Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine
April 2018, Cover Story, Feature Story

Purpose in the Pain, Troy and Tracy Duhon Step Out in Faith for World Impact

PURPOSE IN THE PAIN:

Troy and Tracy Duhon step out in
faith for world impact.

Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine
Troy and Tracy Duhon
God’s Not Dead 3 opened nationwide March 30. Photo to the right shows Tracy and Abigail Duhon playing with kids in a village in Gambia, the location of an orphanage constructed by Giving Hope.

Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine - Gambia Orphanage

“Be careful what you pray for – God might send a Cajun car dealer,” laughs Troy Duhon. He shakes his head as he recounts the way God is using a rebellious pastor’s son to spread the gospel through the burgeoning Christian movie business, build orphanages around the world, and address human trafficking, hunger and prison re-entry from his base in New Orleans.

As executive producer of the “God’s Not Dead” series, Duhon works to equip Christians – especially young adults – to address conflicting ideas during the volatile high school and college years. The latest film, “God’s Not Dead 3,” is scheduled for release by Pure Flix this Easter season.

Duhon was sitting on a movie set in Los Angeles when he was struck by the idea. “We have a daughter (Abigail) who’s an aspiring actress, so she auditioned for a film and got the role. Because she’s a minor, parents have to go,” he said. Then, he received a phone call from a friend, Dr. Rice Broocks, author of the book, God’s Not Dead.

“He’s telling me that 65% of faith-based kids will walk away from Christianity because they can’t defend the gospel. And I’m like – that’s crazy,” he said. “All of a sudden I got hit by the Holy Spirit and I’m like, really, God, me do a movie? I’ve never done a movie in my life.”

Duhon approached David A.R. White, co-founder and managing partner of Pure Flix. “He looks at me and says, “Are you for real?” And 31 days later we signed the contract. Now, up to 40 million people have seen the film.”

The Duhons are part of a movement to take the Christian film industry to a new level. “When you do a film called “God’s Not Dead” there’s a very small market of people that are going to go to it. You’re entertaining Christians,” he said. “But when you take a story like “Hacksaw Ridge” (directed by Mel Gibson), you’re able to tell someone a story without preaching.” “Hacksaw Ridge” depicts the faith struggle of WWII medic Desmond T. Doss.

“We’re creating a new model to evangelize,” Duhon said. That includes the idea of producing horror films – popular among Millennials – with a faith resolution. “You can give them a finish that says there’s a Creator, and his name is God. I don’t care what devil you served, God will redeem you and forgive you,” Duhon said. They are also working to provide the story of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and stories of people who have faced hard circumstances because of their faith.

Duhon said personal tragedy often pulls someone away from faith: the loss of someone close, a broken heart, a profound disappointment. For others, it is a creeping realization that Christianity prompts questions – and they don’t have answers.

But with a faith animated by their own search for struggles, the Duhon family was uniquely equipped to embrace these issues head-on. Their own painful reality – similar to the tragedy experienced by the professor in “God’s Not Dead” – brought a stronger faith and deeper commitment to serve. But it was an agonizing process that Troy and Tracy share to encourage faith through crisis.

After giving birth to two healthy children, Joshua and Abigail, Tracy looked forward to a third baby in 2004. But she was told that the baby would not even survive her pregnancy. In faith, the Duhon family and members of their church prayed through scripture and trusted God for a miracle. But Baby Jonathan died on the day he was born. Tracy and Troy were devastated.

“You could have taken anything in this world from me – anything but my children,” Tracy said. She felt that God had let her down. “We did not receive our miracle the way that we believed.” But Tracy said God was working out a different plan – one that took shape with wave after wave of trauma.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded four of the car dealerships in their New Orleans-based business. Some 1,200 cars were under water. Troy set up a relief center for the community in his Honda store. Soon, they were servicing 1,200 cars per day. “What was incredible wasn’t the number of cars, it was the joy of watching our employees give back,” Troy explained. “And from that moment on, I made a decision that it was never going to be about how many cars I sold, it was going to be about how many people that I could bless.”

Then, tragedy struck again. In May 2006, their son, Joseph, was born and lived only seven hours. “Losing one child was pain enough, and then it happened a second time. Truly you’re going to doubt your faith,” Troy said. Depression set in, along with self-doubt: was there something in his past that caused present pain?

“It was way too much for a mama to walk through. I was totally broken,” Tracy said. “And one day in the shower I cried out to the Lord, screamed, yelled at him, ‘Why don’t you just take away this pain?’” Then, she sensed God’s direction; as she emotionally released her baby boys to him, she began to move forward. “I chose to obey one day at a time. He asked me to be faithful with what is in my hand, and at the time it was Joshua, six years old, and Abigail, three years old, looking up at me. Joshua said, ‘I’m going to keep kissing you ‘til you stop crying, Mama.’”

“You begin to try to justify or rationalize without knowing that God truly has a plan and a purpose,” Troy said. “Because if those events hadn’t happened, I don’t see myself here today adopting, building orphanages and doing the things I’m doing.”

“My pain became my purpose,” he said. “I told Tracy, ‘Baby, you’re going to be the mother of many before we go to heaven. I will build 20 orphanages – that’s my goal.’” In the meantime, Tracy gave birth to another daughter, Avah, now age 6, and they gained a daughter through adoption. Anna, now age five, was brought home from China in 2012.

“The extravagant love of God loved me back to life – gave me a passion,” Tracy said. There are three lessons she passes along to others. First, there is purpose in your pain and you must choose to let it go. Then, you must tell yourself and others that God has not failed you. Finally, you must recognize that there is hope, and while you’re waiting on your miracle, become a miracle for someone else. “God gave me the word Hope, and he told me never to let go of it. And H.O.P.E. became Helping Other People Every day.”

Gradually, God began to reveal their purpose: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25: 35, 36). The Giving Hope Foundation began to take shape. They commit a small portion of each vehicle sale to the foundation’s work.

Through their non-profit, the Duhons established Hope for a Home to help families with international adoptions. They built orphanages in Honduras, India and Africa, and plan a ribbon cutting for the orphanage in Moscow, Russia in July. Through a partnership with the New Orleans Mission, they have built the Giving Hope Retreat Center to serve men and women who face the challenges of addiction, mental illness and physical or sexual abuse. A Women’s Pavilion provides 100 rooms to battered women, victims of human trafficking and formerly homeless women. Giving Hope also works with inmates released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola through the New Orleans Mission.

Another branch of Giving Hope – H.A.T.E., Hope Against Trafficking Everywhere – educates and provides rescue and recovery for victims of human trafficking, the fastest growing crime in the world, with an average age of 11 to 14-year-old girls and boys.

Giving Hope operates a full-staff kitchen that cooks 1,000 hot meals every day in one of their car dealerships. Their food pantry partners with Winn-Dixie, Wal-Mart and Second Harvesters to provide some 2.5 million pounds of food a year.

“So, I’m here to tell you today: God did not fail me, he has not failed you,” Tracy said. “His word came to pass in our life. But it came to pass much greater and much different than I had imagined.”

Their pastor told them, “The miracle of your sons living would have been incredible, but the miracle is that you and Troy are holding hands, walking back in church, moving forward, trusting God, because people can relate to your pain. They need to see someone who dared to believe and move forward and trust God again – that he can take it and turn it around.” 

For more information: givinghopenola.org.

Abigail, Tracy, Josh, Troy, Annahstasia and Avah
Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine
Left; Tracy with a native at Hope House in India. Right, Troy and Josh with dedication plaque for Honduras Hope House.

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

April 2018, Faith Life

Lost at Sea with Deborah Quan

Lost at sea

Deborah stood silently looking over the water, tears slowly gliding down her face. Her hands trembled as she read the letter one last time. Taking a deep breath, she tore the paper into pieces. And then let it go. The words, now scattered, descended into the sea.

