Reaching Out in a Party Area

Billy and Brenda - Street Level

Fleshing Out Christ in the Famous Big Easy

It was the biggest party of them all. Walking through the square during Mardi Gras this year blatantly reminded me once again that we live in a post-Christian culture. In a straight row, with their tables butted up against each other, the Tarot card and palm readers sat barking their services.

Behind their line, a Christian group painted as mimes performed a drama. In front, a man with a mega phone shouted Christian slogans. I looked around me and there were banners that proclaimed God hated faggots and banners that boasted their Mardi Gras crew names, most often the name of a Greek God such as Bacchus or Orpheus.

I stood still and let my eyes gaze over the crowds. I saw Blacks, Whites, Asians, Males, Females, Lesbians, Gays, Gutter Punks, Hippies, Arians, Bikers, Jocks, Business Men and Women, Clowns, Street Musicians, Artists, Families and Police. A small impromptu parade of half clothed people dancing themselves into frenzy passed. The only thing missing was the temple to the Unknown God.

Billy and I both commented that this must be a close representation to the Greek market during festival in Paul's day... definitely not a Christian culture.

As we stood in silence and watched the crowds jostle their way around we were reminded of the verse that speaks of 'sheep without a Shepherd'. It was a bit overwhelming!

If Jesus were here in the midst of this company where would He be and what would He be doing and saying? Who would He identify with? Once again we were pressed to evaluate the relevance of the obvious forms of evangelism we were seeing displayed to a culture that would openly give the keys of the city to the devil and then expect him to behave himself. Should we be carrying signs, crosses, holding open prayer meetings and worship services, preaching on the corner or passing out tracts?

How on earth do we reach this culture???? In our heart of hearts we knew that we were to do none of the above. What we were to do was to be a ministry that stands in the gap, praying for God's mercy on a city that has gone whoring after other Gods. To ask the Holy Spirit to draw men's hearts and provide divine appointments for us to demonstrate the peace of Christ where there is madness.

We moved to New Orleans in 1994 and onto 'Bourbon St.', shortly thereafter. It soon became clear to us that people from all over the world came here to the French Quarter to party party party!! Behavior and actions that would not be tolerated anyplace else would be, not only tolerated but encouraged here.

Those good citizens who would never even speed in their hometown, given a few beers, would let it all hang out physically and mentally here. Just like all the filth and dirt the mighty Mississippi picks up on her long sojourn southward ends up here on the banks of New Orleans, the world brings its trash and dumps it here. The most disheartening aspect of all of this is the attitude of the city itself. A statue of old Man River stands up on the river front. It is a man with arms reaching up, cut off at mid elbow. The inscription reads, "The city that care forgot".

The meaning becomes very clear. No one even cares, whatever will be will be, can't do anything about it don't want to do anything about it.

To effect change became our prayer. We knew that in order for people to be reached the city itself must change at its core, which is the French Quarter. Every city has a history that shapes its personality. We started to read and research our city and pray that God would give us guidance. God had planted His love for these people in our hearts and we needed to know how to express it.

Ah, the people of the French Quarter, what a glorious conglomerate and lovely group of aliens they are, very tribal in nature yet a community within New Orleans.

There are the blue bloods, having old family money and gated mansions, there are business men, mafia, clowns, Tarot card readers, magicians, strippers, bartenders, mimes, artists, musicians, witches, warlocks, voodoo priests and priestesses, hippies, punks, homeless, Catholics, crazies, vintage quarter characters, writers, politicians, gays, lesbians, straights, aspiring young and old has-beens, blacks, whites, French, Italian, Irish, Coonass Cajuns, the tourists and now, US.

Everyone fits, everyone belongs. You can be anything you want to be and change that from day to day and it is just the way it is here. It truly is diversity with unity, something the church could learn about at another whole level. So many tribes, so many cultures, so few workers, and so little time.

As I've looked at what we have been doing these past nine years the famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind, "Walk softly and carry a big stick". We developed some basic principles. I would like to share those with you.

Basic Principles

  • Walk softly in your city
  • Learn about the culture-its history
  • Learn about the religious history
  • Be careful not to insult them or their traditions
  • Show respect for their beliefs
  • Pray and Pray and Pray some more for city leaders etc.
  • Carry always with you the 'big stick' that is... (Be ready to give an answer for the faith that lies within you)
  • Meet people where they are-find common ground
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Strive to see people through God's eyes with His heart
  • Love people one at a time
  • Be prepared for the long haul-people have lots of baggage
  • Know that the success or failure of your efforts is in Gods hands

Being Christian in a party city is not a job for a lone ranger. Burnout is a sure thing if you are out to save all the sinners. We soon learned that we needed others. The Bible is pretty clear about the fact that we were designed to live and breathe within community, loving one another and offering a corporate expression of the love of Christ, who is our head, to others. Party people are desperately seeking intimacy. It is a pseudo-sexual intimacy that they find. The old song of the Jesus People is true, "they will know we are Christians by our love". Party people will be drawn to a sense of family and belonging. Their hearts cry out for acceptance. Christian Community, in whatever form it takes is not an option but a lifeline in the city.

