The 2016 Governor’s Prayer Breakfast was held on March 23
at the River Center in Downtown Baton Rouge
photos by Beth Townsend
Jeremy Martin does not “clown” around when sharing his incredible and miraculous life story that encompasses near death experiences, a difficult childhood, failed marriages and the reason he believes God chose to spare him, protect him and why he is still here. Not only is Jeremy still here by the grace of God, he is in the process of writing a book entitled “God’s Fourth Quarter,” which he hopes to complete in the next six months.
Martin is an entrepreneur and the owner of AutoYes, a car dealership specializing in certified pre-owned cars, trucks and SUVs. He has a passion for life and intends to make the most of every day. He is not one to look back with regret. However, he does reflect back on a life full of challenges and realizes that God was always there.
At times he admits he got off track in terms of following God. What Christian hasn’t been derailed before? Temptation is ever-present and the flesh is weak but to live for Christ is much more than simply following Christ. Something he has learned over time is that it’s not enough to say you follow Christ; living for him is requires more depth and authenticity.
Martin shared his belief that “one must live for Christ, not just follow Christ,” several times — a message he often shares with others. He is confident that he is on this earth in order to complete his book and to serve others as an evangelist. “I am a vessel living for God,” he says. The way he witnesses at work is the same way he would witness anywhere else — as a vessel who has been given a second chance at life. Despite the twists and turns he’s experienced in life, he has surpassed all odds and is still going strong.
Martin shares miraculous stories from his childhood growing up in East Waco, Texas, as well as stories from his adult life that he hopes will help others think beyond this world. He desires to encourage others through his personal encounters with God and his understanding that tomorrow is not promised, so one better start living for God today.
Q: As a child growing up in East Waco, Texas, life was not always easy. Would you please share about those quarters as you define them in your life that shaped you into the man you are today?
A: I am here today by the grace of God, but there were many attempts by the devil to thwart God’s plan in my life. These times are embedded in my mind and I like to present them as quarters in my life. The “quarters” reference relates to having been involved in sports my entire life from soccer, football, baseball and track, to riding dirt bikes. The first quarter involves my birth. Back in the 1970s abortions were illegal, yet they were still being performed in alleyways. But, one abortion did not happen, and that is why I am here today. My parents were 16 when my mom got pregnant. My mom went to have an abortion, but the coat hanger the doctor had used on a previous abortion fell out of the bag and blood spilled out everywhere. My mom stood up and ran out of that alley like a track star and never looked back. The devil did not succeed.
The second attempt occurred when I was 2 years old. We lived in a quadplex in a seedy area of East Waco. My dad worked nights at 7-Eleven, and my mom was home smoking pot and drinking upstairs. She walked down the stairs and saw me lying near our front door, which was wide open, and she picked me up and placed me back in my crib. If I had gotten out the front door it could have been very serious.
There are more details to this second attempt at my life, because the door incident correlates to a recurring dream I have had about a door shutting on me. In this dream, the wind kept shutting the door. However, I learned more in-depth about this dream after a good visit with my mom when I was 31 years old. During our visit, I had her finally open up and share things with me that now make sense. It was not easy for her to open up, but she did so with such dignity and humility that I am forever thankful for her transparency. She explained that evening when she placed me back in the crib that the spring on the door had been broken off, and that I was being protected by the wind slamming it shut. Again, God intervened.
The third quarter in my life happened when my parents divorced. I was 7 years old. My mom was going to school at night and working a second job. When I got home from school, I was supposed to do homework and stay inside. The kids across the street were playing football one day and kept yelling my name, “Jeremy, come on over.” So, I disobeyed my mom and started running across the street. Something stopped me in the road. It was not a force that was normal, nor could I see it. If one was to prop a trampoline on its side and place it upright — it was like that was what I ran into that blocked me from seriously getting hurt. A car driving about 60 mph flew by and had this miraculous force not blocked me, I would have been dead. After it passed, I ran across the street and played football. Again, these major events in my life surface in my mind as an adult and keep me “on track” with God, knowing he was there in each moment that could have resulted in catastrophe.
Q: The fourth quarter of your life involves what the doctors and the surgeons deem a medical miracle in your life. What happened when you were in the hospital after your first aneurysm?
