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Freedom to Speak

The Wall is Down

I’m not a fan of the ACLU.

However they have the same freedom of speech I do.

In this story I want to use my cherished freedom of speech to say a few things and ask a question or two.

Since Katrina, there have been great needs in our state. In a disaster we really find out what the basic needs are. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita taught us that basics such as food, water, and shelter cannot be substituted. Also we were reminded of how fragile yet vital our communications systems are. It was amazing how quickly we settled into the dark due to a lack of phones, electricity, and the loss of the Internet.

All over the South the needs of food, water, and shelter were joint efforts. The shelter issue was met through hundreds of churches and religious groups opening their doors. As the government agencies call us, we are “faith-based organizations.” I like that term. Everything we do should be based on our faith in God and as Christians, in our following of the teachings of Christ.

After the hurricanes many of the walls of separation came down. It took everyone working together—local government, aid agencies, the federal government, law enforcement, and churches and pastors. For weeks I had the privilege of attending daily briefings where all of these groups came together in a spirit of cooperation. Led by our Parish Emergency Management coordinator Glen Mears, Beauregard Parish worked together to take care of not just our own citizens, but also others “blown into our parish” by the storms.

And the walls of separation came down. Everyone banded together and avoided turf wars in the spirit of doing whatever it took to overcome the challenges and problems of these turbulent days.

I want to tell you about the place where we saw the wall come down the most and how it benefited our people.

Pleasant Hill Baptist Church sits along US 171 south of DeRidder. From the first days of Katrina, this church was front and center in ministering to evacuees as a shelter and distribution center. Their pastor, Alan Knuckles, is a man who loves to help others and is always looking for ways to do well in the name of Jesus.

When Rita hit, the dynamics of ministry in our area changed. We went from providing shelter and food to suddenly needing it ourselves. That is when the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Feeding team arrived at Pleasant Hill. They set up their portable kitchen and equipment and began cooking hot meals. These meals were distributed at the site along an unfinished section of US 171 as well as transported from the kitchen to various sites by the Red Cross. As of November 2, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief had prepared over 10.5 million meals. On that same week, I saw hundreds lined up in the Gentilly section of New Orleans receiving these prepared meals by our folks.

In disaster situations The Red Cross and Southern Baptists coordinate feeding together. The disaster kitchen cooks the meals and the Red Cross distributes them. There is an unspoken motto of, “It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as the job gets done.”

In the week after Rita when food became scarce as refrigerated food spoiled and stores remained closed, these hot meals were such a blessing. Each day they brought meals to Dry Creek community. They were enjoyed and appreciated by all. It came down to an attitude of “let’s work together.” A beautiful patchwork of churches, the National Guard, FEMA, Red Cross, our sheriff’s department, Beauregard Electric, plus volunteers of every type got the job done.

The artificial wall that we sometimes build between faith-based ministries and the government came down and stayed down. We were all in this together and willing to do what was needed.

After this flood of good works covered our parish, I heard this comment over and over, “Well, it wasn’t the ACLU who brought my supper tonight or cut that tree off my house. I wonder where the ACLU is right now?”

May the lessons of cooperation we learned continue. We are all in this together.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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