Cover Story, February 2018

Chaplain Alonzo Young – Music and Mentoring for the Mentally Ill

Chaplain Alonzo Young

Music and Mentoring for the Mentally Ill

By Susan Brown

Alonzo Young, president, Louisiana Chaplain’s Association

I know the power of God:  what he can do, and he will do.  He’s just looking for vessels that ill be obedient, that will be open to the Spirit of God. – Chaplain Alonzo Young

When Chaplain Alonzo Young walks through the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System’s Secure Forensic Facility in Jackson, a palpable sense of well-being follows. In a high-stress environment, he is often the calm in the storm, the voice of optimism, the touch of reassurance that God has not forgotten or forsaken the residents.

“God’s power can work with anything. God’s so loving, so gracious and so forgiving,” Young said. The facility is home to men and women who have been committed for a variety of reasons.  There are mentally ill inmates placed by the Louisiana Department of Corrections and pretrial residents who receive treatment to become mentally competent for trial. It also houses those who are acquitted of crimes because of their mental state but remain potentially dangerous.

“How do you minister to these people? They still have souls,” Young said. “They are forgotten by their families because they did this tragic thing. We don’t know what allowed that trigger in their minds.”

Chaplain Young plays his trumpet during services at the facility’s chapel. ‘Music ministers to people,’ he said. ‘God blessed me with that gift.’

“But God is looking for people to stand in the gap,” he said. “Find common ground to talk about, whether football, food or Star Wars. Get into their world. Just talk, just listen. It brings healing.”

So does music. Young brings his high-energy, trumpet-playing worship style to services in the facility’s chapel using skills he developed in the Eastside High School Marching – and dancing – Band in Gainesville, Florida. “Music ministers to people,” he said. “Saul was depressed, and David came and played his harp, and the Bible says the [evil] spirit left Saul.”

Rather than hymns – unknown to many who attend services – Young finds a spiritual message in familiar, secular music. “They can relate to it: ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ to stop God from reaching up there and pulling you down. There’s no valley low enough to stop God from stooping down and pulling you up. There’s no river wide enough to stop God from putting his arms around you, because God loves you.”

Photo by Taylor Frey

Those who are dealing with such challenging environment must be intentional about staying well themselves, whether they are ministers or family members.  Constant communication with God is key.

Those who are dealing with such a challenging environment must be intentional about staying well themselves, whether they are ministers or family members, Young said. Constant communication with God is key. “My wife prays with me: ‘Lord, lead me today, guide me today, help me today.’ Stay in the word. The church I attend, Mount Gideon Baptist Church, outside of Jackson, keeps me going. They’re filled with the Spirit.”

It’s also important to find something you enjoy and do it often. “I love fishing!” He said. “It’s a great comfort – eases my mind.” He enjoys hanging out with his eight-year-old nephew, Devon, his five kids and 14 grandchildren.

Coping with mental illness takes discernment and balance, Young said. “You know when someone’s possessed by the devil and you know when a person has psychological problems: the DNA, physical issues and generational issues. There’s a difference in that and the spiritual side.”

Chaplain Young, newly re-elected as president of the Louisiana Chaplain’s Association, says the growing number of mentally ill residents need the attention and mentoring of churches. ‘Volunteers are filling the prisons, but they are missing mental health facilities.’

Young believes in a holistic approach to mental illness that includes prayer and professional treatment. “Thank God for the medication. It brings them down, calms them,” he said.

“I won’t say that everybody who gets depressed has a demon; that’s not true. David was depressed and so were Elijah and many old prophets. Jesus was depressed, sweating blood. That was a lot of stress. Some things cause depression. The enemy causes oppression. That’s why we have to pray to God: ‘God help me; lift this thing.’”

Young learned the power of prayer early in life. “One day I was hanging out with the wrong crowd and ended up in juvenile detention,” he said. “My mom picked me up. She cried and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.’” The next Sunday, he went to the Church of God in Christ with his cousin, James. “They really believed in the power of God. Seasoned ladies, prayer warriors, were praying for me,” he said. “The pastor said, ‘Son, what has happened to you?’ I answered, ‘I asked the Lord to forgive me. He changed my heart.’”

More than 500 residents – both men and women – are housed at Eastern Louisiana Mental Health Services.

Then, he heard specific direction: minister and preach God’s word. “I began to say, ‘Lord, hey, that’s too much. I see the failed ministers, and I don’t need this in my life.’ And that’s when he said to me, ‘Either you do what I ask you or you will suffer as others have suffered.’ I was suffering right then. I said, ‘Yes, Lord. I’ll do what you want me to do.’”

Soon, another young minister from his home congregation, Emmanuel Baptist Church, told him, “I’ve got a prison we can go to.”

Then, he heard specific direction: minister and preach God’s word. “I began to say, ‘Lord, hey, that’s too much. I see the failed ministers, and I don’t need this in my life.’ And that’s when he said to me, ‘Either you do what I ask you or you will suffer as others have suffered.’ I was suffering right then. I said, ‘Yes, Lord. I’ll do what you want me to do.’”

Louisiana provides a gravesite managed by the chaplaincy and a nearby hillside.

“I had never been to a prison, so we’re driving, and I see all this barbed wire fence and young guys playing ball. Mostly, I saw African Americans – young men. But they came and started singing. The music, it really grabbed me, and Rev. Willie Cunningham started preaching and, oh, the power of God!” he said. “I’ll never forget this. One guy was crying, and he said, ‘Lord, I want you.’ And I was praying with him. All of a sudden, the light came in and he was rejoicing. On the way back, I said, ‘Lord, this is where I want to be. This is where you’ve called me.’”

Now, at ELMHS for five years, Young and Chaplain Henry Johnson reach out to 500-600 patients, a daunting task. “Volunteers are filling the prisons, but they are missing the mental health,” Young said. A majority of the patients at ELMHS come from Baptist backgrounds.

“They are in that depression world. Can you imagine choirs coming, praising God, lifting their spirits up? Smiling and praying with them? It would be wonderful to see pastors come and minister to our patients,” said Young. “Jesus said, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.’” [Luke 10:2].

I’ll never forget this.  One guy was crying, and he said, ‘Lord, I want you.’  And I was praying with him.  All of a sudden, the light came in and he was rejoicing.  On the way back, I said, ‘Lord, this is where I want to be.  This is where you’ve called me.'” – Alonzo Young

Susan Brown600

Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.

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Cover Story, November 2017

Come to the Table

Come to the Table

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)

by Lisa Tramontana

In Angela Roberson’s life, “coming to the table” has deep meaning. More than simply breaking bread, it means sharing some of the most sustaining and satisfying gifts in life – prayer, friendship, fellowship, love. The Table is also the name of an outreach program Roberson is leading to create a new church with people from all backgrounds. And that doesn’t mean denominations. It means the unchurched, the disengaged, the burned out, even the nonreligious.

Angela Roberson preaches at morning worship at Blackwater United Methodist Church.

In Angela Roberson’s life, “coming to the table” has deep meaning. More than simply breaking bread, it means sharing some of the most sustaining and satisfying gifts in life – prayer, friendship, fellowship, love. In the small community of Central, Louisiana, there are probably 30 churches representing many different faiths. But a close examination reveals a noticeable decline in church attendance over the past few years. The leadership of Blackwater United Methodist Church noticed this gap and took the lead in addressing the issue. Rev. Jonathan King tapped Roberson, who had the experience, personality, and skills, to launch The Table.

“Most people think that it’s the young people who are creating this ‘generation gap’ in church attendance,’” Roberson said. “But it’s actually people of all ages and experiences. Some people have truly been hurt by their churches, especially those that emphasize policy and doctrine over people.”

Differing viewpoints, boredom, new leadership, a feeling of not being appreciated – these are all reasons that people leave their churches, Roberson says. Some continue to attend church regularly, but are spiritually unhappy and dissatisfied. Others would love to find a church home, but don’t know where or how to begin. These are the people Roberson wants to find.

Thanks to a fundraiser sponsored by The Table, the family of Aaliyah Harvey, center, is closer to being able to purchase a special van for their daughter.

To that end, she has organized several community events that bring people of varying interests together. In April, she coordinated a 5K Apron Run, which was held in conjunction with the annual Cooking in Central. The event raised money to support local schools. A family movie night featured the film Brave and raised funds to help purchase a special van for the family of 6th grader Aaliyah Harvey, who is in a wheelchair. In September, a “girls night out” party featured grunge ‘90s music and a yoga class.

Participants fill out a comment card afterward that asks for information, including their church affiliation. Roberson follows up with those who indicate their openness to learning more about The Table.

Roberson is deeply committed to her ministry, but interestingly, she grew up in a nonreligious home. Originally from Oregon, she came to Baton Rouge at 19 and after getting married, joined Jefferson UMC, where she served as a youth minister for 10 years. A new career opportunity took her to Blackwater UMC less than a year ago.

“Angela has a real passion for this ministry and a true gift for connecting with others. She not only lives God’s love, but she knows how to share it with others.” – Rev. Jonathan King, Blackwater UMC

“I can’t say enough wonderful things about Jefferson UMC,” she said. “They baptized me, discipled me, nurtured me. They basically prepared me for this new role I’ve taken on. One of the reasons I’m so committed to The Table is because I know firsthand what it’s like to have people leading and teaching me in my faith. Because of the way I grew up, I really feel for those who are struggling spiritually, who are searching for something, or don’t have a connection to people who can guide them.”

Jada Bruce is one of Roberson’s biggest cheerleaders. “I’m so proud of Angela,” said Bruce, who is also a member of The Table’s launch team. “Our lives intersected about a year ago, and I’m so glad they did. Her ministry is drawing people from so many directions – those who feel like they don’t fit the narrative of “church person,” those who feel like they’re ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’ those who feel like they’re too smart or not smart enough, those with differing political opinions, those who want to have really hard conversations about life and justice … and the list goes on. If you’ve lived your life on the outskirts of belief, or been turned off by the church, maybe The Table is a good place to start a new journey.”

The name of the program arose from the idea that everyone is welcome, Roberson said. “Nothing gets people together more than a table where they can share food, ideas, friendship. When you’re at the table, you don’t see skin color or education level or gender. It doesn’t matter if you’re conservative or liberal. Most people are willing to come to the table because of the warmth, the laughter, the connection that occurs.”

Roberson’s work with The Table fits well with her plans for the future. Her involvement is providing her with meaningful experience as she works to become an ordained minister. Already, she is a candidate and hopes to become certified in January. Eventually, she will choose a school (online), and complete her program in eight years. It coincides perfectly with her children reaching college age.

In the meantime, Roberson invites anyone interested in The Table to contact her at (225) 505-0342. You can also visit the website at cometothetable.church. The group also has a Facebook page.

Angela Roberson, son Koen, daughter Kori and husband Zac.

“I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for this path that God has placed me on and all the people that have nudged me along the way,” said Roberson. “I’m really excited about the possibilities. Our prayer and vision is to invite all of God’s people to join us. In all things, we want to be humble servants, loving neighbors, and to know and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The Table sponsored an ‘Apron run’ 5K in conjunction with the annual Cooking in Central event.

Charity Trivia Night

November 30 • 6-8 p.m.



JULY 2015

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Cover Story, October 2017

Carolyn McKnight Leading the way to a transformed Community

Carolyn McKnight

Leading the way to a transformed community

by Susan Brown

“It’s all about making sure that we touch as many lives as possible for the good. And to build the community that’s broken, to unite a community that’s divided … it’s not just about parks and recreation. If we do what we’re supposed to do in the right way, for the right reasons, we transform a community.”