A: I was 42 years old, going through a second divorce and really living a wayward life. Going out to nightclubs and drinking were part of my routine, which were totally unlike myself. I actually heard God whisper, “How dare you, Jeremy.” It was during this off-season with God that I had my first aneurysm. It felt like a match had been lit inside my brain. My current wife, Brandie, found me unconscious and got me to the emergency room. Once in the room, I put my head down, only to wake up later and discover I had been in the hospital for 10 days. After the initial aneurysm, I had a stroke and two more aneurysms from what I am told. The only thing I remember during those 10 days of unconsciousness and dreams or semi-consciousness states, was the chaos in the emergency room — like sheer chaos all-around, hopelessness, images of angels, God coming back to earth and just not being moved. People from Antioch Church were all praying for me. The pastor of Antioch laid hands on me while in the hospital. There was a sales representative with News on Wheels who had seen me in the emergency room and she knew me; her father was also in the hospital. She had the pastor from Antioch pray for me and had others put me on their prayer list.
Anyway, my wife was told to prepare for the worst because I was probably going to be in a vegetative state if I survived. They needed to perform a shunt surgery because of the water and blood that had caused my head to swell and my eyes to poke out. The left side of my face drooped as well. The nurse could not believe what she saw on the eleventh day when she walked in. My eyes had returned to normal, and the left side of my face had healed. My main doctor discussed it with four other doctors because of the amazing healing. The doctor knows that beyond a shadow of a doubt I had experienced a true medical miracle. To wrap this experience up, I was admitted in the hospital, expected to be a vegetable and was released on the fourteenth day.
At my two-week follow-up after my release, I was filling out my paperwork and before I could complete the forms, I heard my named called. I just thought, “This is not good.” I sort of cowered inside because of my white-coat syndrome and thinking the news would not be good. This very tall man came out to meet me and said, “Jeremy, do you know who I am?” I did not recognize him. He shared that he was my surgeon and that he wanted to take a look at me and see how I was doing. He just wanted to see me because of the miraculous healing he witnessed. He totally believes my healing was God-thing and not a science thing. What an amazing fourth quarter!
Q: What would you say is your purpose after all these experiences in addition to being a successful entrepreneur and creative soul?
A: I am a vessel living for God. Simple. The only stress I feel is to complete the book. The proceeds from the sales of “God’s Fourth Quarter” will go to organizations like A Door of Hope and other charities. I have been sharing my story through forums and speaking to various groups, but the book will be completed and published because people need to know God is real. This book will be part of my legacy. Brandie and I have three kids ages 5, 7 and 13, and it is as much for them as it is for those who purchase a copy. Even though I am their stepfather, they are like my very own.
Q: What would your main message be to families today, especially to fathers?
A: Dads need to stand their ground. It is important to stay grounded in the Word of God. It helps me to read a Psalm each morning, which is a regular habit now. We are all just people trying to survive. When it comes to marriage and being a dad, love and forgiveness are vital. Give it to your family and others 100 percent. Forgiveness is key to healing and moving forward. During the time I met with my mom at age 31, I assured her that I had forgiven her. I also lived in high school with my dad, so I have maintained a relationship with both of my parents.
My grandfather raised me prior to my high school days. He was instrumental in my life. I never remember him getting angry. He was a man of honor having served in the Army, and he fought in World War II. He was in the Shriners and I always remember him giving money to various charities. So, I encourage people that have much, [to give]; [to whom much is given], much is required. To give is to receive.
Q: As a man who has lived despite the odds and has three businesses, Auto Yes, Mr. Fix-It and a car dealership opening in Prairieville, what would you like to share with others to sum up this amazing testimony?
A: Success only comes through failure. One must learn how to fail and to be fine with failure. How one handles failure is the true test. If you get knocked down just brush it off and get back up again.
Martin is hoping to complete “God’s Fourth Quarter” in the next six months. There is a spiritual battle going on, and it’s real. The book will feature more details regarding political warfare, the spiritual battle and God’s sovereignty.
Jeremy may dance around in a clown suit on his AutoYes commercials, which has done quite well to brand his business, but when you sit with him at a table, he begins to pour out story after story of how God is always right beside you. Start living for God today.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to live a Christian life or to have the life of Jesus living through you? Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” I believe the Christian life is lived with a passionate pursuit of Jesus Christ. Allow me to bring attention to the words “come after,” in the passage above. When Jesus said, “come after,” He was telling us to let our thoughts and energies be consumed by our desire to be in a relationship with Him. We should be motivated to pursue a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ because He pursued one with us when we were unworthy of His love.
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8. God took the initiative to “come after” us first. God put on flesh, came down to earth and died for our sins. When we understand the magnitude of His love toward us it will motivate us to pursue Him with the same kind of love. “We love him, because he first loved us,” 1 John 4:19.
The Christ-life does not come without getting rid of the self-life. It’s not simply about saying no to oneself, it’s about getting rid of self. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” Galatians 2:20. We live in a culture today that says it’s all about oneself. It is impossible to “come after” without denying self.
