Cover Story, July 2016

Sid Gautreaux’s Leadership is Rooted in His Faith in the Lord and a Passion for Public Service

by Trapper S. Kinchen

Sheriff 2For nine years, Sid J. Gautreaux III has served East Baton Rouge Parish as the embodiment of law and order. He has – with devotion, humility and resolve – worked to hedge the relentless flow of crime in the metropolitan area.

Under his direction, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office opened its first ever Public Affairs Division, which allows citizens greater access to law enforcement resources on an individual level. His office has also worked toward diversifying its staff in order to better represent the parish populace. Perhaps most importantly, Gautreaux has begun offering optional faith-based initiatives for the members of his staff and prison inmates who are interested in growing their relationship with the Lord.

Gautreaux’s journey from the boisterous son of a Baton Rouge contractor to the parish’s highest-ranking law enforcement official is remarkable. Through principle, guidance and determination, he has learned how to be a successful leader. His life is a keen example of how rewarding personal surrender and absolute faithfulness can be.

The Beginning

“When I was growing up, everybody was your mentor, and everybody was a good mentor,” he said. Gautreaux’s childhood, although stable and loving, was by no means charmed. He was born in Baton Rouge and raised, until fourth grade, on the “poor side” of Park Boulevard. There, in a little house on Olive Street, Gautreaux began to learn about the power of God’s faithfulness.

While still very small, he was stricken with polio. His condition became so severe that his father – serving in the Korean War at the time – was called home. The worst was expected, but young Gautreaux survived, and through his recovery, he discovered the potency of prayer.

His family relocated to Baker when Gautreaux was in fourth grade. Eventually, he graduated from Baker High School and spent a year studying at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La.

He described his childhood as being framed like a triangle. “The base of the triangle was my home, one side was my church, and the other was school. No matter where I was in that triangle, I got the same message: do no evil, do the right thing no matter the cost, and I knew I had consequences no matter where I was. But, I also knew I was getting the support I needed,” Gautreaux said.

After school, he spent some time working for his father’s construction business until joining the EBRSO in 1976. He spent his first year on the force serving at the parish jail. Then, he took to the roads as a patrolman, where he gladly remained for three years.

The Calling

in front of unit“If I had gone in the other direction, I wouldn’t be where I am, today,” he said. In 1980, Gautreaux left the sheriff’s office. He decided to run for Chief of the Baker Police Department. “That was an adventure in and of itself. My wife and I were both 29, we had four little children, and I’d never run for public office before,” he added.

Gautreaux’s first attempt at politics was a leap into the unknown — one that might have had any number of life-altering effects. “We [his wife and he] prayed about it. God said go for it, and we did!” Gautreaux said.

He won and served the City of Baker for 27 years until in 2007, he became the Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish. The rest, of course, is history.

Truthfully, sheriff seems like a thankless job. Gautreaux is forced to make personal sacrifices, his salary will never make him rich, and he shoulders an enormous responsibility for the public good. But, in spite of all that, he loves his work.

“To be able to help somebody through troubled times, that’s the satisfaction you get from this job. It’s about knowing you made a difference. I thank God everyday when I wake up and when I go to bed for putting me in this position,” he said.

The value of a leader is ultimately determined by the quality of the people he leads, and in the case of the EBRSO, that value is clear.

“Being sheriff is just like coaching. If you don’t have good assistants and good players, you don’t win,” Gautreaux said. “I’m blessed in that regard. There are some wonderful men and women who serve in the EBRSO.”

But, productive employees and industrious colleagues do not materialize on their own. Gautreaux carefully vets each applicant in order to see which people will best carry out the public interest.

“I look for three things when I hire somebody: I look at their physical stature, because that tells you how they feel about themselves. I look at their mental capacity, because they have to have that in today’s law enforcement, and I look at their heart. Because, you can have every bit of the first two and none of the heart, but I don’t want that,” he said. “What’s in your heart is your character and motivation, and the only reason to be in law enforcement is to serve. You have to have a servant’s heart and servant mentality. Just treat people the way you’d want them to treat you.”

Not everyone is ordained to lay his life down for the broader social good. It is a calling—one that requires a steely combination of grit and faith.

The Motivation

sid40“My faith is in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. If it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be where I am, today,” Gautreaux said. The fact that Gautreaux is 67 is mystifying. He possesses the enthusiasm, lightness of step and un-jadedness of a much younger man. Speaking with him is like sitting down with a friend. His charm is genuine, and it would be unlikely for anyone who has met him to doubt his sincerity.

His refreshing personality – although uniquely his own – is influenced by two outside forces: the Lord and his wife, Suzi. His devotion to God is unquestionable. Gautreaux is proud to say, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.”

Then, there is his marriage. He said of the bond he shares with his wife, “It’s a partnership. She’s a great woman, a woman of God, and a strong woman.” Their relationship has been, like all successful ones, about give and take. “When we got married, she made me promise her three things: I wouldn’t hunt, I wouldn’t go into law enforcement, and I would join her at the Presbyterian Church,” he said.

Looking around his office – decorated in animal trophies remarkable enough to make Teddy Roosevelt resentful, and the badge of justice sitting on his desk – the answer is clear, “She got one of the three! I started going with her to a Presbyterian church.”

These days, he and his wife often attend Sunday services with their daughter’s family at St. John’s in Zachary. But, on any given Sunday, Gautreaux is hard to find. He is invited to visit churches across the parish, which he does whenever he can, and he gets the chance to speak to many of our local congregations.

He and Suzi currently live in the extreme north of the parish, where they head a large clan of four grown children, and 10 very much adored grandchildren. “We’re like every other family. We’ve dealt with sickness, abuse, etc., but through the power of prayer and God’s grace, we’re all here,” he said.

Sid's hunting trophies.
Sid’s hunting trophies.

True, he is an exceptionally blessed man, but he has no trouble acknowledging reality. “I’ve had my fair share of adversity,” he said. “But I know what has gotten me through everything and put me here today: God and his grace.”

It is a quiet blend of faith and family that pushes Gautreaux forward. His motivation lies in devotion: the love of the Lord, the affection of his wife, and a passion for public service.

The Facts

“I’ve never, through all the trials and tribulations, questioned my decision to serve,” Gautreaux said. Sheriff is a job that does not stop at the end of the business day. It is the sort of work that requires hourly availability to the public. The same is true of all law enforcement. The men and women who serve our parish and our communities make powerful personal, professional and spiritual concessions to accommodate our needs.

Those sacrifices can be incredibly burdensome, but with faith, anything is endurable. “You struggle at times, when you see the pain and anguish and death in this profession. But I still come back to my faith in God. He gets me through it,” Gautreaux said.

Our men and women in uniform should not have to solitarily combat the destructive forces that threaten the parish. Sadly, too often we ignore the problems that face our communities. It is easier to saddle someone else with the responsibility of public welfare.

Gautreaux said that this indifference has to change. “Until the public as a whole comes together and realizes that drugs and crime and these other things are all our problems, things can’t improve,” he said. “I see so much apathy in people. People say, ‘I can’t do anything about it.’ Well, no you can’t if you have that attitude. People have to realize we’re all in this together.”

If anyone knows how best to ebb the escalating tide of crime, it is Gautreaux. In 2014, The Advocate reported that the parish-wide homicide rate had dropped by 20 percent in just two years. This and other similar accomplishments, were due, in large part, to the efforts enacted by the EBRSO to halt offenses before they occur.

We can endorse positive change in our communities by simply reaching out to one another. “Be a mentor. One of the biggest problems I see, today, is a lack of any direction with our youth,” Gautreaux said. “Everybody can be a mentor. It doesn’t take a lot of money or time. It takes all of us working together, on a daily basis, doing whatever we can.”

Sheriff Gautreaux speaking to children as part of the DARE Program.
Sheriff Gautreaux speaking to children as part of the DARE Program.

It is as easy as letting your neighbor know you are available to him when he is in need. Or, telling the kids on your street that they are special and the Lord loves them. An individual gesture of good will and God’s devotion makes an enormous difference in people’s lives.

Gautreaux has seen people mobilize to address our region’s most pressing social dilemmas. “One good thing about Baton Rouge is that there are some people who really care and want to step up to the plate,” he said. Positive change comes when each of us stands up, makes a commitment and begins leading.

We are all responsible for bolstering our local law enforcement. Change comes through a joint effort. Our police force and our communities are most successful when each of us takes initiative.

The Wisdom

“Follow your dreams,” Gautreaux said. It takes effort and perseverance to be an effective leader. Whether you want to encourage positive change in your workplace, community or home, it starts with enthusiasm.

“You have to do two things: be at peace with yourself and be at peace with God’s calling on your life. But, realize there’s good and bad in everything. You just have to put your faith where it needs to be,” he said.

To the parents who have forgotten their purpose, Gautreaux said, “You’ve got to turn it over to God. Be involved with your children and spouse. Be involved with a church. It doesn’t matter what denomination you are, just so long as you’re there. Lead by example.”

No matter your age, remember there is always room to grow. Mimic the people you admire and brush off other people’s bitterness. “There’s good and bad in everything. I’ve tried to emulate people I knew were good men and women,” he said.

The key to success in life and leadership is faith. When you take the time to seek the Lord’s counsel and pay attention to his answers, you are bound to thrive. “When we pray and ask God for guidance, we have to sit back, be quiet, and listen. The times when I didn’t listen to God, I wound up doing the wrong thing,” Gautreaux said.

When Gautreaux thanks the Lord for the many blessings in his life, near the top of the list is his career. “I thank Him everyday for putting me where I am, and allowing me to help people,” he said.

Few people are born leaders. Each of us is responsible for uncovering our unique calling and putting our gifts to good use. It all starts with learning empathy, practicing patience and making the decision to serve.

Our paths will not always be painless. We are all responsible, with the Lord’s help, for conquering the hurdles that box us in. It is much like Gautreaux said, “Life’s not easy. But it’s a lot easier when you have faith in God and trust in Him.”

Cover Story, Faith Life

Tonja Myles Uses Her Story of Redemption to Reach Others in Need

by Susan Brown

IMG_2117-2From the crack house to the White House, Tonja Myles’s life is a parable of redemption. “I wake up every day like I’m on a mission: Don’t give up, recovery is real!” Her remarkable path from addiction and near-death to a national platform for recovery is recounted in a forthcoming book, “Rock Bottom and Back – from Desperation to Inspiration.” The book, written by The New York Times best-selling author Susan Mustafa with Earl B. Heard, chronicles the lives of 22 people who have used their experiences to reach out to others in similar situations.

“I didn’t think I’d live to be 21. With everything I was doing, the odds said I should have been dead, but by the grace of God I’m alive today,” Myles said. After a near-fatal overdose, she made a vow to God that if he gave back her life and set her free from addiction, she would help others. Now, she spends every day working to eradicate addiction. “I wake up every day in that mode like today is the day.”

Tonja and husband Darren
Tonja and husband Darren

For Myles and her husband, Darren, that means taking the message of faith plus hard work   everywhere: to street corners, families, prisons and politicians. They founded Set Free Indeed ministries through Healing Place Church. “I took God at his word,” Myles explained. “‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,’” (John 8:36).

When Myles’s story of addiction and recovery caught the eye of the Bush administration in 2003, she was among those recognized during the State of the Union address. To her surprise, Myles was invited to sit with first lady Laura Bush at the Capitol as President George W. Bush pointed to the Set Free Indeed ministry as an example of successful faith-based addiction initiatives. The president proposed a $600 million program to provide addiction treatment, adding that “the miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be you.”

“Afterwards, I went to meet him and said, ‘Thank you for the shout-out, Mr. President,’” Myles said. Subsequently, Darren was appointed by the president to serve on the National Drug Policy Board. They established a close friendship with Jim Towey, director of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. They regularly met at the White House to work on addiction-related issues, and traveled with the Bush administration to design and foster policy changes.

Faith Plus Hard Work – What?

The concept of faith-based licensed treatment facilities was so new, so different and so unfamiliar to standard addiction treatment that “people told me that was never going to happen,” Myles said. “But I believed God.” She drafted friends with expertise in the field and wrote a curriculum detailing a model program using best practices while applying the Word of God, and they began establishing more licensed, faith-based treatment centers. “Many are still open and running and doing well,” Myles said, including the original site the couple sold in 2009.

“A lot of times people say, wait a minute, you’re giving money to faith-based organizations – that’s government money,” Myles said. “Well, first of all, it’s not government money, it was your money, it’s your tax dollars at work, so you have a right to say what you want that money to go towards.” Many have opted for faith-based treatment. “They knew that our primary goal was to tell people about the love of God, the power of God and the Word of God, but also give them some best practices – evidence-based treatment.” Louisiana bought the curriculum. “It was a win-win for everybody,” Myles said.

Getting to the Heart Issue: Tonja’s Early Story

There is no one-size-fits-all way to address addiction, Myles cautioned. An addicted person’s life may be a perplexing combination of both wholesome and unhealthy experiences. Rather than ask an addicted person, “What’s wrong with you?” Myles said it is helpful to ask, “What happened to you?” As a young girl, no one asked that question. The result was confusion, self-blame and a dangerous, downward spiral.

“I came from a pretty good family, a loving family,” she said. “I was raised in the church and my parents made sure I stayed in school and graduated. My dad was an amazing guy. He was like a drill sergeant.”

At the same time, there was another, secret scenario. “When I was 7 years old, I was molested,” Myles said. “By the time I was 10 years old I was sexually active. I’ve been raped. I was a cutter. You name it.” She developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Her mother had destructive issues of her own, including alcoholism.

The inner turmoil led to challenges in the classroom. Her mother was constantly called to the school. “I was a smart kid. People always told me that I had this great calling on my life, but I just had a behavior issue,” she said.

“I was a little girl who had dreams and aspirations of singing on Broadway and doing something great. The whole molestation robbed me of that because I thought all my hope was gone, that nobody would ever marry me, nobody would ever love me. Back in the day I didn’t think anybody was going to believe me. And I thought it was my fault.”

“What was done to me was horrific; they were older than I was and they knew what they were doing. Have I forgiven them? Absolutely,” she said. “I had to forgive them because I grew up hating them and hating myself. There was so much hatred inside of me that made me become destructive.”

Eventually, she began to funnel that hatred into addiction and revenge. She began sleeping with men to get money for drugs. “You had to be married and have a lot of money,” she said. “I was going to destroy men by making them more vulnerable to me. I thought I was taking their power, but they were taking my power.”

Out of Control – Into Grace

“I went to LSU first and then got kicked out because I was using drugs,” Myles said. “Then I went to Southern where I met a guy who ended up being a drug dealer, and that’s when my drug addiction got really bad.” She dropped out of school, tried to kill herself and went to a mental hospital for 30 days. When her parents found out she was using their money for drugs, not tuition, they drew the line.

“They were like, ‘You know what, we’re done with you. If you want to go to college you’re going to have to find it the best way you can.’”

“So I said, ‘Forget you, okay I’ll do it.’” She decided to join the Louisiana Army National Guard, a step that helped save her life. She served for nine years, including work in the military police.

“It taught me the structure that I needed – the discipline,” she said. “I excelled really fast, and that’s when I realized I needed to do something different with my life.”

“I tell people the last time I tried to kill myself, I died a spiritual death,” she said. For the third time, she had taken a near-fatal dose of drugs. But she discovered that she didn’t want to die, she wanted to live. She was afraid no one would find her in time.

Tonja
Tonja

“I made a vow to God that day. I said, ‘If you help me, if you would really give me my life back, if you would give me dignity, if you would give me my self-respect back, if you would give me a good name, I would serve you and I would tell people about your goodness,’” she said. “The old Tonja died and the new one was resurrected.”

She found her way to her grandmother, Alberta Watson (nicknamed MaDear after the movie character Madea). “It was my grandmother, I know, that kept me alive on her knees. She prayed me through a lot,” Myles said.

