National Lutheran News

New Orleans couple travels to Minnesota to give thanks to ‘angels’

On the day before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005,
Lonnie Jones heard a voice. This voice told him, “It’s time to leave.” The voice
wasn’t from the television. It was not his wife, Arlene, speaking to him from
the other room or his son up in his bedroom. The voice was one that Lonnie
knew could only be a voice from above.

“There was no doubt about who it was. We were set to stay when I heard the
word, just as clear as a bell,” he says.

So Lonnie packed the family car, loaded his wife and son, and drove from New
Orleans to Dallas.

“There is no way we would have survived for three weeks on the roof….
Because I heard His word, I saved the family’s life. I just responded to what
He was telling me.”

The Jones’ home was lost. The flood line reached 10 feet — and stayed there
for six weeks. They lost everything, including their car.

A crew of volunteers from Advent Lutheran Church in Maple Grove,
Minnesota, responded to the tremendous need in New Orleans following
Hurricane Katrina by volunteering with Lutheran Disaster Relief. The Jones
refer to these volunteers as the “angels [that] came to help us.”

These “angels” spent a week gutting the Jones’ home, removing all their
personal belongings, and ripping it to the bare studs. And through the week
of hard work, this crew developed a lifelong friendship with the Jones family.

Help for the Jones family from Advent Lutheran wasn’t limited to
reconstruction. It also came in the form of prayers and monetary
contributions.

Crews from Advent Lutheran went to New Orleans twice more to rebuild. And
both times the Jones family welcomed the crews into their new home. Both
times the crews were introduced to their friends in their new neighborhood
and were served big bowls of gumbo. (Many of the native Minnesotans
thought it was a bit hot!)

This July, Lonnie and Arlene took a four-day trip to Minnesota where they
were able personally to thank the congregation that had supported them.
“Our goal was always to get here,” Arlene said.

“It’s a story that is — it’s only God. It’s all God. And now they are here in
Maple Grove,” said Karen Coddington, a staff member at Advent Lutheran and
volunteer on all three trips.

The Jones’ friends were not only from Minnesota. Glenn Coombs from
Toronto, Canada, was also assigned to help gut the Jones’ home.
He says of his time working with the crew from Minnesota, “I found myself in
New Orleans (as a Canadian who had only been in a few northern states), not
knowing what to expect.…The group [from Minnesota] had already worked
with Lonnie and Arlene for two days before I arrived and you could see the
bond that had already taken place.”

While he was not able to return to New Orleans with the congregation on
subsequent trips, Coombs did come to Maple Grove to join the reunion this
July.

“My recent trip was a whirlwind!” he says. “My wife Johanna and I arrived late
in the afternoon, again not knowing what to expect, and once again, we were
greeted with open arms, good food, and a room!”

The visitors, who had given their friends from Minnesota a bit of New Orleans
hospitality, had hospitality returned to them. Members of Advent Lutheran
took the group to Itasca State Park, where the Jones walked across the
headwaters of the Mississippi River and spent time at a lake cabin. And
instead of gumbo, while in Minnesota the group enjoyed campfire specialties,
including marshmallow s’mores.

Their trip to the lake cabin gave the couple the desire to buy property in
Minnesota, but Arlene says she could never visit during the cold of winter.
Having said they’ve only seen a few flurries of snow on a rare occasion in New
Orleans, both seemed quite baffled by the idea of ice thick enough to drive a
vehicle across a lake.

While in Minnesota, the couple also spent Wednesday evening in worship at
Advent Lutheran.

Lonnie attributes the friendship he and his wife made with the group from
Minnesota to a Higher Power.

“How does somebody from New Orleans and Minnesota make a connection?”
he asks. “It is all in God’s plan. God has a plan. Whatever God says is true. We
had no idea we’d have any of these things, but God has a plan. We are so
grateful for these things.”

What about God’s plan for Lonnie and Arlene Jones? They say the Lord has
blessed them. And in spite of all they have been through, “We’re content.
We’re happy with what we have.”