A week ago, plans were being laid.
Contractors pulled 74 housing permits for new unit construction in New Orleans in July, bringing to 525 the number of new housing permits for the city in 2005.
The Bank Café and Ralph's on the Park opened last year to tremendous reviews, and scores more joined these new restaurants to conclude their first summer season.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary sent 17 of its students and staff to Moscow in early summer to help with church planting in a city still struggling to emerge from the burdens placed by the Soviet system. The seminary closed before Katrina hit, and it is now trying to set up temporary offices in Atlanta. Its website proclaimed on Wednesday after the storm, GOD IS GOOD. Chuck Kelly, president of the seminary, was boldly announcing the good news even as the water continued to rise.
The scale of the devastation is difficult to absorb, even as the counting of the dead is underway. The dollar cost attached to the storm by insurance companies doesn't begin to convey the real costs. Hopes and dreams, memories and traditions got washed away.
The aftermath of such an event can be bitter, or it can be the occasion for renewal. Samaritan's Purse and the Salvation Army are rushing relief to the area, but the sort of long-term assistance that will be needed to create again the communities that have been shattered will not be so easily marshalled. People forget and new disasters arrive to replace the images that are now so vivid. It will be a challenge for believers not living in the three states that took the direct hit to keep the suffering of these people front and center in the months ahead.
The First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans is 187 years old. It was destroyed by fire in 1854, and destroyed again by a hurricane in 1915. No doubt the church can be rebuilt-again. The only real question is whether that congregation will have to shoulder its burdens by itself or with the assistance of others around the country.
An effort is underway to match individual churches and congregations within the devastated region with partner churches around the nation. These will assist reconstruction over the long haul. In this way, when the horror of short-term suffering passes from our minds, ties remain to bind churches, parishes, and synagogues together, with a means for rebuilding the community on a level much closer to the need, and with an intimacy much more likely to endure the hard work of the coming years.