Let’s focus on taking up our cross! Many have come to the cross but have yet to die on it. What is a cross for? It’s not just a burden to be borne; it’s an instrument of death and total sacrifice. Taking up your cross means the death of self. What you want no longer matters; what God wants with your life is what must be done with it. If you are indulging self, you are denying Christ. And if you are not acquainted with self-execution and self-denial, you are a stranger to Christ.
Stop carrying your cross and instead, get on it! Christian living is denying and dying to self, and living a life of total commitment to, and faith in, Jesus Christ. What we stand to gain in Christ is far greater than what we must lose for Christ.
About Bishop Whaley: Kendrick Whaley Sr. is married to Nicole McCoy Whaley and they have two children, Kendrick J. Whaley, Jr. and Tori A. Whaley. Kendrick attended World Harvest Bible College in Columbus, Ohio, under Pastor Rod Parsley. He continued his formal Christian education at Faith Christian University where he received an associate’s degree in Bible and theology. Under the leadership of the late Bishop J.W. Harrison and Presiding Elder, James Evans, he was appointed to serve the CCOG in various capacities including pastor in 2000, overseer in 2006, and in July 2010 he was appointed by the board to be the Bishop. He truly has a shepherd’s heart and it has shown in his care for God’s people. He desires to see souls saved and the body of Christ edified.
The Y’s focus on water safety has always been a priority and after learning there was a community need for swimming lessons for children with disabilities, the Y responded by launching the Terrific Turtles program, an adaptive swim lesson for participants with special needs. Kelli Seitz, YMCA lifeguard and Terrific Turtles swim instructor, has been working one-on-one with special needs children for the past five years at the A. C. Lewis YMCA.
“With that first child, I learned that I needed to keep the child safe and comfortable in the water above all else, and their learning will spring from there.” Kelli’s experience as a Adapted Physical Education Teacher made her the perfect fit for this program, “I love being in the water and teaching others how to be safe and have fun in the water too.”
Rhett Guillot, 8, struggles with mild gross and fine motor skills and was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech at 2 years old. Rhett has attended occupational, speech and physical therapy, but Rhett’s mother, Karen Guillot, chose swimming as an addition to therapy because it is an “excellent activity for global motor and sensory input to the brain.”
“Swimming stimulates his motor, multisensory input and mental thinking, utilizing all four extremities and synchronizing his breathing and his movements,” Guillot says. Rhett began the program deathly afraid of the water. He would hold on to the side of the pool, but Kelli worked with him to begin doing a little at a time, first standing next to the pool, then standing on a step in the water, then standing in the shallow end, etc. “Over time he was learning to hold his breath and kick his feet and now look at him, he is swimming the length of the pool,” Karen says. Karen added that swimming has helped with his cognitive academic performance, allowing him to be more engaged in school, as well as tuning his fine motor skills and improving his writing. She has also seen an improvement in his multi-tasking abilities, self-confidence and a decrease in his classroom insecurities.
Gavin Boutte, 8, is also a participant in the program. Diagnosed with classical autism at age 2, his mother, Sasha Matthews, wanted him to learn to swim so he would survive if something were to happen — research has shown that drowning remains a leading cause of death in children with autism. “Gavin wouldn’t let me wet his hair, he didn’t want water on his head or in his face and now look at him,” Matthews says. “The Terrific Turtles program has done so much more than teach him to swim, it’s been an improvement to our quality of life; it’s changed our life in more ways than one.”
Gavin is progressing in the program and has learned to love water. “This is his happy place, he lights up when he sees Kelli,” she says. It was hard to find programs and resources for children with disabilities Sasha remarked. “[This program is] something special for us, we have felt so welcomed from the very beginning. We are not judged here; our special noises and actions won’t be looked at because here at the Y, we are all the same.”
Both Gavin and Rhett continue to make progress in the Terrific Turtles program and the Y is happy to be a part of their lives! For more information about the Terrific Turtles program contact Heather Shaw at email@example.com.
In the realm of health and wellness, we live in confusing times. God has enabled humanity with knowledge and medical advances to control diseases and extend life. Understanding of the human body is unprecedented, yet for the first time in modern history, the life expectancy of our children is shorter than preceding generations. This reduction of life is not related to increases in crime, drugs, pollution or global warming. The cause is obesity.
Sixty-nine percent of adults in this country are overweight or obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven of the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the United States have weight-related factors. As a people, we are increasingly sedentary, overfed and undernourished. Millions are dying or living with decreased energy, activity and health, due to heart disease, diabetes, kidney disorders, stroke and other chronic conditions. At the root of much of this suffering is a severe case of fork and couch.
Let’s look close to home. In 2015, Louisiana had the 4th highest rate of obesity in the nation, and new data from Gallup-Healthways ranked Baton Rouge as the most obese city in America.
