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November 27, 2012
Pastor Linda Hart Green recently retired as the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Ridgewood, NJ, but she hasn't retired from her commitment to the recovery of New Orleans, a commitment that began during a BPFNA Friendship Tour to the city. Through the BPFNA's partnership with Churches Supporting Churches, Linda and her congregation were connected to Pastor Floria Washington and the Miracle, Faith, Healing and Deliverance Temple in the Upper Ninth Ward. That partnership has remained strong for years. Below you'll see Linda's report of her latest visit.
On a bright September Sunday, Harry, his sister Penny Reid and I arrived in the 9th ward for worship with Emmanuel’s partner church, Miracle Faith Healing and Deliverance Temple. Its location is a mere 15 minute drive from our lodging in the French Quarter, but a world apart.
While downtown and the Quarter are bustling with activity and tourism once again, the 9th ward is eerily quiet and much the same since our last visit 18 months ago. Here you can see wind damage that the church’s building sustained to the roof during Hurricane Isaac, just three weeks before. Pastor Washington said that all the estimates aren’t in yet, but it could be as much as $15,000 damage overall. They are hoping insurance will cover all or some of it. As with everything else in New Orleans, the process of getting things fixed after a disaster is confusing and uncertain.
Pastor Washington’s family also sustained wind damage to their home’s roof. In New Orleans proper, this kind of damage seemed to be the most that was sustained from this most recent storm. Parishes to the southeast of the city were not so fortunate. While visiting in a wealthy area, the Garden District, the following day, we noted that storm debris had not yet been collected from the streets there either. That area was without power for 5 days. Storms are no respecter of class.
While we noted a Lowe’s now open just before entering the 9th ward, there are still no gas stations or grocery stores. There is a blighted home still standing next to the church and many overgrown vacant lots in the neighborhood. Most church members now have to drive to church when they used to walk. The church does have an after-school program for children and a computer program for children. The children come by bus. They have not yet been able to do all that is necessary to get approved for a daycare on site.
It was such a blessing to worship with the congregation for the first time in the five years of our partnership and to meet Pastor Washington’s husband James. What a warm, caring and sweet man he is! And he is considered an elder in the church. Clearly, Pastor Floria and James are the matriarch and patriarch of the church and are looked on with love and respect as parents by many in the congregation.
|Emmanuel church members Harry and Penny sitting with Pastor Washington's husband, James.|
I am so glad to know that Pastor Floria is blessed by her partnership with her husband. They are very mutually supportive. James plan to retire soon from his job driving heavy machinery on construction sites.
We were also blessed to have timed our visit with the church’s 22nd anniversary celebration. The church was decorated and a lot of special music had been planned. Each singing or dance group in the church presented a special anthem. Leaders brought greetings and I was glad to be one of those invited to do so.
It was so very important to the congregation to see us in person as a visible representation of our caring and commitment. Pastor Washington spoke eloquently of the meaning of the partnership to her and the church through these last 5 years of rebuilding and renewing their ministries. She spoke of being one in Christ over time, distance and racial and cultural lines. Knowing that other Christians care beyond their own circle is a source of hope for the congregation and a source of encouragement for Pastor Washington. Pastor Washington and the congregation are tenacious in their commitment to the people of this neighborhood and to rebuilding efforts. The church itself is a physical example of this persistent hope.
I have a much clearer sense that the mission and ministry of MFHDT are focused on children and youth. And they have so many! They are committed to nurturing faith in these youth and to keepin
g them safe, educating them and giving them a firm grounding with which to face future obstacles. They encourage each one’s gifts. They have an annual court in which some of them are honored. While I couldn’t quite figure out how this all worked, what it meant was clear. These children and youth were being taught self-esteem and pride.
One doesn’t have to go far outside these doors to see what happens to children and youth who do not have this kind of support. Raising children in post-Katrina New Orleans is a formidable challenge.
This young woman has received dance training and started a group of sacred dancers in the church. The dance portrays the emotions of facing obstacles and overcoming by faith.
Since I was sitting on the front row, I was privy to what was said. After the sermon and the offering, Pastor Washington invited anyone to come forward who needed prayer. One of those who came forward was a young man in his late teens who was well built and dressed in the clothes of the street. He bent down and whisper in Pastor Washington’s ear.
With firmness and love in her eyes, Pastor Washington said to him, “I want you to apologize to her and don’t act like that anymore.” Then she took him by the shoulders and said, “This young man is having problems standing up to peer pressure. We are going to help him turn himself around by faith.” Then she grabbed his big shoulders and turned him around and around! She kept saying, “Faith is going to turn you around, Baby. You don’t have to do what others tell you to do.” Everyone entered in a time of prayer for him. He went back to his seat, wiping the tears from his face. That young man has a chance! The congregation is guiding this tough looking young man onto a better path for his life.
I have a feeling that Miracles, Faith, Healing and Deliverance happen every week within this congregation firmly planted in the 9th ward of New Orleans! They are there to do the work of God in a part of God’s realm that others have forgotten or given up on. They are there to make sure no child under their watchful care falls through the cracks of broken systems. They are there as a place of refuge for those still rebuilding their lives after a storm of devastating proportion changed their personal landscapes and their neighborhood forever.