New Orleans’ beauty has re-emerged, much like a grime-free Sistine Chapel. Amid its once again busy and bustling streets there is something more. Everyday folks talk a lot about God and gratitude.
On my way to the French Quarter, my West African cabdriver shared a surprising insight into prayer.
The summer solstice found me in New Orleans where the air is once again alive with music. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, Hurricane Katrina and the flooding from shattered levees displaced thousands of people. The wiped out communities in the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish are slowly rebuilding house by house.
But New Orleans’ beauty has re-emerged, much like a grime-free Sistine Chapel. Amid its once again busy and bustling streets there is something more. Everyday folks talk a lot about God and gratitude.
When asked, my cabdriver, 47-year-old Isaac Lindsay, shared a tale of his family’s survival during Katrina.
“It blew the roof off my house and my home was flooded,” he told me.
“What happened?” I asked.
He and his wife, Monica, 41, had emigrated from West Africa around 1999 to join his cousin in Gretna. Isaac drove a cab in New Orleans and Monica worked as a licensed vocational nurse.
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the couple fled by car to Baton Rouge with their three children, Priscilla, Jacqueline and Isaac Jr., then ages 9, 6 and 3.
More bad news greeted them upon their arrival. They could only stay for four days. Isaac tried to locate other housing but found nothing. Thousands of flood victims were seeking refuge. Home damage and reports of looting prevented them from returning to Gretna.
Their short stay in Baton Rouge was almost at an end when a chance viewing of the news sparked hope. CNN had posted telephone numbers from families willing to take in Katrina victims. Isaac made a call to a family in Texas.
Greg Bird, a 37-year-old computer analyst, his wife, Michelle, and children Ryan, Brice and Marlene, (then ages 7, 4 and 2) opened their home. The Birds even offered to come to New Orleans to pick them up. But the Lindsays had a working car, so the two families met in Dallas and caravanned to the Bird’s home in Fort Worth. Despite his desperation, Isaac wondered how it would work out – a black family suddenly moving into a white household.
“I never took a risk of living with someone I didn’t know before,” said Isaac.
But faith was their common bond. Both families were Christian and believed that its true practice transcended all barriers, including race.
“It was like we knew them for years. They became our friends right then and there and made us feel so at home. My wife kept saying, ‘This is God’s work,’” Isaac said.
In Fort Worth, the Birds belonged to the Church of Christ, from which came an outpouring of help. Later, when the Lindsays moved into their own apartment, new church friends provided furnishings.
“We stayed with the Birds for a month and half. My wife is an LVN and she found work quickly. My family is still living in Fort Worth, but I wanted to come back to New Orleans and get our home in order,” said Isaac, who has flown to Texas every three weeks to be with his family for the last year and half.
“So what do you think the spiritual lesson was in all of this?” I asked, half expecting to hear something about the goodness of people, or transcending racial barriers or even how God directs our lives in miraculous ways.
But his answer was about faith and surrender.
“I used to think I was a Christian, but I now realize I was a ‘casual Christian.’” Isaac said.
Confused, I asked, “How so?”
“I always used to pray for things. And if I didn’t get things right away, I’d start to doubt God and my faith would get shaky,” he said.
But facing homelessness in Baton Rouge changed the way he prayed.
“It was the first time I was praying unselfishly, that his will be done, whatever happened. We were on knees praying to do his will, whatever it is. And an hour later, that’s when we saw the telephone numbers on CNN,” Isaac said.
Our cab turned onto Royal Street toward my hotel in the French Quarter. It’s obvious Isaac loves this city so much. The rebuilding of his Gretna home is nearly complete, and his family soon can return. It’s been three years.
But now his wife and kids love Fort Worth and want him to move there.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I’m going to have to pray about it,” he said, smiling.
E-mail Suzette Standring at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of “The Art of Column Writing.” Visit http://www.readsuzette.com