A look at the church pew population is shocking. A Pawtucket Heart Health Program study found people who attend church are more likely to be 20 percent overweight and have higher blood pressure and cholesterol numbers than individuals who do not attend church.
This should not be. We are connected to the creator and the church is meant to be an active agent for help and healing. Poor physical condition limits this important work. A change must come.
Our bodies are important to God. He knit them together in our mother’s womb. These fearfully and wonderfully made creations are earthly homes for our soul, and temples for the Holy Spirit. God cares about our bodies, and He desires that we be in good health. We should care and desire the same (Psalm 139:13, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 3 John 2).
Unfortunately, many see weight gain as an inevitability of our culture. Others connect steps to healthy living with the superficiality of vanity. Both views are untrue. Healthy weight management is connected to deeper issues of life, quality of life and good stewardship.
If you need and want to do better with your weight and health, jumpstart the process with these three steps:
In the Body of Christ, poor nutrition and overeating is an accepted and protected vice. Daily, eating choices follow the desires of the flesh. We don’t consult the Holy Spirit and keep God on the periphery – until sickness comes. Then we fervently call on the Lord in prayer to “fix it.”
Consider the common grace uttered before meals. Many ask God to “bless the food we are about to receive for the nourishment of our bodies,” then proceed to feed on items with little to no nutrition. Imagine the change if instead of asking God to bless the food we choose, we sought guidance and blessed God with our food choices. Positive change comes when we align our actions (eating, activity — all we do) for the glory of God.
Without knowledge people perish and knowledge of self is critical to health and wellness. Routine body measurements, laboratory tests, screenings and risk assessment make it possible to detect, treat and prevent disease. Get a complete physical exam and use this information as a baseline for your customized nutrition and activity path for improved health.
Don’t take this journey alone (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22). Engage wise council from your medical professional, a nutritionist and fitness or health coach to help you create and follow a plan specific to your needs, goals and lifestyle. This team of health advisors adds knowledge, accountability and support for positive behavior change.
Change is not easy, but it is possible. If the process feels too hard for you, stand on the fact that nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27). When you think you can’t do it, know all things are possible through Christ (Philippians 4:13). When your mind recounts the number of times you have tried and failed, remember God cannot fail.
Don’t rely on your strength or willpower. Trust God’s power and look for the opportunities and blessings He provides in each step of good physical stewardship.
For further exploration visit: http://faithwhereyourforkis.com
About Nettye: Nettye Johnson is a wife, mother, author, speaker, Bible teacher, American Council of Exercise certified health coach, marathoner and founder of Nettye Johnson Faith and Fitness Services LLC, (NJFFS), a Christian wellness organization providing a science-based, faith-empowered approach to health and wellness. Her first book, “Put Your Faith Where Your Fork Is,” outlines principles to inform and inspire the body of Christ towards healthy weight management.
Nettye excels in the grassroots engagement of groups through faith and social channels for education, support and advocacy. An energetic speaker and motivational leader, Nettye informs, inspires and coordinates collaborative action on local and regional levels. Nettye can be reached at 225-235-9489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staying in shape can sometimes feel like a full-time job. That feeling is exacerbated when you consider that many of us are running some sort of balancing act that feels like it’s straight out of the circus: 40+ hour-a-week-job, a significant other and a circle of friends, holiday social engagements, shuffling kids to school events, meal prep, trying to keep your home or apartment orderly — and the list goes on.
How in the world can we possibly find time to squeeze in the 150 minutes of exercise per week that’s recommended for adults by the American Heart Association?
Dr. Robert L. Newton, Jr., a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center admits it isn’t easy. He studies physical activity and minority health, and he says the first step to getting fit – and staying in shape – is recognizing that the equation is simple: moving equals burning calories.
Since the U.S. Dept. of Labor estimates 72 million women in the U.S. work outside the home, Newton suggests utilizing work hours to maximize time spent moving.
The first step, Newton says, is identifying times at work when you’re sedentary and then trying to work in some mobility.
“If you can break up your sedentary time to no more than 60 minutes at a time, you’re getting a good start. That doesn’t mean you have to do sit-ups or push-ups in your cubicle, though,” Newton said with a laugh. “We realize people want to avoid getting their clothes dirty by being on the floor and breaking a sweat while they’re on the clock, but there are alternatives.”
Newton suggests taking the time to walk to a co-worker’s office instead of picking up the phone or sending an e-mail. Taking a quick stroll around the office, or getting up to grab some coffee or a drink of water are also options.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot of activity — just as long as you get up from that sitting position at least once every 30 minutes to an hour,” Newton said. “If you make moving a habit, those burned calories will eventually add up. Over the short term, taking breaks reduces your glucose and insulin levels compared to standing. Over an extended period of time, we could see cardio benefits, weight loss, and we can reduce the risk for diabetes, but these studies have not yet been conducted.”
