Local pastor draws strength from physical disability to cope with rebuilding, post-Katrina

A church Katrina destroyed is rebuilt with love and faith

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - From a vacant lot at 3500 Fourth Street near South Galvez Street, blades of grass spawn a story of hope and faith.

"This would have been the vestibule, the doors to the sanctuary would have been right here, then the sanctuary, then two sides doors to go to the back," said Pastor Aldon Cotton as he sat on a vacant lot that used to be occupied by the Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church building.

He grew up in the edifice that was inundated by eight feet of water when the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina's surge.

After he evacuated the city, Cotton learned that the church that he was now pastor of, had flooded by watching a newscast.

He would later return to a church interior covered with mold.

"I said to some friends of mine, if I was the only pastor that came back to New Orleans then I was going to pastor the whole city," said Rev. Cotton.

A decade after Katrina wrought massive destruction upon the church that has since been razed, the church is far from rebuilt as it sits on land directly across the street from where the old church sat.

"Vision is not the problem, provision is the problem," said Rev. Cotton.

He said initially the congregation received a low bid of $1.2 million from contractors to build a new church, but insurance provided only $200,000. Cotton said in time, a generous contractor agreed to build a new church for around $700,000.

But now with only a third of his pre-Katrina congregation, or just 80 members, Pastor Cotton said they only have been able to come up with $400,000 since the storm and still need $300,000 to complete construction.

Still, he has a resolve of steel.

Challenges are nothing new for Rev. Cotton.

As a teenager while on the way to choir practice Cotton lost his legs to a train accident.

"August 20th of 1982, I lost both of my legs to a train accident. I was coming to choir practice and my faith was challenged then and at 14-years-old I had to make life altering decisions. Would I allow this to defeat me, or would I be victorious over it, and so even though I don't have any legs? I understand that you don't need legs to walk by faith," he said of the life changing experience.

"Seeing him so positive and strong behind everything that has happened, it makes us want to go on, he's a light to us," said church member Joyce Reed.

And even before Hurricane Katrina devastated the sanctuary, Rev. Cotton and his church were involved in community outreach in an area that had its share of gang problems before the storm.

He spoke of having an impact on some young members of a notorious gang that made headlines in the city while operating near the church.

The pastor said he encouraged them to get an education and he said they learned to respect him and the church.

"They actually moved their location to Third and Galvez," said Rev. Cotton.

Now he is anxious again to be a fixture in the neighborhood where he says the need for positive influences and optimism is great.

And Rev. Cotton said while many call him handicapped, he calls himself, "wholly capable."

"I drive my own car, make my own groceries, cook my own food, I go where ever I want to go," said Rev. Cotton.

On Saturday, members of two local churches, will join with members of the Alfred Street Baptist Church from Virginia in a prayer service outside the unfinished church building.  Community outreach and school supplies will also be given.

If you would like the Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, donations can be sent to the Jerusalem Baptist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 268, Marrero, Louisiana, 70073.

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