“I went to my grandmother’s house and I said, ‘Dea, he’s trying to kill me.’ And she said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘The enemy.’ She told me if you give your life over to the Lord, he will give you the desires of your heart,” (Psalm 37:4).

“I took her at her word because I was at death’s door. I was so close to dying and going to hell,” Myles said. That night, she prayed a prayer of faith, asking Jesus to take over her life.

“I woke up the next day and I was truly set free. Don’t get me wrong. I had to walk it out every day. There was temptation still coming my way because I was a chief sinner,” she said. “’The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly,’” (John 10:10).

Stepping Into a New Life

“I had to learn how to eat different, talk different, walk different. People, places and things had to change in my life,” she said. “The Bible says, ‘Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,’” (Romans 12:2). She found a church that taught the Bible on a practical level. She read everything she could find on treatment and counseling to fulfill her pledge to help other addicts.

“I’m crucified with Christ and so every day I have to tell myself that my life is not my own … that I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20).

“I’m telling you, once you surrender to God and you put those principles into place, if you do the work there are rewards,” she said. “‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you,’” (Matthew 6:33).

“Who knew that a person like me would coach thousands and thousands of people to get their lives in order and help thousands of people get saved? Nobody but God could have done that.”

Don’t Give Up

IMG_1156“After I got clean, I was able to help my mom [Hattie Richard] get clean,” she said. It was tough on Myles, especially at the age of 19.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was when my mom was about to burn down the house,” she said. “I had to go to the coroner’s office and say my mom was going to kill herself and sign those papers.” The next day the authorities put her mom in the back of a police car and drove her to the Tau Center.

“The next day I took her some clothes, and she said she didn’t want to see me ever again,” Myles said. Thirty days later, however, her mother said it was the best thing that she could have done. Richard spent the remaining 25 years of her life helping other people overcome addiction through O’Brien House.

Myles finds it most rewarding to work with families whose children are struggling with addiction and destructive behavior. “You can’t give up. I know it’s hard. You have to see that this is not my child. This is the addiction that is plaguing my child,” Myles said. “Through all the mess, find where your kid is [emotionally] and just begin to speak to that. The Bible says there’s death and life in the power of the tongue. Every day speak life.”

New Life

Some four years after being set free from addiction, Tonja met her future husband, Darren, at Christ the Deliverer Assembly, a small church in north Baton Rouge. “My husband just came from a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ kind of life,” she said. “I’m the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to him.”

They shared a passion for reaching the lost and helping people through recovery. “If the drug dealer is on one corner, I want to be on the other corner telling them that God has a plan for their life,” she said. “And so I connected with him.” Together, they ministered in prisons and nursing homes.

Tonja with First Lady Laura Bush and President George Bush.
Tonja with First Lady Laura Bush and President George Bush.

Today, 28 years after her life-change, Myles helps families “from the curbside to the country club” achieve healthy recovery. “A typical day for me starts with my phone ringing off the hook with some parent saying, ‘my child is in crisis.’” Myles is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and serves as a peer supervisor with Capital Area Human Services and at a therapeutic group home with the Department of Children and Family Services. She and her husband are committed to ongoing work in prison, and with inmates re-entering society.

After hosting a television talk show for seven years, she recently began a community radio program that airs every Saturday at 10 a.m. on Heaven 1460 WXOK and Sundays at 10 a.m. on Max 94.1. In the face of escalating community addiction, her goal is to inform and empower others.

“I’m amazed every time God opens a door for me,” she said. “I’m so grateful to share my story of hope in this book, “Rock Bottom and Back.” It’s going to be amazing to see stories of God’s of help, hope and healing. And that’s what I tell people: If he can heal me, if he can deliver me, if he can set me free, he can do the same for you. Recovery is real.”

Editor’s note: “Rock Bottom and Back” tells the stories of 22 people who overcame devastating circumstances to find recovery and success, often using their experiences to help others. A companion DVD is available, co-produced by BIC Media Solutions, Mission Media and YASNY Entertainment. For more information visit www.rockbottomandback.com.

Cover Story, May 2016

Donald Tabb: Cowboy Turned Disciple

by Susan Brown
Donald Tabb outside of his cabin, "Cowboy's Paradise."
Donald Tabb outside of his cabin, “Cowboy’s Paradise.”

It happened with lightning speed. The bull had a reputation for flinging cowboys off his back in record time. But the self-described arrogant Texas A&M rodeo champion thought the bull had met his match. Donald Tabb was headed for a “one second conversion.” The life change would land him on the Billy Graham crusade team, and eventually, in Baton Rouge to become founding pastor of the Chapel on the Campus. He has since become widely known for his phenomenal command of scripture and commitment to multiply Christ’s kingdom by investing in others: a rancher turned shepherd.

But first, he had to come face to face with the idea of his own mortality, in the face of a bull known as “Vern Elliot’s 33.” “He was a very wiry bucker and would come out, spin about five or six times to the left, then he would reverse his spin. That’s usually when he’d get everybody, on that reverse spin,” Tabb explains. “I had broken my shoulder the week before at a rodeo in Waco. I had it in a flexible cast and I couldn’t throw up my arm, and I lost him at seven seconds.”

That was only the beginning. When the rodeo clown was unable to get between Tabb and the bull, “Vern Elliot’s” attacked. “He hooked me and he tromped on me and he butted me and he rolled me around like a rag doll,” Tabb says.

“Well, that night, I’m lying in bed feeling very, very sorry for myself. In a sort of semi-conscious moment I thought, ‘Where would I be if that bull had stepped on my head?’”

He suddenly recalled a verse of scripture that his college roommate, Jack Frey, had tricked him into memorizing two years before: “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life and he that has not the Son of God has not life.’ (1 John 5:11, 12). “It just sort of popped into my head like a neon sign – bing! And I said, ‘Well, God, that’s what I want.’ And I went to sleep,” Tabb says.

The next morning, as he was walking through the Texas A&M campus, a Gideon handed him a small, green New Testament. He read it from cover to cover. “When I got to the end, it said, ‘If you want to become a Christian, pray this prayer,’” he recalls. That was December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, 1952.

“God puts up road signs, here, there, everywhere, by the word of God,” Tabb explains. “Two elements that will radically change your life, equip you to be who God wants you to be, fulfill his command, [and] accept his calling are to spend time in prayer and hide his word in your heart.”

At critical points in his life, God sent people who took God’s word and their own commitment seriously. In their “last fling” before entering the army, Tabb’s roommate talked him into exploring a Christian conference in California.

“I was confronted by some real heavyweights in the Christian world with the proposition of following Christ, and it made a deep, deep impression on me,” he says. Among those heavyweights was Dawson Trotman, a lumber worker and founder of The Navigators. Trotman was drafted by Billy Graham to design a system for teaching local leaders to disciple the enormous number of people coming to faith through his crusades. After two years of intense service as an airborne ranger in the 82nd Airborne division, Tabb joined The Navigators in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Then, tragedy struck. A seven-year drought devastated the cattle business in Texas, including the 55,000-acre ranch owned by his stepfather. Already suffering from cancer, his stepfather committed suicide in 1957. “I sort of got mad at God and said, ‘If you’re going to play that way, I’m picking up my marbles and going home,’” Tabb says. He left The Navigators to return to the cattle business.

“I lost money in every phase of the cattle business. God was not going to let me run,” he says.

In the meantime, God had brought him a gifted, steadfast partner – a fellow Navigators worker – Mary Alice Noyce. They planned a large, elaborate wedding – that didn’t happen.

Donald Tabb and wife Mary.
Donald Tabb and wife Mary.

“I got altar-falter, chickened out,” he says. “But due to my marvelous persuasive powers, I talked her into coming out to Texas about eight months later, and we eloped.” “She’s been the dominant praying, loving factor in everything,” he says. Both took seriously Jesus’ mandate to encourage and disciple other people.

After a brief stint as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Seymour, Texas, he worked for the Methodist Foundation, and then managed Lost Valley Ranch, a Christian guest ranch in Colorado. He was invited to work with the Billy Graham team in 1965. He began seven years of counseling and follow-up training for the crusades, including a stop at LSU’s Tiger Stadium.

But life on the road took its toll. He was home only three days a month while Mary juggled family life and her career as an English instructor.

“My wife, as you know, is a very unusual person. She taught at LSU for 27 years but in addition to that she raised five children – born from 1960 to 1978. It’s more her story than mine,” he says. “The tip of the spear sometimes is what nicks the flesh, but the shaft and the head of the spear and the base and all of that, well, that’s been my wife.” After living in cities from New York to California, he and Mary chose Baton Rouge as their home base, with airline access to wherever the Graham Crusade traveled.

“Considering that I was gone all the time I began to pray, ‘Lord, do you want me to trample those that love me the most to get out and save the world?’ And I kept getting this kind of reverse missionary call.” In July 1972, he received a call to help start The Chapel on the Campus.

He was ordained for the ministry at The Chapel on Fir Hill in Akron, Ohio, a large, interdenominational church.

“We were sort of pioneers,” He says. “I’d always believed that if you really wanted to be used of God, just go where the Spirit is blessing.” The flood of people newly committed to Christ in the local Billy Graham Crusade presented a dilemma and an opportunity.

“People were all jammed up in the Protestant-Catholic controversy. Somehow, I believed that our church was instrumental in bringing that down … I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he says. “There were a lot of independent churches started all over the city as a result of The Chapel on the Campus.”

“For some reason the Spirit of God hit a nerve and we grew exponentially,” Tabb says. “Three years later we had 1,500 people in the Chapel, and then we discovered that we could petition LSU for property on the lake that had been designated for religious organizations.”

After 30 years, Tabb stepped aside to become Pastor Emeritus and to support Senior Pastor Dr. Dennis Eenigenburg (2001-2011) and current Senior Pastor Kevin McKee. He continues to teach at The Chapel, travel and invest in future leaders. He has helped plant new churches in Lafayette, LaFourche and Covington, and has opened the Jabez Foundation, which provided some 38,000 meals to police, doctors and helicopter pilots after Hurricane Katrina.

“The key to growth, the key to fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ is to disciple believers at home, at work, everywhere. ‘And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also,’ (2 Timothy 2:2). Whether you feel you’ve been called or not, you’ve been commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).”

Most importantly, he says, do whatever it takes to memorize the Word of God. “Get you a plan. The secret is review. Use it, then you won’t lose it. Have the word where the Spirit of God can call it to your mind anytime – as you go.”

April 2016, Cover Story, Feature Story

Freedom Behind Bars

by Beth Townsend

DSCN5432It is a rare occasion to be allowed access inside the walls of a prison. Security, bars, locks and alarms keep those who enter, for obvious reasons, to a minimum. Recently, a group associated with Free at Last Prison Ministries, led by chaplain John Bayer, had a unique opportunity to spend a day ministering. During three services filled with preaching and an incredible worship band led by inmates, for a brief time, one could easily forget it happened while locked inside being watched closely by correctional officers. “In here, I feel like I’m free,” stated one inmate — hands raised to the Lord — during a service.

The room was diverse: young and old, black, white, Hispanic and Asian. Yet, each man came from a home with parents who likely missed their son. Many of the inmates had children. Each had a different story as to how they ended up locked up behind bars for a significant portion of their adult life.

John Bayer assembled a team that was also diverse. The team included speaker Ashanti Witherspoon, Ralph Boe, Andrew Wilkes, pastor Brandon Trott and myself. Though we’d never met prior to the day, we were immediately united in Spirit.

Our goal was to minister and extend mercy, while at the same time, learn from this often hidden segment of a large population of our state. Due to the vast reach of crime in Louisiana and its affect on society as a whole, we hoped to learn from those who are in a position to teach. Perhaps we will all be moved to find our own unique place to help and take action. This issue affects all of us.

In this article, we share a Q&A session with Allen Correctional Center (ALC) chaplain Vertis March and comments from some within our ministry team. According to NOLA.com, Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people per capita than any of its U.S. counterparts. Louisiana is first among Americans and first in the world with an incarceration rate that is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s.

Allen Correctional Center is located in Kinder, La. It is managed by The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO). The state prison has an inmate capacity of 1,538 and is nationally accredited by the American Correctional Association.

Opened in December 1990, the Allen Correctional Center can house minimum, medium and maximum-security male inmates. GEO made a commitment when recruiting staff to give preference to Louisiana residents. After conducting a job fair in the local community, nearly 70 percent of the employees were hired from Allen Parish, with the balance of the staff being hired from other parts of Louisiana. GEO also conducted a vendor fair in the local area to meet its commitment to purchase supplies and services locally whenever practical.

GEO offers academic and vocational education, program activities and counseling services to the inmate population. An extensive re-entry program is provided for those offenders within one year of their release date. The 857 acres surrounding the prison complex are used for additional agri-business to augment the 46,000 square foot furniture manufacturing and refinishing plant that is located within the prison compound.

The original facility was designed and built by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections at a cost of approximately $27 million. Support facilities for medical services were designed to accommodate population expansion. Construction began in July 1991 to add two housing units to the original facility. In 1995, GEO received permission from the federal judge monitoring Louisiana prisons to add additional beds. In December 1998, an expansion project was authorized, bringing the facility to its present design capacity. The facility is 402,000 square feet with all housing units in separately fenced compounds connected by enclosed walkways. These walkways allow easy access to inmate areas while assuring that security and support personnel can effectively supervise all inmate movement. The prison complex also includes a complete gymnasium and athletic field with recreational programming in individual and team sports. Each dormitory has a weight lifting pavilion, an outdoor basketball court, ample area for recreation and a jogging area.

 

Vertis March
Vertis March

Q&A with chaplain Vertis March

Beth: How did you end up becoming the chaplain at Allen Correctional Center?

Vertis: I worked with another GEO facility at Newton County Correctional Center in Texas. My warden contacted the warden here about this facility. I am a minister, so the door was opened for me to come here.

Beth: Where did your heart for prisoners come from?

Vertis: I got saved in 1992 and my heart was wherever God wanted me to help people. I prayed and asked the Lord and he spoke to my heart to minister to his people at Allen Correctional Center. I came here October 2009, six years ago.

Beth: What are the trends that you are seeing in overall crime rates? What are you learning about the world from your position?

Vertis: I see a lot of people who have not had a church experience. More and more people are coming in that never had a church experience. That part of the population — leading them to Christ can be challenging.

Beth: Do you think that is due to a breakdown of the family?

Vertis: Yes. There is a falling away in serving God. The traditional family don’t trust God like times past. Fathers are not there and families are broken, causing children to grow up without direction, often leading into crime.

Beth: A consistency from each of them (the prisoners in my interviews) was that the momentary gain from their crime was not worth the imprisonment that they are facing. What do you see when families visit and how does the crime affect the rest of the family?

Vertis: It hurts them all. The family is doing the time with them. When you go to prison the first time, you have a lot of people supporting you. The second time you lose about half of your support. The third and fourth time you might have one [person supporting you]. I try to encourage the men; don’t make this a part of your life. Be the man and do the right thing. If you do good things, good things will come back to you. The main objective is to stop them from trying to get that quick money [because] this is the end result.

Beth: There is often a mentality of many younger people who think they are not going to get caught. How do you convince the ones that are teetering on the fence that they will get caught and that it is not worth it?

Vertis: For the most part, they know they are going to get caught. Getting drugs to make money, it won’t profit or win. I try to encourage them. If you make good decisions, get a good education [and] get the tools you need, a good life is waiting on you. You have to put in the effort.

Beth: What do you say to the church to get our world turned in the right direction? How do we do a better job with the fatherless? What can the church do to try to bring something good into situations that seem impossible for some of these destitute families, especially the innocent children?

Team members of Free at Last Prison Ministries pray with inmates.
Team members of Free at Last Prison Ministries pray with inmates.

