In February, I got a desperate phone call from a Mr. Thomas, whose son, Aaron, was addicted to heroine and living in an abandoned warehouse in New Orleans.
He told me that he lived outside of Louisiana and had been looking for someone who might be able to check on his son every once in a while. One day, on a flight home, he met a pastor who had previously stayed with Vieux Carre Baptist, so he gave us a call to see what we might be able to do. I decided to go find Aaron that night, but Adam, one of our interns, asked me to wait for him so we could go together.
Now, let me say this. I don’t know why God has called our church to this kind of ministry. Don’t let the beard fool you–I probably feel as comfortable on Tulane Avenue in the middle of the night as you do. This kind of stuff is in our DNA, though. This is how he created our congregation.
If Jesus calls you to do something, it’s not extreme, it’s not foolish, and it’s not dangerous. It’s just what He has called you to do. You can either abandon God because what He has called you to do is too difficult, or you can do it. Rejecting an omnipotent God, I think, will always be the more terrifying option.
Adam walked in at 11:30 pm from work. “It’s a little late for warehouse crashing, isn’t it?” I asked.
He looked beaten down, ready to crash. “Maybe we can wait until tomorrow,” he said. We looked at each other hesitatingly for a moment, vainly tried to steady ourselves, and headed out. We parked a block away from the abandoned Dixie Brewery, found where the fence had been taken down at one entrance, and went in.
We hadn’t thought about how dark it would be in there, so we whipped our phone lights out and began looking for signs of life. Rain was dripping through the roof on us at different places as we picked our way through a maze of hallways and corners.
Eventually, we came across a set of stairs leading upstairs. I called out for Aaron, and we heard a faint reply coming from somewhere on the second floor. We had found an Aaron, but not the one we were looking for–there were seven people living in the warehouse, most of them heroine addicts. We asked about Aaron Thomas, and they said he was on his way to a heroine clinic in the morning; his dad had paid for a stay there.
What’s the catch? Aaron had to be off heroine for a day before they would let him into the clinic. Do you remember the last day you were forced to skip your morning cup of coffee? Heroine withdrawal (dopesick) is every addict’s worst fear. Its a horrible thing to see, and torturous to experience.
The other Aaron led us into a room papered with cardboard, where our Aaron lived. We stayed for about and hour just to visit with them all and to pray with them. Then we left the warehouse, leaving Aaron Thomas to struggle through what was probably the most painful night of his life.
This kind of thing never gets any easier–my adrenaline was rushing from the moment I stepped over that downed section of fencing. We returned the next day, in the daylight, to collect Aaron’s clothes to wash them–something they had not been able to do for several months. When my wife, Sonja, and I returned the clothes to the warehouse, we were approached by a man we had never seen before asking us if we wanted to score heroine. It was an even more depressing place during the day. We found Aaron Thomas and arranged a way for him and his dad to spend the weekend visiting at the Vieux.
For a moment, it looked like he was going to get clean, but after a short stint Aaron fell back into addiction. We kept up with him as much as possible and prayed for God to draw him into opportunities where we could show him Christ’s love. After several months of praying with him, feeding him, watching him go in and out of jail, and seeing him at shower Fridays, he showed up at our door one bright morning ready for something new.
Aaron had been jail detoxed enough times to know that addiction wasn’t his only problem. He wanted real change in his life. He wanted God to change his heart and mind. We were able to place Aaron at Home of Grace in Mississippi for addiction recovery and biblical counseling. His family and our church family thank God for what He has done and for what He is doing in Aaron’s life.
I wanted to tell you this story to drive home a few points. First, and most importantly, we worship a God who both upholds creation with the word of his power and reveals himself to heroine addicts in abandoned breweries on Tulane Avenue. I worship Him because He is worthy of my worship. Secondly, we serve a great God, who heals the broken.
Vieux Carre shares Christ with the broken because He is their hope, whether they know it or not. Lastly (and I hope this comes across), I am a reluctant and stubborn minister. I praise Him for the grace He has given our church, allowing us to be a part of his work in this city. Please pray for Vieux Carre, that God would continue to use us to reach the people of the French Quarter. Without Him, I really don’t think we would be able to do anything worthwhile.