By walking, Newton says the largest muscle groups in our bodies — the legs — are activated, which increases the uptake of glucose. In contrast, if you sit too much your body produces more glucose that has nowhere to go, putting sedentary workers at a much higher risk level for obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.
According to Newton, lunch time is a prime opportunity to get quality movement in.
“If you work downtown or in an area with restaurants, walk to lunch. If you take your lunch to work, try to carve out time before or after you eat to get your heart rate up,” Newton said.
The goal is moderate to vigorous activity, and Newton says you’ll know you’ve reached that level when you’re out of breath, with enough air to talk but not enough to sing. However, even light intensity physical activity has benefits.
“If you can take three 10-minute breaks throughout your day where you are getting to this point, you’ve reached the recommendation for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity for your day,” Newton said.
For those of us who have entirely too much on our work plate to lose 30 minutes of work time, Newton suggests looking into a standing desk, since the simple act of standing engages the muscles in our legs and allows us to burn calories. While standing desks can be costly, Newton says even a box on top of your desk can elevate your computer monitor and keyboard.
“Of course, standing all day can create back and foot problems, so I think it’s best to start standing for short periods of time and build up to longer periods,” Newton said. “And even standing up to stretch throughout your day can keep you flexible and limber.”
While a good heart-pumping workout is ideal, the goal is to work in exercise where you can, Newton said.
“It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing,” Newton said. “If you can’t make it to the gym, start small and work your way up.”
Kristen Maddox is quick to give God credit for taking her life from darkness to light. As the founder of A Door of Hope Ministries, Maddox has committed her life to helping women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, self-harm behaviors, post-abortion trauma, domestic violence and numerous other struggles. She is in a unique position to understand and to offer guidance.
At 16, Maddox found herself pregnant and had an abortion — a choice that led her down a 12-year path of desperation, addiction and incarceration. It was the Word of God that changed her life, she says.
“Jesus literally rescued me from a prison far worse than any jail I have ever been in. God’s love, His Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit healed every hurt and gave me the freedom I had been crying out for.”
Maddox was especially touched by a story in Hosea 2:15, which referred to a “door of hope” which transformed despair to victory. Trying to discover her own purpose in life, she had begun to envision a home for girls in trouble — a place where they could receive spiritual counseling from other women who had overcome their own struggles, a place to feel safe and loved and valued. She took a first step toward realizing that dream when she founded A Door of Hope Ministries four years ago. A Door of Hope offers counseling, classes, workshops, camps, retreats and other special programs with the goal of healing and restoring young women in crisis so they can go on to lead positive and rewarding Christian lives. “Our mission is to break the cycle of destructive behaviors and see them fully restored and transformed by Christ,” Maddox said.
Three years ago, Maddox met Shona Butler, and the two became fast friends. “We felt a closeness immediately,” said Butler, who had endured traumas of her own, including sexual abuse as a child. “The first day we met, we shared our stories, we cried together, and we knew we would be used for some greater purpose.”
That purpose turned out to be a platform that allows them to “speak life and spark hope.” The two are co-hosts of “Keeping It Real,” a television show that airs on the local FOX channel every Friday at 7:30 a.m. Guests always have inspiring stories to share, Butler said, and the show connects viewers with community resources and a live prayer line that can be accessed during the show.
“We talk with everyday people and let them tell their stories of how God brought them through a dark time in their lives,” Butler said. “We ask them, ‘When was the moment you met Jesus? How did he heal you?’ Our viewers may not be going through the same things that our guests are talking about, but they probably know someone who has had a similar experience. And our message, of course, is that there is always hope.”
Glory Riggins of Walker would agree. She sought help from A Door of Hope because of alcohol issues and problems with self-esteem. “They taught me how to have a relationship with Christ,” she said. “And they did it in an encouraging and empowering way. I found true freedom from the negative feelings I had, and I learned that I am a worthy and beautiful person. It truly changed my life.” Riggins is now in training to become a lay counselor so she can help others.
Chelsea Szymanski of St. Amant is also on the path to becoming a counselor. She says A Door of Hope helped her overcome a rough childhood marked by neglect and parental drug abuse. “Like so many other women, I was hiding behind a mask and was afraid to seek help,” she said. “A Door of Hope showed me that we are not alone and we don’t have to stay in the same place of hopelessness and shame. When you take off the mask, you can see clearly what God’s purpose is for you.”