Vertis: This is a challenge for the church to be more active in single parent families. Too many have innocent kids in environments where the crime is high and drug infested. I believe we need more mentors, more people that are giving of themselves to share their life with someone else. That is what we need to do as a body. The whole church needs to take more time to invest in that child. That is something that God put in my heart, to catch them before they come. Then society would be better.

Beth: How important are prison ministries in saving the life of a prisoner’s soul?

Vertis: God loves them. I thank God that we have a lot of volunteers. We have 35-40 volunteers that come on a regular basis. Free At Last Ministries, Rock of Ages, plus we have a lot of big churches that visit regularly. You can see the guys, their faces light up when people come in and sit and talk with them. I notice when volunteers come in and shake their hand and say ‘I care about you,’ the men light up. Thank God for Free At Last Ministries. I know that these men have made mistakes. We all have made poor choices in life, but God loved them so much that his Son would die for each of us.

Beth: Is it easy for outsiders to forget that these are people who have families? They have mothers, fathers, some have husbands and wives; many have children. Yet, they are no less valuable as a soul. These are real people here that need real ministry and the opportunity to obtain salvation for their soul.

Vertis: Amen, I believe that they are valuable to the kingdom. The guys that have walked down the aisle to receive Christ, they can minister better than I can and lead them to Christ more effectively because I have not been where they are. I have not been on the side that they are at. These guys are very talented guys and they love the Lord and serve God.

Beth: The main thing that you see the here that brings meaning, other than Christ himself, are the relationships where they feel cared for and they can care for others. Do some of them find it here when they couldn’t find it anywhere else?

Vertis: The volunteers impart truths and wisdom in their lives with the Word of God. They have something they can look forward to, that is, the people who come on a regular basis. The men here respect them the most. Many did not have the father and mother who were concerned for their welfare.

Beth: How much do you think that fatherlessness contributes to this?

Vertis: Most of them are fatherless. Some had fathers but made poor choices. The absence of a father leads to suicide, drugs and sexual living, which is attributed to a lack of a father.

 

DSCN5425Pastor Brandon Trott

Beth: What is your primary ministry and where is it located?

Brandon: New Beginning Fellowship Church in Breaux Bridge, La.

Beth: Why did you come as part of the team?

Brandon: A few weeks ago brother John Bayer, whom I have known for several years, invited me to come with him and several others to minister at Allen Correctional Facility. I was honored that he would ask me, and I gladly agreed to come. I went with a purpose; it was to show those men the love of the Lord and to preach Christ unto them!

Beth: Why is important to show them the love of the Lord?

Brandon: Men who are incarcerated often feel degraded, dishonorable and abandoned. Few people in this world really know what it is to be loved unconditionally, and those in prison may have an even lower chance of knowing that kind of love. So, I take it as an incredible opportunity — as a member of the body of Christ — to go to them and look them in the eyes, show them respect, be kind to them, empathize with their afflictions and serve them with prayer. It can be such a sufficient witness of the indwelling presence of Christ, that they no longer see the weak man before them, just Jesus. And through that, I hope Jesus was glorified and revealed before their eyes. That is my greatest desire.

I love to preach Christ to them. That is the greatest thing that anyone could ever hear; to have Jesus, in all of His love, sufficiency, mercy and saving power declared to them. We serve a big God who is a great Savior, and He deserves to have a witness in the earth. He deserves to have a people who have seen His glory and who testify to it through their life and through their message. Jesus Christ and His finished work at the cross is God’s message, and it has become mine as well. Yes, Christ crucified may be a stumbling block to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Beth: How did you reach the determination of what you shared with the men?

Brandon: The reason I love to preach Christ to them is the essence of the word that God impressed upon my mind to declare at the night service we had, that Christ Jesus has “become to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” 1 Corinthians 1:30. That Christ is God’s plan of redemption for all of mankind. Everything God wants to do in us He plans to do through the person of Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Ephesians 1:10, God intends to “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth!” This is God’s plan for the ages, to bring all things together in this one person, Jesus Christ; that all things will find their culmination “in Him” as God redeems this fallen world!

Worship band led by inmates.
Worship band led by inmates.

So, if Christ has been made unto us all of these things, then our goal should be to pursue Him and place our faith exclusively in Him because through Him we will possess those things which God requires of us. If we need wisdom, He is our Wisdom, and to know Him and to have the mind of Christ is to possess godly wisdom. We need righteousness and we have it through Him; He imputes His righteousness to us and He empowers us to be righteous. When we see God command us in His Word to be holy and sanctified, we need not run here and there looking for some method of sanctification — religious routines and fleshly attempts at fulfilling a spiritual need. As we are told in Galatians 2:20, we need simply to embrace Christ as our sanctification and experience it as He lives His life through us.

Beth: Do you see these men differently than men free in the world?

Brandon: Each of us must abandon all hope in the flesh and cling to Christ as God’s answer for human brokenness. This is why Christ started His beatitudes with the statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:3. Because that is the key to the kingdom of God, to know that we are utterly bankrupt in our own nature and have nothing to offer the Lord; that we must be absolutely dependent upon Christ as the means of our relationship with God, and that He is the conduit through which we receive everything that God intends to give us.

 

Andrew Wilkes, ministry team member

Beth:

Andrew, why did you come as part of the team?

Andrew: Ten years ago this past November, I turned to Jesus, who saved me from my sins. I love Him and am so thankful for His salvation. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  One of those commandments is found in Mark 16:15, “ … Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” When I heard about the trip to Allen Correctional in Kinder, La., I prayed and asked the Lord if this was a trip He wanted me to make and to be a part of. I felt a peace about going and am so glad that I did. I’m not a theologically trained Christian, but I have the living God in me who wants to make His glorious gospel known to all and that happens through preaching! It was an honor to go and present the good news of Jesus Christ and his provision for sin to the men at Allen. Everyone needs to hear the gospel and God wants all to be born again. The joy in serving Jesus and being a part of His plan is uncontainable! He is so worthy and it is such a privilege to be able to serve Him.

Cover Story, March 2016

Nikki Caldwell Fargas: Called to Coaching

by Krista Bordelon

caldwellnikki1“There is an obligation that, as a woman, we just carry a lot more than men will ever imagine. But we have a gift to give, and as long as I’ve got life to live in this body it is going to be a life of service to others.”

One of the hardest struggles with faith for many is balance. The busyness of daily life, our families, our careers, even our ministries, take up most of our time leaving few hours to focus on our personal walk with Christ. So, how does Nikki (Caldwell) Fargas balance her prestigious career as head coach for the Lady Tigers basketball program, her role as a wife to her husband, Justin, and mom to their daughter, Justice, and her faith?

Nikki was raised in a small town in Oak Ridge, Tenn., by a single mother. Church was not just a “Sunday occurrence” for her family. Five generations of her family had attended Spurgeon Chapel.

“When you grow up and your great-grandmother was exposed to so much, your faith is very strong because of so much that they had to endure. As a minority that’s what you kind of fell back on to get you through the day,” Nikki says. “It was your faith and belief that there is a purpose and a plan. It strengthens the foundation of your family when it starts way back with your great grandparents. You knew on Sundays exactly what you were going to do, where you were going to be, what you were going to wear, and you had to participate. I can’t sing a lick, but I was in the choir.”

She describes church as an understood aspect of her life just like sports. “I had choir practice just like I had basketball practice. I had to go to church on Sunday, the same as I was expected to practice my free throws. It was a part of us. It was something we shared as a family, and that is the part I regard the most: the foundation instilled in me from such a young age.”

With her career she has definitely had to get more creative. They have a weekly Bible study with her staff, and having her daughter enrolled at Parkview Baptist gives her the opportunity to talk about Christ even at the tender age of 3 because of the papers sent home from the school. “I love that we get to go through readings together, they make it so easy. It’s been so good to be able to have that interaction with her. They’ve [children] got to see you because they remember a lot of it.”

FargasNikki4976As far as faith and coaching Nikki says, “You know when you know your calling? This is my calling. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. When I wasn’t doing coaching I just felt this overwhelming need to do more. I’ve been very blessed to have that round little ball in my life to allow me to have the opportunities I’ve had.”

“Basketball is a vessel to reach our young kids. To me, when you find what you are supposed to do in this life it’s not work, it is very easy. It’s very easy to juggle all these different hats because that’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s a lifestyle I live and He has allowed me to use all my teachings and all my experiences, good and bad, to help guide these ladies to make good decision and prepare them for life after basketball. I can let them know they are beautiful inside and out. That we just happen to be women who play basketball, but being a woman isn’t an easy thing and I can help them with that.”

“I’m just a little bridge. I get these girls for four years, and I want to make sure I send them out prepared.” Nikki does this by modeling for her girls exactly how she expects them to be treated and treat others. She holds them accountable as great ambassadors for the university and puts them in a position where they know to serve the community.

2015-2016, , ,“Community service is the biggest team bonding experience you could ever do.” She’s also a proponent on making sure they are grateful by exposing them to many different cultures and to see how others are living so they can be thankful for what they do have. In fact, Nikki has built a team of women from around the world. Five separate countries are represented on the team, including: Japan, Denmark, England, Australia, and the U.S. “We are probably one of the most diverse teams in women’s basketball. It’s very neat to bring these women from around the world and make a team and make a family out of them.”

Nikki views wins and losses as the superficial measurement of her career. “Wins and losses are not my judgment. My judgment is so much more than that. We are children of the Lord.” Nikki says her goal as a coach is to leave a lasting impact on these children so that they can in turn reach out and impact others.

“What you do in the dark will come to the light, so we need to make sure we are not in the dark places. I want to make sure I’m keeping our kids alive. I want to ask them every day, ‘What are you filling your tank with, where is your self-worth being held at?’ And just like I tell them, it’s not just do you have their back, but how do you have their back? We have to get into their world; we just have got to take that time to get into their world.”

“Even if I’m not necessarily talking about God, everything comes from a faith-based place to expose it. It could be spoken, or the power of touch or just listening. They know, and need to know, we will be there for them all the time,” she says. “Through perseverance you test your faith, and I really hope they know at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to lay your head down at night and feel good about what you did today. At the end of the day can you say, not from me and the assistant coaches, but you say, ‘Job well done,’ and pat yourself on the back? That’s what I want them to leave with from LSU.”

IMG_5798Nikki says her inspiration for balancing her own family came from seeing how coach Pat Summit balanced hers when she had Tyler, Nikki’s freshman year. “The good thing is my husband is retired, so we can travel as a family, and my mom took on the responsibility as ‘granny-nanny.’ If you said to me, ‘What would you like your set-up to be?’ I have a good foundation at home. I’m able to go out and do the work I’m doing knowing that home is safe.”

She says she has many coaches reach out and ask how she does it because it is not easy, and many have not been as fortunate as she has been when it comes to having the support and ability that she has had with her family. When asked how parenting has impacted her coaching, Nikki didn’t hesitate to say, “patience.”

“I don’t take for granted that that is someone’s child. I’m hopeful that I’m teaching them the way I would teach Justice. It also gives me perspective and she [Justice] brings everything back to reality.” As far as what she, as a leader, desires to see more of in leadership she says, “Be the person that shares your walk because it doesn’t get more truthful than that. If you’re not comfortable being vulnerable you cannot lead. I, personally, am not sure I’m going to be able to follow someone who hasn’t been there.”

Beyond that, Nikki says it is all about truly getting to know people beyond the surface, and finding a common denominator between you and that person. You have to be in tune with those you are leading and not always wait for them to come to you, but know when to go to them. “It all goes back to being vulnerable. I’m a basketball coach, but that’s not who I am. I have to share that with others. We’re all human here. I can’t be anything other than Nikki.”

“When you are struggling, and I’ve done this, get in your closet and have your good old-fashioned come to Jesus meeting. Just me and you [Jesus], stripping yourself bare, saying I need your help, and then getting yourself there. I’m doing what He wants me to do. I ask Him to guide me and He has not steered me wrong,” she says. “I’m talking about what college to attend and when to go or not go into coaching, everything I have placed on Him. This is the conversation [with God] I have to have because I am responsible for so many more lives than just my own. It’s things that won’t show up on a box score, that will never be printed on the front page of a sports column, that will never be tweeted, or retweeted, or liked, or commented on, those are the things we need to get at.”

Cover Story, February 2016

Catholic Charities Fulfills Its Mission of Mercy

by Lisa Tramontana

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matthew 25:35-36

DSC_0951-2These words from the gospel of Matthew illustrate one of the most basic tenets of all religions — mercy. Defined as compassion or forgiveness toward those in desperate situations, mercy is something all of us have the power to extend. At Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, staff and volunteers are constantly performing acts of mercy to create hope and healing in our community.

“Our strength is our diversity and the number of programs we offer,” said Carol Spruell, communications coordinator. “We touch the lives of people of all faiths as we serve those who need our compassion.”

Indeed, Catholic Charities ministers to pregnant women, prisoners, refugees, seniors, families in crisis, and many other populations. The agency covers a 12-parish area and since 1964 has improved the lives of thousands of people. Catholic Charities also partners with local nonprofits, other faith groups and churches, foundations and universities to provide financial, educational and spiritual support.

Spruell highlighted three of Catholic Charities’ ministries — pregnant women in crisis, refugee resettlement, and prisoner support.

“Sanctuary for Life is a housing program for pregnant women, many who don’t know where to turn,” said Spruell. “This is a time of high crisis. Some women are abandoned by their families, and some of them are encouraged to have abortions. It’s one thing to be pro-life but another to actually support pregnant women and new mothers. They need jobs, housing, counseling and medical care. We help with all of those things.”

DSC00289-2Refugee resettlement is another ministry often associated with Catholic Charities. After the fall of Vietnam in 1974, Catholic Charities took the lead in providing services to refugees. This includes establishing housing, employment help, financial advice, and guidance to help them acclimate to a new culture.

“These family arrived in the United States with only the clothes on their backs, having fled violence and war in their home country,” said Spruell. “We make sure they have a place to live, hot meals, clothing, and eventually jobs. We help them find schools for their children, learn the bus routes, handle emergencies. We offer English classes so they can speak the language. There is a lot involved. Fortunately, we have a great number of resources, and if we don’t have a way to address a need, we can refer to other agencies that can help.”

DSC_0124-2Since Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, Catholic Charities sponsors a program to help former prisoners adjust to life in mainstream society. Imagine what it’s like to leave prison after 20 or 30 years and walk into a society that has completely changed. The challenges of successful reintegration are staggering.

“Our Joseph Home provides traditional housing for homeless men after they’ve been released from prison,” Spruell said. “Each man has his own apartment, but lives in a community with other men in the same situation. They can receive counseling, join support groups, and attend substance abuse meetings. Without emotional support, newly released prisoners are five times more likely to re-offend.”

One of Catholic Charities’ best qualities is its ability to match people of means to people with needs. And not just wealthy patrons, but working families who have a little extra to share with those less fortunate. A good example is The Community Comes Together for Christmas. Over the holidays, the program helped more than 500 families and seniors. Sponsors and donors signed up to purchase gifts such as clothing, blankets, shoes, gift cards and toys for children.

LISAExtraphoto
Catholic Charities has been a blessing to the community for more than 50 years, but it relies on the support and generosity of others, and always will. Volunteers are needed in so many ways. Do you own a business that needs workers? Can you teach English? Do you have baby clothes packed away in boxes? Are you knowledgeable about finances? Are you a counselor? Can you help someone with his tax return? Do you like to spend time with the elderly? Can you provide transportation to someone in need?

Everyone has time, talents and gifts that they can share with others. If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation, contact Catholic Charities at (225) 336-8700 or visit www.CatholicCharitiesBR.org.

Cover Story, January 2016

Feature Story: The Miracle of the Bible

by Mark Hunter

Part One

Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., teachers (L. to R.) Jack Lynch, Rev. Louis J. Hilliard and board president James "Jimmy" Gill, meet with 50 to 100 members of their classes each Sunday morning at the Burden Center.
Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., teachers (L. to R.) Jack Lynch, Rev. Louis J. Hilliard and board president James “Jimmy” Gill, meet with 50 to 100 members of their classes each Sunday morning at the Burden Center.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” II Timothy 3:16-17.

