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Not the Big Easy

Reaching New Orleans with the Gospel.

HARAHAN, La. — New Orleans is not what it seems.
That’s the message that Dennis Jones would like to convey to fellow members of Churches of Christ.
“To the tourist, it’s fancy restaurants, loud music, the French Quarter,” Jones said.
Look closer, though, and it’s a city of fine universities, hospitals and museums, he said. Even better, as he sees it, it’s a city full of souls open to the Gospel.
“There’s a spirituality about this place,” Jones said. “People here are probably, if you take them as a whole, as spiritually sensitive as any place I know that you can go.”
Jones serves full time as president of Heritage Christian University in Florence, Ala.
But 40 weekends a year, he makes an 850-mile round trip to the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ in this New Orleans suburb, on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
“My goal is to strengthen, stabilize and rebuild the church in New Orleans,” said Jones, who began work with the Hickory Knoll church in 2007.
“I have a five-year commitment to do all I can — with the Lord’s help — to rehabilitate the image of the church in the area and encourage young families to move here and start a business or put down roots some way. We need more people who are firmly grounded to help us evangelize the area.”
Recently, the Hickory Knoll church hosted a men’s leadership breakfast that drew representatives from nearly 20 congregations.
“We considered the event a success,” said Jones, who offered to help the churches in any way he could.
At Hickory Knoll, Jones teaches an adult Bible class on Sunday morning and preaches on Sunday night.
Co-minister Eric Dishongh, a graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., grew up in the congregation.
Dishongh delivers the Sunday morning sermon and handles day-to-day ministry.
The Hickory Knoll church lost its roof during Hurricane Katrina. Member Charlie Martinez Jr. lost his father.
The younger Martinez, who has a wife, Patricia, and three children, Tori, Tristen and Sadie, had evacuated to Texas.
After his father died, fellow members supported him in every way possible, he said.
“Everything was still kind of hectic, but they actually got the keys to our house and set up a bunch of food and things like that for family members,” Martinez said.
In October 2006, 14 months after the storm, the church met for the first time in its rebuilt auditorium.
Before Katrina, the Hickory Knoll church was mostly white with a Spanish-speaking group sharing the building.
After the storm, the congregation became more diverse as it attracted members of closed congregations.
Eight to 10 black families placed membership, and others visit frequently, Dishongh said.
Total attendance in the English and Spanish assemblies averages between 170 and 180, making Hickory Knoll one of the area’s larger congregations.
“Sometimes, when I’m speaking at Hickory Knoll,” Jones said, “I’m talking to whites, blacks, Asians, Cajuns, Yankees, rednecks and Hispanics. So, it’s an exciting place to be.”
Minister Jose Luis Campos works with the Hispanic group.
The Hispanic ministry has had to rebuild post-Katrina because a major apartment complex where many Hispanic residents lived was destroyed, Campos said.
While many Hispanic members never returned, the disaster recovery effort drew many Spanish-speaking construction workers to the area, he said.
“In some ways, it’s really good because it gives us an opportunity, if they are not Christians, for them to become Christians and go back to their countries and continue in service over there,” Campos said. “But at the same time, it’s a little more difficult to make a strong church when you have maybe single brothers who are coming or a family that is here for one or two years.”
Besides increased diversity, Katrina brought a renewed recognition of other area Churches of Christ to Hickory Knoll members, Dishongh said.
Before the storm, Hickory Knoll members were less likely to know Christians at other congregations, he said.
Part of that had to do with Hickory Knoll’s doctrinal positions and leaders’ concerns with progressive approaches, he acknowledged.
But simply “not knowing each other” was just as big a factor, he said.
Now, churches that once labeled each other “legalistic” or “liberal” attend each other’s special events, such as youth rallies and singing nights, Dishongh said.
“At Hickory Knoll, we believe in Bible truth,” he said. “But one of our themes is ‘speaking the truth in love.’
Sometimes, in the past, churches have done more harm with the truth than good.”
To reach a city the size of New Orleans, it will take Christians working together to reach the lost, he said.
Dishongh, a New Orleans Saints season-ticket holder, said the team’s improbable Super Bowl win gave him hope.
“If the New Orleans Saints can win the Super Bowl, then the church in New Orleans can grow,” the minister said.

  • Feedback
    im only 13 and i expected god in my life when i was 10. im know everyone thinks that i didn’t know what i was doing but i did. I knew i was taking god in respecting god, loving god. but now im doing a report on christian heritage in N.O. and every time i try to look it up i get: N.O ticks, arena seats, any thing but christian something, this is getting really hard i was wondering if maybe you can send me some links so that i can get some more info on our lord ,
    please and thank you, amber
    amber
    why?
    gretna, louisiana
    u.s.
    February, 2 2012

    It’s a blessing to read about all the positive things in N.O. I’m excited that Dennis has the souls in that are at the center of his conscience. The church in N.O. will not grow because of a ball game but only because of the gospel. Dennis should keep in mind that the ethnicity of the folks he speaks to is not of importance, only the condition of their souls.
    Keep up the gospel work and may God be glorified. Amen.
    rb
    robert brooks
    forest pk
    east point , ga
    america
    August, 23 2010

Filed under: National

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