Love & Credibility – Missional Essentials

This week I managed to catch a program I watch whenever I remember: Secret Millionaires, where millionaires in real life go undercover and pose as ‘normal’ people looking to lend a hand. The program I watched was based in America where a multi-millionaire couple who made their fortune from selling fast food went to New Orleans, still devastated in many areas by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was the best witness for the Gospel I have seen on t.v. in a long time.

Raising Cane’s® founder and CEO Todd Graves and his wife Gwen participated in Fox’s philanthropic reality show Secret Millionaire™.  They spent a week posed as normal people in South Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, a community destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in U.S. history. The Graves’ were challenged to find people that their philanthropic gifts nearing $400,000, would have the most impact on the community as a whole, and were inspired to meet “angels walking the earth” that put others before themselves to rebuild their community.

There were a few people they found that stood out to me – Christians who are living out the Gospel in practical ways.

Rev Ted Turner

Reverend Ted Turner returned to his home and his congregation following Hurricane Katrina to see that everything that made his community livable had been destroyed. Homes, businesses, and churches had all turned to rubble.

As a committed community leader, Reverend Turner knew he must do something to enable the rebirth of his community. He instantly saw that the community’s greatest need was homes for residents to return to. As a young man, Reverend Turner had learned some basic carpentry skills from his father, so he retrained himself as a carpenter – with a vision of rebuilding his community. His efforts attracted so many others who were willing to come into South Plaquemines to volunteer their time and talent in support of this huge undertaking that the lack of a place to house volunteers with hotels destroyed became an obstacle. With that in mind, Reverend Turner added building a volunteer center to his vision as well as developing a structured system to organize and manage volunteer efforts.

Todd and Gwen contributed $100,000 to help finish Reverend Turner’s Volunteer Center and to start the builds on an additional 10 homes in the community. They also stocked the center with a supply of recreational equipment to help the volunteers relax and enjoy themselves at the end of their long days. (Source)

Elaine & Michael Cox

Elaine and Michael Cox were both teachers at South Plaquemines High School. Like thousands of others, they evacuated their home during Hurricane Katrina only to return and find it and everything around them destroyed. As educators and counselors, Elaine and Michael have spent their professional lives dedicated to the development of students. After Katrina, it was obvious to them that the total absence of organized activities and facilities targeting youth after the hurricane would lead many teens down a troubled path. They also realized that counseling was a serious need for the community after such a devastating storm.

With that in mind, the couple set their sights on creating a new community center which could provide a structured social and educational environment for youth. A local dentist whose practice was destroyed by the hurricane, got behind Elaine and Michael’s vision by donating his building to house the center. Instead of rebuilding their own home, Elaine and Michael lived in a FEMA trailer next to the center so that they are able to focus their time working on renovations.

Todd and Gwen invested $100,000 of their own money to help complete Elaine and Michael’s vision of a community center “The Gathering Place” and to supply the center with the essentials (computers, entertainment centers, furniture, etc.) to make it a true gathering place for teens. The Gathering Place is now being used by the community for socializing, entertainment, tutoring and counseling. (Source)

The Cox’s also run church on Sunday morning’s. On their website they expand on their philosophy of ministry:

We believe our calling is to establish and help others establish organic church ministries in neighborhoods, across entire communities, around the respective states and across our nation. The organic church movement has been strong in other countries around the world and is truly catching on in the United States as people are searching for other forms of worship than the traditional church setting which focuses on programs, buildings, and a pastor to pew mentality.

Elaine and I (Michael) are now in our second church plant in Denham Springs, LA. We began this journey in Buras, (Plaquemines Parish) Louisiana. Many of you will be familiar with that name because of the BP oil spill off our coast there. We began this experiment in September of 2006 with a remnant of people who returned to the region after Hurricane Katrina. Through a gift from Todd and Gwen Graves owners of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers www.raisingcanes.com/millionaire/people we were able to restore a hurricane damaged building which we reopened as a gathering place for the community. We opened The Gathering Place coffee shop with Wi-Fi internet connection, a video game room for youth, and a beauty shop operated by one of our church members. Elaine and I did Christian counseling and tutoring, as we are both retired school teachers

Check out their web page: sunandshieldministries.org

Love in action

Both Rev Turner and the Cox’s are a witness to the transformative power of the Gospel lived out in a community.  I’m sure Rev Turner’s church must be a small affair, with all the things that go along with a small church.  But give me that any day over the opposite.  The Victorian bushfires saw small Christian communities pulling together and displaying a similar indefatigable spirit and a determination to love its community back into health.  This kind of love upsets the apple cart of perceptions about hypocritical believers and provides opportunities for people to consider the Gospel in the context of the love and credibility of the messenger.  Read more about the experiences of Todd Graves and his wife Gwen here.

Watch the program in episodes here: