Cover Story, September 2016

About the Cover

About the Cover

SeptCoverPictured: Nathan D’Gerolamo and Ian Smith

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

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

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

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

About the Camp, From Lisette West:

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

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

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

Faith Life, July 2016

The Power of Prayer

by Rachel Chustz
Michael and Rachel with their children.
Michael and Rachel with their children.

Our family had just spent a fantastic week at a Christian summer camp.  We had made some amazing new friends, listened to wise words from an inspiring speaker and had many exciting outdoor adventures. We felt refreshed from a peaceful week, and our spiritual tanks were full. We had no clue what God was preparing us for, and we didn’t know that only four short days later, we would find out.

On this hot July morning, my hard-working husband, Michael, woke up early, as usual. He sang as he showered. His cheerfulness seeped melodically throughout the rooms of our home.  He quickly dressed and gathered his things. Our children giggled as their playful daddy chased them around the house for goodbye kisses. I kissed Michael goodbye and told him I loved him.

Michael's truck after the accident.
Michael’s truck after the accident.

Only several hours later, I got the phone call from a stranger. The stranger’s voice shook as he regretfully told me, “Ma’am, your husband has been in a very serious wreck.” Michael had run into the back of an 18-wheeler on the interstate. The 18-wheeler was almost completely stopped, and Michael had crashed into him going full speed. “Is he bleeding? Is he going to be okay? Is he alive?” I hysterically asked.  The stranger explained that the Jaws of Life had pried him out of his smashed truck, and the helicopter would arrive any minute to fly him to the emergency room.

I was finally called back to see my husband. As I walked in, I saw Michael lying on the hospital bed with a horrified look on his face. His rapid, shallow breathing revealed how difficult and painful it was to breathe. When he saw me, his eyes filled with tears and he whispered, “I am so sorry.” I held his trembling hand and told him that everything was going to be okay. I could hear his broken bones in his chest snapping with each laborious breath.

Michael was moved to the trauma unit where they tried to manage his pain until surgery for his broken legs. Two surgeries later, both of his legs were full of hardware, covered in stitches and were two times their normal size. Michael was kept in a comatose state and remained on the ventilator to allow his lungs, sternum and ribs time to heal.

Rachel holding Michael's swollen and jaundiced hand during the recovery process.
Rachel holding Michael’s swollen and jaundiced hand during the recovery process.

After several days, I noticed that Michael started to look different. His body began to swell and he started to turn yellow. He also developed a fever and his vital signs were too high. It was very difficult to manage his pain, even though he was extremely sedated, and when they tried to get Michael off of the ventilator, it was clear that his lungs were not ready to support his breathing.

The days in the hospital began to run together. Michael’s reports did not get better.  His liver was still struggling, he had developed pneumonia, had several blood transfusions, had a persistent fever, and the doctors were beginning to worry that he had developed Staph. Then the worst news came. Michael had developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The doctors’ voices were low as they explained everything to us. The hopelessness and fear overwhelmed me, and I begged and pleaded for someone to tell me that he would be okay. Then one nurse explained, “I’ve seen people in much worse condition live, and I’ve seen people in much better condition die.”

My spirited husband, who was usually so full of life, lay so lifeless, taking only breaths that the ventilator initiated. As I stood over him, I saw the deep groove of where his wedding ring was and imagined him saying, “I have never taken this ring off and I never will.” I looked at the messy pink polish he had allowed our two-year-old daughter to paint onto his toes.  I begged, “God, please don’t take this amazing man from us.”

As their grandmother read books to our children that night, I hid in my bedroom and listened to voicemails from Michael. His soothing voice sounded so sweet in my ear. I went into Michael’s closet and could smell his fragrance on his clothes.  Michael felt so near. I could almost hear him saying the words he said to me only hours after his accident, “Rachel, I can’t tell you why this happened, but I know this happened for a reason. And I know God kept me alive for that reason.” I clung to his words so tightly.

As the fog of shock began to wear off, I was able to see and feel the indescribable outpouring of love from family and friends. Family and friends took care of our children, traveled to be with us, provided us with meals and groceries (which lasted for months!), set up a fund to help with the hospital expenses and constantly offered powerful words of encouragement and heartfelt prayers. They even built us a ramp so Michael could get into our home in his wheelchair. Churches all over our state were praying for Michael and his healing. Our community was lifting us up and carrying us through this terrifying time.

Michael coming home from the hospital after a long recovery process.
Michael coming home from the hospital after a long recovery process.

Over the next several days, Michael began to slowly improve. Then, I got the most incredible surprise of my life when I returned for the visitation with Michael one evening. Michael was off of the ventilator and was alert. He could barely lift his head or open his eyes, but when he saw me, he said, “Now there’s the love of my life.” I cannot even explain the joy that I felt in that moment.

We were very careful not to overwhelm Michael as he woke up. He had lost more than 20 pounds and was extremely weak. Michael remembered that he had been in a car accident but didn’t remember much of anything after that. He experienced lots of delusions and post-traumatic stress as he came back into consciousness.

As the days went on, Michael became more aware and was ready to see our two young children, and they were very excited to finally see their daddy. This was such a magical moment for us. Our children eagerly became little caretakers.  I remember the tears pouring down my cheeks as I watched our 2-year-old and 4-year-old so naturally and courageously take on this new careful and gentle demeanor with their father.

Michael worked hard. He didn’t let being in a wheelchair slow him down. He was bound and determined to walk. With some great physical therapy and dedication, Michael was walking four months before the doctors predicted. Despite all of his suffering, Michael’s attitude remained optimistic as he focused on making his suffering count. Michael is my hero. I have never seen anything like his faith, courage or perseverance.

This experience has given our family new eyes to see this life. It has revealed to us that even in the wake of such uncertainty and fear, there are so many blessings. It has been a long road to recovery. However, with every trial, we have more joyously celebrated our victories. Michael’s scars are a reminder to us of the miracle we experienced and that God has a very big plan for Michael here on Earth.

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.”

March 2016, Witness at Work

How He Makes it Work: Be Authentic and Set Parameters

Q & A with Scott Gaspard – Realtor, Husband and Father

by Sharon Furrate Bailey

image1-2Scott Gaspard, realtor with the successful Gaspard Team, shared insight into how he manages his busy real estate career while still finding time to spend with his wife, Jessica, and be an attentive father to his growing young family. He has a house full of blessings—11 children! “Children are a blessing from the Lord,” Scott says.

Scott shared many special stories about his family and career that may help others understand that balance in life is maintained by setting parameters and knowing who you are in Christ.

The RE/MAX First Gaspard Team is comprised of Linda Gaspard, Scott Gaspard, Carol Cotten and Janice Dubios (Sisters Tak’n Care of Business), Mary DiBenedetto, and Ashley Terrell Ferrer. Scott and his mother have worked together for 18 years, and the team is still going strong. Last year, The Gaspard Team sold 224 homes and has been the number one real estate team in Louisiana the last three years. Their new tagline is, “selling a house every 36 hours”— it is clear they are doing something right.

This family team of realtors is very grateful for its successes but realizes that one must be relationship-focused and not transaction-focused. In other words, they are in the business of people. That mindset is something Scott gleaned from his mother, and the team continues to maintain that mentality today.

Scott shared about his career, family and spiritual life and gladly opened up about what he feels are the keys to the blessings he has experienced. “I do not live for myself,” he commented. “I know God will provide by setting certain parameters and my confidence comes from God.” Apart from God, there is nothing.

Scott shares what he hopes will assist others who are trying to learn how to manage their “to-do” list in a world with so many distractions:

Q: How have you learned to not get caught up in work while running a business and balancing the business with family time?

A: “Jessica, my wife, is a gentle reminder. She lets me know in a respectful manner when I need to be available or fully present. We have worked out a schedule that seems to help our daily life. Parameters are crucial and so there are a few I have set, and I stick to them. For instance, Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays are days that I have set aside for family time or at least part of the day, but Sundays are solely spent with family. On Tuesdays, I get to the office around 12:30 p.m. On Fridays, I take off around 3 p.m. On Sunday, the work clock is completely off. Sunday is family time. When Jessica and I worked on formulating parameters, this was what we came up with together. In my initial client meetings, it is important I let them know up front my schedule, then there are no expectations during the times I am off the clock.”

When he set those parameters, he was ready to accept whatever happened. Yet God blessed his family and business after that conscious decision was made. So, when he is at the office, his sole focus is working for his clients. “When you are on, you have to be fully on,” Scott says. “You cannot be on the fence. However, since I am part of The Gaspard Team, if something is a major concern to a client, another team member will help out.”

Q: Can you recall a time when your parameters were challenged?

A: “As I mentioned, it is important I share in my initial meetings that I do have my client’s best interests at heart but at the same time there a few parameters that are set in my life so I can maintain the various roles in my life as realtor, husband and dad. It actually builds respect if one is honest up front so there are no unrealistic demands or expectations. Honesty helps to maintain one’s integrity. However, there is a neat story that comes to mind regarding the parameter issue and it involves a couple that was with Campus Crusade for Christ and was re-locating to Baton Rouge.”

“I spoke to both the husband and wife together in our meeting regarding their home search and shared my schedule with both of them. They both heard me share that I do not work on Sundays but was happy to help them find a home. Well, the husband happened to call me one Sunday and I did not answer the phone. Later, the wife told me she was happy I did not answer that Sunday because she felt it showed that I was a man of my word. Setting boundaries are so important. It does help me to be client-focused when back at work. It helps me to be a better realtor because the time I have with my family is quality-time and it eliminates anxiety while at work because my family knows when I am available to be fully present with them.”

“When I am with my wife, eight sons and three daughters, I am in the moment. Jessica home-schools our children so it is important I am there to help and be an active dad. In addition, there was a time in 2008 that I felt led to eliminate television in our household. The market tanked in 2008 and aside from the market crash, the negativity on television did not help matters. It wasn’t like a major “Moses and the burning bush” experience, like I heard some loud voice say to turn it off, but Jessica did not seem to mind getting rid of the TVs in our home. Now, we do have one television, but we enjoy picking what we watch. As a family, we like to sit around, enjoy some popcorn together and live stream movies. This decision was also part of learning how to set parameters so my personal time is about family.”

“He who finds a wife, finds favor with the Lord,” Proverbs 18:22. This proverb is so appropriate when you speak about Jessica and your family time, which leads in to the next question: 

ScottJessicaGaspard-2Q: Would you please share about how you met Jessica, and how your shared Christian faith has helped both of you in your marriage and parental roles?

A: “Believe it or not, I first noticed Jessica in second grade. We went to the same school and Jessica stood out to me with her long, curly, flowing hair. All the other girls had straight hair, so maybe that is why I noticed Jessica. We still laugh today that we are actually married and it has truly helped us understand fully God’s providence.”

“Before venturing into the real estate business, I enlisted into the Army. Jessica actually shaved my head before I went off to serve my country. I remember sitting on the end of my bed one day while in the barracks and prayed to the Lord about my future wife. Little did I know that my wife would end up being Jessica.” Scott says he prayed this exact prayer, “God, if you could provide me with a wife with the character qualities of Jessica, I will give you my life.” Scott and Jessica married in 2000, and one day in a church service under pastor Kevin McKee, the message was on the providence of God.

“While listening to his sermon that day I recalled that specific prayer while in the Army and understood how His provision felt. God’s provision has been experienced both in my marriage and business life and it is something I will always remember. We have the same values, and our faith grew while attending The Chapel on the Campus. It was important to both of us to meet other couples with the same values, and by attending The Chapel we have gained a great network of friends that are supportive and have been mentors to us both.”

Q: As a Christian, what would you tell other business owners in our city, and as a church, what can we do better?

A: “I would share that authenticity is crucial. Be yourself. I have to remind myself who I am in Christ in order to be authentic. Also, our world seems to be made up of extremes, which constructs barriers. There are too many haves and have-nots. We need to allow people to be different. Listen to people and try to hear what they are saying. It’s time to slow down, stop and take time to have genuine conversations with people.”

“I feel that all of us that comprise the Gaspard Team work at being good listeners, and we take time to hear what our clients need. Ninety percent of our business is from referrals, so I like to believe it’s because those we have helped to buy or sell a have had a good experience. My mom taught me a great lesson when I first became part of the Gaspard Team. She said, ‘Scott never watch the dollar or focus on only the transaction.’ So, we are in the business of serving others and that is what I would like other business owners to remember. If you provide customer service, word will spread and the people will come.

GaspardFamilyPhoto-2Q: Can you recall a recent time where you felt you were a good witness or example to someone?

A: “If you did not realize it, there are two Scott Gaspards in Baton Rouge. People often confuse me with the attorney, so occasionally I will get a phone call from a person who believes he or she is calling the Scott Gaspard, attorney-at-law. One day I was at the office and received a phone call. The man mentioned he was selling his home because he was going through a divorce. I was not sure who this man was on the other end of the line, but I kept on listening. Later in the conversation, I knew he had confused me with the attorney.”

“However, he was trying to decide whether or not to sell his home, so I remained on the line. I asked him what he needed from me and he said he would decide to sell his home or stay in it depending on what I said to him. So, I finally let him know he called the wrong Scott Gaspard, but that maybe I could help him in another way. I suggested he contact a marriage counselor first and gave him some names. Who knows, he may have listened and somehow maybe I did help him at least really think about whether divorce was really the only option. My hope is that he and his wife are still together, so I like to believe my advice that day may have helped him.”

Q: What last thought would you like to share with other business owners?

A: “Be true to your word, honest with your clients and make your family a priority. God will take care of the rest if you put your trust in Him.”

Faith Life, February 2016

Love in Action: The Chapel and New Beginning Baptist Church are making a difference in Glen Oaks West Neighborhood

by Mark H. Hunter

BRCL Feb 2016 Kevin McKee n Donald Hunter 2 mhh“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…” Matthew 25:36

If you want to see what biblical love in action looks like, take a snapshot of the relationship between The Chapel and New Beginning Baptist Church.

Actually, to be more accurate, you’d have to make a documentary film because the uplifting story of a large, prosperous, mostly-white church loving on a small, not-so-prosperous African-American church started nearly four years ago and continues to this day.

It all began in August 2011, when Chapel member Marilyn Wroten read an Advocate newspaper story about the Rev. Donald R. Hunter, Sr., pastor of New Beginning Baptist, walking the streets of his Glen Oaks West neighborhood to establish the Black Family Initiative. The multi-denominational group of small churches is working to restore the traditional and biblical family headed by a responsible father and husband.

The Initiative’s task is huge, Hunter admits. Seventy-two percent of African-American families are headed by single women, compared to 70 percent of white families that have a father present, 66 percent of Hispanic families, and 72 percent of Asian families that have two parents, he said.

“We are just the opposite,” he said. And the negative effects of a missing husband/father only perpetuate a lifestyle of crime by countless angry young black men and guarantees poverty for women and children for generations.

“You see a young black boy walking down the street with no shirt on and his pants are down at his knees, in the middle of the day – that child is screaming as loud as he can, saying, ‘Help me!’ But we see him just as someone in defiance – as a truant, as a danger,” Hunter said in the article that moved Wroten’s spirit.

“I just kept thinking about it and kept praying for him and it stayed on my mind,” Wroten said after a recent prayer meeting at New Beginning church. Each month, several dozen members of both churches alternate at either church for a powerful prayer service.

“I told my pastor I think the Lord wants us to help him. That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Wroten said.

Phone calls were made; Marilyn and her husband Ed Wroten met with Rev. Hunter, and, “the Lord began to connect the dots,” she said.

Glen Oaks homeowner Glynnitra Ellzey and the Rev. Donald Hunter, Sr., stand in front of Ellzey's home that received a new roof thanks to a partnership with Hunter's small New Beginning Baptist Church and the much larger Chapel on Campus. photo by mark h hunter
Glen Oaks homeowner Glynnitra Ellzey and the Rev. Donald Hunter, Sr., stand in front of Ellzey’s home that received a new roof thanks to a partnership with Hunter’s small New Beginning Baptist Church and the much larger Chapel on Campus. photo by mark h hunter

The Chapel each year allocates its Easter offering, “Project GeneroCity,” to various community ministries, said pastor Kevin McKee. He was preaching through the book of Acts at the time and was in chapter 11, where the church at Antioch is told of a famine and “they determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.”

“They were giving to a less fortunate church and we thought we should do that,” McKee said.

McKee and Hunter soon became friends and a relationship began to develop between the members of both congregations. The Chapel allocated enough “GeneroCity” money to renovate New Beginning’s sanctuary and paid for some remodeling and new roofs for several needy Glen Oaks residents.

Gladys Ross provides childcare for 19 children in the house she’s lived in for 39 years. “I am so blessed to have the neighborhood reach out to me and take care of my roof,” she said.

As relationships of the two church’s members grew, more cooperative events and activities were held. “As you would guess (it is going) slowly but deeply – it just takes a while to build trust,” McKee said.

Men from The Chapel pull stubborn brush they've cut to clear part of Glen Oaks West Subdivision during a clean-up project in August 2014, as part of a cooperative relationship with New Beginning Baptist Church. photo by mark h hunter
Men from The Chapel pull stubborn brush they’ve cut to clear part of Glen Oaks West Subdivision during a clean-up project in August 2014, as part of a cooperative relationship with New Beginning Baptist Church. photo by mark h hunter

For example, last summer, dozens of Chapel members teamed up with Glen Oaks residents, New Beginning members, officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s BRAVE program and District Attorney Hillar Moore III, to cut down brush and scrubby trees between houses where crime can hide and mowed vacant lots where children can play.

While the men mowed, chain-sawed and piled the brush, dozens of Chapel, New Beginning, and neighborhood women and girls picked up bag after bag of litter.

“This is wonderful,” said Lucile Dupre as she watched the men mow a vacant lot next to her house.

On another occasion, Chapel members grilled burgers and hot dogs for a Glen Oaks neighborhood, “Play Street” event where Oaklan Drive was blocked off so kids could run free without fear of traffic.

The Chapel also paid for a new steel roof for New Beginning’s sanctuary building and in cooperation with Entergy, installed 91 streetlights in a six-square block section to brighten up what was a crime-plagued neighborhood.

Rev. Donald Hunter watches a roofing crew as they finish up installing a new roof on New Beginning Baptist Church. The job was paid for by The Chapel as part of its annual Easter offering to support other local faith ministries. photo by mark h hunter
Rev. Donald Hunter watches a roofing crew as they finish up installing a new roof on New Beginning Baptist Church. The job was paid for by The Chapel as part of its annual Easter offering to support other local faith ministries. photo by mark h hunter

“The night we turned on the 91 safety lights we passed out prevention strategies (informational) brochures to the home owners and neighbors,” Hunter said. “We held a march and seven individuals carried seven signs that displayed the Seven Spirits of God referenced in Revelation 5, and are called by name in Isaiah 11:1-2 (the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the Fear of the Lord). And so, we have the anointing of the Father and His Son in our efforts.”

Efforts Are Paying Off

The lights, the cleanup and “Play Street” efforts have combined to reduce crime, and Hunter, a professional statistician, has the numbers to prove it.

From 2013 to 2014, Hunter said, crime in their neighborhood, BRPD District 4, Zone D, Sub-Zone 1, has declined; homicide has declined 67 percent, robbery is down 24 percent, burglary is down 26 percent, larceny is down 17 percent and motor vehicle theft dropped 14 percent.

“It’s a miracle!” Hunter declared. “These numbers cannot be overlooked!”

The two churches’ combined efforts are “an anointing of God bringing about unity,” Hunter said.

Both Men and Churches are in ‘Uncharted Waters’

Rev. Donald Hunter, center, elicits smiles and laughter from members of Glen Oaks Neighborhood Association and The Chapel, including Rev. Kevin McKee, (L.) prior to a neighborhood clean-up project in August, 2014. photo by mark h hunter
Rev. Donald Hunter, center, elicits smiles and laughter from members of Glen Oaks Neighborhood Association and The Chapel, including Rev. Kevin McKee, (L.) prior to a neighborhood clean-up project in August, 2014. photo by mark h hunter

“I feel that Kevin and I, and New Beginning and the Chapel are in uncharted waters,” Hunter said. “So we don’t have all the answers – but we do have Christ as a guide that sets the boundaries and even the direction that we should travel.”

In the secular world, Hunter said, “There are challenges that speak to Kevin being white in a predominantly white, affluent congregation and where Donald is of African-American descent in a less significant, so to speak, congregation, but in this – in Christ’s body we are the same – one body, one Lord.”

“Kevin and I have learned to walk in the spirit and not in the physical world so therefore we judge what we have been able to accomplish, not on the world’s standards but on the standards that have been set on Christ,” Hunter said. “To the world that is strange but in Christ it is the command that He gives us to love thy neighbor as thyself – and that is the love in action.”

The Challenge to Pastors and Churches

What if, Hunter was asked, if other churches did this?

“I would surmise that we could eradicate poverty,” he said. “Jesus has given us the resources because everything belongs to him. Jesus says, when you have done it to the least of these my brothers, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was outdoors you took me in, when I was sick you visited me.”

“I hear people who are affluent say, ‘Well, we’re not gonna throw money at it’ – that’s just another way of saying, ‘we just gonna pray.’  Well, faith without works is dead,” Hunter said. “So you got to get off your knees and go do something with what God has given you to address the needs of those who cannot help themselves.”

McKee has a similar challenge, especially to other area pastors.

“Find a church to partner with,” McKee said. “If you’re a church with resources share with a church that doesn’t [have them]. And reciprocate it – New Beginning can’t reciprocate financially but they can – and do – with relationships and opportunities – it’s been awesome.”

“I like Ephesians 2:10, ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do,’” McKee said. “So, we’re just doing the good works that God has prepared us to do.”