From the time we are born until our very last day on earth, we will hear and speak words. We first hear words from our parents at birth. These words shape us and for most of us we are taught by them. As we grow older we also hear words from teachers, coaches, peers, strangers and others. We read words and are changed by them. No doubt we live and breathe by words. Words can hurt us, abuse us, anger us and mislead us also.
I remember when I was on a job as a Test Monitor. I chose to read the Bible while waiting for the testers to finish.
I was dealing with an abusive marriage at this time. I was desperate to hear some words of hope, when I came upon a particular scripture, John 3:16 (KJV), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believed in Him would not perish but would have eternal life.” I learn this scripture as a little girl at a Christian school, but it did not have the impact on me that it did on this particular day. The part that said whosoever believes in Him came to life for me, (Him being Jesus).
I was never the same from this moment on, reading this scripture changed my life forever. I knew my sins were forgiven and that I had been given another chance to start over. I was given power to live my life the way God intended for me to live it. Romans 1:12 (KJV),says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.”
As I continued living in the Word and being directed by the Lord, I discovered that not only were my sins forgiven, but I had also been given power to forgive others. This brought such a freedom to my new life. I discovered that the abusive words, the emotional and physical abuse that once held me captive, no longer kept me in bondage to fear. Instead, faith arose in my heart to receive words of significance, purpose and healing which came from receiving this eternal life. “By His wounds we are healed,” 1 Peter 2:24 (NLT).
The word of God says, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” Matthew 4:4 (KJV).
Many years have passed in my Christian faith, and I have learned through the years that God’s word sustains us, trains us, leads us and guides us. It is water to our very soul. “Study this book of instruction continually, meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Joshua 1:8 (NLT).
These are, “words to live by”!
HeARTune Creations Poetry, LLC., is owned by Pamela Gauthier. Pamela is a writer and poet, who has been writing for over 20 years. She formally started her poetry as a business in October of 2013.
Her poetry has been at several boutiques and stores in the Baton Rouge area. Pamela is a native Baton Rougean, who has lived here all of her life. She is the wife of Ronnie Gauthier, and the mother of four: Mrs. Jamie Baham, Mrs. Jessica Chatman, Joshua and Joseph Gauthier. She is also the proud Grandmother of Five.
Pamela started her writing journey by writing poetry as a way to uplift the spirits of those in nursing homes and the like. This is still the goal today, to touch hearts and lives wherever encouragement is needed.
Some believe that personal character has little to do with leadership. Do you agree? If so, then ask yourself these questions:
Do people of low character influence you and inspire you to action?
Do you have good relationships with people of low character?
Do you admire people of low character?
Would you welcome them leading you?
Like it or not, agree or disagree, character counts in leadership. Warren Bennis, who has studied and written extensively on leadership, says, “Leadership is character in action.” “Ninety-nine percent of leadership failures are failures of character.” (General Norman Schwarzkopf)
The greatest character quality is integrity. Integrity is what people will remember about you more than your brilliance, ingenuity, competency, and energy. Integrity (or lack of it) is your legacy, what people remember about you.
Daniel, an Older Testament leader, incarnated integrity. As a Jewish teenager, he was exiled to Babylon. In Daniel 6, at the age of 80, he’s a leading official in the godless Persian system. Darius the Persian king appointed 120 managers (satraps) to run his kingdom and over the managers were 3 administrators (or, Vice Presidents). Daniel was a VP, a top-level position, just under the king. Power was at his disposal. He had respect and elite status. The king could trust Daniel. Over the years, he never lost his integrity in this God-hating Persian system.
Several things stand out. First, Daniel had a fabulous work ethic. “Daniel distinguished himself among the administrators and managers BY HIS EXCEPTIONAL QUALITIES and the king planned to promote him over the whole kingdom.” (Daniel 6:3) “Exceptional qualities” is literally “an extraordinary spirit.” Daniel stood out. He wasn’t like everyone else. He did his work well because he saw it well. His perspective shaped his work performance. Daniel excelled. When review time came, he was promoted.
How’s your work? Do you do it well? Are you the best leader you can be?
How’s your attitude? Granted we all have bad days, but is every day a bad day? Is the problem a bad day or a bad life?
Are you easy to work for or with? How would others rate your leadership performance? Are you a tough guy, the boss, control freak, or a servant leader who is considerate and respectful of others and their ideas?
How’s your spiritual perspective toward your leadership? Does God fit into your leadership role every day?
