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When the Saints Go Marching In

Craig von Buseck, D.Min.


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NEW ORLEANS -- The sign over the entrance to the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain said closed due to weather, but we were accompanied by our security detail who had arranged for us to enter the city so the guards waved us on through. The causeway was very similar to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virginia Beach – only without the tunnels. It connects the city of New Orleans to the communities on the northern shore of the lake – a vital connector between the city and the rest of the state of Louisiana.

At the entrance to the city we were greeted by a large mirrored glass skyscraper that had endured severe wind damage – dozens of 0509b-097_MD.jpgwindows were shattered giving the building somewhat of a checkerboard appearance. As we continued south into the city we passed a large mall next to the highway. The parking lot was nearly filled with rescue, military and utility trucks and tents.

On the other side of the road the Wyndham Hotel had most of the class blown out of the south side of the building. But despite the wind damage, this part of the city on the west side of town was not flooded. We snaked our way through town, trying to find the best way around the streets that were closed due to a water main that had ruptured or an off-ramp that had been damaged. We finally arrived at our destination, Victory Church, located on the far end of town in a suburb of the city called Metairie.

On one side of the church is a local Anheuser-Busch factory, and on the other is the official practice facility of the New Orleans Saints – which was also serving as a staging area for FEMA and other military0509c-002_MD.jpg relief operations. But on the grounds of this church campus, dozens of the Saints of God were busy practicing the love and compassion of Christ with the help of Operation Blessing and several church networks from across America.

We pulled into the church parking lot behind a long row of cars waiting to get supplies for their families. A sign in the front of the church said ‘free food – 9 to 4’. We learned later that local radio stations were also encouraging people to come to this shelter that had partnered with OB to distribute food, cleaning supplies, water, and other necessities.

Pastor Frank Bailey met us and welcomed us into the church – an impressive facility that had been transformed into an impressive human machine of compassion and kindness.

As people drove into the parking lot they were greeted by smiling volunteers who have come from churches across America to do what they can to help the victims of this disaster. The volunteers ask how many families are represented in each vehicle, and the ages of each family member. They write the needs of the family on the car window with soap in a code they have developed to help expedite the service. Then the volunteer radios to his or her counterpart on the opposite side of the complex with the order and the number that has been assigned to the vehicle – this allows volunteers in a large gymnasium to prepare the order and have it ready by the time the car makes it through the line to the loading zone.

0509c-006_MD.jpgAt the next stop, the trunks of the vehicles are filled with bottles of water by volunteers who ask if there are any needs that the family has that they can pray for. Some of the people tell them they’re not interested, but the vast majority of people are open and even eager for prayer. The volunteer takes the hand of the driver and lifts their petition before the Lord. The next stop in the line is manned by trained counselors from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They give each person a couple of books, ‘When Your Whole World Changes’ and ‘The Key to Personal Peace’. They also offer to pray with the visitors – and if the conversation moves in that direction, they also invite the folks to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

0509c-012_MD.jpgThese counselors have also made themselves available to police officers, firefighters, relief workers, and military people who are in need of a listening ear. Some of these counselors also served the people of New York during the aftermath of 9/11.

On the day that we arrived, the operation was running with military-like precision, serving nearly 600 families – but it was only a week old. The volunteers had come in from across the country, yet they worked together in impressive cooperation. The church partnered with the Pastors Resource Counsel (PRC), Global Outreach, Billy Graham, and Operation Blessing to bring this massive outreach to life in a very short amount of time.

As people slowly return to the New Orleans area, the pastors expect the number of families served to swell to a thousand a day.

0509c-010_MD.jpgI decided to follow one of the volunteers as she served the families in line. Her name was Caryl, and she was wearing a bright orange PRC tee-shirt and a giant string of white pearls. She was a medical doctor from near Washington, D.C. and was in New Orleans with a group of more than forty people from her church in cooperation with the Pastors Resource Council – a collection of hundreds of churches and ministries from across the U.S. banded together to bring quick help in times of disaster and tragedy.