Carolyn McKnight, superintendent of the Recreation and Park Commission for East Baton Rouge (BREC), is serious about wellness of body and soul. True wellness takes commitment but also patience, a quality that she defines as perseverance under control. “Let’s take Baton Rouge to a place it’s never been. I believe that is what’s expected of us. And as a Christian, I serve a huge God,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to me.”

McKnight envisions a dramatic reversal of the trend toward declining health, a commitment that stems from a military background and a foundation of faith. Early in life, she traded traditional expectations for challenge and adventure. “When I

Forest Community Park summer campers helped with the groundbreaking for renovations.

first went into the Air Force, I worked with nuclear weapons and had the responsibility of programming the computers for the weapons system. We went down in the silos,” she recalled. “I learned so much about the military and what happens if you don’t have peace in a country … I learned so much about the devastation that can happen if good people stay silent and don’t do anything.”

“I try to think holistically about my life because I know this is the only vessel I’ve been given to operate in, and if I don’t take care of it, I can’t take care of the mission,” she said. “So, it’s about caring and being aware, not just sitting back and allowing things to happen.”

“For the most part it’s all about prayer,” she said. “I wake up every day with my husband and we do devotionals. We talk about it. We pray about it. We review the scripture. But it’s really about being in the word, and then how is this word going to guide us today?” She refers to Proverbs 3:5, 6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

“So, Carolyn, stand down. Holy Spirit stand up. That’s how I try to operate each day, recognizing that I’m here for his purpose, not mine,” she said. After eight years in the military and a stint in parks and recreation management for the city of Dallas, McKnight brought her expertise to Baton Rouge in 2011.

At a Childhood Coalition meeting, she was stunned to learn that the obesity rate for children in Baton Rouge was so high that kids were diagnosed with hypertension at six and seven years old. She couldn’t stay silent. “It broke me,” she said. “I thought, ‘BREC had the solution to this problem.’ I took it personally. I took it as my mission to help do something about it. And so, we started working.”

Under her direction, BREC formed community partnerships to bring equipment and instruction to economically disadvantaged areas. BREC opened new basketball courts, splash pads, connectivity trails for bikers and hikers, and blueway launch areas for canoes and kayaks. Joint ventures followed, including the Knock Knock Children’s Museum and the Walk with a Doc program.

“We have probably the largest grant that we’ve ever received to help build trails in Scotlandville, the north Baton Rouge part of town,” she said. “We’re finishing the portion of the medical loop in the hospital district.”

Her current – and perhaps biggest – challenge is balancing community interests with the financial realities of a declining zoological park. After months of often heated debate, the EBR Recreation and Park Commission granted permission for BREC to explore potential new sites for a $110 million zoo, a move that McKnight believes would provide incentives for the necessary private donations, reduce the time needed for construction, and boost long-term attendance. Under the proposal, BREC would spend some $40 million to repurpose the existing site, adjacent to Greenwood Park, with additions that include a water park, amusement park and premier soccer fields.

“What I see, six years from now, is children running, engaging with animals, and enjoying the water park and the slides and the horse trails. In my mind, I see families smiling and picnicking – all of these things happening at Greenwood and at a new zoo. That’s the vision.”

“We currently know that our zoo is out of sight, out of mind,” she said. “If we were on I-10 or I-12, it would get hundreds of thousands of cars passing every day versus 6,000 on Thomas Road and maybe 28,000 or so on La. 19. We also know that if we’re able to put that zoo in a more sustainable place, we would be able to do it in five years versus 15 years.” (This is due to the difficulty of shuffling animals from one area to another.)

“It’s important to me to stand firm,” she said. “Imagine your grandchild being able to go to a facility when he or she is six years old, or when he or she is about to enter the first year of college. It’s just that simple. It’s going to cost me the same amount of money to build at a new location or the existing site. I’m going to make, like, three times the amount of money at a new location, a more sustainable location. I’m going to reduce the subsidy level from the taxpayer from 50% – what we currently have – to 20%. That’s a nobrainer. It’s arithmetic.”

The search for a feasible site is the first step toward consideration of a new zoo. Public forums designed to explore and address concerns, especially from the adjacent community, have been intense. “I’ve been cyberbullied, I’ve been physically threatened,” she said. But she sees each situation through the lens of scripture, a practice her mother instilled early in life. “She was just a walking Bible. Any problem you took to her, any situation, any circumstance, she would wrap the word around it, so I have no choice but to understand.”

“At the end of the day, I believe that people will be served. I believe that God’s will is going to be carried out, not Carolyn’s but His,” she said. That’s what’s keeping me in the middle of all of this, because I know for a fact that if you want something big, great and transformative to happen, it’s never going to be easy.”

McKnight believes that God is always speaking to her about patience. “Stop being frustrated, slow down, bring people along with you. Give people opportunities so they can grow. Help them see what you see,” she said. “Humble yourself, calm down, slow down.”

McKnight hopes her legacy will be a community park and recreation system that cultivates wellness. “I look at this experience like planting trees. I will never enjoy the shade of the trees,” McKnight said. “But people who are expecting babies today, and people who are expecting babies five years from now, they’ll enjoy it. And that’s what it’s about. Lives will be impacted for the good.”

BREC superintendent Carolyn McKnight says perseverance and patience are keys to wellness of the body and soul. ‘After all, who doesn’t want to be healthy?’
McKnight keeps a devotional book beside her desk to refresh her mind with scripture.
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Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.

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Cover Story, Septermber 2017

I’ve Been Very Blessed – Donna Britt

“I’ve been very blessed”

Donna Britt says challenges remind us what is important in life.

by Susan Brown

Standing at the edge of a Georgia peanut field, Donna Britt watched her father preach to hardworking harvesters. They couldn’t spare a day off for church, so he brought the gospel to the field. It was a legacy of compassion and perseverance – an understanding that stepping into someone else’s story makes a difference

That foundation has endeared her to the Baton Rouge viewing community as she serves her 36th year as anchor for WAFB Channel 9 News. “I feel like God led me to be in television,” she explains. Her own story of resilience demonstrates a commitment to make the most of God-given gifts in the face of both personal success and loss.

Her current challenge is a continuing battle with a progressive disease recently diagnosed as ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The condition causes her immune system to attack her nerves, resulting in partial paralysis that affects her ability to walk, use her hands and breathe. But her incisive mind and the twinkle in her eye testify to her ability to face a tough truth head-on with a deep sense of peace built on faith.

“I think that your struggles are a bridge,” she said. “There are so many people that already have their own struggles, and because I know how aggressive this illness is, I cannot hide it. And rather than say that a thousand times, I just go on Facebook and explain to everyone what’s happening. And I find that it’s so rich, the support and the love that I get that way.”

Kindness, she said, is not something you do, it is something that comes from who you are – from your character. “What you do in kindness celebrates your power to use the abilities that God has given you, and you want to feel worthy of them.”

The legacy continues in countless news stories and acts of kindness, including volunteer work with the Salvation Army, Girl Scouts, and Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre, and hundreds of hours spent restoring a library at Progress Elementary. “Reading comprehension scores on standardized tests after three years of really revving the library made a difference,” she said. “When you help others, you can feel like you have been able to affect something bad in the world and make it good.”

“That was just our family’s tradition – to always take care of everything,” she recalls. “We all kind of try to follow Jesus’ example, but my dad was a big disciple. When I was young, about 5, he would let me climb up on a toolbox on the front seat of the pickup truck when he was going to work on

somebody’s house. His idea was that you build arelationship with someone when you’re helping them.”

“I was born again at age 6 and was in the church every time the door was open,” she said. She played the piano and organ for hundreds of funerals and weddings.

While serving at a Southern Baptist church in Florida, Donna’s mother gave birth to her fifth child. The baby survived, but Donna’s mother died in childbirth. At the age of 9, Donna and her siblings were sent to live with their grandmother. When her father remarried, they moved to Biloxi where he became a teacher. The family spent weekends helping breathe life back into dwindling churches in small Mississippi towns. Her father preached, her stepmother led the music and Donna played the piano. “We had seven kids so sometimes we were double the congregation,” Britt said.

Two of her brothers followed her father into the ministry, while Donna pursued her love of music at the University of Southern Mississippi. She later transferred to LSU to complete her degree in music education, and she became flag choreographer for the Tiger Band. She worked at WLBI in Denham Springs to make ends meet, and later at WYNK, where she met her future husband, Mark Ballard, Capitol News Bureau Editor for The Advocate. They celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary in August.

“The summer we got married, two of my three sisters also got married. Our dad exclaimed, ‘A thousand dollars to anyone who will elope!’ Mark and I never got the money, but we had a casual wedding under a tree behind the Greek amphitheater on LSU’s campus.” They sliced a watermelon instead of a wedding cake.

Donna Britt’s father, Dan, performed the wedding ceremony for Donna and Mark Bllard in 1981 beneath a massive oak tree in a clearing behind LSU’s Greek amphitheater.

“…When I was young, about 5, he [my father] would let me climb up on a toolbox on the front seat of the pickup truck when he was going to work on somebody’s house. His idea was that you build a relationship with someone when you’re helping them.” -Donna Britt

With help from Donna, the salvation Army holds its red Kettle Kickoff in North boulevard town square.
Donna poses for selfies with shoppers at the College Drive Walmart on Mondays and Fridays during the Christmas season. Here, she greets Kendrick slan.

In May, their daughter Annie – a DNA researcher in Rhode Island – married Alec Yonika under the same tree. They celebrated with a crawfish boil, a new experience for their in-laws. “Mark literally picks me up and he’s sort of my cheerleader, too,” she said. “When you have to struggle every move you make, and you run into trouble, you go, ‘Oh God, are you going to help me with this one?’ It’s kind of like the prayer doesn’t stop. It’s a continual thing.”

“I ask that you don’t pray for me to be totally healed,” she said. “I think my paralysis is permanent. What I would like is for you to pray that I am comforted and that my family is comforted and that we greet this thing as a blessing, which we try to do. Because there’s nothing like this to help you prioritize your life, and I think that’s healthy.”

Donna says First United Methodist Church has really surrounded her in love. “Food delivered to your door and cards in the mail, all of that,” she said. “It’s just wonderful.” Her own spiritual struggle led her to the church she now calls home. “I basically went to college in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the late ‘70s, and I ran into churches that didn’t want blacks. People in the music department that were my dearest friends couldn’t go to those churches, and so I just sort of withdrew from church. And it wasn’t until we had our first child that I realized what a moral community I had grown up in. So, I went spiritually shopping.”

“I just wish that churches would teach children not to see color, because children grow up in homes where their parents are racists, and they turn into racists, too. I keep thinking that racism will die out, but I see young children today that have grown up in that kind of family and feel afraid of someone who’s not like them,” she said. “Jesus would go in the middle of it.” Donna and her family found both inclusiveness and in-depth preaching at First Methodist. “Our doors are always open, and they do mean that,” she said.

Her door remains open, as well. She would like to pass along the volume of information she has gained through her experience with ALS, including the discovery of an LSU voice bank that allows her to record a thousand phrases in her own voice for future use.

“I’ve had an excellent life and been very blessed,” she said. “I couldn’t want for more.”

For information, contact dbritt@wafb.com.

Donna with hair stylists for 2016’s “big Wig” fundraiser for susan G. Komen.

“This past May, our daughter Annie and her beau Alec Yonika stood under the very same tree to get married. it was a very beautiful simple ceremony just like the one 36 years ago. My heart sang because of the setting and the love i know they share. instead of my father officiating, Judge Curtis Calloway kindly did the honors. We had a crawfish boil at our home afterwards and showed the new in-laws how to peel a crawfish!” –Donna Britt

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Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.