A MARK OF INTEGRITY IS EXCELLENCE ON THE JOB, BOTH IN PERFORMANCE AND ATTITUDE.
(To be continued)
Fred Campbell lives in Ovilla, Texas, just south of Dallas. He pastored two independent Bible churches for 40 years. Currently, he is the president of Living Grace Ministries, a ministry committed to helping churches develop servant leaders, following the model of the Lord Jesus. Fred has traveled to 29 countries and 15 states to lead the workshop. He received his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and his D Min from Phoenix Seminary. Fred is married to Carolyn and has a married son and two grandchildren. His web site is www.livinggraceministries,com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Ways to Trust God When Things Are Falling Apart (By: Alton Jamison)
It’s easy to trust God when things are going your way. But how do you keep your faith and trust in God when things are falling apart?
We all know life is a never-ending mosaic of both good and not-so-good.
From the incredible highs where you believe nothing can stand in your way and you can realize all your dreams; to the disheartening lows where it’s almost impossible to even find hope in the next hour, let alone the future.
But how do you continue to thrive despite the lows that life throws our way? How do you not get lost in the depths of sadness and heartbreak when the going gets tough?
Below are 3 ways to give you strength and hold on to hope and your faith in God no matter what is happening around you.
Patience: While it may seem counterintuitive, patience is the best way to handle a challenging situation that appears, on the surface, to be making your life fall apart.
When things become challenging and uncomfortable, we tend to want to push through and past the pain and discomfort quickly and in any way possible; even if it’s not in our best interests.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5&6
Life is a journey and full of lessons. While trying life challenges and emotions are not easy, they are important. We learn the most during challenging times. So by practicing patience, we allow ourselves to slow down, reflect, understand and absorb the lesson being offered to us.
The willingness to stay the course, hold on tight to our faith and practice patience, allows us to remain open to what is in our best interest (which our heavenly Father knows) and adjust our path in life. Patience allows us to be in the moment and reconnect with our soul and our life purpose.
Prayer: Surrender yourself and your challenges to God through prayer. Prayer is our spiritual conversation with God who both hears and answers prayers.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find.” (Matthew 7:7)
Just as you would talk to your best friend during hard times, communicate and rely upon God who always knows what is best for you. Lean upon God’s strength through prayer and reflection and clear your mind of all the noise, confusion and sadness.
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)
Trust in the power of prayer and know your heavenly Father is always listening regardless of how large or small your problems may seem. Prayer is also a form of meditation and will help relieve the overwhelming stress of whatever you’re facing. Prayer with deep faith will also open up your mind and heart to receiving guidance from above.
You are not expected to have all the answers; remember your life is a journey. But trusting in the connection to our higher source offers both peace and answers. Even Jesus prayed to God in his darkest moments in the Garden of Gethsemane for the strength to do God’s will.
Prayer enhances our most intimate relationship with our Creator and places our hope and trust in a power far greater than ourselves. In both good times and bad, prayers reach out for help and express gratitude for help received.
Perseverance: It’s important to remember prayers are not always answered in our timeframe or in accordance with our expectations. But with perseverance and faith, answers and solutions will present themselves. As Joshua encouraged us:
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
When we persevere in our faith and trust in the Almighty, we avoid being intimidated into fear, hopelessness and inaction in the face of difficulties or obstacles. Instead, we hold our trust that God will provide the best for us in his infinite wisdom and at the right time.
Even if you feel your prayers are not being heard or answered fast enough, continue to practice patience, prayer and perseverance to find the strength to stay on course and remain faithful to God and his will and plan for us.
Alton and TaShawnda Jamison are the founders of The Empowerment Zone. This is a ministry designed to “empower people for everyday life”, through products, events, and messages. Alton and TaShawnda Jamison have been sharing the gospel together for over 20 years. They met in college on the campus of Old Dominion University and started teaching Bible Study together and the rest, they say, is history. God has gifted them in the areas of Families and Finances, and they have been blessed to be able to share their message around the country. They have recently completed their first book together: Purpose, Passion & Prosperity: 3 Keys To A Godly Marriage. Alton is the author of three additional books: Get Off The System: Moving From Lack To Abundance, No More Handcuffs: 5 Keys To Removing The Mental Handcuffs From Your Life, and Biblical Principles For Entrepreneurs. They have a genuine love for God and being transparent to others about their failures and successes. God has also blessed them with two beautiful children. For more information about Alton and TaShawnda or The Empowerment Zone, please visit: www.empowerlives.net
Man Up: Use Lent to Prepare Your Hearts for Easter
I love Easter egg hunts and chocolate rabbits, but there is so much more to Easter. One critical part of Easter is Lent. Lent is the period of 40 weekdays before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, and Sundays are not counted. Lent is often observed with an element of self-denial. I encourage men to lead your family by intentionally observing Lent which will be rewarding experience. Below are some steps to consider on your Lenten journey.
