'Smoking for Jesus' -- A Displaced New Orleans Congregation Takes Root in Texas

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They call themselves the Smoking for Jesus Ministry. As Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, the church picked up en masse and fled to the Texas Hill Country where they have set up an insular and supportive life based on the preaching of Pastor Willie Monnet. In spite of the dramatic change, they have flourished in the deeply religious city of Marble Falls. Despite allegations from some relatives of parishioners that they behave like a cult, the church has delivered its members first from the rough streets of New Orleans and then from the disaster of Katrina.

The Texas Observer followed a black congregation from New Orleans and watched as it took root in Texas. Here is Dave Mann's report.

By Dave Mann
And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth. -Genesis 7:17

They came in their Sunday best, men in matching bright purple blazers women in dresses. The small, rural church on a lonely ridge near Marbl Falls quickly filled. Once inside, they offered joyous thanks for thei deliverance--from the streets of New Orleans and, two years ago to th day, from two terrible storms. In the parking lot, a few cars still bore Louisian license plates. Christian hymns seeped from the walls of the A-frame with its tin spire, and echoed across the quiet countryside, as if sung by the trees themselves

In this serene patch of Texas Hill Country, more than 200 African-American émigrés from New Orleans have found a new home. They call themselves the Smoking for Jesus Ministry. Back in Louisiana, their church was a sanctuary from the violence and poverty of New Orleans' Ninth Ward. Many joined to escape the perils of drugs, gangs, and alcohol. Without the ministry, some would likely be in prison or an early grave.

As Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, the church picked up en masse and fled. They ended up in overwhelmingly white Burnet County, where they immediately increased the black population by a third. In spite of the dramatic change, they have flourished. They did it all by clinging fiercely to their faith.

Continued at: http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2588

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