One of the ministry’s most successful programs is Camp Hope, a free 4-day camp for young women (age 13 and over) in crisis. Last year, 20 girls attended and explored the theme Dream Big. They attended seminars on self-esteem, finding a purpose in life and helping others. The girls were treated to massages, manicures and gift certificates. “From the feedback we got, it was clear that the experience was very meaningful and helpful to the girls,” Butler said. “Three of the girls had a history of attempted suicide but came away from the camp filled with encouragement.”
Maddox is also very proud of the organization’s prison ministry, in which volunteers make monthly visits to female prisoners at the Livingston Parish Jail. “We have seen God do some amazing things,” Maddox said. “The girls are so hungry for the presence of God. They learn that even though they may have walked away from their relationship with Jesus and feel as though they have failed, they are not a failure. Jesus is waiting to restore them. Many rededicate their lives to the Lord, and it is an honor to speak life into them.”
Sexual abuse is a painful topic, but one that comes up surprisingly often among clients. Rise Up and SOAR is a special program that helps women unlock the chains that have bound them to their painful pasts. The eight-week course is conducted in conjunction with Nicole Bromley’s book “HUSH: Moving From Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse.”
Other programs include Hope Closet – gently used clothing, shoes and accessories that are free to clients; One-on-one counseling – advice from lay counselors for managing self-destructive behaviors; Girl Talk – a group of girls meet to discuss, relate and inspire each other; and Overcome Retreat – an overnight retreat held each October in Ponchatoula for those age 18 and older.
An upcoming project very close to Maddox’s heart is a scholarship established in memory of her son, who died in 2014 at the age of 29 — the Ricky Maddox Jr. Never Lose Hope Scholarship.
A Door of Hope is always looking for sponsors, mentors and volunteers. Local businesses are especially needed to donate supplies for camps and retreats. If you can help, visit the website at adoorofhopela.com. A Door of Hope is located at Dixon Medical Center, Suite 5, 8369 Florida Blvd. in Denham Springs. Call (225) 665-HOPE (4673) for details.
At one point in his life, Jack “Slater” Armstrong dreamed of a career in the mainstream music industry. A talented singer and songwriter, he wanted to share his voice and connect with others through his music. In time, Armstrong realized his dream, but not in the way he imagined. He became a missionary committed to the people of war-torn Sudan, giving them a voice they could not find on their own.
Shortly after graduating from Loyola University in New Orleans, and still in his twenties, Armstrong was at a conference in Colorado trying to make professional contacts to jumpstart his career. But then God called … and everything changed.
One of the speakers at the conference was discussing Christian artists and where the industry was headed. “I heard a clear call from the Lord,” Armstrong said. “I went back to my hotel room and prayed. I told God that I could see the shallowness of my ambition. I said, ‘Lord, you know my heart is to serve you. Show me what you want me to do.’”
The next day, Armstrong met a woman who introduced him to an organization called Youth With a Mission, and he ended up working with the group as a missionary for the next eight years. “It changed my life,” he said. “It transformed me by opening my eyes to the world’s Christian movement.”
During that time, he set aside his music ambitions, but it remained a very important part of his life. In 1997, another twist of fate would bring his passion, his musical gifts and his purpose into clear focus. He met the late Rev. Mark Nikkel, a missionary to Sudan, who shared his powerful testimony about the brutal treatment of Christians in Sudan.
After hearing about the atrocities experienced by the Sudanese people, Armstrong was brought to tears. “Again, I asked the Lord, ‘What can I do to help? I have no money, no power, no influence.’ And I recall vividly his reply. He said, ‘What is in your hand? What do you have that I have given you?’ And the answer was music. God wanted me to use my musical abilities to make sure that people in the West could know what was happening in Sudan … and He wanted me to let the world hear the joy in their praise and the indigenous music of their culture.”
Armstrong recorded the worship music of the Sudanese people, blending their sound with the sounds of American and Celtic music, and translating the words of their choirs into English verse. The result was an album called “Even in Sorrow.” The project brought him to the attention of Integrity’s Hosanna! Music, and he was featured on the release “Intimate Worship.” He sang five songs on the album, which was distributed nationally and internationally over a 7-year period.
Since Armstrong’s first trip to Sudan in 1999, he has returned five times, most recently last January. His focus is on Christians in the Nuba Mountains, a place that harbors, in his words, “the most neglected human rights crisis on the planet.”
The Nuba people are an indigenous ethnic group that has been the victim of atrocious war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces loyal to the government of Sudan. This includes a state-sponsored campaign of famine and starvation, aerial and ground assaults on Nuba communities and a blockade of humanitarian aid.
