and Native Americans. Today, there is a population that has a mixture of these ethnic backgrounds and newer ethnicities that moved in later. The population today, according to one study, looks like this:
CityPopulation 2005: 437,186 Square miles: 180.56 Metro area: New Orleans
67% of the city's population is African American with various other races making up the rest of the population, including stats from the last census reporting a 5% German and 5% Irish population. At the time of the 2000 census, the per capita income in New Orleans was $17,258, compared with $21,587 nationally. It is a lot higher now, reporting somewhere between $24,000 and $27,000. But there are conflicting reports. What is known is that the majority of its citizens aren't the most well-off or even comfortable in the nation.
As far as the religious make-up of the city, according to a year 2000 report, Denominational Groups, 2000, there were:
39,543 (Evangelical Protestant)
23,545 (Mainline Protestant)
Here's the catch: The unclaimed are not irreligious or atheists necessarily. There are unclaimed religious and denomination groups, mainly the black Baptist church, who are just not reported. There are other historically black denominations too, that are not counted in this report. It doesn't say why. The Black Baptist church has more members and more churches in the city of NO than any other religion or denomination represented there. In fact, the two main religions/denominations is the Catholic faith and the black Baptists. It is obvious everywhere you go. If you look around NO carefully, you can even see how, over the centuries, religions/denominations have blended. Some of the religious customs are so unique, they could be sub or mini denominations unto themselves. They have ways of worshipping and practicing their religion in NO that is found in no other city in the US. From a report I got while there, you're liable to run into someone whose family members were predominately Catholic, they just happen to be Baptist, and their African heritage may have passed on occult rituals or voodoo, and they practice a little of all of these together, maybe not always consciously, but the evidence is there and is clear.
Most of what you've heard about NO is true. It is beautiful, it is historic, it has great restaurants and great food, it's diverse, it was almost devastated by Katrina (though there is a lot of re-building) and spiritually, in a lot of areas, it is one of the darkest places in the world, just to name a few things about the city. Here's where our missions trip comes into play. We weren't there for a tour, a mini vacation, or to eat the great food (although this wouldn't hurt). We had been called to NO to take the Gospel and the love of Christ to a lost and dying world.
Like anywhere, if man exists, and you can name a sin, NO has done it, is doing it, and doesn't plan on stopping. The difference for NO is, it's a lot of sin concentrated in one small dot on the map (compared to our whole nation), it's done blatantly out in the open, and it goes on day and night, in season and out. There is no shame or regard for public decency. Some of the people have become so calloused to the sin, you can see that some don't even know that they're sinning. It is just normal and automatic. Some don't care. Some do, but just don't know how to get out of the trap, but these are a small percentage compared to the ones who don't care. With all of the represented churches reported in a city the size of NO, it seems that, as one person put it, this is the city that God forgot about and they're having to figure things out on their own, make things up as they go, entertain themselves, and fend for themselves.
While it is obvious that God hasn't forgotten about NO, like anywhere else sin abounds, God is not pleased with what is going on there so blatantly and disrespectfully. Let us not get proud though, because we're so far from this. Sin is sin anywhere, and God hates it, and will not tolerate it, especially perpetual seasons of sin with no repentance in sight. This city appears to have been turned over to reprobate minds...BUT GOD...!! In comes the various missions teams who have been called by God to remind some and tell others that Jesus is real, alive, and well, and He would have it that no man would perish. In comes the teams who want to share the hope of Christ and eternity with the lost. All we can do is obey His leading us there, and plant seeds or water where we or someone else has been before. The rest is up to God. We were glad to be called and glad to go!! Oooo, thank You Jesus for the opportunity!!
Our team member was ready to witness on the street as soon as we got there, she was so excited! It was late though, the team was tired, and if we were to be effective for the next day's agenda, we needed snacks, devotion, and rest. Imagine some of our surprise (those of us who were there for the first time) when the church that extended hospitality, information, and sleeping quarters to us was situated right in the thick of things, all of the action, in the heart of the French Quarter, right where the non-stop partying and non-stop drinking was going on. In fact, the church is in a row of houses, and the house or building connected to the church, directly on the right is a nightclub. And trust me, they party loudly all night long. We could hear them through the walls. Now you know this means that there is some serious ministering that can go on in a place like this! The dormitory we slept in was on the bottom level of the church. At this point, you can't ask yourself if you're ready for action. In this location, you don't have a choice. The only thing you ask from God is protection, boldness, guts, and covering because you know you're about to embark on something you're not used to, and you may see and hear just about anything. (Remember now though, you've been called to do this)
The next day, we hit the streets of Vieux Carre'. I've seen alcohol, I've seen people drunk, I've seen party animals, I'm aware that people who worship the enemy exist, I've seen a lot, but...not all in one small location and at the same time, all day, every day. I don't know whether it's legal or not, but it is common to see drunk people on the streets very early in the morning, with open bottles and cups of beer and alcohol, it is common to see people dancing on top of tables with the doors to the bars flung wide open for everyone to see in the middle of the day, it is common to see voodoo and occult shops, it is common to see people walking casually in and out of drug paraphenalia shops with their goods, it is common to see the homeless mingling in with people who own French Quarter hotels, it is common to see people walk the streets and sidewalks all day and all night, it is common to walk pass or even talk to the demon-possessed, etc. The list of things to see, again in this one rectangular-shaped quarter, can go on and on, but you see these things all day, every day, at the same time. I can't stress that enough.