Reflect with your Family
If I don’t use Lent as a time of personal reflection, I run the risk of Easter becoming an excuse to take my suit to the dry cleaners and overdose on chocolate. By observing Lent at home, we can help ourselves and our families grow spiritually. Remember, our primary church is our home. I want myself and my family to understand that we need to prepare our hearts to experience the joy of the resurrection. This begins by examining our hearts for sin and gently explaining the hard reality that our sin is what separates us from Jesus. We are all sinners, and the only one to have walked the earth without sin was falsely accused of a crime (blasphemy). Lent is a time to ask the Holy Spirit to search us and help us clean sin out of our hearts and replace the void with His love and grace.
The observance of Lent can take many forms. There are several devotionals available to help families make Lent a meaningful time of growth and reflection. Speak to your pastor about appropriate devotionals for you and your family.
If your family is not in the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading, Lent is a great time to start. Lent is also a great time to begin the habit of Christian service and reach out to others with our gifts of presence, prayers, and witness.
Understand True Sacrifice
Lent often involves sacrifice. Historically, the season of Lent commemorates Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness which succeeded his baptism by John the Baptist and proceeded the enemy’s efforts to tempt our Lord to serve him.
Many people choose to abstain from a favorite item or activity during Lent. The purpose of this is, in a very symbolic and in a very microscopic manner, allow us to identify with what Jesus sacrificed for us. When our children are deciding what to fast from, it is important to remind them that a true sacrifice must “cost” us something. This may be giving up video games or candy.
Read Scripture Together
Lent is a great time for the family to carve out time each evening to read Scripture. The Gospels are a great place to learn about the life of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope and life on this earth and beyond. John 14:2-3 captures this hope, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Christ separated Himself from previous prophets by His victory over death. The glory of the empty tomb is beautifully captured in Luke 24:5-6 by the words of the angels to the women when they went to His tomb the next day after the crucifixion. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.” Christ’s death is not the source of our hope. His victory over death is the source of all hope. It is the source of life-everlasting and the forgiveness of sins. Use Lent wisely to prepare your hearts for the blessings of Easter.
About the Author:
Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is an international expert in wood science. Todd worked as a professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Action Team Member of The Kingdom Group, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.
John Wooden, coach of the UCLA Bruins, was a cut above other leaders. During his tenure, he coached the Bruins to 10 national basketball championships in 12 years, 7 in a row. He was relentless when it came to character development among his players. In his book They Call Me Coach, he wrote, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
It seems that personal character gets little attention and work when it comes to leadership. When was the last time in a leader’s training and education they took a course on:
• dealing with relentless temptation? • losing well? • handling a situation that derails the leader? • what to do when everything has been lost? • what to do when people don’t follow the leader?
Surely there’s more to leadership than the skills, abilities, and techniques that supposedly bring prosperity and success.
Mark Miller (The Heart of a Leader) likens leadership to an iceberg. “How much of the iceberg sits above the waterline? Only 10% is visible while 90% lies below the waterline—unseen, invisible. Let the part above represent leadership skills, the things leaders do; the part below represents leadership character, what a leader is. 90% of a leader’s effectiveness is determined by what’s below the waterline.
Leadership character ultimately drives what leaders do, why they do it, and how they handle a negative reality.”
Many leaders spend a lot of time and energy developing the 10% above the water. *They earn BBA/MBA degrees from fine universities. *Spend hours attending leadership seminars and courses. *Seek professional consultation. *Work hard, make major decisions, and lead countless meetings. *Communicate and listen. *They do whatever it takes to make them “successful,” “great,” “prosperous.”
However, how much time do they spend developing the 90% of their leadership character, who they really are as people? If little to no time is spent, are they not like a man who built a nice house—beautiful, big, comfortable, loaded with luxury. The house looked good, impressive, well-built, but it was foolishly constructed on beach sand.
