Faith Leaders Respond To Oil Crisis

Host Michel Martin talks to two faith leaders in the Gulf region about how they are responding to the oil spill. The Rev. Tyrone Edwards of the Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Phoenix, La., says he is calling on men in his community to stand up to BP and support families affected by the spill. And Father Mike Tran, who leads Our Lady of the Isle parish, in Grand Isle, La., says he is looking toward scripture for guidance to help his parishioners survive a disaster with no end in sight.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we check in with one of our listeners who called to tell us more about what he's seeing just outside his door. We're spending some time talking about the Gulf oil spill.

But, first, our weekly Faith Matters conversation where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality and we are focused today on the Gulf and some specific comments made this week in President Obama's Oval Office address. The president talked about his administration's response to the oil spill disaster. And as he wrapped up, he addressed the role of faith, speaking of an age-old tradition on the Gulf Coast where fishermen of different religions come together to pray for those heading out to see.

President BARACK OBAMA: The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina. And it took place a few weeks ago at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced. And, still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, the blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers, the blessing is that he is with us always. A blessing that's granted even in the midst of the storm.

MARTIN: We wanted to find out more about the role of faith, particularly in the communities directly affected by the oil spill. So we've called two faith leaders. Father Mike Tran is the pastor at Our Lady of the Isle on Grand Isle. It's one of the Barrier Islands of Louisiana. It is in the path of the spreading oil. Also with us, the Reverend Tyrone Edwards, he is the pastor of Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Phoenix, Louisiana, which is in Plaquemines Parish, a coastal community also in the path of the spill. And I welcome you both and I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Reverend TYRONE EDWARDS (Zion Travelers Baptist Church): Great to be on the show.

MARTIN: Father Tran, let me start with you. The president concluded by asking for prayers, saying we pray for the people of the Gulf, we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm to a brighter day. I wanted to ask each of you, Father Tran, I'll start with you. What are the prayers of the people right now?

Father MIKE TRAN (Our Lady of the Isle): Yes. The prayer of the people are they're praying that this oil spill will end, you know, and so that they can restart their lives and that's the adamant prayer right now, you know.

MARTIN: You know, sometimes we put hope and faith and we often put hope and faith in the same sentence, but they're not the same thing. Is there the people may have faith, but do they have hope that they will be able to take up the lives that they had before?

Father TRAN: Well, it seems that hope is kind of dim right now because the oil spill has not been plugged up yet, you know, so it's kind of looking grim. But I think there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, I believe.

MARTIN: Reverend Edwards, what about you?

Rev. EDWARDS: The issue is not just about the faith and hope, but it's the substance. And the substance in this matter is the oil gushing out of the water. And so until that is resolved, then you have a lot of uncertainties with our community and anxiety in our community in terms of what's going to happen with our health? We are very convinced that God will deliver us from this.

Because we're seeing, as Reverend Jesse Jackson said last night at our church rally, we're seeing that all the king's horses and all the king's men can't stop this. So we know that we have to have some divine intervention. But, still, at the same time, we think that the president and the government has to be more serious about putting more pressure on BP because BP has been totally unfaithful to us.

And so they are like that evil when the Bible talks about dealing with principality and power and weakness in evil places then it's BP. So we know that we got to stand.

MARTIN: Now, Reverend Edwards, as you mentioned, you're hosting the Reverend Jesse Jackson for a visit. What did you show him and what is his message?

Rev. EDWARDS: Well, yesterday we, first of all, we brought him to the command center where he was able to sit down and talk to the Coast Guard, a BP representative, parish official. Then we actually took him out into an area in the Gulf where he can actually see how the oil has impacted our marsh area. And then we went out to the area where African-American fishermen are. And he spent some time talking to them about the whole cleaning process.

Then he actually came to my office and actually met with BP representatives, some top of officials in BP about the claim process and conveyed to them the importance of trusting the people in the local community and (unintelligible) justice who's not from our community, who don't know our people, who are (unintelligible) income tax in the industry of fishing, which is (unintelligible) culture that doesn't pay income tax. But if you rely upon local community, then they can tell you who is who and deal with honesty.

And we actually had a church service to motivate our people to talk about historically everything that we have gotten in the church community we had to organize.

MARTIN: Now, this is because I'm interested in what you're saying because you're saying there's the aspect of the - there's a spiritual aspect of it and then there's the practical. And sounds to me, Reverend Edwards, you're focusing a lot on the practical side of, like, dealing with the, you know, the BP officials and getting yourselves organized and so forth. This isn't your first time at this, obviously. You were instrumental in helping to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and the other storms.

Well, I guess the real other question I have is between this practical and the spiritual, how do you decide where to put your time? Because people need both, I think.

Rev. EDWARDS: Well, it's got to be both. Remember, the Bible says very clearly, faith without work is dead. And so it's the work part that got to go with the faith to help us gain the hope that we need, but we have to work. Our faith is meaningless without work.

MARTIN: Let me bring Father Tran back into this. Father Tran, what about you? You're also - this is not your first challenge in the region either. You became pastor of Our Lady of the Isle in the summer of 2005 right before Hurricane Katrina and then Rita and then Ike and struck the region. Now you're leading the congregation through yet another disaster. I'd like to ask you how you balanced between trying to meet people's spiritual needs and also trying to help them with the practical things that they need to get through this.

Father TRAN: Yes, exactly. We've been through so many hurricanes and this is probably the worst one compared to all the hurricanes, you know. And, you know, I try to certainly reemphasize that work and faith has to come hand in hand. And, you know, one of the practical things that I try to do is that, you know, unite all the churches in the surrounding area on this island.

And we have tried to do a prayer service once a week just to bring people, to comfort them through prayer and just unite them as a community working together and struggling and dealing with this challenge that we face. And certainly those are one of the things, but not only that, but, you know, trying to assess the needs and, you know, especially try to offer counseling as well. So these are some of the physical things that we try to do.

MARTIN: Finally, are both of you preaching this weekend? Reverend Edwards, are you preaching this weekend?

Rev. EDWARDS: Yes.

MARTIN: Can I ask each of you what do you think your message will be? Reverend Edwards, if you want to go first. Do you have any sense of what you're going to preach this Sunday?

Rev. EDWARDS: Well, one of the things that, also, Sunday is Father's Day. And so, one of the things that we're leaning on in terms of our men of honor standing up for God, that means that they're willing to do those things that's necessary. And so we need men who are not going to let our principality people like BP and the president and other folks stop them from standing up for God, which is honorable. And we have to stand up against atrocities and evil that BP is doing to our community.

And so we need men that are going be in this fight, to organize the community, to be able to go to the local government and take a stand. So I see that as part of it right now. I don't know yet because I'm not a manuscript preacher, but I see God leading me to that direction at this particular time.

MARTIN: Okay. Father Tran, what about you? Do you know what you might be preaching this Sunday?

Father TRAN: Yes. I'll probably be preaching in a term of, you know, as a community we're facing this together and we need to walk together and supporting one another, you know. And try to get each other to get over this hump. Not only that, but, you know, to really rally up and be united in our efforts of trying to get help from BP and trying to get the officials to do the right thing and just to clean up this mess and work together and bring our lives back and our way of life back once again.

MARTIN: We thank you both so much for taking the time to speak to us.

Rev. EDWARDS: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Reverend Tyrone Edwards of Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Phoenix, Louisiana, father Mike Tran of Our Lady of the Isle on Grand Isle, Louisiana were both with us. Thank you both so much.

Rev. EDWARDS: God bless you.

Father TRAN: God bless, thank you.

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