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Cover Story, July 2017

When God Says ‘Move,’ You Move

 

When God Says

‘Move,’

You Move

by Trapper S. Kinchen         photos by Beth Townsend

vickie Williams-Tillman is a hardworking wife, devoted mother and proud grandmother of six. she works as a clerk at st. Jude the Apostle school during the day, cleans offices at night and divides her spare time between church, family and friends. on the surface, her life seems relatively normal, but she is a certified hero.

On the morning of Sunday, February 19, while headed to the grocery store, she turned off Airline Highway onto Harry Drive. She suddenly noticed something near the roadside. A bloodied police officer was struggling to subdue a suspect in an empty church parking lot. In a split second, WilliamsTillman followed an impulse that wound up saving that officer’s life.

The embattled policeman was Billy Aime—a twenty-one year law enforcement veteran. When Williams-Tillman found him, he was trying to subdue an aggressive man who had just taken a hit of heroin. The situation was wild, and the suspect was desperate to avoid arrest—biting, hitting and even using his fingers to tear at the inside of Aime’s mouth.

Aime, who stands well over six feet tall, said, “First, he hit me with my baton, and I don’t know how many times I got hit with it. I also got hit with my flashlight. He kept grabbing stuff off of my belt. I even felt the blunt force of my radio on my head at least two or three times. And he had his hand on my gun the entire time.”

Aime did everything he could to keep the suspect from gaining control of his weapon. Unable to call for backup, he kept the assailant pinned against his cruiser. But the repeated blows to his head made it difficult for Aime to maintain his equilibrium.

Williams-Tillman came across the scene just as Aime and the suspect had reached a stalemate. Instinctively, she pulled into the parking lot and rolled down her window, asking, “Do you need help?” Aime said yes, and she quickly dialed 911. After calling for backup, Williams-Tillman turned towards Aime. She said, “I asked Billy, ‘are you going to be okay?’ And we just locked eyes. He never said anything. I saw in his eyes that he couldn’t carry on with his task, and that’s why I got out of my car.”

In what she described as an “out of body experience,” Williams-Tillman walked over to Aime and pried the suspect’s hand from his gun. She said, “I grabbed his hand and jumped on his back, everything happened so quick.” The attacker, franticly trying to break free, clawed at her. She used her body to support Aime, helping him restrain the suspect until reinforcements arrived.

For Aime, the whole experience was a blur. His mind was wholly focused on keeping his weapon in its holster, but he said, “I remember the moment she pulled in. I even remember the direction she pulled in from. Did I expect her to get out of her car? No. But she got out, and the next thing I knew, I felt her hand come across my hand and pry the suspect away from my gun.”

As soon as reinforcements placed the assailant under arrest, Aime lost consciousness. The blows to his head caused a serious concussion. In fact, Williams-Tillman’s physical support was the only thing that kept him from collapsing during the attack. Aime spent several days in the hospital, and it took three weeks of recovery before he was able to return to duty.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident, Williams-Tillman was back at St. Jude school. Her close friend and coworker, Pat Yoches, was amazed when she heard about her colleague’s heroism. Williams-Tillman and she have worked side by side for nearly a decade, and Yoches said, “I was shocked. She’s always helping people at work, but I couldn’t believe she responded the way she did to that attack. It’s just absolutely incredible.”

Aime, too, was astonished by Williams-Tillman’s bravery. He credits both God and her for rescuing him that fateful morning. He said, “There’s no doubt she saved my life.”

Aime, who stands well over six feet tall, said, “First, he hit me with my baton, and I don’t know how many times I got hit with it. I also got hit with my flashlight. He kept grabbing stuff off of my belt. I even felt the blunt force of my radio on my head at least two or three times. And he had his hand on my gun the entire time.”

Williams-Tillman placed her own safety at risk by coming to his aid. But—like the Good Samaritan in the Bible—she selflessly responded to Aime’s dilemma because it was the right thing to do. The Holy Spirit fortified her with courage, and she allowed Him to use her as an instrument for good. She said, “At the time, it was all about Billy. It wasn’t about me.”

Since that first accidental meeting, Aime and WilliamsTillman have formed an incredibly tight bond. She said, “Those few moments together have connected us forever.” They now consider each other family, and if she doesn’t hear from Aime every couple of days, Williams-Tillman checks on him. She said, “I’m always concerned about his safety, and he’s in my heart. He’s like a little brother to me.”

As citizens, we are all responsible for supporting our local law enforcement’s efforts to keep our communities safe. And it’s important for us to remember that a uniform and badge do not make a man indestructible. As WilliamsTillman said, “Police officers are only human.” In truth, they need our consideration and encouragement as badly as we need their protection.

The story of Williams-Tillman’s courage serves as a shining example of Baton Rouge solidarity. Her actions remind us that—no matter who we are—we all play an important role in uniting our city. She said, “You can’t look at people for their color. We’re all brothers and sisters. We all share the same Father. That’s what I taught my children, and it’s what I teach my grandkids.”

For Aime, his relationship with Williams-Tillman represents the spirit of the Body of Christ. She came to his aid not just as an African-American woman assisting a white man, but also as a Christian helping a fellow human being. Likewise, he and his colleagues endeavor to serve justice without partiality. He said, “BRPD doesn’t care what color you are. If you call, we’re coming. If people need us, we’re always going to come.”

No one in Baton Rouge could have predicted how God would use a local grandmother to save the life of a police officer. Aime still can’t wrap his mind around it. He said, “I’ve never been assisted before like I was by Ms. Vickie. It was a total shock. She went above and beyond what any other citizen would have done. It was almost like a family member seeing you on the side of the road and jumping into action.”

Vickie Williams-Tillman and Billy Aime are just two ordinary people God happened to bring together through an incredible circumstance. Their paths likely never would have crossed if he hadn’t been patrolling on Harry Drive or if shehadn’t stopped to check on him. Aime said, “Several other cars passed me that day. I saw them go by while I was pressed up against my unit.”

We often fall prey to distraction, and our busy modern lives make it easy to overlook important details. However, it is vital that we take the time to look up from our devices and set our routines aside. By doing so, we become vessels through which God’s love can flow outward into the community. Williams-Tillman said, “It just takes a minute to help somebody. Don’t worry about what other people think, because that holds you back. As long as I’m doing what I know God wants, I’m completely satisfied.”

Fear, hesitation, and self-interest keep many of us from doing the right thing. What makes Williams-Tillman so remarkable is her willingness to serve the Body of Christ no matter the cost. Consider how many times a day the Lord opens doors for you to help your neighbor, and reflect on how often you seize those opportunities.

Human beings—regardless of their age, race or situation—have great potential to effect positive change. All it takes is a little compassion for our fellow man and a great deal of willingness to act when we see a need. WilliamsTillman said, “I wouldn’t advise somebody to do something like I did, but when God says move, you move.”

TrapperHeadshot

Trapper was born on the lip of Lake Pontchartrain. He was raised there, reading in the salt-flecked breeze on a splintered wharf that jutted into South Pass. Never bored, he divides his time between trying to raise organic chickens in the Livingston Parish piney woods, traveling to different time zones, and exercising his mind by steadily learning as much as he can. He graduated from LSU in 2013 and Wayne State University in 2015. He is a busy fiction writer and contemplative naturalist. He has a great time living life.

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Cover Story, June 2017

Surrender to Hope

 

Surrender to Hope

by Susan Brown

“I am convinced that this world has yet to see what can happen when born again believers sincerely and truly surrender to God and ask God to direct our path. I believe that God can break down every chain, every warfare, every division that is among us, but we’ve got to put our faith and trust in God–not man, but in God.” -Fred Luter

With an easy grace and engaging frankness, Dr. Fred Luter has a way of cutting through the cultural clutter to convey a message of hope. As the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention [2012-2014] – the first African American to hold that position – Luter continues to be at the forefront of efforts to heal racial division, return churches to prayer and promote scripture-based action. Under his leadership, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans has grown from 65 members in 1986 to more than 7,000 in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Now, plans are underway to relocate the landlocked church to a more spacious site 15 miles away in New Orleans East to accommodate standingroom-only crowds.

 His message: Take a straightforward look at our communities, then recognize there is hope. “Understand that we can’t just sit idly by and see all the things that are happening in our community,” he said. “We’ve got to determine to make a difference. ‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

“We live in a crazy day and time. All across America, I go to big cities, small cities, country towns, and the message I try to share with people is: I know that when we read the news and watch stuff on the internet, all the things that are going on look dismal, but God is still on the throne,” he said. “We put trust in man and not in God. When we turn that around, I believe we’ll see God doing miracles in our lives and in our nation.” But it requires humility – surrendering to God’s will, Luter said. His “life verse” is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

  Pastor Luter believes that God can fully transform lives and circumstances through ordinary people who become humbly devoted to Him. “I grew up in the church, Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. My mama and daddy got divorced when I was six years old. I’m the middle of five kids, but one of Mama’s rules was on Sunday morning, everybody goes to church,” he said. “So, I tell people all the time: My mom gave me my first drug problem – she drug me to church, drug me to Sunday School and drug me to Bible study.”

“When I was 21 years old, I was in a motorcycle accident. I was in Charity Hospital. A senior deacon from the church I grew up in came to my hospital bed, put his finger right here in my face and said, ‘Boy, obedience is better than sacrifice.’ He said, ‘You need to surrender your life to the Lord, and if you surrender your life to the Lord, you will not be throwing your life away in this world.’ And so, I cried out to God that night. I said, ‘God, I don’t know if I’m going to live or if I’m going to die, but they tell me that I’ve got a 50-50 chance of living. God, if you wake me up tomorrow morning, I’ll serve you all the days of my life.’ That was in October of 1977, and I’ve never turned back.”

“We’ve got to consciously make decisions to do all we can to foster lives that the enemy and the world are pulling up,” he said. “Realize that you’re my brother; I’m your brother; you’re my sister. We need each other.”

“In the Body of Christ, we need to take the high road to show the world how we, as people with different racial and cultural heritages, should love our neighbor,” Pastor Luter said. “If we don’t get along down here, how do we think we’re going to go to heaven and get along?”

“We need to step up and realize, as I heard from a pastor friend in Philadelphia: ‘In America, we don’t have a skin problem; we have a sin problem.’ We need to give ourselves to God and realize that all of us are God’s children. We need to step up to the front and exemplify that in our lives.”

“First of all, we have to pray. Ask God for leadership,” Pastor Luter said. “Ask God for direction as to how we are to see the things that are happening in our society and deal with these times. Things will not change in America because of who the president is, or who the governor is, or who is riding an elephant or riding a donkey. Things will change in America when men of God and women of God seek God’s face. Because I believe that when God’s people stand, God’s people can make a difference.”

 “We need to pray for those in authority. There are some individuals that I call by name like the governor and his wife Donna, and the guys in my church who are representatives. But also pray in general that God will touch the hearts of those in our legislature because the decisions they make will affect all of us. And we need not only to start from the president, to our governors, to our state legislators, our mayors, the police chief, but everybody who’s in authority. God tells us to pray for them [1 Timothy 2:1, 2].”

“I have no doubt the reason I’m here today, the reason I’m a pastor, the reason I’m saved, is because somebody prayed for me,” he said. “I believe in the power of prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God. I’m not talking to you; you’re not talking to me. We’re talking to God. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ [Matthew 7:7]. It is a privilege and an honor to call on God in prayer as a believer, and we should exercise it every day of our lives.”