Through his work, Armstrong calls attention to the country’s genocide and through his organization Joining Our Voices, delivers relief items to those who live there. This includes medications, soap, salt, sugar, cooking oil, rice and lentils. He has been involved with the Sudan advocacy network in the U.S., participating in rallies, walks, conferences and other events. He has also helped to co-found two coalitions (ACT for Sudan in 2011 and End Nuba Genocide in 2012).
When he is not traveling to Sudan, Armstrong works as a worship leader for two Baton Rouge congregations — Holy Cross Anglican and Trinity Episcopal — with their contemporary worship services. He is also a substitute teacher at Episcopal High School.
“In a way, my life has come full circle,” he said, “because I’m at a point in my life that I need to pursue my own music again, but not for myself this time. Through my songs inspired by the church in Sudan, I want other people to join their voices with me to bring about good in Sudan. The worship component is at the heart of this. It’s central to who I am.”
Armstrong is also working on a documentary on the historical and biblical significance of the people of Sudan. “I’ve done a lot of studying of the history of this civilization that developed along the Nile. It has helped me gain deeper understanding of God’s heart for these people.”
For those who would like to know more, Armstrong has a website and Facebook page. Visit joiningourvoices.com for more information. Joining Our Voices is a partner with the Nuba Christian Family Mission, and both groups are affiliated with End Nuba Genocide Coalition. The website features information on donations, and mission and volunteer opportunities.
To hear his music, go to youtube.com/slaterarmstrong and on iTunes, search Slater Armstrong. He is also available for concert performances and can be contacted through the website above for additional information.
Faith is the string of hope that encourages you to keep pushing toward the mark you have envisioned yourself reaching. With all of the tangibles that linger throughout your journey, faith is the whisper of encouragement giving you a slight direction. At the point you feel as if you are against all odds and there is nothing left but a smidge of hope, it is faith that reassures that your work is not in vain.
Often we find ourselves placing our faith in people and items. Once they let us down, it serves as a reminder to place it where it should have been in the first place. With faith the size of a mustard seed we shall be able to move mountains and conquer the world. Some days it is only the faith that there is something greater than what meets the eye that keeps you going when you seem to be on the last leg of the race.
Faith is just like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. If everything went our way, on our time, all of the time, there wouldn’t be much need for faith. Adversities come not to hinder us but to bring us closer to the source that strengthens us. With faith in God, all things are possible.
The flowers are blooming and the temperature is rising, and we are surrounded by the signs of springtime. This means it’s also that time of year again … spring-cleaning!
This season, our team at The Purple Cow wants you to “Give Some Meaning to your Spring Cleaning.” After you go through your drawers and closets, boxes and attics, and compile all the clothing/furniture/household items you’d like to give away, bring them on over to either of our store locations on April 15 or 16. Why?
For every person that brings a donation to either of our stores (6586 Jones Creek Road or 3651 Perkins Road) between April 15 and 16, The Purple Cow will give a backpack to a homeless person in need in our community.
As many know, The Purple Cow’s mission is to help support The Christian Outreach Center (COC), which is a Christ-centered, homeless prevention ministry helping people in the downtown Baton Rouge area to go from square one to self-sufficiency. The COC has many areas of focus including financial support, life skills, mentoring, transitional employment, job training, financial literacy, spiritual community, and prison re-entry.
As our city grows, so does its homeless population. The COC helps to provide these individuals with practical needs, planning and support so that they can get back on their feet and maintain stable living conditions.
When you donate to The Purple Cow, you make a difference. Not only are you giving us your gently used items to resell, you are providing a backpack to a person in need. These backpacks are invaluable because they make it easy to transport items on a daily basis.
If you are looking to get involved and serve in your local community, this is a wonderful opportunity. Once we have all donations in, we will order backpacks and distribute them to the homeless community in early May. Our team would love to have volunteers to help on that day as well. For more information, email email@example.com or contact The Purple Cow via social media.
About Ashley: Ashley D’Aubin is a marketing assistant at Crossroads Professional Services where she specializes in social media marketing for small businesses. She graduated from the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in business administration. Ashley enjoys writing, engaging in social media, marketing, event coordinating/managing, networking, promoting, communicating and building relationships. She is a passionate person who loves people and has a heart for nonprofit organizations and mission work. To learn more about Ashley, visit crossroadcoach.com or contact her directly at Ashley@crossroadcoach.com.
It 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.
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?
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.
Pastor 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!
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
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.
Victoria Lira sees so many similarities to her life as an American teen and what happened in the Bible’s book of Esther, that she titled her book of devotionals after Esther’s key passage.
“I Have Called You for Such a Time as This: A New Generation Devotional Journal,” is a soft-cover book of 31 chapters written in an easy, bright style.
