Katrina—The City of Hope
Listen to Podcast of story
August 29–30, 2005
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
This is the story of a place where faith, hope, and love collided in the last days of August 2005. It is the story of The City of Hope evacuee shelter where hundreds of people fleeing Hurricane Katrina came to seek shelter, but hopefully found much more.
A place of faith.
A place of hope.
A place of love.
If you’ll notice from the dates above, Katrina is listed for two days. This is due to the fact that while the hurricane itself came ashore on the morning of Monday, August 29, its worst lasting damage occurred the next day when the levees were breached and a major US city flooded.
This story begins with those two days.
But it encompasses so much more.
It is a story of hope—a story of recovery.
It is the story of two vastly different cultures that came together.
Urban New Orleans and a country crossroads named Dry Creek,
The City of Hope.
It’s a word we use often. But it is a word that shouldn’t really be in the dictionary of a follower of Jesus.
The word is coincidence.
As in “what a coincidence.”
I like the word… I like the way it sounds.
But when I look at the definition, I’m not sure it should be in my vocabulary.
Webster’s puts it this way: Coincidence: “the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident… but seem to have some connection.”
How many times in our lives do we cross paths with something or someone, and we are never the same? Can we mark it off to Fate or luck? Luck means “to prosper or succeed especially through chance or good fortune.” Or can we claim even coincidence or chance?
If I truly believe what I say I do
That our steps are ordered by God
That He never leaves us or forsakes us
That all things work together
Even the so-called ‘evil-meant’ things.
Can we believe in paths crossing just by chance/fate?
Here is my favorite Katrina story. You can decide for yourself if it is coincidence, chance, fate, or part of a bigger plan.
As I shared in an earlier story, I flew home from South Dakota as Katrina honed in on New Orleans. My plane arrived in Houston at midnight, and I began my four-hour drive home to Dry Creek. Traffic traveling west away from Katrina was steady in the opposite lanes of I-10. At Vidor, Texas, I exited off the interstate to begin the two-lane half of my journey home. To my amazement, westbound traffic was still slow and steady, as it seemed as if all of Louisiana wanted to get west and get away.
Traveling along US 190 near Reeves brought me within fifteen minutes of Dry Creek. I planned to go by the camp, check on things, get a hot bath and sleep a few hours before getting back up to speed at the camp.
I passed the Lone Pine Bluegrass Park also known as The Hope Center. It is run by our friends Mancel and June Reeves. They host bluegrass music weekends here but also run a wonderful ministry of food, clothing, and help and, as their name aptly implies, giving hope to hurting people.
Normally at 4 am in the morning the Hope Center would be dark and shuttered. But tonight, the early hours of Monday August 29 were anything but normal. Lights were on at the Hope Center. Cars were parked around and silhouettes stood in the lit doorway. I wheeled around and drove back. Curiosity had the best of me.
There were people everywhere at The Hope Center. Some were outside milling around cars while some folks slept on the floor or on couches. Mancel and June were doing what they do best—handing out food, directions, coffee, and encouragement.
They were serving as a way station for the weary travelers who were heading west via US 190 instead of the interstate. Many of those in the room told stories of leaving New Orleans 12–16 hours ago to make the 250-mile journey from there to here.
There was a feeling of weariness and uncertainty showing on the faces of those fleeing the storm. Yet here was a place of hope… a drink, some good advice, a phone call.
Mancel and June were plenty surprised to see me at 4 am. I explained about my interesting journey of nearly two thousand miles in half the time it’d taken them to travel across Louisiana.
June pointed out a family. “I believe they could use your help. They are Spanish and don’t speak too much English and seem confused.”
They were a family of five—a father, mother, and three teenagers. As people from New Orleans are known to do, they looked at me suspiciously as I began to question them on their plans. It seemed they had no definite plans… head west to Texas and escape from Katrina. I shared what the radio had repeated over and over… No hotel rooms from Beaumont to Houston… your best chance was San Antonio… nearly 400 miles west.
I simply asked them to come home with me. That was the point in time when our paths crossed:
Dry Creek Camp and the Arguello family from Kenner, Louisiana.
From that point on, Aldo and Soledad Arguello became part of our family. The Arguellos and their teenaged children, Aldo, Alden, and Ashleigh and two cats became residents of dorm 6 at Dry Creek Camp.
Soledad, who was more comfortable with crowds than her husband, became a key member of our “Dry Creek city council.” I quickly found that she could be depended on to get things done in the background. Alden and Ashleigh enrolled at East Beauregard High School.
Aldo, age eighteen, had just spent his pre-Katrina week as an entering freshman at Delgado Community College in New Orleans. It was evident his carefully planned semester had ended much earlier than planned. As true with most of the universities and colleges there, classes were cancelled for the fall.
However part of the wonderful reaching out for Katrina folks, McNeese State University in nearby Lake Charles announced their willingness to enroll new students. So Aldo became a McNeese Cowboy. A member of our summer staff, Thomas Bethke personally took care of getting all of Aldo’s details straight. Aldo moved into a McNeese dorm and started classes the next day.
But his McNeese semester was changed, too. This time her name was Rita. Just like Katrina she affected every segment of life in the areas of her landfall. Lake Charles was dealt a crippling blow by the storm. Classes at McNeese were cancelled for the foreseeable future.
So Aldo Arguello’s college semester road trip continued. He could only shake his head in disbelief as he told of being evacuated from two hurricanes.
As of now, the late fall of 2005, McNeese is back open. Aldo Jr. is back in school. Things are far from normal, but classes are being taught. Last week the television showed a class meeting under an oak tree near Farrar Hall.
Not by chance… not even by coincidence,
But by design… all part of God’s plan.
Yes, God does have a plan. Just like the Arguello’s appointment to meet me along US 190 in the pre-daylight hours of that fateful Monday as Katrina roared ashore, it is part of His plan.
I asked my friend Soledad about this chance encounter. She shook her head and quietly said, “It was not by chance. It was by God’s design. He knew where we needed to be.”
I call it being “caught in the crosshairs of God’s great plan and design.” It is comforting to know that as a follower of God, nothing can happen without his permission. Then everything that happens can, rather will, be used for His good purposes and to use us. Don’t ask me to explain the bad things that invariably come to us. These storms happen to the just and unjust. I only know that God is working through it all.
Yes, wherever it is—even along US Highway 190 near Reeves, Louisiana, God has His hand working.
It’s not luck
Nor can it be called coincidence.
Be careful calling it fate.
Rather, I call it “being caught in the crosshairs of God’s plan.”