 A commitment to faithfulness is vital, Pastor Luter said, especially for young pastors. “Be faithful to God, be faithful to God’s word and be faithful to your wife and family. Be faithful to the church that called you. If you’re faithful in those areas – I’m a witness – God will be faithful to you.”

“I am convinced that if you have a genuine, authentic relationship with God, you’re going to treat your spouse with respect, with honor and with love,” Pastor Luter said of his 37-year marriage to Elizabeth W. Luter. “I find it very interesting, in Genesis chapter two, that both Adam and Eve knew God before they ever knew each other.” He recognizes Elizabeth as his most important influence. “She’s the love of my life, the apple of my eye, my prime rib, my good thing,” he said. They carve out one full day per week to spend together.

 “Every day of our lives, we should try to do all that we can to decrease ourselves, decrease in the flesh and surrender to God’s will. Because that will determine the choices we make, the decisions we make,” Pastor Luter said. “To surrender, for believers, is simply to realize that I am not my own.”

 “Whenever Jesus had a choice to make, he always, without fail, consulted with his Father,” Pastor Luter said at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Baton Rouge. “Put yourself in Jesus’ place. Why should I give my life for those who are ungrateful? Why should I give my life for those who are hard-hearted?”

“Oftentimes in this Christian journey, oftentimes in your walk with God, there will be times when you face situations that just don’t make any sense.” Surrendering to God might bring sorrow and solitude. “Sometimes people don’t understand your pain. Sometimes people don’t understand your convictions. Sometimes people don’t understand your mission,” he said. “But according to the word of God, you are never, never, never alone.”

“Notice the submission of Jesus,” Pastor Luter said. “Submission means to let go and let God, to relent, to relinquish, to surrender, and that’s what Jesus did while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.” Even though Jesus faced people who were indifferent, cold-blooded and uncooperative, he prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” [Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42.

“That’s what God wants to hear from every last one of us who are called sons and daughters of God. When we are faced with decisions, when we don’t know what to do, God wants to hear, ‘Not my will, God, but your will be done.’” Look at the strength of Jesus. Look at the courage, look at the boldness, look at the energy of Jesus Christ…. and it’s all because Jesus had taken the time to talk to his Father,” he said.

“In essence, Jesus surrendered. And every day of my life that’s what I pray as I get opportunities around the country. ‘Lord, let me not get into self. Stand in my body, think with my mind, speak with my voice. I want to do your will.’”

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Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.

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Cover Story, May 2017

Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards

Louisiana First Lady

Donna Edwards

by Susan Brown

Photos by Tee Wheeler

Jonathan Ricau, Samantha Bel edwards Ricau, First Lady Donna edwards, governor John Bel edwards, Sarah ellen edwards, John Miller edwards

“I’ve always heard and believed in the verse, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ I’ve always believed that out of that stillness, you can hear the breath and words of God.”

– 2014 journal entry, First Lady Donna Edwards

With a passion built on faith and burnished by trials, Donna Edwards believes in prayer.

“You walk by faith – and a lot of prayer,” she said. “John Bel and I pray in the morning before he leaves. We pray together.” That’s the one message she would like to instill in younger women: start your marriage with prayer. Prayer builds unity and helps us through the tough times. Prayer opens our eyes to the reality of God’s work around us and invites us in. 

        “One of the things that God has really laid on my heart is to love your neighbor,” she said. That commitment motivates her to reach out to the most fragile and vulnerable, including children in foster care, those with special needs and victims of human trafficking. 

        At a recent Women in Spirit luncheon at St. Joseph Cathedral, Edwards said the I-10 corridor from Texas through Louisiana has contributed to an astonishing rate of human trafficking. “The stories – it is just unbelievable,” Edwards said. “We have a lot of events in New Orleans, so a lot of these young girls are brought to the city. We should all be eyes and ears and look out for signs as we travel all throughout the day,” she said. “We’re already making lots of headway teaching people in the hospitality profession how to acknowledge and recognize what they can do to save these girls.”

 

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, more than 100 human trafficking cases

related to Louisiana were reported in 2016 [https://humantraffickinghotline.org]. The governor’s office reports that Louisiana State Police investigated 27 human trafficking cases in 2016 and rescued 19 victims, 16 of whom were under the age of 18. 

        While the Houston to New Orleans highway has one of the worst human trafficking records in the nation, Louisiana is an acknowledged leader in the fight to curb the crime. “We were honored to meet the pope in an incredible visit to talk about human trafficking, and it was such a joy,” Edwards said. They traveled to Rome in conjunction with the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy, who last month opened Metanoia House to help rescue girls under the age of 18.

        “One of the things I want to point out about human trafficking and other issues is that they really show how the faith-based community can work with the state and come together to address these issues. She’s seen the same cooperative success in foster care.

        “I never thought in a hundred years that I would have been talking about human trafficking and foster care. Be open to God’s Spirit. He does guide us. You’ve just got to listen,” she said.

        An avid supporter of adoption, Edwards believes there is a permanent family for every child, including those with special needs. In 2016, she recognized a milestone: more than 700 foster children were adopted in a one-year period, the highest rate ever recorded in Louisiana. 

 

As a pro-life advocate, Edwards works for more than simply an end to abortion. “I believe that

pro-life goes the whole life, from womb to tomb and all between,” she said. That includes Medicaid expansion and programs that support mothers and children.

        “The truth is, we all have trials and triumphs and things we go through, and we rely on Christ,” she said. The Bible tells us we are children of God and we should have childlike faith, an absolute dependence on God and belief in the power of prayer.

        Their oldest daughter, Samantha, was born with spina bifida. “The doctor encouraged me to abort her at 20 weeks,” Edwards said. “God put an amazing man, my husband, in my life to stand with me as a rock, and we got through that trial. And she’s a beautiful, lovely 25-year-old woman today.”

      But the challenges continued. A month after Samantha’s two surgeries, Edwards delivered her second daughter, Sarah. “My uterus ruptured in the middle of delivery, so we both almost lost our lives,” she said. The doctor told her she would never give birth again, but she became pregnant with her third child, John Miller. 

“One of the things I do every day is say, ‘God let me be your vessel,’ to fill me up. We so much want to control what we do,” she said. “Allow God to be a part in your life that day.” She begins every day with scripture and other inspirational reading.

“The doctor called me and said, ‘Donna, I just want you to be aware that a test came back that

shows you have a high percentage of this child having Down’s Syndrome.’ I just smiled and said, ‘You know what, I’ve broken every odd, and whatever the outcome is, I will trust God to get us through.’ And I never really wavered.”

       Then, when her father-in-law was 70 years old, he was told he must be removed from the heart transplant list. “It was the year that Pope John Paul died, and we decided to do the nine-day Novena for divine mercy,” she said. “And after the end of that Novena, Monday, he got a call and received a heart from Ochsner’s. That just transformed our whole family into a huge believer in the power of prayer.”

        “I do want to say, and I mean this: Don’t stop praying for us. Sometimes we forget to keep praying when everything’s good. That’s what keeps us up,” she said. One of the most memorable experiences of their visit with Pope Francis was his personal request for prayer. “He asked us three times, John Bel and I: ‘Please pray for me.’ And I thought, wow. You really know that’s what holds you tight.”

        One of the things I do every day is say, ‘God let me be your vessel,’ to fill me up. We so much want to control what we do,” she said. “Allow God to be a part in your life that day.” She begins every day with scripture and other inspirational reading.

        Each year, she asks God to give her a word to study and share. During the 2015 campaign, her word was “believe.” “It took both of us to run really hard, and obviously, it was successful, but I remember sitting at St. Louis Cathedral the night of the election, nervous, and it was raining, and the outcome of voters wasn’t happening. And so, we just sat there, and I kept thinking, ‘Lord, just give me something to hold on.’ It was like a quiet whisper, ‘Just believe.’ So, okay, I’ll believe. And believe doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be your outcome. It just means believe in me and trust in me and I’ve got you, whatever happens.”

        Last year, her word was “trust.” “It was a very big challenge for all of us: those who were flooded, the shootings and the tornado. I had a wedding last year and the inauguration. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of times when I was just scared. A lot of things happened that worried me. That’s when you open up that book, that Bible, and you go to the word of God and you really just rely on him. That’s faith. That’s what got us through.”

John Miller Edwards, Sarah Ellen Edwards, Samantha Bell Edwards Ricau

Her word for 2017 is “obey.” “Obey can be anything from obeying the word of God, the

scriptures, to obeying the Ten Commandments. But also, there’s that little voice that sometimes comes to us and says ‘Reach out to her,’ or ‘Why don’t you go and say a prayer with her?’ And when you do, I feel like God just opens a little door for you. It empowers you and gives you that trust.”

        God didn’t tell us who our neighbor was, and he didn’t define what they look like and who they are. We’re all children of God. I think that we, as Christians, really haven’t done a good job in showing others Christ because of the way we treat people and the way we point our fingers and condemn – judge. I know that’s not what God calls us to do. You don’t always have to agree with somebody, or their lifestyle, or who they are to love them. And I think that’s where people’s hearts are changed, when they see the love of God that we show them.

        One of her favorite quotes comes from St. Therese of Lisieux during a year she explored more deeply the love of God and love of neighbor. “There is one only thing to do here below: to love Jesus, to win souls for him so that He may be loved. Let us seize with jealous care every least opportunity of self-sacrifice. Let us refuse him nothing – He does so want our love.”[1]

        “And the truth is, we all have trials and triumphs and things we go through,” Edwards said. “We rely on Christ. And we get through those together by lifting each other up and by taking each other’s hands.”

[1] http://www.sttherese.org.au

Editor’s Note: Donna and John Bel Edwards met in Amite, LA where they became high school sweethearts. Donna graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a B.A. in Business Administration and John Bel graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They married in 1989 and served eight years as a military family. While raising children, Donna became a certified teacher and taught music for over eight years in the public school system.

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Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.

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April 2017, Cover Story

Mentoring through Music

“Music is so powerful. It takes over your emotions, all your mental abilities. If you’re hearing the right song, no matter what’s going on in your life for those 3-4 minutes, you forget about everything. And that’s powerful. You cannot tell me that’s not God.”
– Southern University Director of Bands Nathan B. Haymer

When the Southern University Marching Band takes the field, it delivers more than precision, more than musical excellence – it provides an experience. Renowned for its innovative style, versatility and defined movement, the Human Jukebox is visual evidence of director Nathan Haymer’s mission through music: helping mold millennials into men and women of integrity.

“When you have to inspire and motivate people all the time, you have to be motivated yourself,” he said. “You have to stay full of the Word. You have to. They feed off me. You can’t come in there and say, ‘I had a bad day; I’m in a bad mood’ and face 250 students.”

 “Romans 3:23 is my favorite: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Once you mature as an adult, you realize that you didn’t get here by yourself. You realize that people gave you another chance. Nobody’s perfect but that doesn’t stop us from striving for perfection.”

Despite a demanding classroom and performance schedule – and a recruiting calendar that takes him to California, Dallas, Atlanta and throughout Louisiana – Haymer carves out time to design opportunities for students that he hopes will become life habits. “At the age of 18 all the way to 24, you’re still being molded into who you are as an adult, and I realize that I’m the last stop before they reach the real world,” Haymer said. “Students do what they see; they don’t do what you say.”

“We always try to be in the community doing things,” Haymer said. He asks students, “How are you going to impact people’s lives? You have all this talent. You can’t keep it to yourself. You have to use it to make your life better through making other people’s lives better.” At Christmas, Haymer offered the Jukebox Christmas List, loading up band members and delivering gifts to underprivileged kids. Through “Make a Wish,” Southern band members were personally involved in helping fulfill the dreams of a young man with cerebral palsy.