You’ve heard the story. When a hurricane hit, the house collapsed—like a valued, long-term client saying NO to a multimillion proposal you must have, your business going bankrupt, key people who made your company successful leaving, your marriage ending, your family falling apart, your ministry dwindling.
“CHARACTER IS THE ABILITY TO MEET THE DEMANDS OF REALITY” (Henry Cloud, Integrity)
Fred Campbell lives in Ovilla, Texas, just south of Dallas. He pastored two independent Bible churches for 40 years. Currently, he is the president of Living Grace Ministries, a ministry committed to helping churches develop servant leaders, following the model of the Lord Jesus. Fred has traveled to 29 countries and 15 states to lead the workshop.
He received his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and his D Min from Phoenix Seminary. Fred is married to Carolyn and has a married son and two grandchildren. His web site is www.livinggraceministries,com and his email is email@example.com
Last Sunday, while feeding my horses before church, I set the buckets down, and glanced at my shoes. Laughing at the sight of my ‘Sunday Best’ atop a pile of muck. I attempted to dust them off, then hopped into the car with the notion of ‘Sunday Best’ still circulating in my mind.
What exactly is ‘Sunday Best’? I wondered.
Is it the clothing we put on that morning? Is it our accumulation of knowledge or our ability to use certain language with ease? Is it how much we give of ourselves? Is it the behavior of children? Or perfectly coifed hair, approving smiles and nodded heads as the message is delivered?
Is that our ‘best’?
I have always struggled with the notion of bringing my ‘best’. Failing to live up to whatever I believed that ‘best’ was.
First, I was a little girl who was fairly disruptive. I sang a bit too loud and I loved to use wild hand gestures for all of the songs. Often landing me on the receiving end of a few disapproving glares.
Then, as a youth, I lacked sound decision-making skills and for a while I failed to live up to the expectations of myself and the people around me. By then, the notion of ‘Sunday Best’ paired with those disapproving glares resided within me, and urged me to believe I wasn’t good enough for God or the church.
Nowadays, as I look around at the faces of the people I encounter, I can’t help but notice signs of this ongoing plight. I see weary expressions. People struggling day after day to bring their ‘best’ to those around them. Who seem exhausted from trying to live up to the arbitrary marks set for them by other human beings. I see slouched frames, heads hung low, creases and sometimes tears forming in the corner of tired eyes. Evidence of defeat is visible everywhere. From our church pews, to the streets outside and all of the other pockets and corners of our lives in-between.
And it’s strange, because the Message we have been given to carry out from our Sundays into the world, is not a message of defeat, but a message of provision. And unearned, undeserved love. Not because of what our best looks like. But because of Who we belong to.
We have the message of grace.
And as, a recipient of this audacious and underserved gift, I feel compelled to reframe what ‘Sunday Best’ represents. Repositioning it from an outward appearance and anchoring it as a constant posture of my heart.
The best I can bring on behalf of God in this world is humble gratitude of what has been done for me. And to be a living illustration of what it looks like to receive God’s love. Standing alongside all of the muck and mud of my lift and somehow still set apart and chosen as His treasured possession. And made holy not because of who I am or what I do, but because of Who lives through me.
The best of me is Jesus.
Karen is a former Bostonian who now resides on a small farm just north of Baton Rouge.
She loves scripture and her garden and often weaves both into her work as a writer. In 2017, Publisher’s Weekly described her debut memoir, Mustard Seeds and Water Lines as an ‘emotional and finely crafted’ account of her personal journey towards healing after The Great Flood of 2016, in their annual Book Life Prize review. And, as her story has made its way across the country, readers have consistently embraced her as an authentic voice with a message of hope in the wake of a disaster.
Karen is a wife, mother and weekly co-host of The Back Porch Book Club, a podcast designed to build community and conversation surrounding books about Spiritual Formation and the Bible.
You can find her on Instagram @karenmilioto or online at www.karenmilioto.com
Ruth Addison Helps Women Reclaim Their Feminine Side
Over the years, Ruth Addison has held a lot of hands and wiped away a lot of tears. As owner of Total Woman Boutique, she has devoted her professional and personal life to helping women recover from breast cancer. She understands the fear, pain, loss and and frustration that women experience after a mastectomy or chemotherapy treatments.
“I care about my customers,” Addison said. “I care about the way they feel and what they are going through.”
Anyone who survives cancer is happy to be alive, but for women who have lost their hair, or one or both breasts, the transition is harder. Their experience affects their womanhood and many say they don’t feel “whole.” It was this sentiment that led Addison to name her store “Total Woman.”