As a minority Jew living in the pagan culture of Persia, Esther was chosen to be a queen, violated court protocol and saved her people from a genocidal plot. Her uncle Mordecai advised her, “Who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
“I definitely can relate to Esther because sometimes you feel like her in her situation — she was so young, but God called her to such a great task,” Lira, 17, said during a visit to her family’s home. “She had to save her people and she had to go before the king, but she couldn’t do that unless the king called her, but she knew that if she would have waited for the king to call her that her people probably would not have survived — so she had to go and step out in faith.”
“She (Esther) said, ‘God, I know this is dangerous but I trust you.’ She didn’t really worry about her own desires, she didn’t really worry about saving her own skin, but she said, ‘this is what God told me to do and I’m going to do it,’” Lira says with a big, bright smile. “Sometimes you may be scared to take that step out to do what the Lord told you to do but you just have to trust him — he will give you the courage just like he did her.”
Each chapter is based on Bible verses for each topic and feature titles such as “Jesus Hugs,” “True Beauty,” “Never Compromise” and “Rapture Dream.”
The “Rapture Dream” story is from a dream she had when she was 7 years old. She was in the clouds with her younger brother Joshua in what evangelical Christians call “the Rapture.”
That dream of going to Heaven was so powerful she wrote it down in a diary. Since then she’s composed hundreds of stories, devotionals and Bible lessons that fill a stack of hand-written notebooks.
Lira lives with her father and mother, John and Nancy Lira, and her siblings Joshua, 16, Isabella, 12, and David, 5, near Gonzales. Her father is bi-vocational, meaning he is a self-employed contractor who also has his own evangelistic ministry. He preaches locally and takes the family on mission trips several times a year to Central America. He also volunteers with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in their prison ministry.
“I definitely get a lot of inspiration from my family,” Lira said. “How my Mom handles different situations with wisdom. Dad is really hard working, and he inspires me to work hard no matter how tired you are. Joshua is really bold for Christ.”
She’ll soon graduate from home schooling, taught by her parents, and while she isn’t sure exactly what’s next, it will be a ministry of some kind.
She felt a calling into the ministry several years ago, she said.
“We were street preaching with a church group in Mississippi and everyone was taking turns at the microphone,” she said. “I was at the back of the crowd and I felt this urge to go up to the front to witness to the people, and I thought, ‘Really, Lord, do you want me to go?’ I was, like, so nervous, and my Mom, who was back at the hotel room, texted me at that very same moment, and said, ‘Hey, I feel the Lord wants you to go and talk.’”
“The Lord had already spoken to me and then confirmed it through her,” she said. “I had no idea what I was going to say and I opened my mouth and the presence of the Lord just came over me and was speaking through me.”
“As soon as I got done I felt the Lord impress upon my heart ‘this is what I have called you to do, I have called you to be a preacher and a teacher,’” she said with a big smile.
She already ministers to teens via her social media sites.
“I was following this girl on Instagram and every day she would post stuff like, ‘nobody likes me’ or I’m worthless,’” Lira said. “I messaged her and shared Jesus with her and told her, ‘all that stuff you’re saying isn’t true because Jesus loves you and Jesus cares for you.’”
“Pretty soon she said, ‘You know, you are right, thank you for telling me that,’ and her whole – everything – changed,” Lira said with another big smile. “She started posting things like ‘Jesus loves me,’ and ‘I know who I am in Christ.’”
Lira is an outgoing and talented young woman who also plays the violin and is very serious about her relationship with Jesus and telling others about him.
“The Lord gave me that (Rapture) dream when I was small to show me that we’re living in the last days and now is not the time to mess around but now is the time to get your heart right with God, to be about the Father’s business,” she says with all seriousness. “Now is the time for teenagers and young adults to rise up to the challenge that God has called us to.”
“Jesus is coming back and either you are right with him or you are not,” Lira said. “Now is the time to do the Great Commission — to witness to as many souls as we can because we can’t take anything with us but souls and that’s what the Lord has called us to do.”
Lira’s book, which has sold out the first 500 print run, is available at Amazon.com in both English and Spanish: http://www.amazon.com/Have-Called-Such-time-This/dp/1482383020/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF
For more information about Lira family ministries and mission work:
* Add Victoria as a ‘friend’ on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter
* Visit her website: www.victorialiraministries.com
* Contact her via email: WriterVictoriaLira@gmail.com
* Listen to her radio show on: SoundOfTruthRadio.org
* Visit her brother Joshua’s website where he sells inspirational T-shirts to fund their family’s mission trips to Central America at: www.shopcrosspost.com
* Visit her father’s ministry website: www.evangelistjohnlira.com