A few years ago, Haymer launched a 25-member Gospel Band; this month, they’re traveling to Nashville. “The churches really respond to that. It’s almost like a pep rally in church.” His current favorite gospel song is “Total Praise.” We’re just having fun praising God by playing gospel music,” he said. “It shows the students what they can do the right way through music.” Last fall, he took the entire band to church in Houston.

“I got a lot of emails from parents thanking me for bringing them in that environment, in church, and I thought it was something good for our organization,” he said. “A family that prays together stays together. You’re going to have problems; it’s never going to be perfect. But if you’re praying together, and if they know that I’m there for them – and I’m there to listen and not judge – I feel they’ll be more open to letting me know what’s going on.”

“I always talk about the greater good. I always talk about love. I always talk about peace. I always talk about success, because I feel that can go over with anybody,” Haymer said. Those are lessons instilled in him by his parents and his education at First Christian Academy.

 “I was brought up in church, Greater King David (Baptist Church), on Blount Road near the campus of Southern University,” he explained. “We were in church Sunday. We were in church Wednesday. Saturday there was always something, then back to church Sunday. But we had a lot of fun. We had a lot of friends there.”

Haymer didn’t like to sing, but he served as an usher. As he grew older, he began to pay more attention to the music. “That’s what really drew me into the service, not the actual singing but the background – the things that people really don’t pay attention to,” he said. “There was the piano, then the organ and when I was older they had a drum set. So, I thought that was neat.”

His parents held their sons to high standards, both academically and personally. His mother worked at Southern University. Nathan was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an attorney. His twin brother, Niles, was encouraged to become a doctor. In school, however, their talents developed differently. Niles, a natural politician, became a lawyer. Nathan took up the French horn and trumpet, and later played the trombone in the Southern University Marching Band. Today, he plays every instrument in the band, and writes and arranges the music.

“I didn’t have anybody in my family in music, so I didn’t see it coming. I guess that was just a gift from God,” he said. “So, I practiced a lot. It’s a good feeling when you can turn what you love – your passion – into a job.”

Haymer graduated from Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in music education, then earned two master’s degrees in music and administration. He holds a doctorate in administration for higher education. After teaching in Lake Charles for five years, he received a call from Southern University asking him to become assistant band director. He calls it his dream job. “It’s a lot of work, but the music, the teaching, the marching and the sound we make, it’s just joy,” he said.

But it comes with an equal measure of challenges. “You can’t say no to everything and you can’t say yes to everything. So, you just have to be prayed up before you get to campus every day,” Haymer said. “Sometimes God puts stumbling blocks in your way for a reason. And a lot of times you don’t realize it until it’s over. So, I continue to trust and do what I feel is right. I don’t compromise my faith.”

He also tells students to surround themselves with true friends. “That is what keeps your integrity up,” he said. “Say you have a bad day or you just want to do something wrong. A real friend would say, ‘No, you don’t want to go that way’ versus somebody who’ll tell you, ‘Yeah, let’s forget work; come on, let’s just go out to this bar and drink all day.’ I also like to hang around with older people. I have friends in their 60s and 70s who give me a wealth of knowledge.”

In 11 years of leadership at Southern University, Haymer’s hardest task has been telling students they don’t have what it takes to be in the band. He uses each situation as a teaching opportunity. “Sometimes God allows doors to shut in your face for many reasons. Sometimes it’s just not for you. Sometimes you’re not ready, and God is letting you know he wants you to be tough: You’re getting ready to run this organization, and you need to fail, so when you’re in charge you’ll be able to empathize with the next person.” Haymer likes to recall that this year’s drum major didn’t make the band when he was a freshman. The sponsor of the SU Dancing Dolls tried out but didn’t make the cut her first year.  Sometimes it’s hard, he said, But perseverance pays off.

“My greatest joy is to see a student that comes from sheer bottom, from pretty much nothing,” Haymer said. They believe in you. They believe in your teaching, and you see them achieve. Then, they graduate. And now they’re having families of their own, and they’re successful.”


“We’re here to help others, and if I can’t do anything to help anybody else, then everything I do is in vain,” Haymer said. “It just brings chills down my spine to know that you have a positive impact. There’s no paycheck that can substitute for that feeling – to see a student turn it around in four years. All I ask them to do is reach back and teach the next person.”

 


Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.
Cover Story, March 2017

ALEX LANGE – Playing With A Purpose

ALEX LANGE

Playing with a Purpose

Story by Randy Rosetta and Photos by Beth Townsend

By its very nature, baseball involves individual effort – and personal excellence – for team success. By its very nature, baseball involves individual effort – and personal excellence – for team success. Nowhere is that more evident than in the pitcher’s role. When he climbs onto the mound in the middle of the field, his delivery has an critical impact on the way the game will unfold: one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. It’s a daunting responsibility. But LSU star pitcher Alex Lange never considers himself alone when he takes the ball.

Lange began his junior – and likely final – season for the Tigers on Feb. 17. He drew a cross in the dirt of the mound, took off his cap several times and said a quick prayer, a practice that marked each start in his college career. When he exited the field, he thrust his arms upward. The symbolic gestures are tributes to the deep faith that his mother, Renee’ Lange, helped instill in him – a powerful thread that ties all things together for the 21-year-old pitcher.

“It’s the foundation of everything there is in the world today,” Lange said of his faith. “It’s how the world came to be. It’s who we are as Christians, to believe in the Lord, and everything I have
today is because of Him. And I am eternally grateful for that. I’m undeserving, but it’s awesome the kindness Jesus has for us.”
“I just try to integrate it in every part of life. The Bible talks about always helping others and honoring the Lord in everything you do. There’s no difference on the field,” he said.

“You can be competitive but still honor the Lord. You don’t have to be the guy that’s dropping F-bombs. You can be a fiery competitor and a fiery guy and a guy that gets the job done and still honor the Lord in a respectful manner and a Christian way. That’s what I try to do.”

Lange’s faith journey began in earnest when he was a teenager at Lee’s Summit West High School in suburban Kansas City. He had observed churches of different denominations, an eye-opening experience that his mother, Renee’, encouraged. Although he immediately bought into the concept of salvation – loving Jesus and all He stands for – Lange concedes that he had not fully embraced “the whole spiritual thing.”
“I knew who Christ was, but I hadn’t been following Him,” Lange said. “I was stumbling in the dark.” During a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in high school, Lange began to focus on Christ.

In two seasons, Alex Lange has compiled a 20-4 record to carve a niche as one of the best pitchers in the country.

“We were sitting there and one of my friends was there next to me,” he said. “We had a pastor come in, and we played games and hung out. We were sitting there and bowed our heads in prayer, and (the pastor) opened up with, ‘I’d just like to invite anyone who doesn’t know the Lord today to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. Just raise your hand.’ I was kind of hesitant, and my friend grabbed my hand and raised it, and that’s the day I accepted the Lord. It was a Tuesday morning my sophomore year.”
“That whole day was just different,” Lange said. “I walked around with my shoulders high and had a big smile on my face. It was just different. That’s kind of the way I’ve felt ever since.”
Lange credits his mother for nurturing his faith and abilities. “I wouldn’t be here without her,” he said. “She raised me well, and I am thankful for her. I am thankful that the Lord used her to help me grow and continue to grow and lay the foundation in college and become my own man. Hopefully, when I have kids I can do the same thing.”
“From the first time I sat down and spoke with Alex, it was clear to me that he was a special person,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “His maturity, his confidence and just the way he carries himself – those are things that take a lot of guys a while to develop when they get to college. Alex had all of those when I met him – when he was 16 years old – and a lot of that is a credit to his mother.”
“When you are in this profession, you really try hard to judge the kid for who he is and not for what his upbringing was, and that works in both directions,” Mainieri said. “With a young man like Alex, after you get to know him, you see the influence his mother has had on    him and you see how he developed the way he did.”
Simply put, Renee Lange and her son believe they were meant to be mother and son, and they live their lives that way. She adopted Lange when he was 1 day old and she was a 31-year-old who had been told she could not bear children of her own. What biology didn’t create, love for each other and a strongly shared faith have forged. At the age of six, his parents divorced, and Lange and his mother established a home in Kansas City.
Today, Lange does not sit back and wait for people to recognize what God and faith mean to him. “Some people shun Christians and the Christian lifestyle,” Lange said. “It’s too over the top, it’s too much. It’s too much if you’re not willing to fight for what you believe in and stay strong. I am not going to sit here and say I’m a perfect Christian – I’m far from it. I sin every day. We’re all sinners…just learn from your mistakes and continue to grow in your faith and get better at it every day like you would a sport or school or piano.”
Lange’s practice of wearing his religion on his baseball sleeve is not unique. While it’s perhaps not in vogue, other players have been bold in their witness, including former teammate Jake Fraley.
A devout Catholic, Fraley never hesitated to profess his beliefs to teammates. Not surprisingly, Fraley and Lange quickly established a strong bond when Lange was a freshman in 2015. That example stuck with Lange, who has stepped into the role Fraley vacated as the de facto spiritual leader for the Tigers.
“Everyone has their own beliefs and everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” Lange said. He makes a point of not criticizing others’ beliefs. “For me, I just want to put my arm around a guy and say, ‘This is what Jesus can do for you. He gives forgiveness for everybody. There is forgiveness for your sin.’ If that is bringing them to a Bible study or just talking to them or whatever that is, there is a sense that they can jump on board if they want to.”
“Obviously, I’d like 35 guys in that locker room pointed in the same direction, but that’s not always the case,” Lange said. “So, you just kind of have to balance it and know who your friends are; know who you can align yourself with that feel the same way and believe in the same thing.”
Whether teammates – or anyone else – chooses to follow, Lange said he is going to keep doing what he does. So, whenever he steps on the mound this season, he’ll draw that cross. He’ll take off his cap and say a quick prayer. And when his outing is over, he will look skyward, lift his arms and say thanks.
“It is a reminder of who I am playing for and what it is (the cross). That’s why I have a tattoo on my arm, a tattoo on my chest. The cross is always a reminder, so if one person every game sees that, then I get 18 people to reach out and be curious about what Jesus and the Lord can do for them, then I feel accomplished,” he said.

“I look up and I just thank the Lord for the trials and tribulations or the successes of that day. The Bible talks about giving thanks no matter what. If the worst thing that’s going to happen to me is going out and giving up five runs in 4 innings that day, that’s OK with me because that’s His plan. I’m going to follow his plan. I’m not going to try to deviate from his plan and create my own plan because then I am not living through Him. It is a reminder to thank Him for allowing me to be out there and doing something I love, because I know without Him it would be nothing.”
“Every time I go out there I want to shine for Him, shine for the Lord, show that it’s not about me,” Lange said. It’s about what Jesus can do for us and (to) honor Him through my playing.”