Perhaps one of the most important elements of preparation for reaching out in a party city is the necessity of Bible Study, both within the community and individually being able to feed yourself. It is the word of God that will be your strength and shield and many times your discernment.

The lines of right and wrong become blurred in a chaotic environment and a party city is chaotic most of the time. If you don't know what the Bible teaches and you haven't incorporated it into your daily life, when the times get dark your heart will become shadowed and clarity will give way to confusion. The warm fuzzies come and go but the word of God is powerful and sharp, able to discern even bone from marrow. It is the weapon of choice and you can't leave home without it.

In a very real sense, when we obeyed God's call for us to live in and love the French Quarter New Orleans we became captives of this city, not actually physically captive, although sometimes it feels like it. In Jeremiah 29:7, the instruction to the captives of Babylon was, "Do not dwindle away!!!! Work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the Lord for that city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace so will you."

Like most party cities, New Orleans is a city known for its injustice, perversity and overall lawlessness. Note the scripture says to work for peace and prosperity. Peace always involves issues of justice.

It is important to aggressively work for justice within the sphere of your influence. Know what is going on. Stay abreast of the political situation in the city. Ask God to show you ways to be involved in the city. Take ownership-seeking to redeem and rebuild the walls.

The prosperity of a party city usually comes at the expense of doing away with a strong moral code. Are there laws being passed or amendments being voted on that would curb the overall indecency? If so, get out and vote. Work for peace and prosperity so that the city itself will change.

The scripture also says to pray, and as I said earlier pray and pray, because God can give you direction and clarify his will to your more and more each time you return to him in prayer. You may get a clearer picture of where your city is and what God wants you to do.

Being a Christian in a party city and committing yourself to that city is sort of like parachuting into a war zone of the world and extending the welcome mat of God's love and sacrifice to the door of every heart and home.

Being a Christian in a party city and committing yourself to that city is to leave the harbor and launch out into the joy and risks of the deep sea. The mission is not to hug harbor or drop anchor where it is safe or cheer as other boats sail into the deep. The place for the Christian Community is on the height of the seas where it is turbulent and dangerous, where storms gather their fiercest intensity. Jesus is calling us to be wave riders... Only dead fish swim with the tide.

Being a Christian in a party city and committing yourself to that city is to move in and determine in all of your relationships to live deliberately Christian.

It is to be actual friends to the sinners:
Showing unconditional love for them
Having them over for dinner
Listening to their band play no matter how poorly
Talking about things that aren't interesting to you
Going out of your way to build relationship with those Christ has given you
Drinking endless cups coffee just waiting for someone to show up

A CAUTION: Reaching out in party cities does not give a high visible harvest. Sometimes we have wondered if we're we doing any good at all. It is such hard ground and we have planted and watered only to see the enemy steal the flower. Spending day in and out in a pagan environment, no matter how much you love the people, can cause tunnel vision, and wear you out mentally, physically and spiritually.

Because of the way we are built we want to stick with it until the task is done, we may get to the point that we don't see the forest for the trees so to speak. We can easily become fatigued in every area of our life if there are not some safety measures built into our lives. Taking time to get out of the city and stand before the night sky or play in the waves or just be in a place where sin is in the closet not walking down the street for all to see, is imperative. Jesus himself slipped away to be alone with the Father and he took his disciples on several occasions up into the hills for rest and relaxation. It is a fact that it is a privilege to serve God in the city and be part of what He is doing but He doesn't actually need our help, He is more interested in our hearts and our relationship with Him, wherever that might be. Build into your month a few days away and into your year a few weeks away for renewal and fun! It will make God smile.

Very lastly, after the party is over and the rest of the Christians have left taking their signs and songs and egos with them, you will be left to pick up the pieces and continue your walk as an image bearer of God, i.e. One whose life is so transparent before your friends that they can see God's image in you...

You may serve for a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime in a party city and wonder if you are making any difference. But know for a surety that demons scurry away when they see the light and others will see Christ's image in your life and feel his love for them through you and someday you will stand before the Lamb and see the faces of those whom many deemed hopeless.

So I leave you with the words of George McDonald...
I said: "Let me walk in the field;"
God said: "Nay, walk in the town;"
I said: "there are no flowers there;"
He said: "No flowers but a crown."
I said: "But the sky is black, there is nothing but noise and din;"
But He wept as He sent me back, "There is more,"
He said, "There is sin."
I said: "But the air is thick, and fogs are veiling the sun."
He answered: "Yet souls are sick, and souls in the dark undone."
I said: "I shall miss the light, and friends will miss me, they say;"
He answered me: "Choose tonight. If I am to miss you, or they." I pleaded
for time to be given;
He said: "Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in Heaven to have followed the steps of your Guide."
I cast one look at the fields. Then set my face to the town.
He said; "My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?"
Then into His hand went mine, and into my heart came He; and I walk in
a light Divine, the streets I had feared to see.

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