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Five years after Katrina, revisiting Gulf Coast churches


Eric Dishongh preaches at the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ, west of New Orleans. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

Blogging live from New Orleans
“King James” — the one not associated with a Bible translation — made his way into a sermon today.
At the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ west of New Orleans, where I worshiped this morning, minister Eric Dishongh referenced basketball star LeBron James’ high-profile move from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat.
Dishongh titled his Sunday morning lesson “James Chooses the Heat,” taking the text from the first chapter of James.
The sermon was not about basketball or free agency, of course, but about Christian living.
I’m in the Gulf Coast region for a few days working on a package of stories tied to the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which is Aug. 28.
I flew into New Orleans on Saturday, then made a quick trip to Gulfport, Miss., to visit with Les Ferguson Jr., minister of the Orange Grove Church of Christ.

Main points from Eric Dishongh’s sermon at the Hickory Knoll church. (Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.)

After worship at Hickory Knoll this morning, I visited other New Orleans congregations that suffered blows from Katrina — including the Louisa Street Church of Christ in the hard-hit Ninth Ward and the Elysian Fields Church of Christ.
I enjoyed lunch with Dennis Jones, president of Heritage Christian University in Florence, Ala., who travels to New Orleans each Sunday to help minister to the Hickory Knoll congregation.
My thanks to Dishongh, a New Orleans native who has taken on the temporary role of chauffeur during my trip.
This weekend, I’ve met a bunch of incredible Christians whose stories will touch and bless Christian Chronicle readers. And I’m not done yet. I’ve got another full day planned Monday. Stay tuned.
If you’re reading this and were a Katrina victim, please leave a comment and let us know how you and your home congregation are doing. If you were a volunteer after Katrina, feel free to share your experiences and reflections.

  • Feedback
    I, along with members of my church from Houston, TX, volunteered to help with the clean up after Katrina. We helped with the rebuilding efforts of the Carrollton Ave. congregation and then go to see the areas that were devastated by Katrina, including the Lower 9th Ward. Helping out with hurricane relief in New Orleans is one of those memories that will stick in my mind forever and I was just glad to do my part to help out.
    Kevin
    July, 12 2010

    Thanks, Kevin! Which congregation do you attend in Houston?
    Bobby Ross Jr.
    July, 14 2010

    In July of 2006, I along with several other adults from the Memorial congregation in Houston, led a group of our High School students in a week-long cleanup effort in New Orleans. We worked in conjunction with the Mandeville, LA congregation, which did an incredible job of organizing out of town cleanup crews, feeding us and putting us up for the night in their brand new building.
    Most of those students are in college now, but when they come home they still talk about that week. For many of them it was the most physically challenging, but spirituallly rewarding week they have ever had. We only had about 15 in our crew, and about half were female, but we managed to complete the cleanup of 3 houses in the lower 9th Ward. I have never been prouder of our young people and their desire to serve others as I was that week.
    Alan Pence
    July, 15 2010

    I have made over a dozen trips to New Orleans to help with the clean up and rebuilding. I witnessed a great spirit in the people who had dedicated themselves to rebuild my hometown. More than that, I saw Jesus in the people who gave so much of themselves to do some incredible things in helping people rebuild their lives. God was glorified through a very difficult time.
    Chris Vidacovich
    July, 15 2010

    Hey Bobby–
    Fred Franke with Operation Nehemiah. I wished I’d know you were coming…Dee & I would have loved seeing & visiting with you.
    As a former elder at Carrollton and still Director of Operation Nehemiah, I’ve seen so many churches like Kevin’s and Alan’s come for their Mission Trips down to New Orleans.
    We’ve now hosted more than 500 Church Mission Trips down here in New Orleans … just recently going over 22,000 folks. What an Incredible Outpouring!! And, We Need It! Even as far as New Orleans has come since Katrina, we’ve still got a long way to go. In May the local news announced that there were still 58,000 blighted homes without any work going on in these homes. There’s still so much work to be done.
    This Summer has been our busiest Summer since 2006 with Hosting Church Mission Teams from across the country. And, the folks here in New Orleans are so thankful. They know that without the churches nothing would be going on. That speaks volumes about the New Orleans mindset. It also speaks volumes about the churches who come to help. They are certainly making a difference … in “rebuilding the walls of people’s lives” and “impacting lives for Christ.”
    For those who aren’t aware, we host Mission Teams:
    …providing housing & meals
    …securing and coordinating projects
    …providing opportunities and making reservations for cultural and fun activities
    This is a Great Area for bringing Mission Teams. The hearts of these people are as fertile as can be. When these Mission Teams demonstrate the love of Christ and extend grace to them, many are so receptive to hear of Christ’s love and saving grace. That’s what so many returning home have said was so memorable with their trip here.
    And while New Orleans may be their Mission Field, we remind them that ‘back home’ is their Mission Field. We continually challenge groups to go home and do likewise … demonstrating God’s love and sharing Christ’s saving grace.
    And when you come, you’ll get to experience our great culture … our incredible food … our diverse music … our Cajun culture … our river culture … our southern culture. Y’all come down for a while … hear!?
    We love you Churches who’ve come and who continue to come. The work is plentiful…the workers are few…and we need your help!!!
    …not by might…not by power…but by My Spirit says the Lord…
    Blessings…
    Fred Franke
    Operation Nehemiah
    New Orleans
    [email protected]
    www.operationnehemiah.com
    Fred Franke
    July, 15 2010

    Chris–
    Great points…we’ve continued to see the same thing…even now at nearly the 5th year anniversary of Katrina.
    It was good to see your post. We’d love your guys spirit, hard work, and love for Christ. We’d love to see you guys come down and work with us again.
    Let me know how your dad is doing down in Chalmette.
    Stay in touch!!
    Fred Franke
    Operation Nehemiah
    New Orleans
    [email protected]
    http://www.operationnehemiah.com
    Fred Franke
    July, 15 2010

    Bobby,
    Thanks again for giving special attention to the churches in New Orleans. As you know I’m in my third year of ministry at Hickory Knoll, along with Eric Dishongh and Jose’ Campos.
    It’s a shame that I have not crossed paths with Fred Franke yet, but perhaps we can fix that soon. Fred, if you read this you can contact me at [email protected].
    I would like to meet you and get to know you and your work.
    Dennis Jones, President
    Heritage Christian University
    Dennis Jones
    July, 30 2010

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