Randy Rosetta has been a journalist for 30-plus years, primarily covering sports but dabbling in news and feature coverage on a freelance basis. A proud Kansas native, Rosetta is currently the Sports Editor of the Livingston Parish News, the largest non-daily newspaper in Louisiana, and he is a member of Istrouma Baptist. He and wife Jenny Rosetta, an instructional specialist in the EBR school district, have been married 18½ years and are the proud parents of 17-year-old Mallory, a junior at Parkview Baptist, and 9-year-old Darby, a 3rd grader at LaSalle Elementary

Cover Story, February 2017

Serving Christ by Serving Others

Serving Christ by Serving Others

150 years of ministry leaves quite a story to tell.

by Susan Brown and Photos by Beth Townsend

IMG_7466 5“Any operation or ministry that’s been around for 150 years says a lot about the work. Obviously, God is behind you. It’s amazing to see the generosity of our community.”
In 27 years as Chief Executive Officer for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Michael Acaldo has cultivated the agency into a thriving $8 million operation equipped with some 1,500 volunteers per month. As the largest nonprofit in the region, SVdP serves hot meals, provides shelters for homeless men, women and children, operates eight thrift stores and offers dental care, prescription medicine, rental assistance and furniture.
“Our focus is – how do we bring the bright light of God and Christ to those who are truly in need?” Acaldo said. “We are a ministry. A lot of people think we’re a social service organization – no – it’s more people in our community that want to put their Christian faith into action.”
The local St. Vincent de Paul operation welcomes interfaith participation. “We have great support from our local synagogue, the B’nai Israel congregation,” Acaldo said. The congregation provides the popular Thanksgiving Turkey Train. “There’s a lot of good interfaith stuff. I think that’s what our faith calls us to do – to open our arms and be inclusive.”
It was a lesson gleaned from the life of Vincent de Paul [1581-1660], who experienced the stark contrast between extravagance and poverty in pre-revolution France. Born to a French peasant-farmer family, Vincent de Paul’s father sold oxen to send his son to seminary in the hope of future provision for the family. A religious career provided a rare bridge from poverty to financial security.
 IMG_7479 3IMG_7486 2IMG_7498 2“Basically, he dealt with many of the wealthy, and at some point, he was called to provide last rites to an individual who was dying, someone who was poor and a servant,” Acaldo said. “At that point he used all his connections with the wealthy in France to inspire them to do things for the poor.” That included founding hospitals, tending to those suffering the effects of war, and securing freedom for over a thousand galley slaves in North Africa.  Some 200 years later, university student Frederic Ozanam founded The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in response to a devastating cholera epidemic in post-revolution Paris.
“Everyone is a child of God. That’s how we operate,” Acaldo said. “Our job is to provide a handout in a faith-filled way, so they can feel God’s love. We don’t judge.”
“Twenty-seven years ago, it was rare to see a homeless woman and particularly rare to find a homeless mother and children. Now, it’s common, very common. We’re trying to expand what we’re doing shelter-wise,” Acaldo said. “Also, the severity of mental illness and the number of people suffering from mental illness have increased – we’re just seeing loads of people.”
“A lot of government-type resources have been cut and you see the results,” Acaldo said. “Basically, we have people on the street that are not quite a danger to themselves, not quite a danger to anyone else, but they’re very close. In the past, that kind of person was getting the care they need, and not on the street. In the last four months, we’ve had women come to us and they can’t even tell us their name. If you can imagine it, we have seen it.”
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 But success stories outweigh the challenges: a mother donates a bag of food to the shelter that once housed her family, an auto parts salesman stops to say thanks for helping him through a rough time, a young mother with three children celebrates school achievement.
“Her boy was in fourth grade and she had lost her job. She had nowhere else to turn, no family, nothing. This little boy won the spelling bee in East Baton Rouge Parish while he was staying at our shelter,” Acaldo said. “It’s uplifting to put people in a position to be successful in life.”
 “I’ve heard a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer say on many occasions that we’re called to see the face of Christ in the poor, and if we do a really good job with our work, they’ll see the face of Christ in us,” Acaldo said. That takes an army of volunteers.
Last year 400 volunteers made more than 2,200 home visits and distributed some $700,000 in assistance. Others serve meals, organize donations, repair furniture and electronics, and assist with life skills instruction.
“One thing that’s been uplifting to me is seeing people who take this as a lifestyle – serving the poor,” Acaldo said. “We’ve had people make 70 years volunteering; we’ve had volunteers 50 consecutive years. That’s powerful.”
His wish list includes useful household and pharmaceutical items. “On any given night, we’ve got 100 men, women and children that we’re providing shelter to, and that’s very important,” Acaldo said. On average, SVdP provides more than 26,000 nights of shelter to men, women and children annually. “Individuals can donate blankets, shampoo, towels and prescription medicine, but we also need Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, and cold medicine that’s high blood pressure friendly.”
IMG_7474IMG_7491IMG_7508 2
“Obviously, we need financial support. We get some small government grants but about 90 percent of giving to St. Vincent de Paul is by individuals in the community: finances, time, talent, and in-kind goods,” Acaldo said. For example, volunteer Bobby Deangelo and his team buys and fries all the turkeys for Christmas dinner.
“I think each of us is called to see what kind of impact we can make,” Acaldo said. “All the credit belongs upstairs and [to] all the good people that are inspired by God to do this work – if you understand that love and understand where it comes from.”
“I think that is nurtured by your parents (Jay and Dottie Acaldo) who ensure that you walk a life of faith, that you try to recognize when God is having a hand in things. They sacrificed to put us through Catholic schools (Catholic High School, 1985) and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” Acaldo said. “My wife (Paula) is very supportive of me in my ministry. She’s phenomenal.”
“My number one prayer is that I get to retire from here and do a better job than I did the first 27 years,” Acaldo said. His goals include expanding the shelter for women and children from 36 to over 70 beds in 2017.
“We’re also going to put a chapel right in the center of this campus. That’s where God belongs,” Acaldo said. They received a commitment of $100,000, and estimate a cost of $300,000 to construct the chapel.
Acaldo would like to see St. Vincent de Paul property developed to meet pressing needs. Property on North Boulevard – the old Romano’s grocery site – could become a nonprofit supermarket with a second floor for affordable apartments. Land on Florida Boulevard could house auxiliary space for more services and apartments. “God hasn’t made it clear what we’re going to do with the property,” Acaldo said.
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“I would like to see us inspire more people to leave St. Vincent de Paul in their wills, in their estate planning,” Acaldo said. “What a beautiful way to keep something going in our community.” A goal is to build the agency’s foundation to ensure longterm services and to establish a fund dedicated to maintenance and the upkeep of the properties.
It’s all about growth – spiritual and physical. “If you’re not going from where you are to where you can be, you’re not really fulfilling what you need to be fulfilling,” Acaldo said. “We’re all so very busy, and you’ve got to give the
Holy Spirit time and room to work within your life.”
“Christ’s love – God’s love – is ultimately the solution. I think from my standpoint, God is on our side,” Acaldo said. “That motivates you and puts you in a position to be part of a lot of wonderful things, great things.”
Cover Story, January 2017

One City, One Church, One Hope

by Lisa Tramontana

te-publicity-1115bDr. Tony Evans has a vision for Baton Rouge — to transform the community from a Christian perspective to bring about healing and hope. He will share that vision on January 26 when he leads a citywide gathering, along with local pastors and church leaders who are also committed to creating unity in the capital city.

The event, “One City, One Church, One Hope,” is spearheaded by Pastor Rene Brown of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church and Pastor Kevin McKee of The Chapel on the Campus. The two worked hard to organize Dr. Evans’ visit. As the pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Evans is a nationally recognized author, teacher and speaker known for a philosophy that mixes biblical spirituality with social responsibility.

One City
Creating unity is a lofty goal. Baton Rouge has experienced a lot of hurt in the past few months, and healing won’t come quickly or easily. For the past four months, residents have suffered indescribable loss and devastation due to the “Thousand Year Flood” which ravaged southeast Louisiana in August. The holidays were bittersweet for many local families who still haven’t been able to return to their homes.

And just weeks before the flood, an undeniable racial divide was polarizing area residents. In July, the city gained national attention after Baton Rouge Police’s fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man. The incident sparked local protests and widespread criticism, especially after a graphic phone video was shared on social media. Just days later, Gavin Long of Missouri ambushed and killed three law officers and wounded three more in another Baton Rouge shooting. Long, who was African-American, was killed by police shortly afterward.

No place is exempt from violence, but Baton Rouge seemed to suffer more than its share in 2016. It has been a heartbreaking year in many respects. Local pastors have called for peace and many churches have worked hard to reach across the chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding in the hopes of creating some kind of togetherness.

“The racial divide is one of the key reasons for social collapse,” Dr. Evans said. “When we become illegitimately divided along race, class, cultural and denominational lines, we have uninvited God into the scenario. And God will not work in the context of illegitimate disunity.”

One Church
Dr. Evans doesn’t just preach about the challenge of creating unity. He has solid ideas for making it happen, and has seen positive results in his own church in Dallas. He promotes the idea of an “urban alternative” which states that churches, not government, are best positioned to bring about social change.

“We go across the country to communities like Baton Rouge where there are churches that want to make a difference,” he said. “They (churches) are the epicenter of transformation. We offer a simple plan. First of all, we bring churches together around a common vision — to bring healing and help to their communities. We tell churches, ‘you must identify a common thread and let the community see how your presence is for the community’s benefit.’ The thread we promote most is the adoption of public schools.”

That’s because schools are often at the heart of America’s communities. It’s where children are educated, supported, protected and encouraged. It’s often the most integral part of a family’s social network, a place where not just students, but parents and teachers establish friendships and build relationships.

“We start with the adoption of public schools because this deals with children, with education, with families,” Dr. Evans said. “We don’t have to create anything new. If every school gets adopted by a church or group of churches, then you’re touching the whole community and you’re becoming the social services provider for the whole community.”

Eventually, Dr. Evans said, school/church partnerships (pastors and principals) are able to speak with one voice on major issues.

The process, he added, includes mentoring, tutoring and family support. The mentoring model he supports is based on one male volunteer to four boys, one female volunteer to four girls. “We walk them through character development,” he said. “So many kids don’t have strong parental influences, so the church becomes their surrogate family.”

Tutoring consists of academic help, of course, and family support comes from offering social services — for example, helping students by providing food, clothing, shelter, job placement (advice), GED counseling, etc. “Social services are critical,” Dr. Evans said, “especially due to the breakdown of the family.”

One Hope
Every community has people with hearts that hope for and work toward change. Imagine how hope can grow and triumph when a community is unified toward a common goal. This is what Dr. Evans hopes to find on January 26 when he steps before his Baton Rouge audience.

He encourages Baton Rouge residents to work toward building peace by focusing on community outreach — volunteering, mentoring, getting involved in church ministries. It’s something that sustains his own faith, he said, and strengthens his relationship with God.

“By being engaged directly and practically with my local church … that’s what keeps me grounded,” he said. “It’s not theory, but practice. I’m energized by gatherings like this (in Baton Rouge). They fire me up.”

“I can just see the hope God brings out in them.”

Dr. Evans’ visit is just the beginning of an important movement. Coming together is just the first step. Staying together is the ultimate goal, and it will require constant focus, prayer and communication. For more information on how you can become involved, visit the Believers for Baton Rouge website.

About Dr. Evans:

Dr. Tony Evans is a nationally known pastor, author, teacher and speaker. He is the first African American to graduate with a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

He promotes a Kingdom agenda philosophy that teaches God’s comprehensive rule over every sphere of life as demonstrated through the individual, family, church and society.

He believes in the power of church and school partnerships to effect spiritual and social change, and he trains churches, schools and volunteers in this philosophy.

Dr. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. The church has grown from 10 congregants in 1976 to more than 10,000 members today with more than 100 ministries.

His daily radio broadcast, The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, can be heard on nearly 1,000 radio stations in the US, and more than 130 countries. He has also authored more than 10 books, booklets and Bible studies.

He and his wife Lois have been married for more than 40 years. They have four children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Cover Story, November 2016

A Labor of Love

Chef John Folse says he has seen the hand of God at work throughout his life.

by Susan Brown

chef-john-folse“I came from a place where every day my daddy went trapping to catch coon hides and mink hides to sell. I remember a mink hide was $1.50. So, if God could give us everything we needed in that environment, and in this little cabin grow a bunch of people of faith, a bunch of people who understood the need for each other, an African American woman who came to love us like her own, what other message do we need? What do we need to be thankful for? My God, what don’t we need to be thankful for?”