Christianity and the Christian life – and, in fact, basic life here on Earth – is a miracle no matter how you look at it.

God created time and the universe, the Earth and all that is in it and He made mankind in his own image. He guides history, past, present and future, and provided Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. He inspired dozens of writers to describe what He was telling us and why, in the library of 66 books we know as the Holy Bible.

The miracle of all that is taught on a regular basis, book by book, verse by verse, by the teachers of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd.; James “Jimmy” Gill, Jr., Rev. Louis J. Hilliard, and Jack Lynch.

 

Jack Lynch – God’s Miracles, Genesis and You

Essentially, a miracle is an unusual manifestation of God’s power designed to accomplish a specific purpose. The creation of the universe out of absolutely nothing at all would be a good example.

Jack Lynch discusses a passage in Romans during a recent Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class at the Burden Center. photo by Mark H. Hunter
Jack Lynch discusses a passage in Romans during a recent Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class at the Burden Center. photo by Mark H. Hunter

If there ever was a “time” when nothing existed, what would exist now? Obviously nothing.

Therefore, the fact that we exist—the fact that anything at all exists—means that there is someone who has always existed, and who has used His power to bring us into existence. Therefore, God has always existed, and has miraculously created the universe, and us in His image.

God’s Word tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:1, 27.

If we are told that we are the result of matter plus time plus chance, then there … is no ultimate significance to our existence.

The true flow of history starts in Genesis. There, we learn of God’s miraculous, historic space-time creation out of nothing; the creation of man in God’s image; a real, historic, in-space-and-in-time moral fall.

Because we have been made in God’s image, we are capable of great good and beauty. And because of the fall, we are capable of unspeakable evil.

The true flow of history—found only in God’s Word—allows us to understand that sin is real, and we need a Savior.

Now when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3a-4b that, “Christ died for our sins…and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” we see the tremendous impact this miracle has upon our lives!

 

Louis J. Hilliard – The Bible is God-breathed

God gave us the Bible over many centuries through many different writers, according to II Tim 3:16-17.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God … The word ‘inspiration’ in Greek is ‘theopneustos’ which literally means God breathed – the very breath of God – which makes it different from any other book – from Shakespeare or Milton or anyone else.”

It is a living book – the miracle is that it comes from God and is alive.

Hebrews 4:12 says the Word is, ‘alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.’ And, II Peter 1:20 says, ‘knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation,’ it is not of man – not Shakespeare or Milton or any of those guys – it came – Peter says – ‘by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ – the miracle is that God got all of these writers to write the words that he desired to go into scripture at the same time allowing their personalities to go into it.

 

Jimmy Gill – The miracle of salvation

We’re blessed because we are living in the church period and our salvation has been accomplished. It was over with, accomplished, in human terms, when Christ died.

James "Jimmy" Gill introduces Jack Lynch, (checking his microphone) to a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class meeting at the Burden Center.
James “Jimmy” Gill introduces Jack Lynch, (checking his microphone) to a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class meeting at the Burden Center.

He came, he lived a sinless life, he offered himself as king of Israel and as was prophesied by Daniel and Isaiah, he was rejected. But that rejection led to his crucifixion and his shed blood, which paid for the sin of Adam and all sins that came from it forever. God accepted that as complete payment forever.

How can Christ’s death at that time pay for future sins? The answer is – God can – because God’s not trapped by time – He created time for us.

Miracles are the fact that God is outside of time and that in eternity past he established the full and complete plan to bring man – that he knew would sin – not only back to Him, but also back to Him not as a creature, but in His Christ.

Now he wants to show this group of people the miracle of Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, that we become joined to him as discussed in Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3. It is all done by God, it’s all guaranteed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and it is all free grace.

He has chosen us, in the church, to show the world his perfect grace, saving sinners while they were yet sinners, because Christ paid the price for that sin.

All we have, as the church, is one commandment and that is to, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ And when we do that and we remember who has bought us with His blood and we choose to live His way – that’s what He wants from the church – and that is the miracle that He has planned.

Part Two

The miracle of the Bible and the miracles in the Bible are studied verse by verse every Sunday morning at the Campus Bible Study, hosted by the Radio Bible Courses Ltd., at the Burden Center.

Founded by the late Nick Kalivoda (1922-2013), in 1986, the non-denominational, expository – meaning verse-by-verse – Bible study began in the Kalivoda home and soon expanded to the LSU campus. They moved the group to the Burden Center’s Visitor Information building’s main conference room four years ago.

From 50 to 100 members of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., meet each Sunday morning in the conference room of the Burden Center, to study God's Word, verse by verse, line by line. photo by Mark H. Hunter
From 50 to 100 members of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., meet each Sunday morning in the conference room of the Burden Center, to study God’s Word, verse by verse, line by line. photo by Mark H. Hunter

Kalivoda produced hundreds of hours of verse-by-verse Bible study that can be heard daily on five radio stations (see sidebar list), and also on the group’s web site. He also wrote two booklets, “Grace” and “Heaven’s Password,” and most of his teachings, via a large DVD/CD/tape library, are available for free at: www.rbcword.org

Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., is, according to biblical definition, a church; a group of Christian believers who meet on a regular basis to study the Scriptures and support each other spiritually and emotionally. For IRS tax purposes, it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry, explained board President and longtime teacher James “Jimmy” Gill, Jr.

“We call the group a class intentionally because we want people to feel free to be in an atmosphere where they are comfortable and where they sit,” Gill, 79, said with a laugh, hinting at how many regular church-goers sit in their same spot week after week. The RBC group does not ask for money, but they do accept donations and financially support the Voice of the Martyrs, the Cutting Edge Foundation, which provides medical services in the African nation of Chad, and Lamb Ministries of New Orleans.

Gill and Jack Lynch rotate each month in their teaching and the Rev. Louis J. Hilliard teaches each fifth Sunday.

Average attendance is about 50, Gill said, and, like many regular churches, if everyone on the rolls all showed up at once that attendance would double. The conference room seats about 100, so Baton Rouge Christian Life readers are all invited to visit and/or join them.

The class time is set for 9:15 a.m., so members can attend their own regular church service but many of the members say the group is their church.

Eric Kalivoda is Nick Kalivoda’s second son and is secretary of the board of directors.

“We have people that come out of all denominations and backgrounds including Catholicism, [and] various Protestant denominations; people who have been turned off by organized churches so they find this as an alternative,” Kalivoda said. “For a number of the people here – this is their church – some attend other churches.”

Bibles and notebooks are open and ready for a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class in the Burden Center.
Bibles and notebooks are open and ready for a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class in the Burden Center.

“We are definitely non-denominational, it’s purely Bible based, verse by verse teaching,” Kalivoda said, “all it is – is a class – people come in, have coffee and study the Bible – we don’t have a choir or sing songs.”

When asked to further define their theology, Kalivoda said “we’re evangelical – we’re born-again Christian people.”

Gerry McArthur said she has been attending the class for 22 years.

“I was raised Catholic – we didn’t even have a Bible, and I thought it was all works,” McArthur said with a big, happy smile. “Nick Kalivoda inspired me and my husband that Jesus was the right way. It opened my eyes!”

She invites Christian Life readers to attend their class, and if not here – “Get the best teacher that can give you God’s word. The Bible is the best inspiration – it is not works it is by believing His word that you can have everlasting life.”

Warren Beasley drives over from Hammond to Baton Rouge every Sunday to attend the class, he said. He’s affiliated with the Church of God in Christ, and has been attending at least 4 years.

“If you are interested in the Word of God, knowing what the Bible has to say, you need to attend a good Bible teaching class and that is what this is,” Beasley said. “No politics, no talking about what’s going on, it’s strictly 100 percent good Bible teaching.”

“It’s knowledge – it’s teaching, not preaching,” Beasley said. “When you’re traveling you want to know how to get there and that is what knowledge is- that’s what the Word of God is. It’s not about whoopin’ and hollerin’ and choir or building funds or pastor celebrities – it’s about the word of God – John 1:1, says, ‘in the beginning was the word and the word was God.’”

Cover Story, January 2016, Uncategorized

The Miracle of the Bible

by Mark Hunter

Part One

Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., teachers (L. to R.) Jack Lynch, Rev. Louis J. Hilliard and board president James "Jimmy" Gill, meet with 50 to 100 members of their classes each Sunday morning at the Burden Center.
Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., teachers (L. to R.) Jack Lynch, Rev. Louis J. Hilliard and board president James “Jimmy” Gill, meet with 50 to 100 members of their classes each Sunday morning at the Burden Center.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” II Timothy 3:16-17.

Christianity and the Christian life – and, in fact, basic life here on Earth – is a miracle no matter how you look at it.

God created time and the universe, the Earth and all that is in it and He made mankind in his own image. He guides history, past, present and future, and provided Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. He inspired dozens of writers to describe what He was telling us and why, in the library of 66 books we know as the Holy Bible.

The miracle of all that is taught on a regular basis, book by book, verse by verse, by the teachers of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd.; James “Jimmy” Gill, Jr., Rev. Louis J. Hilliard, and Jack Lynch.

 

Jack Lynch – God’s Miracles, Genesis and You 

Essentially, a miracle is an unusual manifestation of God’s power designed to accomplish a specific purpose. The creation of the universe out of absolutely nothing at all would be a good example.

If there ever was a “time” when nothing existed, what would exist now? Obviously nothing.

Jack Lynch discusses a passage in Romans during a recent Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class at the Burden Center. photo by Mark H. Hunter
Jack Lynch discusses a passage in Romans during a recent Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class at the Burden Center. photo by Mark H. Hunter

Therefore, the fact that we exist—the fact that anything at all exists—means that there is someone who has always existed, and who has used His power to bring us into existence. Therefore, God has always existed, and has miraculously created the universe, and us in His image.

God’s Word tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:1, 27.

If we are told that we are the result of matter plus time plus chance, then there … is no ultimate significance to our existence.

The true flow of history starts in Genesis. There, we learn of God’s miraculous, historic space-time creation out of nothing; the creation of man in God’s image; a real, historic, in-space-and-in-time moral fall.

Because we have been made in God’s image, we are capable of great good and beauty. And because of the fall, we are capable of unspeakable evil.

The true flow of history—found only in God’s Word—allows us to understand that sin is real, and we need a Savior.

Now when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3a-4b that, “Christ died for our sins…and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” we see the tremendous impact this miracle has upon our lives!

Louis J. Hilliard – The Bible is God-breathed

God gave us the Bible over many centuries through many different writers, according to II Tim 3:16-17.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God … The word ‘inspiration’ in Greek is ‘theopneustos’ which literally means God breathed – the very breath of God – which makes it different from any other book – from Shakespeare or Milton or anyone else.”

It is a living book – the miracle is that it comes from God and is alive.

Hebrews 4:12 says the Word is, ‘alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.’ And, II Peter 1:20 says, ‘knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation,’ it is not of man – not Shakespeare or Milton or any of those guys – it came – Peter says – ‘by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ – the miracle is that God got all of these writers to write the words that he desired to go into scripture at the same time allowing their personalities to go into it.

Jimmy Gill – The miracle of salvation

We’re blessed because we are living in the church period and our salvation has been accomplished. It was over with, accomplished, in human terms, when Christ died.

He came, he lived a sinless life, he offered himself as king of Israel and as was prophesied by Daniel and Isaiah, he was rejected. But that rejection led to his crucifixion and his shed blood, which paid for the sin of Adam and all sins that came from it forever. God accepted that as complete payment forever.

James "Jimmy" Gill introduces Jack Lynch, (checking his microphone) to a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class meeting at the Burden Center.
James “Jimmy” Gill introduces Jack Lynch, (checking his microphone) to a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class meeting at the Burden Center.

How can Christ’s death at that time pay for future sins? The answer is – God can – because God’s not trapped by time – He created time for us.

Miracles are the fact that God is outside of time and that in eternity past he established the full and complete plan to bring man – that he knew would sin – not only back to Him, but also back to Him not as a creature, but in His Christ.

Now he wants to show this group of people the miracle of Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, that we become joined to him as discussed in Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3. It is all done by God, it’s all guaranteed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and it is all free grace.

He has chosen us, in the church, to show the world his perfect grace, saving sinners while they were yet sinners, because Christ paid the price for that sin.

All we have, as the church, is one commandment and that is to, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ And when we do that and we remember who has bought us with His blood and we choose to live His way – that’s what He wants from the church – and that is the miracle that He has planned.

Part Two

The miracle of the Bible and the miracles in the Bible are studied verse by verse every Sunday morning at the Campus Bible Study, hosted by the Radio Bible Courses Ltd., at the Burden Center.

From 50 to 100 members of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., meet each Sunday morning in the conference room of the Burden Center, to study God's Word, verse by verse, line by line. photo by Mark H. Hunter
From 50 to 100 members of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., meet each Sunday morning in the conference room of the Burden Center, to study God’s Word, verse by verse, line by line. photo by Mark H. Hunter

Founded by the late Nick Kalivoda (1922-2013), in 1986, the non-denominational, expository – meaning verse-by-verse – Bible study began in the Kalivoda home and soon expanded to the LSU campus. They moved the group to the Burden Center’s Visitor Information building’s main conference room four years ago.

Kalivoda produced hundreds of hours of verse-by-verse Bible study that can be heard daily on five radio stations (see sidebar list), and also on the group’s web site. He also wrote two booklets, “Grace” and “Heaven’s Password,” and most of his teachings, via a large DVD/CD/tape library, are available for free at: www.rbcword.org

Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., is, according to biblical definition, a church; a group of Christian believers who meet on a regular basis to study the Scriptures and support each other spiritually and emotionally. For IRS tax purposes, it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry, explained board President and longtime teacher James “Jimmy” Gill, Jr.

“We call the group a class intentionally because we want people to feel free to be in an atmosphere where they are comfortable and where they sit,” Gill, 79, said with a laugh, hinting at how many regular church-goers sit in their same spot week after week. The RBC group does not ask for money, but they do accept donations and financially support the Voice of the Martyrs, the Cutting Edge Foundation, which provides medical services in the African nation of Chad, and Lamb Ministries of New Orleans.

Gill and Jack Lynch rotate each month in their teaching and the Rev. Louis J. Hilliard teaches each fifth Sunday.

Bibles and notebooks are open and ready for a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class in the Burden Center.
Bibles and notebooks are open and ready for a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class in the Burden Center.

Average attendance is about 50, Gill said, and, like many regular churches, if everyone on the rolls all showed up at once that attendance would double. The conference room seats about 100, so Baton Rouge Christian Life readers are all invited to visit and/or join them.

The class time is set for 9:15 a.m., so members can attend their own regular church service but many of the members say the group is their church.

Eric Kalivoda is Nick Kalivoda’s second son and is secretary of the board of directors.

“We have people that come out of all denominations and backgrounds including Catholicism, [and] various Protestant denominations; people who have been turned off by organized churches so they find this as an alternative,” Kalivoda said. “For a number of the people here – this is their church – some attend other churches.”

“We are definitely non-denominational, it’s purely Bible based, verse by verse teaching,” Kalivoda said, “all it is – is a class – people come in, have coffee and study the Bible – we don’t have a choir or sing songs.”

When asked to further define their theology, Kalivoda said “we’re evangelical – we’re born-again Christian people.”

Gerry McArthur said she has been attending the class for 22 years.

“I was raised Catholic – we didn’t even have a Bible, and I thought it was all works,” McArthur said with a big, happy smile. “Nick Kalivoda inspired me and my husband that Jesus was the right way. It opened my eyes!”
She invites Christian Life readers to attend their class, and if not here – “Get the best teacher that can give you God’s word. The Bible is the best inspiration – it is not works it is by believing His word that you can have everlasting life.”