The decision had been made. Deborah had chosen to forgive him — for all the hurt feelings she experienced as a child of divorce, for the disappointment of promises not kept, for the ache of missing his presence, for the resentment of responsibilities taken on too young. For all of it. Her head knew about forgiveness, but the pastor’s message that Sunday seemed to be speaking directly to her heart. It was time to absolve her father of mistakes from the past.

Part of Deborah wondered how the wound was still there. It had been, seemingly, a lifetime ago. She was a child of only nine years the day he left. Standing at the ironing board, she heard him tell her mother, “You’re not going to be able to raise these girls without them getting into trouble.” Whatever context that statement may have meant between her parents did not matter. She made up her mind immediately to prove him wrong. She would not get into trouble.

True to her word, Deborah took on the indoor responsibilities at home while her sister took care of the outdoors. They pitched in, allowing their mother to go to work, for the first time since they could remember. Occasional conversations with Dad, now living in a different state with a different wife, felt awkward and strained. Deborah leaned heavily on her faith. She and her sister continued going to church, more frequently than she likes to recall, without their heartbroken mother.

Still underlined in her childhood Bible is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It is a popular verse, often taken out of context, but not for Deborah. While her young heart may not have realized the significance, she found herself in a type of exile, separated from the home she loved. In fact, over time, she followed the Lord’s instructions to the Israelites. She married, had children, and built a home and a life for herself hundreds of miles away. And just as God promised the Israelites, His word rang true for Deborah. His good plans were fulfilled and she was brought home. The restoration that Deborah longed for with her father was yet to come.

She had tried to maneuver it herself, but after making a phone call, all that would remain was an empty feeling. The surface contact was there, but the depth of love that every daughter longs for with her father always felt forced. Her father had met her children and remained a part of her life throughout the 17 years she was married. He  encouraged her the best he could when her husband died of emphysema, even letting  his granddaughter live with him during part of that difficult season. But her heart still had an empty segment carved out for the relationship she longed to have with her father.

Years later, after Deborah’s children were grown and she had moved to Florida, her father came to her college graduation. It was during this time in her life, as an adult, that she heard the pastor speak and wrote the heartfelt letter that never got mailed. Despite her effort, not much changed after that day. Seven years passed. Deborah earned her master’s degree and married a wonderful man named Denny. Life went on.

Four years into her marriage, Deborah received a call from her sister. She needed help with their aging mother. Deborah and Denny left Florida the next day, headed for Dallas.  Deborah knew her father and his wife were also living in the area, but she did not expect the visit to be so emotional. When they walked into the room, her father wept.  It was the first time he met Denny, and he liked him right away. Her father had changed. He was happy. He had re-committed his life to Christ.

The next day, while mom remained in the hospital post-surgery, the rest of the family gathered around the kitchen table. There was something different about this conversation. It was honest and heartfelt. They all seemed to know they were not together on this day by accident – this was a divine time orchestrated for their good. Deborah had not felt like an actual part of the family for so long. She did not want her heart to go another minute without forgiveness. She asked for it and gave it freely. Hugs and tears filled the room as the restoration was for them all – not just Deborah and her father. As a family — a newly bonded family — they grabbed hands and prayed.

Things changed that night. “The Holy Spirit was so thick in the room,” Deborah recalls, tears forming in the corner of eyes. Her heart admittedly came to another understanding too, one she had struggled with for years. “I realized that it didn’t matter who initiates the contact, it is about the relationship.” And this one, that she had longed for since childhood, was finally fulfilled. She had been brought home and restored. The unforgiveness – she had let it go – like unspoken words lost at sea.

