— The devil doesn’t scare Charles Marsalis.
The drug dealers sure don’t.
Marsalis and his wife, Angela, both grew up in Hollygrove, a high-crime area where dealers build relationships with second-graders by treating them to a piece of candy or a dollar bill.
“I saw a person murdered in this neighborhood when I was 12, so I know what these kids are seeing,” Charles said.
More than two years ago, the Marsalises survived
Hurricane Katrina by fleeing to the balcony of the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ, their home congregation. Now, they believe they know why God spared them: to bring Jesus to this neighborhood beset with drugs, gunfire and prostitution.
“It’s going to be a battle, but I think we’re going to win that war,” Charles Marsalis said. “I trust God.”
In Hollygrove, as in most of New Orleans, evidence of Katrina remains: the boarded-up windows, the lingering debris, the weeds outside homes whose owners have not returned.
Angela Marsalis said she witnessed this “raggedy” scene and decided the children needed hope.
They needed Jesus.
The Marsalises started inviting boys and girls to study the Bible.
Angela’s mother, Verna Wallace, living in a FEMA trailer as she repaired her flooded home, let them use her front porch for the studies.
In return for the children’s attention, Charles and Angela served snacks and soft drinks.
On a recent Saturday, Charles played football in the street with a group of boys as Angela set up a storyboard of Jesus calling Peter to become a “fisher of men.” Outside the chain-link fence, beside a liquor store closed since Katrina, the boys laughed and high-fived as Charles caught a pass and ran.
“He let an old man burn him,” Charles joked, teasing one boy.
Later, the boys gathered on the porch and bowed as Delvin Herrington, 12, prayed. They sang “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Firm Foundation.”
They listened as Angela described Jesus telling the fishermen to let down their nets even though they had not caught anything all night.
“Do you think they’re going to catch anything?” she asked.
“Yeah!” the boys replied.
“Why?” she said.
“Because that’s Jesus!” said Ishmel Wiltz, 12.
Hollygrove is accustomed to church groups hosting an Easter egg hunt or a Christmas party. But when the special event is over, the children — and their parents — often don’t see the church folks again.
The Marsalises make it a priority to get to know the children — really get to know them.
They host sleepovers and take the children to movies and sporting events. They promise the boys basketball goals at the new Church of Christ planned in Hollygrove.
The church plant is sponsored by the Carrollton Avenue church. It’s buying the old Emanuel Spiritual Church, a red-brick, storm-ravaged building abandoned after Katrina.
Carrollton Avenue — about a 10-minute drive from Hollygrove — has raised $60,000 of the $160,000 price tag. Repairs and furnishings may cost an additional $150,000.
An inner-city church itself, Carrollton Avenue “does not have this kind of money,” minister Kirk Garrison said.
“Yet, our elders stepped out in faith and took on this work in a dark and difficult part of New Orleans.”
Already, Christians from out of state have helped gut the flooded building and trim weeds. The elders hope others will volunteer and donate funds.
The Marsalises want to reach not just the children, but also their parents, grandparents — and even the drug dealers.
“My prayer,” Charles said, “is that one of these boys will be the one to take over this work.”
TO LEARN MORE about the church plant, visit www.carrolltonavenuechurch.org