Warren Beasley drives over from Hammond to Baton Rouge every Sunday to attend the class, he said. He’s affiliated with the Church of God in Christ, and has been attending at least 4 years.

“If you are interested in the Word of God, knowing what the Bible has to say, you need to attend a good Bible teaching class and that is what this is,” Beasley said. “No politics, no talking about what’s going on, it’s strictly 100 percent good Bible teaching.”

“It’s knowledge – it’s teaching, not preaching,” Beasley said. “When you’re traveling you want to know how to get there and that is what knowledge is- that’s what the Word of God is. It’s not about whoopin’ and hollerin’ and choir or building funds or pastor celebrities – it’s about the word of God – John 1:1, says, ‘in the beginning was the word and the word was God.’”

Cover Story, January 2016

The Miracle of the Bible

by Mark Hunter

Part One

Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., teachers (L. to R.) Jack Lynch, Rev. Louis J. Hilliard and board president James "Jimmy" Gill, meet with 50 to 100 members of their classes each Sunday morning at the Burden Center.
Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., teachers (L. to R.) Jack Lynch, Rev. Louis J. Hilliard and board president James “Jimmy” Gill, meet with 50 to 100 members of their classes each Sunday morning at the Burden Center.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” II Timothy 3:16-17.

Christianity and the Christian life – and, in fact, basic life here on Earth – is a miracle no matter how you look at it.

God created time and the universe, the Earth and all that is in it and He made mankind in his own image. He guides history, past, present and future, and provided Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. He inspired dozens of writers to describe what He was telling us and why, in the library of 66 books we know as the Holy Bible.

The miracle of all that is taught on a regular basis, book by book, verse by verse, by the teachers of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd.; James “Jimmy” Gill, Jr., Rev. Louis J. Hilliard, and Jack Lynch.

 

Jack Lynch – God’s Miracles, Genesis and You

Essentially, a miracle is an unusual manifestation of God’s power designed to accomplish a specific purpose. The creation of the universe out of absolutely nothing at all would be a good example.

If there ever was a “time” when nothing existed, what would exist now? Obviously nothing.

Jack Lynch discusses a passage in Romans during a recent Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class at the Burden Center. photo by Mark H. Hunter
Jack Lynch discusses a passage in Romans during a recent Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class at the Burden Center. photo by Mark H. Hunter

Therefore, the fact that we exist—the fact that anything at all exists—means that there is someone who has always existed, and who has used His power to bring us into existence. Therefore, God has always existed, and has miraculously created the universe, and us in His image.

God’s Word tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:1, 27.

If we are told that we are the result of matter plus time plus chance, then there … is no ultimate significance to our existence.

The true flow of history starts in Genesis. There, we learn of God’s miraculous, historic space-time creation out of nothing; the creation of man in God’s image; a real, historic, in-space-and-in-time moral fall.

Because we have been made in God’s image, we are capable of great good and beauty. And because of the fall, we are capable of unspeakable evil.

The true flow of history—found only in God’s Word—allows us to understand that sin is real, and we need a Savior.

Now when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3a-4b that, “Christ died for our sins…and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” we see the tremendous impact this miracle has upon our lives!

Louis J. Hilliard – The Bible is God-breathed

God gave us the Bible over many centuries through many different writers, according to II Tim 3:16-17.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God … The word ‘inspiration’ in Greek is ‘theopneustos’ which literally means God breathed – the very breath of God – which makes it different from any other book – from Shakespeare or Milton or anyone else.”

It is a living book – the miracle is that it comes from God and is alive.

Hebrews 4:12 says the Word is, ‘alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.’ And, II Peter 1:20 says, ‘knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation,’ it is not of man – not Shakespeare or Milton or any of those guys – it came – Peter says – ‘by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ – the miracle is that God got all of these writers to write the words that he desired to go into scripture at the same time allowing their personalities to go into it.

Jimmy Gill – The miracle of salvation

We’re blessed because we are living in the church period and our salvation has been accomplished. It was over with, accomplished, in human terms, when Christ died.

He came, he lived a sinless life, he offered himself as king of Israel and as was prophesied by Daniel and Isaiah, he was rejected. But that rejection led to his crucifixion and his shed blood, which paid for the sin of Adam and all sins that came from it forever. God accepted that as complete payment forever.

James "Jimmy" Gill introduces Jack Lynch, (checking his microphone) to a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class meeting at the Burden Center.
James “Jimmy” Gill introduces Jack Lynch, (checking his microphone) to a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class meeting at the Burden Center.

How can Christ’s death at that time pay for future sins? The answer is – God can – because God’s not trapped by time – He created time for us.

Miracles are the fact that God is outside of time and that in eternity past he established the full and complete plan to bring man – that he knew would sin – not only back to Him, but also back to Him not as a creature, but in His Christ.

Now he wants to show this group of people the miracle of Christ, his death, burial and resurrection, that we become joined to him as discussed in Ephesians chapters 1, 2, and 3. It is all done by God, it’s all guaranteed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and it is all free grace.

He has chosen us, in the church, to show the world his perfect grace, saving sinners while they were yet sinners, because Christ paid the price for that sin.

All we have, as the church, is one commandment and that is to, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ And when we do that and we remember who has bought us with His blood and we choose to live His way – that’s what He wants from the church – and that is the miracle that He has planned.

Part Two

The miracle of the Bible and the miracles in the Bible are studied verse by verse every Sunday morning at the Campus Bible Study, hosted by the Radio Bible Courses Ltd., at the Burden Center.

From 50 to 100 members of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., meet each Sunday morning in the conference room of the Burden Center, to study God's Word, verse by verse, line by line. photo by Mark H. Hunter
From 50 to 100 members of the Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., meet each Sunday morning in the conference room of the Burden Center, to study God’s Word, verse by verse, line by line. photo by Mark H. Hunter

Founded by the late Nick Kalivoda (1922-2013), in 1986, the non-denominational, expository – meaning verse-by-verse – Bible study began in the Kalivoda home and soon expanded to the LSU campus. They moved the group to the Burden Center’s Visitor Information building’s main conference room four years ago.

Kalivoda produced hundreds of hours of verse-by-verse Bible study that can be heard daily on five radio stations (see sidebar list), and also on the group’s web site. He also wrote two booklets, “Grace” and “Heaven’s Password,” and most of his teachings, via a large DVD/CD/tape library, are available for free at: www.rbcword.org

Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., is, according to biblical definition, a church; a group of Christian believers who meet on a regular basis to study the Scriptures and support each other spiritually and emotionally. For IRS tax purposes, it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry, explained board President and longtime teacher James “Jimmy” Gill, Jr.

“We call the group a class intentionally because we want people to feel free to be in an atmosphere where they are comfortable and where they sit,” Gill, 79, said with a laugh, hinting at how many regular church-goers sit in their same spot week after week. The RBC group does not ask for money, but they do accept donations and financially support the Voice of the Martyrs, the Cutting Edge Foundation, which provides medical services in the African nation of Chad, and Lamb Ministries of New Orleans.

Gill and Jack Lynch rotate each month in their teaching and the Rev. Louis J. Hilliard teaches each fifth Sunday.

Bibles and notebooks are open and ready for a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class in the Burden Center.
Bibles and notebooks are open and ready for a Sunday morning Radio Bible Courses, Ltd., class in the Burden Center.

Average attendance is about 50, Gill said, and, like many regular churches, if everyone on the rolls all showed up at once that attendance would double. The conference room seats about 100, so Baton Rouge Christian Life readers are all invited to visit and/or join them.

The class time is set for 9:15 a.m., so members can attend their own regular church service but many of the members say the group is their church.

Eric Kalivoda is Nick Kalivoda’s second son and is secretary of the board of directors.

“We have people that come out of all denominations and backgrounds including Catholicism, [and] various Protestant denominations; people who have been turned off by organized churches so they find this as an alternative,” Kalivoda said. “For a number of the people here – this is their church – some attend other churches.”

“We are definitely non-denominational, it’s purely Bible based, verse by verse teaching,” Kalivoda said, “all it is – is a class – people come in, have coffee and study the Bible – we don’t have a choir or sing songs.”

When asked to further define their theology, Kalivoda said “we’re evangelical – we’re born-again Christian people.”

Gerry McArthur said she has been attending the class for 22 years.

“I was raised Catholic – we didn’t even have a Bible, and I thought it was all works,” McArthur said with a big, happy smile. “Nick Kalivoda inspired me and my husband that Jesus was the right way. It opened my eyes!”
She invites Christian Life readers to attend their class, and if not here – “Get the best teacher that can give you God’s word. The Bible is the best inspiration – it is not works it is by believing His word that you can have everlasting life.”

Warren Beasley drives over from Hammond to Baton Rouge every Sunday to attend the class, he said. He’s affiliated with the Church of God in Christ, and has been attending at least 4 years.

“If you are interested in the Word of God, knowing what the Bible has to say, you need to attend a good Bible teaching class and that is what this is,” Beasley said. “No politics, no talking about what’s going on, it’s strictly 100 percent good Bible teaching.”

“It’s knowledge – it’s teaching, not preaching,” Beasley said. “When you’re traveling you want to know how to get there and that is what knowledge is- that’s what the Word of God is. It’s not about whoopin’ and hollerin’ and choir or building funds or pastor celebrities – it’s about the word of God – John 1:1, says, ‘in the beginning was the word and the word was God.’”

Cover Story, December 2015

Free at Last Prison Ministries: Distributing “Ministry from the Inside”, Book to Prisons

by Mark Hunter

image001-2John and Andi Bayer are taking their Free at Last Prison Ministries to the next level.

For several decades the Baton Rouge couple has witnessed to thousands of prisoners across the state and nation, but now they want to reach every prison in America with at least one copy of a book they recently published, “Ministry from the Inside.” Russell Nestor, a man serving 35 years in a federal penitentiary, wrote the 250-page book by hand and the Bayers typed it up and had it printed.

“We believe God has a special unconditional love for inmates,” John Bayer said. “Great men of God, such as Peter, Paul, Samson, James, John the Baptist, Joseph, and Jeremiah all were in jail.”

“Men like David, Moses and Jacob were murderers, adulterers and thieves, but when they called on God and repented – God cleaned them up and used them mightily to advance his Kingdom forward,” Bayer said. “God is still calling inmates today – He still cleans them up and uses them in the ministry.”

The book, also called “A Christian Inmate’s Manual,” details topics such as: humility, honesty, forgiveness, joy and other Christian values, or, in other words, how to have a good testimony while in prison.

The Bayers printed 5,000 copies and have distributed 3,500, including 100 to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary program at Angola.

“We only have 1,500 left and we now have a workbook to go with it but we don’t have the funds to get it printed,” Bayer said.

They’ve received high praise for the book from prison officials including Angola Warden Burl Cain who wrote, “This book is a MUST READ for any prison official and offender. Best guide I have seen other than the Bible. Teaches how to make it, deal with yourself, and rehabilitate morally.”

Tim O’Dell, director of Chaplaincy, for Corrections Corporation of America, writes that the book “is a practical guide to living out one’s Christian witness while incarcerated.”

Bayer said he’s already seen positive changes in the offenders who have read it.

“When you see Aryan Brotherhood men – the white gang – getting saved and loving the black inmates around them – when before they would kill them – only God could have done that in that man’s life,” Bayer said. “God is coming off the page and teaching them how to live.”

ONLY BY THE GRACE OF GOD

The Bayers, who are both ordained ministers, are approved to visit 65 prisons in 22 states, including the private Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), facilities.

They freely admit there is a special place in their hearts for inmates because, if not for the grace of God, they might be in prison. They both lived lives of crime, they said, but shortly after they were married in 1975, while watching a 700 Club television program, they received Jesus Christ as their Savior.

“When you live a lifestyle of sin, crime, mafia involvement, [and] the Ku Klux Klan, and you come from a life where you marry a girl with a heroin addiction [who] was a prostitute – and we got saved!” John Bayer declared. “Something took place in our life!”

“Those that have been forgiven much – love much,” he said. “That compels us to go!”

“The Lord put compassion in our hearts to reach back into where we came out of,” Andi Bayer added. “We could have been there – behind bars – but we didn’t get caught.”

They are asking the Christian community, especially the churches, for financial help printing and distributing 10,000 books and workbooks at a cost of $10 each.

“We are all the body of Christ and we should be working together,” John Bayer said. “God is doing something here. There is a great harvest of souls coming out from behind prison bars in these latter days.”

For more information, call John Bayer at 225-810-6108, or visit their web site at: www.freeatlastprisonministries.org

Cover Story, December 2015

From Prison to Pastor: Ashanti Witherspoon’s Story of Redemption

by Krista Bordelon

IMG_0486Meeting Ashanti Witherspoon today, one would never guess of his dark past, let alone imagine that he should be sitting in a cell at one of the most violent prisons in America after being sentenced to 75 years with no possibility of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.

“‘God will become the light that illuminates the dark place.’ My aunt’s words came back to me [as I sat in the prison cell], and I realized that my life had finally turned around… Then I realized, my life had finally turned around and I was supposed to die there.”

Growing up in Chicago, Ashanti had a typical family. His parents divorced when he was young and his dad completely disappeared from his life. He remembers the many promises his father made to come visit, yet never showed up. Specifically, the moment when he sat at the window as his mother told him not to worry, that his dad loved him, that he would show up, but Ashanti knew he wouldn’t. That was the moment that Ashanti said, “started the pain in his heart.” From that moment on, he was filled with hatred, anger, and bitterness.

“I was young, I was intelligent, and I was aggressive, so they had me in martial arts classes. I had the tools to succeed in a legitimate, structured environment, but also the weapons to succeed in the street because I could fight. Little by little my grades stared to go down and I started drifting. I was involved in many community groups, but I didn’t want to do that anymore. Before, I was disciplined with martial arts, but now I just went out and started picking fights. I wanted to fight a lot.”

At 11, Ashanti’s mother finally allowed him to go stay with his cousin in an effort to appease him. He remembers his aunt telling her, “I hope this doesn’t happen, but I believe you will regret this decision for the rest of your life.” Ashanti describes looking out the window that night waiting for his aunt to go to bed and watching the police, the pimps, and the gangsters all active in the streets outside. “It was like watching a movie,” he says. As soon as she went to bed they snuck across the street to 67th and Blackstone where Ashanti was introduced to the friends that would change his life.

His cousin had been bragging about Ashanti’s karate skills to a local gang. That gang happened to be the Blackstone Rangers, which grew to be the largest gang in Chicago (later known as Black P Stone Nation). “That was when my life began to change. When the leader stepped from the back, after I [an 11 year old] had taken down two men, he asked me to join.”

From that moment on Ashanti was heavily involved in the gang, and as it grew into what was known as a “super gang” he rose to become a leader of one of the branches.

IMG_0497“I left Chicago on the run from criminal charges in July of 1971, traveling around the United States to avoid prosecution. In January of 1972, under the influence of LSD, I committed an armed robbery, which turned into a shootout with the police. Two officers were shot, my co-defendant was shot once in the stomach, and I was shot twice with a .357 magnum. The first bullet hit the left side of my hip and traveled through my body and exited on the right. Miraculously, it did not touch a bone or an organ. The second entered the right side of my face, traveled upward into my head, and stopped in my temple.”

“I know it was the prayers that kept me alive. My aunt always said that God had a special destiny for me, and when I left Chicago on the run she told me she was going to pray that I didn’t get killed before I fulfilled that special destiny.”

The day Ashanti went on the run he sat down to talk to his uncle who had been in prison for 25 years in a Tennessee State Penitentiary. “I could tell that he was really sincere, the same way I am when I talk to these young people, but I told him, ‘Uncle, I appreciate what you’re saying, but you’re about 10 years too late, I’m a full-fledged criminal,’ he just stood there and cried after I said that.”