Deborah Quan
Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine
Deborah’s Childhood bible and mother’s handkerchief
Baton Rouge April 2018 Denny
Deborah’s father

Sharon Holeman for Baton Rouge Christian Life Magazine

Sharon Holeman is a writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was the project creator, coordinator and co-author of the book Backyard Miracles – 12 American Women, 12 True Stories, 1 Miraculous God. Previously published in Her Glory and Inspire Louisiana , she is now penning her first screenplay. Sharon is a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio and The Art Institute of Houston. She is currently attending Bethany College to further her pursuit of the Lord and His Word.

August 2016, Pastor's Perspective

Bible Study Helps Rebuild Lives and Deepen Scriptural Understanding

by Rev. Gene Rives

GeneRivesEvery Wednesday at noon, people gather at Baker First United Methodist Church for a 15-minute worship service followed by a free community lunch. We started the worship service and lunch a few weeks after hurricane Katrina so that people could gather together and share their stories. Our intent was to do it for 6-8 weeks, but it just never stopped. As the event grew, we started adding different ministry opportunities for people to be involved in. One of those ministries is a Bible study class that starts at 1 p.m. following the lunch.

Currently, we are studying the Gospel of Matthew. There are no requirements to come to the class, no homework assigned, no outside readings necessary, attendance is not taken or mandatory and most of all, we encourage and value everyone’s opinion. Therefore, Bible commentaries (because they are someone’s written opinion) are not read aloud.

Everyone attending the study is considered to be a Bible scholar because their perspective of the Scripture matters. We know that Scripture is God’s word and that it meets us where we are. Therefore, what we have been conditioned by and experienced in life makes our perspective uniquely valuable.

For example, it is one thing to read about the poor in scripture and quite another to have Brenda at the Bible study give her opinion while currently living on the street. Let me just say that the first day she joined the group, and before she spoke, everyone gave nice benign voices to their relatively tame comments about the homeless. Brenda then said, “No one should really ever have to live this way. It is a misery beyond your comprehension. If you have never been homeless you have no understanding of what it is like. Do you think that being homeless is a choice? Do you think anybody wants to be homeless?”

It was in that moment that compassion started to pour over the conversation. It was then that moment people saw Jesus come alive in Brenda, and they now had a deeper understanding of the gospel. You see, most of the time we want to preach the gospel to others. We want to tell people about the good news. But the truth is, if we are willing to experience the word of God with the poor instead of talking about it to the poor, we will see a whole new world open up.

What about demons? Demons are in the Bible. People sometimes make fun of the language, and others don’t understand what the stories mean. How is the Bible relevant for us today? It has been through the Bible study that I have come to understand the power of addiction as being demonic – destroying lives and wrecking families. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and food are just a few examples of addictions that can control and destroy one’s life.

Bob is, by his admission, a binge alcoholic. He could go for periods of time without drinking, but once he started, he couldn’t quit. He was in and out of the Bible study for a couple of years. He described his life as, “Out of control. It was like every morning I would get up and there would be this presence calling and urging me to have a drink. For a long time I had no problem beating the demon back. But slowly over time I got more and more weary and the demon seemed to be harder and harder to beat. It was like I was in a boxing match and that’s how I started every day. Finally one day the demon knocked me down. I got a DUI. I went to AA and made it six months keeping the demon back, but it finally wore me out. I couldn’t fight the demon anymore. I gave up and took the 10 count and asked God to remove this demon and show me what to do.”

Bob has been a regular attendee for several years. His journey through AA and the Bible has helped it all finally click for him.

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them,” Matthew 18:20.

I believe that when Bible study is done in small groups that are diverse and open, it becomes dynamic. Bible study is not about memorizing scripture or quoting propositions about Jesus. Bible study is not about us trying to change our life, it is about believing that God can change our life.

Shalom.

 

About Gene: Gene is a native of Baton Rouge and an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. He received a calling to ministry in 1995, after 20 years owning and operating his own businesses. Gene is currently serving Baker United Methodist and Bethel United Methodist churches. Gene can be reached via email at: rivesgene@cox.net.