Internationally renowned Chef John Folse sees the hand of God at work everywhere: from the tiny herbs in his monastic potager garden to his global catering division. The Chef John Folse & Co. Cajun and Creole Company Store ships food all over the world, including sites in China, Russia, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and local grocery stores. His catering division, operating out of White Oak Plantation in southeast Baton Rouge, has fed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, served world leaders and catered the London Olympic games – to name a few.

“There’s no possible way, knowing where I came from, unless the hand of God was all over it,” Folse said. His faith was forged in family and community with a deep understanding that God wants his love to be shared. It was a lesson – and a gift – that came early in life.

img_7282In May 1955, the heat was already sweltering when his mother, Therese Marie Zeringue Folse, began to hang out laundry by their home near the Mississippi River in St. James Parish. She was nine months pregnant with her 10th child. John was seven, his oldest sister was 10. A neighbor, Mary Ferchaud, was walking down the lane when she spotted Therese.

“She stopped and grabbed my mother, sat her on the step of our cabin, got her a glass of water out of the cistern and said, ‘Sit here and let me hang these clothes.’ Imagine now, eight children, twins only a year old, and mom’s having her tenth child because her first and her last died in childbirth.” Shortly afterward, his mother and newborn sister died.

“The thing I remember most about my mother’s death was coming back from the graveyard and my sister looking at us and saying, ‘Who’s going to say the rosary tonight?’ Mother did it, and Daddy said, ‘You’re going to do it,’” Folse said. “Every night if you were old enough to kneel you gathered around this big old bed to say the rosary. And we just kept going.”

“I’m thankful to a dad who raised eight children,” Folse said. His father, Antoine Royley Folse, made sure the children were on the front row at church every Sunday. “He said, ‘We’re going to stay together, I’m not going to break this family up.’”

Then came a knock on the cabin door. “When dad opened door, here was this beautiful African American lady,” Folse recalls. “Dad said, ‘Can I help you?’ She said, “No sir, I’m here to help you.’ And Dad said, ‘To help me do what?’ She said, ‘Raise these children, because about three weeks ago I was coming down the lane and Ms. Therese was hanging clothes on the clothesline. She took my hand and said, “If anything ever happens to me, would you look in on them?’”

Mary Ferchaud nurtured the Folse family for 22 years while raising six children of her own. Folse calls her the most generous gift God could give. “She was there every morning when we woke up and cooked lunch for us. When we got back from school it was on the table. She’d go back and forth between her house and ours. She was at every one of our weddings and every one of our confirmations.”

img_7292“I’m also thankful to grandmothers who came in to divide their own time to work with us and continue the fundamentals that mom had started to teach us,” Folse said. “I think of the parish church where I was an altar boy, St. James Catholic Church, on the west bank of the river. And I think of the old parish priest who knew of our challenges and just gave that extra time. I’m thankful to the neighborhood because everybody took care of us and we did our best to take care of them.”

“When you grow up in a place like that there are two things you have to do,” Folse said. “Number one: every day when you get up you have to get on your knees and thank God for today because he’s brought you here, through all of that. And secondly, you have to share it with everybody you see. You have to do everything you’re called to do.”

“My wife, Laulie, and I come from the same type of family. She was in Donaldsonville. I grew up in St. James. To own a company today is a great gift – to use our ability to share with those in need. It’s on our minds all the time,” Folse said. “Our first question to each other is ‘What can we do?’”

Crisis brings the opportunity to use the gifts God has provided, Folse said. In August, as soon as the water receded from the driveway of their home in Gonzales, he called out chefs and caterers from White Oak Plantation. They set up tables for a hundred people. “And all of a sudden, my driveway is full of workers: Spanish, African American, foreigners, FEMA workers, everybody,” Folse said. “They were devastated, but now they had a place to come and eat, and sit and talk to each other.”

“We can be an example to the world of what it takes for people to put strife, race and everything else aside and cling to each other in their own church, whatever that church is,” Folse said. He believes that Louisiana is uniquely positioned by God to demonstrate faith both in its adversity and the diversity of its Creole heritage: French, English, African, Spanish, German, Italian and Native American. His own ancestors walked from Germany across France in 1725 to reach ships bound for Louisiana. Only half survived the trip, among them, his seventh great-grandfather who built the first St. Louis Cathedral and Ursuline convent in New Orleans.

img_7303“I’m proud to have been part of a family that’s always been touched by God to give, share and teach. I think it’s our lot,” he said. “I know that under no circumstance do I have the talent, the wherewithal and the strength to do it alone. I’m fully committed to knowing that. Everything I have comes from a higher power and I could not be more thankful for it.”

“I never got up in the morning saying this is what I want to do,” Folse said. “I always call it the Mister McGoo syndrome” (a near-sighted cartoon character prone to walk unaware into tough situations but come out unscathed). “If you’re walking in the right direction that girder will always be there for you to stand on. It’ll always be placed in the right path.”

It was that commitment to love God and love others that resulted in an unexpected gift – a meeting with Pope John Paul II. When the pontiff planned to lay a new cornerstone at St. Louis cathedral in 1987, Folse was invited to feature a dinner showcasing Louisiana heritage. Fearing that New Orleans chefs would be offended, he stepped aside.

“At that luncheon at LaFitte’s Landing, Bishop Ott grabbed my hand, held it very tight and said, ‘One day the generous gesture you just made will make it certain that you get to cook for the pope,’” Folse said. Much later, Bishop Ott called to say Folse had been chosen to host the Vatican State Dinner, the first non-Italian chef to create a menu for the event in Rome.

“Standing in St. Peter’s Basilica and looking at the arms of Christ, I asked myself the question I’ve asked a thousand times: How in the world did you get here? It’s impossible,” Folse said.

At the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, Folse and his wife attended mass with the pontiff and a small group of invited guests. They included six small children from Ireland who were disfigured in the Catholic-Protestant conflict.

“Afterward, he [Pope John Paul] sat on the windowsill and called the children, and one at a time they came. He took each one of them and he pressed his face against theirs. It made me realize right then just what God really is all about,” Folse said. “God was bringing me to Gandolfo to see what love is all about, and how I can bring that back home.”

“And I realized at Gandolfo that my life’s work was really to do what I was doing, sharing my youth and sharing the tragedy of losing family. The most important lesson, he said, is understanding the need to care for each other.

“I’m most grateful for the realization that I know God is in my life every day. And I don’t have to think of anything else. He’s going to tell me where I need to be. He’s going to give me all the resources I need,” Folse said. “He tells us a hundred times in the gospels and in the parables – everything you need, I’ll give you. You’ll be measured by what you do with it. And by your actions the world will know you.”

Editor’s note: Chef John Folse is currently filming a new program, “Can You Dig It? The History of Vegetables” for PBS and is also featured daily on Create®TV and locally on WAFB and Talk 107.3. He owns Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant at Bittersweet Plantation, his former home in Donaldsonville, and White Oak Plantation featuring catering and events. Chef John Folse & Co. features on-line shopping for Cajun and Creole products. He is a member of St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church in Gonzales.

Cover Story, October 2016

Our Community Sees God Working for Good Through the Flood

by Susan Brown
craig and michelle morgan, center (homeowners, not in orange) June Jake (nashville, tenn.) virginia mcvay (Pineville, la.) sabrina may (blue ridge, ga.) caroline o’brien, (long rock, colo.) and dick and Pam Yakovich (rock island, ill.) 2nd row bruce white, michael mcvay (Pineville, ga.) bruce milanc (bridgeville, del.), Judy buvere (indepenance, la.) steve workman (oceanside, calif.) Kenny Hubbard (star, n.c.) Paul Coe, (Baton Rouge, La.) Len Coleman, (Shuqualok, Miss.).
craig and michelle morgan, center (homeowners, not in orange) June Jake (nashville, tenn.) virginia mcvay (Pineville, la.) sabrina may (blue ridge, ga.) caroline o’brien, (long rock, colo.) and dick and Pam Yakovich (rock island, ill.) 2nd row bruce white, michael mcvay (Pineville, ga.)
bruce milanc (bridgeville, del.), Judy buvere (indepenance, la.) steve workman (oceanside, calif.) Kenny Hubbard (star, n.c.)
Paul Coe, (Baton Rouge, La.) Len Coleman, (Shuqualok, Miss.).

“Before the flood, we were engulfed in anger, hate and even violence. But the church went to God in prayer and asked him to deliver the city. We’re not talking about violence and hate anymore,” said Pastor Donald Hunter of New Beginning Baptist Church near Plank and Hooper roads. “I am a living testimony.”

The rev. Hunter’s story resonates because it is our story: devastating loss followed by demonstrations of divine love. Pain giving birth to progress. All three of Hunter’s kids lost their homes: in Central, Monticello and Villa Del Rey. He was able to get them out unharmed. “God didn’t take any of their lives, not a hair off their heads,” he said. “When you drive down the street and see the mess and smell, you realize God is good, because his mercy endureth forever.”

“There is something with the profession that he is good,” Rev. Hunter explained. “God then turns what we see on the roadside to his glory. Out of this he will transform this city into being new again.”

“At times like these, God’s people stop being so focused on being a church, and we’re almost shocked into being The Church,[all who believe in Jesus Christ], said Greenwell Springs Baptist Church Executive Pastor Andy Stafford. “We open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit moving and stop trying to do things by our own power. So, we think of what we can do, but when things are so obviously out of our control, we have to turn to the Lord. That’s when he really shows us just how faithful and how amazing he is.”

Out of the muck and chaos, stories of gratitude continue to emerge. A man originally from Cuba sent his wife and four children to find refuge while he stayed to fight the floodwaters at their home near Millerville Road. When the water reached five feet, he survived by climbing on top of his truck. “Through the night he had to fight off many snakes,” said Pastor Guillermo Mangieri of Istrouma en Espanol (Istrouma Baptist Church), speaking through interpreter Carlos Schmidt of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Al and Toni New, Chaplain Coordinator Team.
Al and Toni New, Chaplain Coordinator Team.

“The water receded and the whole family came back. They just put plastic on the floor and a blanket and they slept on the wet floor for two nights until a disaster relief team from the church provided mattresses and other bedding. Like many other churches, Istrouma continues to minister through relationships forged in the aftermath of the flood. Another team reached the home of woman who lived alone. “When the disaster relief team came she said, ‘You are an answer to my mother’s prayer in Cuba because you are coming and helping me now.’ And she received Christ,” Schmidt said.

The church continues to embrace the families reached by its disaster teams. After housing, feeding and clothing a family of new believers, members brought them home. “We prayed for them and then they read Psalm 46 and said now I understand that it’s Jesus who takes care of me. It is proven that he cares for me,” said Schmidt.

 Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse, Tracy Allison, Angela Wallace, michelle worley-Hurt, and lyndagayle daniels.
Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse, Tracy Allison, Angela Wallace, Michelle Worley-Hurt, and Lyndagayle Daniels.

“What we do know is God has sent his people here to help you get through this,” said Chaplain Al New of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “We don’t know why it happens. Some day we will. God has sent an army of people here to make sure you get the help you need.”

“It’s pretty easy to pick out those who are trusting and believing in the Lord because they say, honey, everything’s going to be alright. We’re okay, we know the Lord. He’s getting us through this,” New said. “Then you run into somebody who doesn’t believe. And they’re angry at a God they don’t believe in because they just lost everything.”