Addison, now 80, says that as a young woman, she wanted to be a nurse. Unfortunately, after saving her money and getting accepted to nursing school, she got sick and had to drop out. “I guess God had other plans for me,” she said. “I ended up working for an orthotics company, fitting people with prosthetics and artificial limbs. I actually loved it. I realized it was just another form of nursing.”
After 14 years, Addison decided to open her own business and focus on women who had undergone mastectomies. “It was 1982 and no one else in Baton Rouge was selling what we called ‘breast forms’ at that time. I wanted to create a bright, cheery atmosphere because I knew how hard it was for a lot of women to come to a store like mine.”
Addison started her business on a shoestring, she says, but got a lot of help from Dr. Robert Elliott, a breast surgeon who referred many of his patients to her. “I couldn’t have succeeded without his help,” she said. “I had never managed anything but a household, but I was determined. And one thing about me … when I set my mind to something, I’m going to accomplish it. It has been a struggle at times, but always a passion. That makes the struggle a lot easier.”
There were times when Addison didn’t think she’d make it. “So many times, I’d say, ‘God, I need your help!’ and somehow, my prayers were always answered, the problem was always solved, God always came through.”
Insurance was a big concern in the early days, Addison said. At one time, one of the biggest insurers in our state would only provide coverage for one bra a year. “One bra!” Addison said. “So I went to their corporate office and complained. And it was all men there. And I said, ‘How would you gentlemen like to get only one pair of underwear a year?’ They didn’t know what to think! Well, it didn’t happen that day, but within a few months, the coverage was doubled to 2 bras a year, and now, women can get insurance coverage for 6 bras a year. I’ve had to jump through hoops sometimes to get reimbursed, but I know how much it means to my customers.”
Eventually, Addison’s daughter Sherri Spillman joined her in the business, and in time, became general manager. She also keeps up with new inventory, insurance changes, credentialing and other issues. “I’ve been here for 30 years now,” Spillman said. “I certainly didn’t ever think I’d go into any kind of retail. I was never a good salesman. As a kid, I couldn’t sell a bar of World’s Finest chocolate! But this is different. We’re helping women at a difficult time in their lives, so it’s a very rewarding job.
Sherri’s daughter Amy Pinell also works at Total Woman. She is a cosmetologist talented in makeup and hair (wig) styling. “Amy was just 3 weeks old when I started working here,” Spillman said. “When she was a very little girl, she helped a customer choose a pair of earrings and the woman gave her a tip. She was so excited. I think we knew then that Amy would also be part of Total Woman someday.”
Whereas the store once focused on prosthetics and bras, Total Woman Boutique now sells a wide variety of items, including swimwear, foundation garments, hats, turbans, jewelry, lotions and more. Many breast cancer survivors develop a condition called lymphedema and must wear compression sleeves. When Addison started carrying the sleeves, she decided to add compression stockings to her inventory, creating a male clientele for Total Woman. “Most of the men buy compression stockings for blood clots, vein problems and poor circulation,” she said.
What makes her shop different from others is the experience and knowledge Addison brings to her work. She is a certified and licensed mastectomy fitter since 1960, and the shop is accredited through the American Board of Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics. Customers benefit from those credentials.
“All of our customers receive very special attention,” Addison said. “We even have a seamstress on staff. When a customer walks out of here, they leave with top-quality products that are customized for them — items that fit correctly for size, shape and comfort.”
Not surprisingly, Addison builds relationships with her customers, often when they are most vulnerable. “When I fit a customer for a new prosthetic and bra, I have her face me with her back to the full-length mirror in the fitting room. After I’m finished, I let her turn around and look at herself. For a lot of women, it’s the first time they’ve seen their body look normal again since before their cancer. I can’t describe how grateful they are and what a smile it brings to their faces. It’s that moment that always brings me joy.”
Addison says she isn’t planning to retire any time soon. She continues to work six days a week and she stays current on news and information relevant to her industry. She has won many awards during her career, including two just last year — a lifetime achievement award from Women’s Wellness Magazine, and another from the American Academy of Breast Cancer Professionals. Addison also works closely with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Society of Greater Baton Rouge, local breast cancer support groups and local hospitals.