When you look around you realize that there are no children (in the quarter, that is), even though the quarter has residential streets and rows. In 3 days, we only saw approximately 9 children total, and 3 of them were a Christian family that brought their children to church Sunday morning before we left. This means that we only saw 6 on the street, and they were children of tourists. The question is, with all that's there (and you had to know this before you decided to vacation in NO), why would you bring your children to vacation here? One of the reasons why you don't see children is because...THIS IS NO PLACE TO BRING A CHILD! Ours went with us to do a missions trip as a family and to minister, but let me tell you, we knew what to expect before hand, and we prayed God's protection on our children's ears and eyes, and God did just that. We came to allow Him to expose our children to a different kind of mission field, to make sure they understood that they were no better than anyone else (but for the grace of God go we), to deal with people unlike themselves, to give to others, to squelch any selfishness that might reside in their hearts, and to show the love of Christ and that that could be done, even though they were just kids.
God is in control though, everywhere, including NO. We had packed so many supplies that He enabled us to gather before leaving for NO, that He knew we would need to witness and to aid. This means that we were able to give out Gospel tracts, pamphlets, booklets, goodie bags to ones who needed it that contained toiletries and the Word. In the quarter, we talked with people on the street, from tourists to the homeless and everybody in between, we prayed with them on the streets and corners, we answered questions, we prayed with people who were sitting waiting on the police, who had just been in a car accident and seemed scared, we touched every life we could. We asked God for the hearts to be no respector of persons; in our minds, if you don't already know Him, you need Him, plain and simple. God gave us the hearts and compassion to not care what people looked like, or not care about what their professions were, if they had one at all. EVERYBODY NEEDS JESUS AND THE LOVE OF HIM. We also realized in our giving that some people need physical needs met before you can reach them with the Gospel. It's hard to hear if your feet hurt, you're hungry, and you haven't gotten much rest. Think about the things that Jesus and His disciples did.
Friday evening, we did what's called a cafe'. This is where we set up tables in the church with food (to include coffee and Kool-Aid) we had prepared, goodie bags, Gospel tracts, chocolate treats, nice polo shirts that God provided for the homeless through someone from our hometown, New Balance tennis shoes (really nice ones too), flip flops, and whatever else we had to give away. We open the doors of the church, allow anybody who would come in off the street (we had also passed out papers earlier to the homeless, letting them know where to come and to spread the news in their community), and we have a small talk about who Jesus is and His hope and glory. After we shared the Good News and extended an invitation to accept Him as Lord and Savior, 4 people in our little crowd were saved!! Praise the Lord Almighty!! The Heavens rejoiced! Four more for God's Kingdom. Four more snatched out of the grips of satan and eternal damnation!! With that done and prayer for them, we started giving out the goods. You would have thought that we had sent some to the candy store and some to the mall!! People were getting clothes they needed, every pair of tennis shoes we brought (and this was an act of God alone!) were the exact right size for the exact amount of people who needed them! Some changed into their new clothes right there at the church. We saw different people emerge out of the rest rooms. Their whole personalities changed when they were fresher with nice clothes on. They left their dirty clothes behind because God has given Vieux Carre Baptist Church the ability to be a mission also, and the pastor and his wife wash the homeless' clothes so that they can return to get fresh ones the next week. They also allow showers and other things on Mondays.
Two of the homeless men had been blessed of God to have the gift of singing, drums, and keyboard playing, so they blessed us tremendously that night with praise and worship time. Boy could those men play and sing!! Oh, I pray that God lifts them out of their situations so that they can be used of the Lord mightily!
The next day (Saturday), we visited a local homeless mission and gave out more food and supplies. These were the most gracious and humble people. The homeless in NO surprised me. Our homeless population here at home and where I'm originally from are just...different. This culture of homeless people are very friendly, are very giving to each other, don't seem to have problems stealing from each other, will not take more than they absolutely need (and will tell you to save what you have for someone else who might need it; they didn't want to be too greedy), and are very appreciative of what you do for and give to them. I've never witnessed this in general throughout a homeless population before, and I've worked extensively through the years with the homeless. I reiterate, God has not forgotten about these people, and it is evident in so many ways, while on the surface, it may appear to some that He has.