As I walked along the long row of cars with Caryl she pressed the button on her two-way radio headset and conveyed the latest order to volunteers in the gymnasium/warehouse. “O.K., Anna, I’m sending over a vehicle to you, D-33, this is a repeat order. It’s an Explorer, kind of like an off-white color with two good looking women in the front and two little boys. They need two bags of toiletries. They need extra washcloths – about eight of them for everyone in the house. For the boys, size six and ten tee-shirts, socks, and underwear…”

The list continued for all the members of the family, along with food, health and cleaning supplies, Gatorade, and more. She finished with the order and then rushed down the line in the sweltering 90-degree heat to interview the family in the next available car.

A few moments later another volunteer took over for Caryl so she could take a well-deserved rest. As we stood under the shade of a nylon canopy she told me how she was helping Operation Blessing to begin offering medical assistance as a part of this outreach. “I met with the president of OB yesterday as I was working in the warehouse. I told him that I had opened a donation of medical supplies and God laid it on my heart to set up a triage unit. I talked to the pastors and they gave us a room to set all of that up. I’m not going to be here long enough to see all of that functional, but I put a piece of the puzzle in place.”

“I also talked to the president of the National Medical Association, a group of Black doctors. They are going to start sending physicians here to set up the medical center in the church in association with OB. One of my team members put me in touch with MAP International, which is a Christian organization that sends drugs and medical supplies all over the world. The director talked to me and said, ‘make your list, fax it to me, and we’ll send you what you need.’”

“So you’re seeing the Body of Christ coming together here,” I responded.

Beaming with a bright smile she bounced on her toes and declared, “It’s awesome. We have been mostly here in Jefferson Parish. But the first day we were serving in The Dream Center of New Orleans, which is a shelter that cares for 130 people – and that center is associated with Pastor Tommy Barnett and also the PRC.”

“They took me into their medical center where I met an overweight woman who was lying in bed. She’s a diabetic, hypertensive, and was running out of her medications and didn’t have prescriptions. Of course the sad thing is that the physician’s records were all destroyed in the flood. How are you going to get records? How are you going to know what prescriptions people are taking? I can’t remember from day-to-day what I give a patient without the records. Even if I saw her in my office I might have a hard time remembering what I had prescribed. So there were no medical people there to take care of people like this woman.”

“So while I was there, I talked to all the residents to find out their medical problems. But I really couldn’t help, because even if I examined them I wouldn’t feel comfortable prescribing something for them because I didn’t know them. This is the kind of place that we need to bring physicians into on a rotating basis so that we can have that place covered until we can get all those people out of there.”

I asked her what the biggest needs were now that the waters are receding in New Orleans.

“Most of my time here is not doing medical things. Anyone can do any number of things – volunteerism is volunteerism. We need people who can come into the shelter and help people to find a place to live. We need people who can go online and do that. We need medical people – nurses, physicians, or assistants who can do a little bit of triage where we can do a little to help people. We need people who are willing to be in this 90 degree weather day-in and day-out ministering to people and letting them know that our hearts are broken for them.”

“It’s more of a blessing for us to be here than what we give to them. What we get back is much more than what they’re getting. We need people who have a heart of compassion who can speak to these people – not just to take their order – but to say, ‘our hearts are with you. We want you to know that Jesus is still Lord and God is going to get you through this.”

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About The Author

von Buseck

Dr. Craig von Buseck is a published author, popular speaker, and Digital Content Manager for the Parenting section of Craig is also a contributing writer for, MTL Magazine, Charisma Magazine, and The Write Conversation blog. He holds a Doctor of Ministry and an MA in Religious Journalism from Regent University. Craig’s recent book, 'I Am Cyrus: Harry S. Truman and the Rebirth of Israel' won the prestigious Selah Award for Christian nonfiction and was nominated for The Truman Award by The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Craig’s other books include 'Victor