Her work developed into a ministry of sorts in 2001, when she went to Cuba and did fittings for 400 women. In 2012, a church friend asked Addison to go with her to Colombia and do some fittings for women there. That trip was unforgettable, Addison said, but it became especially important to her daughter — Spillman eventually joined the team of Baltimore physician Armando Sardi, who makes the trip twice a year.
“I’m so fortunate to have my daughter and my granddaughter with me,” Addison said. “We all love what we do. You can’t help but enjoy it when you can make someone feel good about themselves, when you can help a woman feel truly beautiful inside and out. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Total Woman Boutique is located at 9244 Florida Blvd., Suite C. For more information, call (225) 924-4531.
Pine Cove’s Camp in the City
Combines Faith and Fun
By Susan Brown
Just being around E.J. “Pops” Hibbler is an energizing experience. He is “Christ-centered, others-focused and seriously fun” – the motto of the camp he brings to Baton Rouge every summer. Pine Cove’s Camp in the City, based in Tyler, Texas, is coming July 2-6 to the Chapel in the Oaks on Siegen Lane. It is a microcosm of effective mentoring for children: get into their world, genuinely enjoy who they are, and show them who they can become.
In the middle of the jam-packed week of water sliding, wall climbing, bungee trampoline jumping and hilarious competition, his team of college students has a mission: to teach the gospel and model a godly lifestyle. That includes a life lesson in obeying parents, something Hibbler learned when (against his mother’s stern warning) he lit a handful of fireworks behind the house leaving him with serious burns and the nickname “Pops.”
“Pine Cove exists to be used by God to transform the lives of people for his purposes and for his glory,” Hibbler said. “What kind of drives and fuels us is that we have college students who may be relevant [to kids], but they know that sin still exists and that we have to fight off that sin with the light we have in us by the Holy Spirit. ‘For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’” (Philippians 2:13).
“‘The joy of the Lord is our strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10b) when we’re jumping in the gauntlet, when we see those smiling faces and see a lot of sweating,” Hibbler said. “That’s what gets us through the summer – believing those scriptures wholeheartedly. You be wacky, you be joyful and you show them that they are loved.”
Camp in the City teams travel throughout the southeast all summer, from Texas to Oklahoma to South Carolina.
“The thing that we want them to walk away with is just identity – who they are,” Hibbler said. As trust builds, counselors have the opportunity to see the kids through God’s eyes, as important, loved and full of potential. His goals are “to instill identity, to have a church home or know a place where they can go, and to know the gospel, the saving news of Jesus Christ.”
But getting kids to open up can be tough. “First, we try to break down walls, to let them know that, hey, we don’t mind being silly, goofy, for the sake of your saying, ‘Oh, you’re crazy – and I think I like you.’”
His own story is one that tracks the steadfast love of God who works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:29). Adopted by his great-aunt when he was only two weeks old, E.J. grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with his biological brother and a sister who “just popped in and out” of his life.
At his home church, Mt. Olive Baptist, relations became strained. His family pulled away from church for a couple of years while his mother recovered from the hurt she experienced there. Then, the House of the Lord Full Gospel Baptist Church sent a van to pick him up. “I just started growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord there, on my own, instead of grabbing onto my mom’s faith,” he said. “I knew the Lord had called me to ministry, ultimately.”
Hibbler was determined to become an engineer to earn enough money for his mom to have a better life. At Mississippi State, his friend Cortez McRaney showed him a verse of scripture that changed his course:
“Two things I request of you (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches – Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9).
He decided to invest his life in the spiritual development of other people, something he could never claim to accomplish on his own. It was a huge step of faith.
Confident that God would provide financially, he gave up his engineering scholarship, changed his major to broadcast journalism and landed a freelance job with ESPN to help pay the bills – a job he still holds. With a student assistantship, he entered the meteorology program for a master’s degree with an ulterior motive – to stay near a girl he was dating. In the Student Union one day, he saw a Pine Cove booth and agreed to work at the Outback camp for kids.
“That’s when I had confirmation. I had a dream that the Lord was going to plant me in Texas, permanently,” he said. “Two weeks after that, I was offered a job to come and work for Camp in the City full-time. So, long story short, the Lord did it.”
Now, his prayer is to be part of God’s story: “We want them to leave with the gospel and its transforming power, that Christ came and lived a real life and walked amongst people,” Hibbler said. “He loved us so much that he died and rose up, conquering death, and he gave us a helper until the end of the days. He gave us the Holy Spirit.”