That example has reverberated through the lives of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church members Craig and Michelle Morgan. Currently on assignment for Exxon-Mobile in Saudi Arabia, Craig and Michelle received a message from their daughter that both their home and his parents’ home on Highway 16 in Denham Springs were flooding. They were on an anniversary cruise out of Copenhagen, Denmark, but were able to get information through Facebook and Skype.

“My sister called my mom on her cellphone and said, ‘Y’all need to back the truck out from under the carport and put a ladder in it, in case you need to get on the roof,” he said. When water reached their knees in the bed of the truck, they climbed onto the roof and eventually flagged down a rescue boat. It was his dad’s 79th birthday.

“My family has been on this piece of property for at least 80 years. We have never seen water in any of these houses,” Morgan said. The water reached 6 to 7 feet.

Susan Brown meets with Kay Taylor from Cumulus Media.
Susan Brown meets with Kay Taylor from Cumulus Media.

Stuck on a cruise ship with no available port, the Morgans realized the enormity of the rebuilding task. They connected with a young cruise employee and shared their story. “She said, ‘I can’t imagine how strong you two are because if I had lost everything, I would be in shambles. You are carrying on as if nothing had happened,’ Morgan recounted. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to give you a false impression that we haven’t cried a few tears, but if you want to really know why we’re so strong it’s because we’ve made a conscious decision to honor God with our lives. We put him first and we know that we’re in his hands.’”

“We’re hanging onto a couple of scriptures. One is: ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all’ [Psalm 34:19]. And the second one is: ‘Sorrow [weeping] may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning’ [Psalm 30:5],” Morgan explained. “She said, ‘You are an example to everyone.’”

“If all this had to happen for us to be there for her, it’s worth it all; God used it,” said Michelle. “It’s going to take time and it’s not going to be an easy road,” said Craig. “But the big thing is that everybody has come together, the whole community’s come together to help one another out. People of all ethnic backgrounds are pulling together to help each other. That’s been the biggest thing I’ve seen.”

Kay Taylor, regional account manager for Cumulus Media (WXOK), agrees. “Things don’t happen without a reason and a purpose,” Taylor said. She watched the Amite and Comite rivers suddenly rush to meet beside her house in the Brentwood subdivision in Baker. As the water rose, flooding her cars and home, a man with a large truck appeared and drove her family to safety. Taylor said the flood insurance she paid for 25 years is a matter of dispute because her mortgage was sold to a company that considered her home well beyond the flood zone. Still, she calls herself “super blessed.”

“I have no clothes. I have no shoes. I have nothing. I’ve got my life, and I’ve got my God, so I’m good. I can’t live in the past, and I won’t let things dominate my life,” said Taylor, a member of Interdenominational Faith Assembly.

franklin graham of samaritan’s Purse personally visits flood ravaged home. Touring with him is Donald Trump, Mike Pence and a team of others.
franklin graham of samaritan’s Purse personally visits flood ravaged home. Touring with him is Donald Trump, Mike Pence and a team of others.

God’s protective covering, described in Psalm 91, and his cleansing work are evident in the community, Taylor said. “You have to listen and see what has happened. This is the worst flood in a hundred years. Baton Rouge, we’re a praying city,” she said. “And God spared us a whole lot. But there’s too much evil. Killing the Sterling young man, killing the three innocent cops. God is not pleased with all that, so he’s just trying to get us in line and keep us right.” Taylor hopes that individual lives, as well as homes, will be rebuilt. “You can have a good life – you and God,” she said.

The rebuilding process creates opportunities to “get into the storm before the storm,” according to Billy Graham Rapid Response Team Chaplain Al New. Chaplains go to home sites with each Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief team from their temporary headquarters at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. “A lot of people already had issues in their lives, and that’s what the chaplains are dealing with on a daily basis out here – not so much the storm that brought us here, but the storms that they were going through. It may be a divorce or illness or need for reconciliation. We’ve seen families that were not getting along so well become united through this flood.”

The spontaneous outpouring of help is a good sign of future success, New said. “These people are strong people and they’re used to hard lives. So, coming into here, driving in and already seeing rows and rows and rows of debris at the side of the road – you don’t see that normally anywhere else. Usually they’re waiting for somebody to come and do it. But they’re way ahead of the game here because they chose to help each other.”

“I just want everybody to stay prayed up and know that God is faithful and that everybody understands their purpose in life – to be a blessing to their family, but to their neighbor also,” Taylor said. “We need to just to be decent, good people, do what’s right and try to line up with God’s word. ‘But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.’”

Editor’s note: For assistance or volunteer information, Samaritan’s Purse may be reached at 985-402-4350 or samaritanspurse.org.

Cover Story, September 2016

About the Cover

About the Cover

SeptCoverPictured: Nathan D’Gerolamo and Ian Smith

This picture represents a new-found friendship between two young boys that was sparked through their intentional efforts to learn to understand one another, accept their differences, search for similarities and hold tight to common bonds.

As one of the young boys arrived at a Christian day camp this summer worried about fitting in and wondering if he would make new friends, so did the other. And thus the week at camp began for these two boys and their small group with some fear, mistrust and misunderstanding of one another. But with the support and prayers of camp counselors, church staff and family members, and a creative idea that a rainbow loom bracelet and a hug can be given as a peace offering, the tensions were lessened and friendships and bonding began to take hold.

At the end of a week of challenging yet wonderful experiences, these two boys, with arms comfortably resting on one another, represent a coming together of this small group of kids from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, who finally learned to understand and love one another through their common faith.  The seeds of friendship have been planted that can be further nurtured and developed over time.

If a small group of young boys can forgive one another and find common ground peacefully, then let them be an inspiration to the rest of us …

About the Camp, From Lisette West:

The Chapel has partnered with Pine Cove to host Camp in the City – a week of summer day camp loaded with crazy fun and Christian fellowship. Registration is open to K-5th graders all over Baton Rouge and we make special effort to include students from our Kids Hope USA mentoring program with the Chapel’s school partner, Wildwood Elementary.”

Camp is a time of water games, rock climbing, laser tag, etc. -  led by a counselor staff that is passionate about Jesus. They share Jesus’ love with each camper in these activities and Bible study, club time and more. It is with joy and expectancy that the hope of Jesus is extended to transform lives in the community.”

“Pine Cove exists to be used by God to transform the lives of people for His purposes and His glory.”
— Pine Cove Mission

August 2016, Cover Story

Kelly Stomps: Louisiana Teacher of the Year Uses Music to Inspire Her Students

by Susan Brown
The Stomps Family.
The Stomps Family.

In the early morning, students pour into Woodlake Elementary School in Mandeville – a kaleidoscope of cultures, worldviews and life experiences. Moving to a common cadence, they begin to focus and embrace the day. Gathering the students for music in the morning is key: it creates community, wakes up the mind and fosters positive attitudes, according to Louisiana Teacher of the Year Kelly Stomps who said, “There’s something about the music.

As Teacher of the Year, Stomps has traveled and played a role in structuring policy to promote music education, a passion that was nurtured through her early involvement in the church choir. “The music always calls you. Even as a young kid, you don’t understand all the words, but you feel the emotion of the music,” she said.

The lessons poured into her at an early age now resonate as character-building tools with a new, diverse generation, not only through the notes but through her passion for their well-being. Through their involvement with music, Stomps and her sisters learned important life lessons: the ability to see value in each person and the art of patient encouragement.

“I felt the music, and my parents encouraged me to be a part of the choir. We were always there on Sunday, so I was singing,” said Stomps, now a member of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Mandeville. At her childhood church in Fairhope, Ala., she was given the opportunity to be the cantor – once. “I got so nervous, I was sitting there shaking. It was bad,” she laughed. “I wasn’t ready for that step, but they still kept encouraging me.”

“Actually, I was the kid you would not expect to be a music educator. I had a lot of problems with my hearing when I was younger with ear infections that affected my speech and singing. But, I was drawn to music,” she said. “I wasn’t a kid who naturally sang on pitch; it was something that had to be developed. So in church choir, they built that matching-pitch ability and singing really helped me.”

“I see myself in my students a lot and it reminds me constantly – don’t just take what is. This is where the kid is now, but if they have that passion, they can go so much further. It’s just my job to help them find that passion in themselves,” Stomps said.

Stomps and others are greeted by President Barack Obama.
Stomps and others are greeted by President Barack Obama.

As Teacher of the Year, Stomps had the opportunity to take that message to Washington, D.C. through national policymaking meetings. She advised the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and compared notes with Louisiana first lady Donna Edwards, a former music educator. She sees a renewed emphasis on music in schools under the “Every Student Succeeds Act” signed into law by President Obama in December 2015, which includes new accountability for schools regarding music programs.

“It’s opening up grant funding so we can develop these music programs; there are a lot more options,” she said. [U.S.] Secretary of Education John King has talked about the benefits of music, so I see the tide turning. It’s been exciting to be a part of that.”

“You really need music in the early ages because it involves language development as much as the music. I really, truly believe that every kid should have music in their schools, especially at the young ages, just as they have P.E.,” she said.  “We have Special Ed, so I teach all of them. We think it’s something that every kid, no matter their background, can come in and feel successful doing. They need to feel successful at something.”

“I teach in the public schools, so you don’t openly talk about your faith, but it’s a part of me. It’s who I am and what I do, and I think the lessons from church definitely spill over to teaching things like forgive and forget,” Stomps said. “That’s so important as a teacher. Kids are going to make mistakes and they come in and think you’re angry. But I can say, ‘Let’s move on.’”

Kelly Stomps is pictured with her mother in front of Vice Presitdent Biden’s house during the State Teachers of the Year Washington trip.
Kelly Stomps is pictured with her mother in front of Vice Presitdent Biden’s house during the State Teachers of the Year Washington trip.

“As a music teacher, I teach students of every religion, and I do have students that cannot partake in certain holiday songs or patriotic songs. But no matter what I do there’s always development of respect for everybody with diverse backgrounds,” Stomps said. “I have the ultimate opportunity to be that role model and teach kids how to respect people.”

Stomps believes parents can also build confidence in kids through music. “Music was a part of my home life. And my parents say they’re not musical, but my mom would sing little ditties and things around the house. I was drawn to music.” After her positive experience with her own elementary music teacher, Cheryl Walls, in Birmingham, Ala., Stomps saw the value of music as a life tool.

“I want the kids to see how music is connected to everything. I love that, as a music teacher, I can be a bridge to the community,” she said. “I take these students out to the community to do performances for things like Relay for Life. We performed in the past for Veterans Day programs and a 9/11 program, so the kids see that they can serve through music. That’s one of my favorite things.”

Woodlake Elementary is located near the Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall, which was originally established as a community aid organization, and is arguably the oldest jazz hall in the country. “Louis Armstrong played there. It’s really cool because on field trips the kids can sit and have the jazz musicians talk to them,” Stomps said. “I think it’s great for their community outreach.”

“I knew by the time I went to college I wanted to share music with others,” Stomps said. With three kids in college at the same time, she needed a scholarship. Her skill as a percussionist earned her a spot at LSU, her top choice. “I came to LSU for the music programs, and I stayed,” she said. Her career has included teaching violin and literature. “I love Louisiana. I love the fact that music is everywhere.”

Kelly Stomps.
Kelly Stomps.

She finds inspiration from Mother Teresa who said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

“Nobody gets to see that Super Bowl – throwing the touchdown in your classroom – although you feel it all the time,” Stomps said. “You’re doing all these small things. But as Teacher of the Year, I had the opportunity to do great things with great love. I was sharing my passion and what I believe all students need.”

“They’re not all going to be professional musicians. They’re not all going to join bands or choirs, but if they’re in the congregation singing along, they’re making music – showing their faith through the music.”