Saturday evening, I parted from the team to minister to some very tired girls, and my husband decided to stay back with me. I decided to go back to the church and get dinner ready for the team when they returned. I also was given the privilege to help the pastor and his wife get some necessary things done around the church, the dorm, and the mission. They really appreciate the help when they can get it. They usually work very hard, although they have some help from a couple of church members throughout the week.
While I stayed back, the team went to what was called The Wall. This is where the homeless hang out, eat, and sleep, mainly at night. During the day, they are usually throughout the city, doing other things. The team brought back such great praise reports from The Wall. They fed the homeless there, they gave out any supplies we had left, they talked with and mingled with them for a long time, they prayed with them, and just got to know people. We really did try and forge relationships with various people for two reasons: we hope that we will see them again, and good things happen out of intentional relationship building. Everyone needs the love, care, and concern of a good relationship. It's modeling our relationship with Christ, after all.
Saturday night, I was looking for my husband, thinking that he was in his dorm room, getting ready for bed. Instead, I found him, around 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning still in ministry mode. God gave him and our team leader the opportunity to witness to, of all people and of all places, the people (or partyers) who were coming in and out of the club right next door to the church. What a crack up!! But what a wonderful, fruitful opportunity! I look out of the church doors (you can see good here at night because the city never sleeps) and down the sidewalk, and he is just intensely engaging a slightly drunk man and his friend about the truths of Christ and how Jesus was real. The team leader was engaging one of the men's wife and her friends who had come to the square and the clubs to party hard. I decided, if I can't get my husband into bed, I might as well join them. I went down too, and the enemy tried to keep us from witnessing in several different ways, but it didn't work. God WAS STILL IN CONTROL!! Isn't that just like Him? Anyway, by the end of this lengthy conversation, and while these people were holding their alcohol, they allowed us to pray for them before they entered the club, give them tracts, and one guy even asked my husband to email him to finish their conversation and handed him his email address. Could God have planted a seed there? Who knows, but we're going to definitely follow up. How exciting!!
The next day, of course, was Sunday. We woke up, had our morning devotions like we did together as a team every day and evening we were in NO, had breakfast, and joined the pastor and his wife for a really unique church service. Everybody is welcome and will show up at this church. Because of its love, outreach, and location, you may sit by a prostitute on one side and a missionary who graduated from the local seminary on the other. The group was the epitome of diverse, and I for one, loved it!! The pastor was clear in his teaching, not too lofty, but not talking down to any one. Everyone could understand and appreciate his presentation. He has a real passion and love for people. So does his whole family. God has truly blessed them, and we were blessed to get to know them and work with them. I ended up speaking to and watching the antics of a gay couple (one was representing the female part of the relationship and beautifully dressed, I might add) that showed up outside of the church once service was over. They weren't quite ready to step through the doors, but they lingered around outside for a while, while people were coming in and out. Could God have been tugging on their heart strings? Were they just curious? It didn't matter. The truth was being proclaimed in this place, and the Word is alive and well. ANY exposure to it can, has, and will change lives. Thank You Jesus for the privilege of meeting any and everybody and the boldness to love on them and give the unadulterated Gospel!!
I will finally end this post by saying that God is in the transformation and restoration business. Just surrender your WHOLE self to His will and ask Him to send you where He pleases and then be willing to go. We knew upon coming to the city, about the make up of the city, etc. We could even physically feel the oppression coming into the city, when part of our team ran directly into a satan worshiper who warned our team to back off and didn't hide the fact of whom he worshipped, in front of certain buildings, and upon leaving the city. the oppression is real and sad, BUT, I personally felt the possibility of hope, somehow I could see rays of sunshine, God allowed my heart not to fret and fear, Christ reaches even the darkest places, and I sensed that the whole time. If God were to ever send me again, I would go. He proved Himself to me before, during, and after this trip. God is God, and He is God all of the time. He doesn't want us to own the spirit of timidity and fear. Though we're not all called to the same places to minister the same way, with the same gifts, we're all called, and we're called not to have those things I just mentioned. Turn them over to Jesus. You will never be able to minister everywhere that you should to the degree that you should with timidity and fear. They are hindrances and used by the enemy to TRY and thwart God's agenda. While they can't eradicate God's agenda, we can place ourselves as hindrances, and then God will have to use someone else. We'd miss out on all He has for us and the other persons we're sent to. We're also not pleasing Him.
If you read all of the way to the end of this post, bless you!! I couldn't stop writing once I started, and I just loved what I was sent to do so much. I don't have time to go back and correct typos or other mistakes (I apologize), so gather the meanings from context clues. I'm sure I was at least clear enough for you to do that. I thank God for your interest in reading this. Pray for us as we follow Christ.
Side note: I wanted to have pictures from the trip by now, to post so that you can see us in action and the area we were called to, but the team leader didn't get a chance, with her really busy schedule, to have them developed yet. I will post them with descriptions underneath when I get a chance.
Love Jesus, love somebody else too!