Then his aunt spoke the words that would later return to him as he gave his life to Christ in a cell at Angola Penitentiary. “She said, ‘I want you to remember these words. One day you will find yourself in a deep, dark hole, and when you find yourself in that place it’s going to feel like all the oxygen has been taken out from around you, there’s not going to be a cool breeze anywhere, it will feel like you are totally abandoned, like you are totally lost, that even if you scream out no one will hear you. The day you find yourself in that situation remember you can get on your knees, eliminate your pride, and cry out to Jesus. The Holy Spirit will come into your life and it will change things. And you can walk from there for the rest of your life. God will become the light that illuminates the dark place.”

“I went in determined to do whatever was necessary to survive. I was labeled a militant by the prison system because I was rebellious to authority, and that lifestyle eventually landed me in maximum security.” Ashanti learned law while in maximum security and became a jailhouse lawyer filing litigation against everything he thought was wrong. Those who came in for prison ministry caught his attention. “The more you read the more it renews your mind just like the [Scripture says]. Little by little it started stirring up memories of my childhood, of happy times in my life. The straw that broke the camel’s back was thinking about my daughter, who had been born 3 1/2 months after my incarceration. I still had not even seen my daughter.”

“One night I was thinking about my life, I blamed everybody in the world for all the bad decisions I made. I was convinced there was some constitutional violation they had committed that was going to get me out, but it was never going to happen.

Satan will have you chasing illusions forever. At that moment the Holy Spirit took the blinders off my eyes, and I saw the real world. I really was in the bloodiest prison in America. I really was going to die there if I didn’t change. And it felt exactly like my aunt had once described.”

IMG_0493-2Ashanti once believed he was on track to take down the whole system “with a piece of paper”, but his thoughts shifted to proving his worth in the system instead. “I became a different person. I realized I had just made a promise to live differently, but I was still in prison. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I asked God to give me the strength to maintain focus.” The past suits he had filed against corrections officers, etc. prevented his newfound faith from being taken seriously.

“I just wanted out of maximum security, so I could get back into population to prove myself.”

A 27-day hunger strike and an officer that decided to take a chance on him finally got Ashanti back into population. It was there he began working his way up to becoming an instructor in the prison education system and involved himself in prison ministries. He became an anger management counselor, substance abuse counselor, and public speaking instructor, sat on the board of many inmate-run organizations, and developed a trade in graphic design and transactional analysis. Finally after 20 years the administration allowed him to travel outside of the prison system to speak as a means to deter young people from lives of crime.

A law change eventually allowed Ashanti to go up for parole, but he was denied over and over. It wasn’t until his story was featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary “The Farm: Life Inside Angola” that his parole was granted, in June of

1999, 27 ½ years after his incarceration. “All I knew was when I got out I wanted real freedom. I could have escaped many times, but that was never what I desired.” So Ashanti, a man once fighting against the system, waited on the system to free him. And free he is.

Today Ashanti is an international speaker heavily involved in prison ministry, re-entry programs, and transition teams. He is involved in organizations including Kairos, AMI kids, C.O.P.E. and B.R.A.V.E. as well as pastoring The New Ruach Christian Church in Baton Rouge and the Right Road Christian Center in Lafayette. He wrote three books while in prison, “Loving God” versions 1, 2, and 3. In addition to his wife being heavily involved in his ministry, he and his daughter are advocates for keeping children in contact with their incarcerated parents. Contact him at ashantiwitherspoon@yahoo.com.

Cover Story, December 2015

The Bella Bowman Foundation: Caring for Families in Their Darkest Hour

by Beth Townsend

Image 8Childhood cancer is a dark world, yet Kim and Trey Bowman are determined to bring light into that place for families who now face a similar journey as they once did. In February 2012 the young couple started the Bella Bowman Foundation. Kim finds it difficult to disguise the heartache, even these years later, as she tells the story, “I needed to do something to keep her (Bella’s) memory alive. My grief led me in that direction. I’ve learned that you have to go through it to get through it.” Kim met Trey when they were students at Southeastern in Hammond, and they dated four years before marrying. “By the time we had Bella, I was 30,” Kim shared. The young couple was somewhat overwhelmed, like most new parents, but felt fully blessed by the new arrival. Because Bella was unusually small, she was constantly tested to make sure she was healthy. “She didn’t have normal growth milestones, so there was reason for some alarm,” Kim remembered. Most tests came back normal, yet each wait on phone calls for the results was stressful. “We feel that we have a direct line to God!” she says. “There had been a lot of people praying for us for a long time before Bella got diagnosed with cancer.” “We got pregnant when Bella was about three [and] had Baylor when Bella was four,” Kim recounts. Then there came a diagnosis that Bella had Celiac Disease. It gave a sense of relief that finally something could be pinpointed. The family changed its diet, with Kim very thankful for solid information that offered solutions. But even after going gluten-free, things did not improve for Bella. “Life went on, our children grew together. In 2010, Bella was 7, Baylor 3. That March, Bella started to throw up, we assumed she was coming down with something.” From March until Bella’s diagnosis on New Years Day 2011, Bella threw up five or six times a day almost every day of every week. Kim and Trey took her to numerous doctors who had varying opinions. Image-2-2“On Christmas morning, we were opening presents and saw that look in her eye, she was about to throw up. I knew something wasn’t right, it got worse and she became dehydrated.” Bella was admitted to the hospital to treat the dehydration and again received more tests, saw more doctors, which lead to more questions. “Again everything came back normal. She had stopped throwing up because they gave her this wonderful new drug,” Kim recalled. The doctor sent them home. However, this time Kim took charge telling him, “If Bella gets sick one more time, we are coming back.” Bella did get sick, they did go back, and this time Kim requested an MRI of her daughter’s brain. “I don’t know why, I just had this gut feeling. I prayed so, so hard that night. I said, ‘God give us an answer so we can move forward. We will do whatever it takes.’” An MRI was scheduled the next day, “I knew something was wrong,” Kim remembered. After months of unexplained illness, Kim and Trey Bowman waited for the results of a brain scan completed on their 7-year-old daughter. She and Trey went back to Bella’s hospital room when the radiologist called. “When the radiologist said he was coming up to talk to us, I just knew,” Kim says. Cancer. “From there, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital took us on and then St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis got involved,” Kim recalls. Doctor after doctor recommended surgery to know exactly what type of tumor it was. Once again, little Bella was a champ, “She was like, ok what’s next?” Kim says. “That is how the now famous red dot story came about. Trey brought in a picture of the brain that the doctor had drawn, pointing where the tumor was. He said ‘see this little red dot right here? That is what is making you so sick. The doctors are going to take it out and you are going to feel better.’” phone 263Kim continued, “Before surgery I was lying in the bed with her, surrounded by family and friends. Our pastor was there, and news got around we were about to pray for Bella.” Tearing up, Kim recalls, “All of a sudden the room became crowded; nurses from around the hospital filed in, we said this wonderful prayer, Bella was just smiling. I have this mental picture of that moment and remember exactly how we both felt after that.” The surgery was successful. Bella’s first words were, “Is the red dot gone?” That meant she was swallowing and breathing, all good news. Three days later she was talking and then it was back to treatment. “First, we went to St. Jude’s. The doctors and staff were amazing,” Kim emphasized with obvious gratefulness. The treatment plan included proton radiation—33 treatments to Bella’s brain stem. After St. Jude’s physicians laid out the plan, they went to Jacksonville, Fla., in February for the radiation treatments—one bout of radiation, 5-days a week, until 33 treatments were completed. Bella did great during her radiation therapy and finally it was time to go home. In May Bella started getting tutored by her teachers to get caught up with school. Now, it seemed that the worst was behind them and that the young Bowman family was in a good place. “We had a wonderful summer,” Kim remembered. IMG_0985For the young parents, everything else was put on hold. “I’m a hair dresser, so I had no income. I did not work pretty much from Christmas time for the entire year. Trey got laid off in December, right before we found out about her brain tumor. He had no job for nine months. He was interviewing during this process while we were in St. Jude. He would fly off somewhere to interview, [and] other times he would go home to be with Baylor.” Both maternal and fraternal grandparents were lifesavers. Many people sent care packages, and friends and family held fundraisers to help pay the mounting medical bills. “It took a toll on our family. When your child is diagnosed with cancer, your life stops,” Kim added, her face showing the stark reality of the challenges too many young parents face. In August, the family went to visit relatives in Atlanta. “It was weird. Bella didn’t want to walk up and down the stairs. When we got home we noticed she was slurring, it looked like she’d had a stroke. The side of her mouth was drooping.” Again, the young mother knew something was very wrong. “We called the doctor at St. Jude on the way back from Atlanta and they said, ‘come tomorrow.’” Kim and Trey took her immediately. After the scan, the doctor informed Trey and Kim that there was no tumor. Instead, Bella had a rare side effect of radiation called Necrosis. He began to explain that it’s something that can happen after radiation and unfortunately there was no cure, only limited experimental options. “There were two,” Kim shared. “Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber Therapy (HBO) or a different chemo that they use for breast cancer.” The Bowmans chose the HBO treatment. “We did 60 treatments. That was everyday for two or three hours a day,” Kim explained. Bella was not getting better, but actually worse. She used a walker, then a stroller, then a wheel chair. She got scoliosis, which led to get back braces. The child’s health slowly declined. Her parents decided to try chemo; it was Bella’s last hope. “Once we realized it wasn’t working, I had that gut feeling again. It’s me, my momma, Baylor and Bella. We went to go see the doctor. I said ‘I want to go home.’” They packed up that day. Trey was in Sweden when Kim told him they were going home and asked him to come home. Back at Our Lady of the Lake, they put Bella on a ventilator and trek, acknowledging she may not speak again. “I did not think that she was going to survive,” Kim spoke through tears. Not knowing if Trey would make it home in time, Kim said, “I will never know how that felt for him. He didn’t know if she would be alive, on a flight for eleven hours, can’t call or text or talk.” Trey made it back and sat down with his wife. For the first time in 24 hours they spoke. “I don’t think we should keep her alive, I don’t think she would want that.” They were in agreement, knowing what was ahead for them. “This disease is eating up her brain stem. We are not going to put her through that. We are going to enjoy these last days with her.” Image-1-2“And we did,” Kim smiled as she remembered, still teary-eyed as she recalled those moments. “We had a wonderful Christmas. There were two occasions when Bella saw Mary. She had this infatuation with the Catholic religion, though none of us are Catholic. When we were at St. Jude’s, I would read to her about Mary and a nun named Bernadette and the rosary beads. She loved all that.” It was a rough ten days from when the Bowmans decided to take Bella off of the ventilator. Every day someone special came to visit: The Make-a-Wish Foundation had someone from Universal Studios fly in with the newly released Chipmunk movie for a final family movie night with Bella. The night before she passed away, Miss Louisiana brought her a crown. “That night they woke us up about midnight, Bella was not responsive. She died at 6:22 a.m. in her daddy’s arms,” Kim recalled through tears. “The hospital let us have a room across from Bella’s. My mother-in-law and Baylor slept in there, as I didn’t want Baylor to be in the room when Bella passed away. Though such a sad time, many things happened that were gifts from God to get us through it,” she concluded. Kim and Trey needed time to heal. “Our faith was strong, we found friends that were there for us. I learned how to pray… that God is in control and he gives you gifts during the struggles.” Kim acknowledged that regardless, they realized the work ahead for them. “Our marriage had been tested. No one understands this until you live it. Trey and I grieve differently. We went to grief and marriage counseling because we were separated for an entire year. Counseling was a good step for both of us. I am still worried about Baylor; she is eight and looks just like Bella. We try to make everything positive, but she does not understand.”

THE FOUNDATION

“Our foundation works a lot with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital as a St. Jude- affiliate,” Kim explains. “If your child gets diagnosed with cancer in our community, you are going to Our Lady of the Lake. There are only six St. Jude’s affiliates in the United States and we have one of them in our community, which is wonderful.” The foundation’s mission is to create and support research initiatives for pediatric brain cancer, fund new and continuous education, and offer Comfort Care to others. The foundation focuses on several areas, however, Trey and Kim have a passion for the Comfort Care aspect, as Bella’s last days of life were so very special. “We donate Comfort Care bags to families,” Kim says. “Hopefully we can give them to everyone that comes to the hospital. With St. Jude clinic we do chemo parties. We bring gifts, we do princess visits twice a month, we have Christmas, and Santa comes.” BBB_SaveDate2016_4x6v3The long-term goal for the foundation, which is most important to Kim, is Bella’s House— a hospice house for children. “We want to make it as special for the child and the whole family, just like we had ten days with Bella.” With a growing foundation, Kim is learning to juggle her time. “I work part-time. SoHo salon has been amazing. The girl I work for, Becky Broussard is supportive, she lets me sell shirts in the salon, and I do haircuts for kids with cancer at her place. They support our foundation at the salon. Working has been good therapy.” Kim’s newfound passion is driven by her compassion. They truly have a heart for the mission of the Bella Bowman Foundation. “Trey and I both said when Bella was battling, ‘when we get through all this, we are going to give back.’” Bella’s Ball is the foundation’s signature event each year. Next year it will be on March 10th at the L’Auberge in Baton Rouge. “Every year I change it up a little bit, but we still have our silent and live auction,” Kim says with enthusiasm. “It’s is a great time, and we raise a lot of money. We raised almost $200,000 this year!” One of the Bowman’s missions is to share their story so they can help others. From Kim’s perspective, “I recommend families get support immediately. My grief counselor sent me to a support group. It’s an amazing group for parents that have lost children. It has gotten me through so many things; I go once a month. Take time to grieve, it is ok to be sad or mad. The only thing that got me through this is my faith. I still have bad days, I still cry, I still get angry. I got angry the other day at God and then I just prayed, then He makes me feel better.” Kim understands that when a family goes through a crisis, people don’t know what to say. She concludes, “Don’t try to make it better, don’t say ‘I know how you are feeling.’ Just do for them the things you think they need.”

Cover Story, December 2015

Joyce Burges: Finding Destiny in Desperation

by Jehan Seals

TCG_2842 02Jesus is the light we all seek just as the three wise men did during the time of Jesus’ birth. They sought light in dark world; that light, which is Christ, ultimately saved all of our lives. Jesus has given us that same power to create light in a dark world and it begins within us.

“It’s sometimes in our desperation that destiny is found,” says Joyce Burges. “Finding myself in a teenage pregnancy left little room for the future I had sought. While singing in a school choir I had been chosen to receive a scholarship to enter college, but that changed it all. My parents were disappointed, and I didn’t know where to turn. As I sat in my bedroom alone in July 1976, wearing my little brown dress, God proposed to me the gift of salvation. He said, ‘take a chance on me.’” That night Joyce found herself at the mercy of God and without hesitation accepted the gift of salvation.

“I had my son in October and married his father one year later.” Together with Eric Burges, her husband of 40+ years, she went on to discover how the light of Jesus Christ might be shared through their lives. Their story began here in Baton Rouge; wife of one husband, mother of five children, the early years proved to be conditioning them for what would lie ahead. With a large family and career goals aside, Joyce comfortably took on the role of motherhood.

“My children were my pride and joy; being their mom was a career I valued.” Joyce explains how in her darkest hour, God was light to guide them. “I received a call from my son’s teacher requesting a parent teacher conference to discuss his grades. In the meeting we were told that because our son’s GPA had gone from a 3.0 to 2.8 we would need to place him in another school. The words were hard to stomach, and my husband and I were heartbroken.” The Burgeses made the decision to talk to some of their friends from church for guidance. She explains how it was there in church that the idea of home schooling became a reality.

“A friend from church took us under her wing and guided us through the home-school process,” Joyce says. Shortly after, they began home schooling their kids. With research, the Burgeses soon got involved with home school conferences to help build their knowledge and also gain support.

