When I moved to New Orleans 15 years ago, I was enamored. The architecture, the music, the art, the culture, and the people inspired me. This young love for the city focused on the positives.
Because I lived on the seminary campus, I had a safe place to retreat. I could enjoy the city with very little risk. Young love waxes and wanes and for the first few years, I wrestled with my place in the city and in ministry. At one point, my wife, Kimberly, and I considered moving overseas. But, God did not release us from New Orleans. Though we didn’t understand it at the time, God was preparing us for a life in this city.
Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29, 2005) quickly sorted out those who were called to be in New Orleans and those who were not. New Orleans is a lot to take, especially after the storm, and I understand why so many people moved on. But for us, Katrina revealed the depths of our call to the city.
We gave our all to the recovery effort. In the first few years after the storm, we participated in just about every type of ministry you can imagine, and we helped clean out many a flood-damaged home. We became well acquainted with the city, warts and all. We fell deeper in love with the city and its people. In 2008, we put skin in the game when we bought a house in Gentilly. Kimberly began serving as a campus minister for international students at the University of New Orleans. Before long we were spending our Christmases in New Orleans. It had become home. I commonly spoke to others about my love for this place and how thankful I was that God had called me to be here.
Somewhere along the way (maybe 2015), the challenges began to steal my attention. We had spent so much energy serving and saw too few people come to Christ. The cares of the world became a burden. Insurance (auto and home) is very expensive. Taxes are high. The roads are bad. And people who would greet you with a smile and hug in person aren’t so nice behind the wheel. Once invested in the city, the poverty and crime became overwhelming. When you truly love people, their pain becomes yours. My call to the city had not changed, but my attitude had. I had gotten weary from doing good.
This summer I fell in love with my city all over again. It happened slowly. First, a friend from college brought her family to New Orleans for a visit. Kimberly and I met them for coffee and beignets. As we talked about the city and why we are here, I began to hope again. Later in the summer, a mission group came to service with Kimberly, and we showed them our town. As I talked about the city, I said things I couldn’t have said a year earlier. My love was rekindled. This time it was a much more mature Gospel-focused love, refocused on the reason we are here.
Gone is it the wide-eyed infatuation and emotion of my early days in New Orleans. Also gone is the pessimism that slowly crept in when some things didn’t go as planned. Now I can look deeply into this beautiful, broken city in all its glory and pain – from its historic homes on tree-lined streets, to its hopeless and forgotten – with renewed purpose. God’s call and my rekindled love will keep me focused – not overwhelmed by the city’s allure nor crushed by its challenges.