J_E2009However, attending these home schooling conferences across the country quickly created a call to action for the Burgeses. “Over the course of three years my husband and I saw less than five [African-American] couples attending these national conferences,” she says. “With less than five African-American speakers and minimal black history information available, my husband got the idea to start an organization that reached out to African-Americans.”

“We had great supporters. We turned to organizations like Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and Christian Home Educators Fellowship (CHEF), [and] these organizations aided the program financially,” Joyce says. National Black Home Educators (NBHE) officially began in 2000 and since then, NBHE has been a guiding light in the home-school process for those near and far. National Black Home Educators has partnered with businesses such as Barnes and Noble, local libraries, and churches across the country that support home schooling, and due to their work empowering parents and communities, the Burges family has been featured in numerous national publications and broadcasts.

“I believe if parents value the next generation, they will call for their children to do what they need to do versus what they want to do.” The key is to be involved, says Burges. She suggests being actively involved in your community and making education a priority in your home.

“For example when my kids were younger, I would have my boys round up the kids on our block and I would read to them,” Joyce says. “Churches could open the doors for tutoring on Saturdays, even just once a month.” Joyce and her husband have graduated all four of their children through home schooling and have designed a successful organization for promoting home schooling. Along with her contributions to education across the country, she has moved into the realm of politics, focusing on solving issues for the city of Baker.

“My goal as mayor is to increase morale in the community as we work together,” Joyce says. She has served as councilwoman nearly four years in the Baker community and now campaigns to represent the city as Mayor. She explains how her decision to serve the community was revealed through a conversation with God.

Burges 14 6659“After my youngest graduated from home-school God spoke to my heart, ‘Your work is not done yet,’ he said, ‘I want you to get involved more with your community.’” Joyce did just that; she received counsel from close friends and family, entered an election for council, and won. Just as her decision to home-school had been prompted by a dark situation, Joyce responded to the community’s needs and works to be a part of the progress.

In the words of Marianne Williamson, “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us, and that we were born to make manifest the glory of God. So as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others the permission to do the same.” Joyce and Eric’s contributions prove to be a light for their community and also the generations to follow.

“Create what you want to be,” Joyce says. “I am at my absolute best when I am creating. First in your mind, then make it a reality. When you are in a dark place, get around positive people, think on things that are lovely and are of a good report. Renew your mind by praying and reading God’s word and take it step by step.” We have the power to be a light in a dark world just as our savior. Jesus is light, but He has also shared His light that we might be inspired to become a light in our dark world.

“Let your light shine so that men may glorify your father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Cover Story, October 2015

John David Moore: Starting with Fundamentals

by Beth Townsend

During football season in Baton Rouge, there seems to perpetually be a fight song in the air. “Hey Fighting Tigers” can be heard clearly from Tiger Stadium on game days, and buzzes in the background of just about every conversation around town. LSU fans are into football, and they love to talk Tigers.

No Saturday would be complete without tailgating: food, fun, good friends, and intense discussions about the day’s games. Students, parents, fans, and alumni plot game strategies and recap recent plays hours before each game. Armchair quarterbacks lie in waiting, ready to shout plays at the nearest television. Yep, it’s more than just a sport all right.

For the players, that kind of fan support ignites the enthusiasm that brings Tiger Stadium to the thunderous roar we’ve grown to expect.

“There is nothing better than walking down that victory hill on a Saturday or running out of the tunnel onto Tiger Field. There’s nothing like it,” says a smiling John David Moore. Currently a sophomore, this will be his first year starting at fullback and wearing #44.

J.D. was born and raised in Ruston, La., and played football at Ruston High School.

As the baby of the family, he received a lot of mentoring from his older siblings who also graduated from RHS. His tight knit family was an important part of his almost idyllic childhood.

moorejohndavid1-2“I have a great family,” J.D. says. “My mom and dad are both from Louisiana. My dad was born in Shreveport and my mom in Jonesboro. She came to LSU while my dad went to Louisiana Tech where he walked on as a football player his junior year.

“Though he loved the game, he did it mostly for ministry purposes,” J.D. explained with a broad smile. “I mean, no one really walks on that late in their college career, but he felt led to do it. He didn’t play a lot, but that wasn’t why he was there.” J.D.’s parents Byron and Melinda Moore, met after through mutual friends.

“I was raised in an amazingly godly home and became a Christian at a young age,” J.D. explained. While his faith was mostly due to his parents the earlier part of his life, it became more personal in his teenage years.

“I grew more mature during high school. It was then that I was saved and grew into beauty of the gospel,” he explained. “The full scope of our faith can be hard to understand until you become tested,” he continued. “For me, my kid life was hunky dory, and I was pretty sheltered. In high school I began to be tested. The struggles we face as the youth of America, it can be a tough time.”

J.D. is truly a student athlete in every sense of the term. During high school he was 2013 Student of the Year, recognized for both academic and athletic excellence.

“Academics was always a priority in our family. I’ve always prided myself on doing well in the classroom and on the field,” he said. “I think even from my parents perspective, they would agree with that assessment, which is a blessing. It was never ‘do well on the field so you can get in school.’ You do well on the field? Great! But, we are going to make sure you do well in school.” J.D. explained that his parents were the perfect picture of consistency.

As a long time fan of the Bayou Bengals, J.D. always considered LSU when he thought about college. Since his mother was an alumna they came to many games, and he loved the atmosphere. There was always that pull to consider LSU, but over the years he wasn’t 100 percent certain where he would end up going to school.

moorejohn2-2“My decision was based partially on academics as well as football. Since architecture is what I wanted to major in, when it came down to it, LSU provided the best opportunity in both,” he explained. “Now as an athlete it’s especially hard to make architecture and football work due to the scheduling. LSU has been amazingly accommodating, a real blessing in that area. It’s the perfect storm to be an athlete and have the schedule work out like it has.” He was quick to admit that success in both still takes hard work and discipline.

As an infectious Christian, J.D.’s faith is an obvious anchor in every facet of his life. While many college campuses are known for partying, his demanding schedule helps him keep his energy properly committed to all that is expected of him. However, he was quick to acknowledge the difficulties students face because temptations lurk around every corner on campus.

As a leader within Fellowship of Christian Athletes, J.D. found a place where he can be a leader on campus, and also be led simultaneously to grow in his personal faith.

“Through FCA, our leader Andy Stroup does a great job. The athletes from various teams are amongst the people he is trying to reach through this ministry. FCA does an effective job of using students that are in positions of influence; teaching them to become better leaders,” Moore said. “I know that during my time under Andy’s influence, I’ve developed so many more leadership qualities. Then they take that deeper by equipping us to be bold and reach out to our teammates and invite them into our FCA community.”

“I have so much fun on Tuesday nights at our gatherings. We make it an active and lively environment. It’s not church, it’s a place where you can be real; we have fun, we play games; it’s a ton of fun to me.”

Shying away from the party environment, this seemingly “gentle giant” who is trained to viciously knock down other young men on Saturday nights, said he feels like he has aligned his social life the rest of the week with options that are best for him.

“I’m not sacrificing any part of my college experience. If anything I’m adding to it. FCA does well reaching out to the student athletes, people like myself, and others, dedicated to Christ. It’s the most effective way of reaching others, because no other student would know what an athlete goes through but another student athlete.”

One ongoing temptation as an athlete at a program like LSU is the constant attention from fans and media. Remaining humble is a hurdle all on it’s own. Keeping a proper perspective takes discipline for anyone, and even more so for the young men in the limelight of Tiger football.

“Everyday we work together as a team. We are learning how to act as evangelists. To turn the tide away from a focus on ‘me”— a focus on partying or a self-centered world view—and to point people to Christ. That ultimately leads to a whole different lifestyle.”

Becoming a starting fullback at an SEC powerhouse is quite an accomplishment for a redshirt sophomore. Though confident and excited, J.D. expects stiff competition and to be challenged. Standing at a towering 6-feet-4-inches and 235 pounds, his comments about FCA often come in gentle whispers.

“One of the best things Andy stresses is our view of success. Success as a Christian is no longer defined by how well we perform or how well the outcome of the game goes. You know it’s ultimately defined by,” he paused thoughtfully, “I mean, the victory has already been won from an eternal perspective. In that way, there is no stress about competition, about starting; those are a part of the game of football. This sport is just a small piece in the bigger scheme of God’s plan to glorify himself on LSU’s campus and around the country.”

Getting the call to be a starter is exciting. His enthusiasm for his team and their season was evident when we met at a practices session. This enthusiasm was mirrored by the many teammates talking to the media about the buzz of the impending season’s home opener. His outlook is unique. Being a first time starter brings a new perspective.

“There’s going to be a lot of firsts for me this year. I’ve begun to experience more responsibilities within the running backs group, [especially] being able to mentor younger guys in the game of football.” He added, “Then hopefully [mentoring them] in the larger game of life; [I’m] looking forward to that opportunity to continue to grow as a team. We have something special this year, and I’m very excited about it!”

Football is an intense sport on many levels. His expectation of his biggest challenge was not surprising. “Physically, the games [are challenging]. We play a lot of tough opponents and want to maintain a high morale throughout the season. It’s always a challenge, but our coaches do a great job keeping us on track and focused. Mentally and spiritually, we have that same sort of challenge, to focus, especially in a top tier program like LSU.

“There is such a spotlight on us that it’s easy to fall for [the mindset of] ‘it’s all about me.’” He passionately added, “The biggest challenge is taking that spotlight and reflecting it back to where the real talent and ability comes from in the first place.”

The active social life on any college campus is part of the overall experience. Often life-long friendships are developed during this unique stage of life. Establishing authentic friendships is key to any student, especially ones that remain true to moral conviction.

IMG_3926-2“Choosing the right friends is extremely important. I’ve got a close group of friends here that don’t play football. Yet, even though I’m around my teammates all day and I’m friends with all of them, there is a deeper level of closeness with a special group of Christian relationships,” J.D. said. “That includes the FCA leadership team. We are a family. Having that is essential; they help keep me accountable, humble, and they help keep things in perspective. These are going to be people I’m interacting with the rest of my life. The rest of my life won’t be about LSU football.”

The thought of playing professional ball one day in the future has crossed Moore’s mind, but for the time being, he is happy right where he is.

“Pro ball interests me, but I’m trying to figure out if it’s for the right motives. There’s a lot of money in the NFL, but I would say if I do it, I’d want to do it for the right reasons. At this stage, I’ve got three years of eligibility left and I’m completely trusting God for that.”

While dreams of playing in the NFL remain on the back burner, J.D. has definite goals of how he hopes to reflect on his college experience a few years down the road.

“I’ve got a vision for what God is going to do through FCA; [I] look back and see the growth that’s happened through the current team and a team that will continue to grow,” he said. “It’s not really about numbers, but every number represents a person. So I’d like to see more people reached on this campus. Like I said, there is such a big spotlight, why not take that spotlight and use that platform for Christ? There is so much potential here. All we can do is be faithful ambassadors of the gospel. I’d love to look back in five years and see that impact and know I’d played a role.”

Reaching the younger population as Christians can be difficult, as many are busy with the here and now. Yet it’s a mission field in-and- of-itself, with many college campuses offering various ministries reaching out with unique opportunities to learn about Jesus. Nevertheless, J.D. is all about keeping it simple.

“I think the answer is easy. In a football game or even a whole season, or just after a hard week or a tough loss, our team goes back to practicing fundamentals. The same is true for the way I was raised, and the family in general. We are simply lacking in the fundamentals,” J.D. said. “Reading God’s word daily, praying, memorizing Scripture, just Godly practices and principles that are easy but take discipline. I’m blessed to have parents that helped discipline me as a child, [helping me] memorize Scripture and read the Bible daily, not necessarily because I felt like it, but because the Word of God will not return void.”

“Even if I don’t feel like reading it, the word was rooted in my brain. Those things are essential. Gathering around a meal, reading just a little bit of Scripture; talking about issues that are big in the news through a godly lens; sharing the Gospel. Fundamentals… I think a lot of times it can be complicated and construed into this massive issue, but if we come back to the basics, that’s hugely effective.”

The age of technology and social media has the attention of many, especially the younger generation. Each year, that spectrum grows in popularity, as the options seem endless with the virtual world here to stay. While social media may be an asset, it can also lead to disappointments when it comes to fostering real relationships.

J.D. opined, “While one may have hundreds of followers on a social site, true friends are just as important today as before social media redefined friends. Purposefully establish a base of real relationships, not just virtual ones. That definitely starts with family. Also, without a relationship with someone older and wiser in the faith, we are not going to just jump into those Godly disciplines on our own. Our sinful nature gets in the way.”

For J.D., consistency is key to faith, family and football. He summed it up nicely saying, “It’s all about the fundamentals, because the Word of God is always the same. His truth is what we depend upon in our lives in a world that is full of lies being thrown at us through social media and various other outlets. Being grounded in truth is essential because otherwise you can easily get swept away with the pride, publicity, and popularity. Don’t chase after public opinion.”

Cover Story, September 2015

Heritage Ranch: It Takes A Village

by Beth Townsend

EllisFly_367-1While that familiar phrase was made famous in a political setting, families in crisis know it’s not just some catchy phrase that may help win a few votes. It’s a lifeline for a family in crisis. It is a calling for those God touched with a vision to aid families desperate for help. ‘It takes a village,’ also applies to making a vision happen that is so big that it had to be of God.

“Things stopped with Vicki Ellis about ten years ago. I mean, I had a vision, but if the community hadn’t been behind me, we wouldn’t be here,” said Ellis, the executive director at Heritage Ranch Christian Children’s Home in Zachary, La.

Sprawled out on 52 acres, the peaceful environment lends way to the idea of a fully functioning ranch. It will serve children in the midst of a personal or family crisis that requires respite outside the home.

HeritageRanch-18-FINAL“I would’ve just been sitting somewhere in a house with this vision and no way to bring about what God wanted to bring to fruition because really, this is His plan,” Vicki explained. “It’s been the obedience of God’s people to have faith in it [the vision], even more than anything from me. For so many people to say, ‘I’m going to pour time and energy into something that I haven’t seen yet,’ it’s amazing.”

One doesn’t just wake up one day wanting to open a home for children-in-crisis. Often, that vision comes from a deep place within the soul where God awakens the passions of one of His children as he reveals their life’s purpose. For Vicki, that vision was born from memories of her own pain as a child.

At 14, she was babysitting for Bobby and Libby Adams, who had four kids. “They asked me to babysit, but God had other plans,” she said thinking back. While traveling with the Adams, there was a monumental stop that would mark the teen’s life in a significant way. This stop was at Wears Valley Ranch, a children’s home near Sevierville, Tenn., founded by Jim Wood and his wife. During this stop, the Adams and Vicki toured the property and saw the structure of the first house at the ranch.

“As Jim Wood shared his vision of what God had put on his heart, something spoke to me because of my recent personal experience,” Vicki explained. “I was sexually abused as a child by my grandfather. Not until 11 did I even remember. You can imagine those three years before this trip; my parents had gotten me counseling and amazing support at my church. No matter what was going on though, there are still the lies that you believe when you have gone through that type of trauma.”

“Of course I wondered after the abuse, ‘Am I worth something? Did I cause something?’ I wasn’t your typical 14-year-old walking around a children’s home.”

Vicki identified with Wood when he spoke about families and children in crisis. She said she couldn’t image how she would have gotten through that season any other way than with the ‘village of people’ that supported her.

“Even with that support system, emotionally it feels like you barely get through a crisis like that,” Vicki recalled. For Vicki, the visit to Wears Valley Ranch sparked a lifelong journey pursuing a vision planted in her heart at as a teenager. After the trip, life resumed with normal teen activities: school, friends, etc.

“I was 14,” she explained, as if to imply there was only so much she could understand about God’s plan at that point in time. During her freshman year at LSU, Vicki began to revisit that summer.

“God put it on my heart to find out what had happened with Wears Valley Ranch,” she said. After calling to see what had happened since her visit, she found out that the first two homes were open. She applied to become an intern and was accepted.

HeritageRanch-62-FINAL“That three months included literally living in a room, in the girls’ house and doing life with them. Everything from getting them up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, counseling, educational support, taking them to the movies on Friday night,” Vicki remembered with fondness. “Being there when they woke up in the middle of the night [was important], especially with the girls, because they had identity issues.” The internship was a turning point for Vicki, now old enough to understand the broader scope of God’s calling.

“I came back and finished my undergraduate degree at LSU and started researching what it would mean to start a children’s home for the greater Baton Rouge area,” Vicki said. Her friends in Tennessee referred her to another children’s home, Eagle Ranch, in Georgia.

“When I told them I felt God was calling me to start a children’s home, they told me to call Director Eddie Staub,” she explained. “God called Eddie to mentor people, while passing on good business practices. While still in college, I attended the Wing Seminar at Eagle Ranch. I’ll say, sitting in that room, reading what it was going to involve [to start a home] was daunting. Getting together a board, getting the community involved, and over the course of time, from finding a building and capitol development standpoint, to serve 60 kids on a campus, you’d be raising 30 million plus dollars. That was the moment where I thought, ‘This is getting real.’ It’s where a calling has to come to grips with the reality of what it’s going to take.”

Vicki continued, “One thing I love about Eddie is that he doesn’t sugar coat anything. Sometimes he would make me mad because he would challenge me. But the reality was he was there to make sure that I understood what I was getting into. I remember him saying there were a lot of people who have a heart to serve, but if the business gets lost in the serving, you won’t be effective and you won’t last.” Tangible business decisions had to be made about board members and advisory staff.

“I just thought I’d recruit passionate people who love kids,” she said. “Eddie said, ‘Well that’s good, but you need an attorney and a human resource expert. You need an accountant, an insurance person, and someone who knows about media. You need an educator, and a pastor!’”

“To have that solid framework going into something is the reason we’ve been successful. We are modeling after a well-thought-through, well-executed plan and program that has been successful: the two-parent house couple, the family home setting in a rural area with educational and counseling support and family involvement. [We] focus around reunification for the family; that model has been very successful over the last 30 years. In our journey, our connection with Eagle Ranch has been critical for us.”

It was finally time to take what she had learned and get to work.

“From there it was starting a board. When I got our 501c3 status I was in my master’s program at LSU in December 2003. I didn’t know anything about fundraising, [creating a] board of directors or anything else,” Vicki said. “For the next couple of years it was just the process of learning what it means to run a business.”

HeritageRanch-10-FINALVicki built key relationships in the community and in 2006, under the leadership of Amy Horn, the current development director at Heritage Ranch, they started a life skills program that served more than 40 kids weekly from both Valley Park Alternative School in Baton Rouge and West Feliciana Alternative School in St. Francisville. Each school had mentors from the community that came in regularly to spend time with the kids.

Amy spoke in-depth about the program’s impact, “When we wrapped up the program in 2010, we served about 120 youth a week. We had fully implemented a life skills training program with a curriculum that we had developed. We had a program with community mentors that met in groups of three or four. They set goals, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Then we had a service-learning component where we took the youth out into the community to give back. Over the course of the year we would visit the battered women’s shelter, food bank, nursing homes, and different organizations to where they would get the opportunity to serve.” She continued, “Often the kids would think they didn’t want to go serve, but they would come out with filled with joy. We would go to lunch and share what they’d experienced. They came out feeling fulfilled, realizing they had done something positive.”

Vicki added thoughts about the importance of a multi-faceted mentoring approach, “Another thing we did was to offer them unique experiences they may not have otherwise had. We went to Juban’s for a fine dining experience. Another time, Mike Wampold, one of our board members and a successful real estate developer, had us visit his office and had executives share with the kids.”

The staff at Heritage Ranch discovered there are many misconceptions about families in crisis. “People have a misconception of what crisis looks like; that somehow kids in crisis don’t have a goals or dreams for their families. The reality is, God has made each of us with a purpose, there is something that we are called to accomplish,” Vicki said.

“It’s just a matter of if you have the resources and the support to challenge and motivate you. Yet, I understand that there will be people that have all the resources in the world but still won’t choose to pursue that dream or make that choice. But for the kids that we saw at Valley Park and St. Francisville, as well as those we’re interviewing at the ranch, they are kids that passionately want to be successful, yet something sidetracked them and now they are just trying to figure out how to get through the day.

She continued, “They still want to accomplish something. Those parents want to see their kids happy and successful. The life skills program taught us not to look at a situation and judge what you perceive. Those kids in Valley Park, I don’t care if they were expelled, they’re still kids.”

HeritageRanch-12-FINALDuring Heritage Ranch meetings, as a staff and board, there were discussions about the likely situations to be faced. “We agreed it would be a tragedy for any of these kids not to reach their full potential,” Vicki stated. “I’m not faulting the community around them, but that community didn’t know how to provide the support that they needed.”

Finding the correct property for Heritage Ranch was a major decision and took many years. The initial board was founded in 2004 with three members. By 2006 the board expanded to seven members. By 2010 the program had a fully functioning 10-person board of directors and 10-person board of advisors

“One of the things Eddie Staub told us is that often it’s difficult to find the board members that can serve because of the busyness of life,” Vicki explained. “That is why we had a smaller board for a long time. Princeton Bardwell, who was one of our board chairs, served on the board for six years. Almost every board member has served for six years, even though they get a three-year term!”

Vicki continued, “We have an incredible leadership structure. What we’ve looked for in building our team is men and women that have the values to guide this organization in the way God called it to be, a faith-based children’s home. For each, regardless of what they do for our board, I could trust them to raise my own children.”

“I think that’s one of the reasons people give up on visions,” Vicki stated. “Anybody who strives to do something bigger than themselves, you have to realize that you can only know and do so much. I can’t be a human resource major, an educator and all of these roles that have to be managed. Yet, I am tasked with leading this organization everyday, and that community makes the difference.”

Vicki recalled receiving a phone call from a parent that she knew was beyond the scope of her knowledge. Charlie Frey, a member of the board of advisors at the time and a well respected psychologist, worked with them to help her make that decision. She repeatedly spoke of the importance of having external wisdom and support.

There are many needs that the community can provide. Vicki explained, “We just had a group from Woodlawn Baptist come for the work day last week. They did in four hours what our staff couldn’t have done in weeks. One easy way to help is join our workdays, the first Saturday of every month from 8:00 a.m. to noon. It’s a good way for people to be on the campus and see first hand what we’re doing.” Continuing, she added, “One of our first donors was a 20-year old that had been raised by single mom that wanted to do something, giving $25 a month. We’ve had others that have given $100 a year from 2004 until now. Whether you are mowing the lawn, giving a check for $50,000 or coming in to read once a week, in my estimation, it’s all the same in the sense that without it we wouldn’t be here.”

From its inception, Heritage Ranch had the goal to be debt-free, modeling the business strategies of Eagle Ranch and Vicki’s mentor Eddie Staub.

“Fiscal responsibility has been a critical part of the planning process,” Vicki elaborated. “We have an operating reserve in the bank. Moving forward, we won’t build until we have raised the funds. When I’m going out to ask somebody to give $50,000 because we want to start a scholarship fund, it might be a meeting in a restaurant, but Amy has met the child that that scholarship is going to fund. Doing that [raising money] and being debt-free means that the legacy we’re creating for our kids is stable. That is huge.”

Amy added, “We closed our initial capital campaign at $1.9 million before we opened because the board said we would not open until we had that cash reserve. That is the great thing about having strong leadership.”

HeritageRanch-14-FINAL“Our tuition is $12,000 a year, $1000 a month. The reason that we set the tuition is because there is a value to the service that we’re providing. If you look at what a family in crisis has to spend per year, it would be astounding,” Vicki said. “Individual counseling weekly, group counseling weekly, both of which we provide; family counseling every other week, as well as weekly tutoring. For the level of support we provide, anyone in crisis knows they could be spending $30,000 a year, plus housing, and still be stressed out and in crisis at home.”

To ensure that no child would be turned away because of money, Heritage Ranch established a scholarship fund. Social worker Fairly Edrington meets with families to help determine what they can afford.

“When you are in a crisis, financial stress is one of the biggest triggers. When your family is falling apart then someone says, ‘We can help your kid and it’s going to cost $50,000 dollars a year,’ that one call can be the very thing that puts a mom over the edge. When you’re in crisis, you need hope more than anything else,” Vicki added empathetically. “If we determine they can pay $250 a month or $600 a month or even the full $1,000 a month [that’s great]. If we [see that we] have a need, we will talk to our donors about that child. We are fundraising all year long because we know we’re going to be raising the difference anyway.”

Fairly’s role will become critical in the well-rounded approach to meet the individual needs of the boys who will be moving in. “The relationship between myself and the house parents is critical because we have to be a united front with the boys,” Fairly explained. “We want to make sure we’re on the same page with how we treat the boys in the therapeutic realm.”

“An example would be a child that has impulse control. ‘What can we do to help you not speak out of turn every 15 seconds, but instead, every 30 seconds?’ You have to celebrate small victories, not just large goals,” Fairly continued. “We try to help get to the core issues as a family. If we just worked with the child and not the rest of the family, then there will be problems down the road. We teach them ways to communicate better, how a listen to one another, teaching them ways to deal with stress and anger, and to celebrate together. If your child lies every day and you can get to where they only lie every other day that is a huge victory. We have to set goals that are attainable, [and] well-defined.”

Fairly’s experience revealed common sense advice for struggles commonly experienced in families. “Communication for families is that the root of everything. Parents often want to fix problems instead of listening to the problem,” Fairly explained. “If a child says they had a tough day at school, the parent wants to tell them what to do next time. But the kid just wants to be heard. Processing what they’re saying goes with putting down your phone. If I tell my mom something and I’m on my phone and she’s on her phone, I’m not going to hear what she’s really saying, same goes for her.”

Fairly is the contact person with the public school each young man attends. “We plan to be involved, have a relationship with the principals, guidance counselors, and teachers,” she said. Now that Heritage Ranch has opened, plans for future homes are being discussed.

“We will not build house two or three until we have the funds,” Fairly stated. “We anticipate that being a 3 to 5 year process. Each home will be built with houseparents’ quarters, allowing them to have their own living space in case they have their own children. We have a goal of housing a minimum of 60 boys and girls ages 8 to18 with transitional living. We’ll also have a chapel, educational center, and pavilion. We plan for a big community.” Fairly concluded with a broad smile.

Vicki’s passion for the project is infectious. Year after year, she builds upon success and determination. In discussing seasons of doubt, she was quick to respond, “There are times I get weary,” she admits. “Were it not for the community support, I would not have been able to do what we have done. This quit being about me and my vision years ago.”

Heritage Ranch has been a part of the Ellis family life since it began. Three of their four children (Gabriel, 9, Jesse, 7, Mercy, 5, and Kai, 2) joined around the table and seemed to enjoy being in the midst of everyday business. As Vicki’s children scurried around she added, “My dad is our site manager and my mom comes out two days a week and does grant writing and helps with tutoring. He and mom moved up the road a couple of miles to be closer.” They are Larry Brown, known as Paw Paw, and Ann Brown known affectionately as Nana.”

HeritageRanch-13-FINALVicki credits the support of her husband Micah as monumental: “During the time God was giving birth to this vision, Micah’s realization of what it would really mean for our family was amazing. It should always be God first, family second and ministry third. You struggle with that when God calls you do something because it so much a part of you, but you realize you have to have that family support.” From carrying kids to and from school or to going to galas, or being there when Vicki cries or feel like she can’t do this anymore, Micah has always been supportive.

Vicki continued, “There are a lot of things God asks us to do that are not small, just like the families in crisis are not going through a small thing. For every person, especially in crisis, we realize humans can’t give what you need. Sometimes you need someone who’s always going to be there for you and that is God! He will never fail us. God has been reminding me that He has established Heritage Ranch. It’s just day-to-day trust in Him to bring about what He has already done.”

Sadly people often think young people in environments like Heritage Ranch have parents that just gave up, but that’s not the case. Any one of these youngsters could be your neighbor’s child, or a pastor’s child. There is no formula for good parenting or keeping a child safe. As young people grow up, they must figure out whom they are. Sometimes they don’t know how to do so, and instead, start acting out.

“By the time a young person is placed in a children’s home environment, the family has usually tried everything. They’ve gone to their church family, they’ve tried counseling; they’ve done everything in the books,” Vicki explained. “Heritage Ranch is about coming alongside families in crisis when they love their child so much that they’re willing to sacrifice having them in their home to keep them safe in our care, because they know that may be the only chance to get through this crisis.”

If there is a young man in crisis age 10 to 17 and their family has tried everything else, readers are encouraged to call Fairly Edrington for a discussion and to potentially set up an interview. The intake process and application can be found on the Heritage Ranch website at www.hrbr.org.

The goal of Heritage Ranch is to provide care for the community that will impact generations of change, and it is an opportunity for the Greater Baton Rouge community to have something not previously available. Business leaders like Mike Wampold, Julio Malera, Princeton Bardwell, and Bill Peters are just a few of the high-profile community members who saw the need and have answered the call to help.

Matthew 25 speaks to “receiving the inheritance that has been prepared for you.” Hope is what we are about. Now that Vicki Ellis’ vision is a reality, it will be about how our community works together to bring this vision to it’s full potential.


 

Meet House Parents Brian and Brenda Zawodniak
HeritageRanch-8-FINAL

Brian and Brenda are looking forward to this new chapter. They used to dream of having a ranch or farm where they could help children, but the opportunity didn’t work out until they heard about Heritage Ranch. “When this job came up, it seemed a great fit,” said Brian; Brenda nodded in agreement.

Having learned about the job from their daughter who interned at the ranch, they knew God ordered their steps with perfect timing. They will be utilizing Brian’s 30-years of military service and Brenda’s vast ministry experience, as well as their own parenting experience, as they’ve also raised two (now grown) children.

“God ordered our steps here,” Brian explained. “There are easier jobs with more money, but this is where we are supposed to be and what we want to do.

“We are looking forward to getting to know the kids, finding out what they like. We plan to teach them to work together as a team,” Brian said.

“Moving here can be the change of scenery these kids need,” Brenda said. “Sometimes kids just don’t know how to start with a clean slate.” Their plan is to focus on the positives.

“We will do Bible studies and build their focal point back to the Lord. Effort equals results, good decisions equal positive things,” Brian concluded.


Why is Heritage Ranch needed in our community?

“There are families in crises all around us…these are regular people who find their family unit threatened, who are in severe emotional pain and who desperately need help for their child, or children, and themselves. Heritage Ranch is a response to this need that is rooted in compassion, driven by service and sustained through love.  It is people helping people, neighbors loving neighbors, in an organized, secure and professional, yet home-style, environment.  Heritage Ranch follows a template created by Eagle Ranch in Gainesville, GA that has given Eagle Ranch the distinction of being described as the most effective child service center in Georgia.  We believe Heritage Ranch will be that for Baton Rouge and Louisiana.”

Princeton Bardwell, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

“Heritage Ranch is needed to give our Parish youth an opportunity to become what God intends for them.”

Bill Peters, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

“Heritage Ranch provides an outstanding family structure for children to become ambassadors for HIM.”

Bill Peters, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

What is the importance of the whole community coming together to found a children’s home for our area?

“The Heritage Ranch business model, in fact the experience of similar, privately funded children’s homes, relies on small donations from many people. So, by design, Heritage Ranch depends on a broad base of support throughout the community.  Its’ ministry of mitigating family crises, providing a safe haven for the children, providing counseling and helping restore relationships and reunite families benefits everyone because, in the end, it is about building stronger families and a stronger community.”

Princeton Bardwell, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

“A private, voluntary placement program such as Heritage Ranch must have the support of the entire community to survive and thrive.”

– Jeff Plauche, Board Chair Heritage Ranch