“We tell our counselors to remember what’s going on,” Hibbler said. “If there’s an issue – fear, hurt, low view of self – turn to the scriptures to talk identity into them. “Don’t blow that moment. If you have the chance for a ‘hang time,’ speak the words of life into them.”
“The second thing is knowing that there is a home within a church, because often times I think we get burned out with the same programmatic things. But these campers are coming for something more. They’re coming for Jesus.”
A pivotal moment for the team occurred in the aftermath of the July 2016 shooting in Baton Rouge. “We got a chance to see how Baton Rouge takes on racial differences and how they mend together as a city,” Hibbler said. They worried that campers from a majority African-American neighborhood would not come back.
“We prayed. We said in the name of Jesus, if you would allow these kids to get on this bus, we will make sure to love them,” Hibbler said. “We saw these campers already lined up at the edge of the road saying we will not let this separate us from an opportunity for them to hear the gospel. We will not let this moment stop our kids because they may go to a majority white church. It doesn’t matter; Christ is all that matters.’”
“These kids are in it for the whole experience – water slides, rock walls, camp cheers, team building and learning about Jesus with their peers,” said Lisette West, Kids Hope USA Director for the Chapel. “Campers talk about how their camp and life experiences relate to the Bible passages. Some make bold professions of faith and go on to be baptized over the summer,” West said.
Camp in the City draws kids from the Chapel, neighboring churches and the community, including Wildwood Elementary, a school that partners with the Chapel through Kids Hope USA. It is open to kids who are entering first through 6th grades.
“The kids are just spraying with water guns, loving these counselors, hanging onto them, saying they don’t want to leave,” Hibbler said. “So, when you come here from 9 to 4, you’re able to think about fun, Christ and being a kid. And when you leave here, you can remember Christ and look back on the fun that you’ve had.”
Pine Cove is a wonderful Christian camp,” Chapel Pastor Kevin McKee said. “This outstanding camp – when give the opportunity to export its infectious summer activities – chose the Chapel as one of the first churches to offer Camp in the City.” The Chapel has sent counselors, children and families to Pine Cove camps for some 30 years. “And God continues to use Christian camping to change lives and advance his kingdom and purposes,” McKee said.
Troy and Tracy Duhon step out in
faith for world impact.
“Be careful what you pray for – God might send a Cajun car dealer,” laughs Troy Duhon. He shakes his head as he recounts the way God is using a rebellious pastor’s son to spread the gospel through the burgeoning Christian movie business, build orphanages around the world, and address human trafficking, hunger and prison re-entry from his base in New Orleans.
As executive producer of the “God’s Not Dead” series, Duhon works to equip Christians – especially young adults – to address conflicting ideas during the volatile high school and college years. The latest film, “God’s Not Dead 3,” is scheduled for release by Pure Flix this Easter season.
Duhon was sitting on a movie set in Los Angeles when he was struck by the idea. “We have a daughter (Abigail) who’s an aspiring actress, so she auditioned for a film and got the role. Because she’s a minor, parents have to go,” he said. Then, he received a phone call from a friend, Dr. Rice Broocks, author of the book, God’s Not Dead.
“He’s telling me that 65% of faith-based kids will walk away from Christianity because they can’t defend the gospel. And I’m like – that’s crazy,” he said. “All of a sudden I got hit by the Holy Spirit and I’m like, really, God, me do a movie? I’ve never done a movie in my life.”
Duhon approached David A.R. White, co-founder and managing partner of Pure Flix. “He looks at me and says, “Are you for real?” And 31 days later we signed the contract. Now, up to 40 million people have seen the film.”
The Duhons are part of a movement to take the Christian film industry to a new level. “When you do a film called “God’s Not Dead” there’s a very small market of people that are going to go to it. You’re entertaining Christians,” he said. “But when you take a story like “Hacksaw Ridge” (directed by Mel Gibson), you’re able to tell someone a story without preaching.” “Hacksaw Ridge” depicts the faith struggle of WWII medic Desmond T. Doss.
“We’re creating a new model to evangelize,” Duhon said. That includes the idea of producing horror films – popular among Millennials – with a faith resolution. “You can give them a finish that says there’s a Creator, and his name is God. I don’t care what devil you served, God will redeem you and forgive you,” Duhon said. They are also working to provide the story of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and stories of people who have faced hard circumstances because of their faith.
Duhon said personal tragedy often pulls someone away from faith: the loss of someone close, a broken heart, a profound disappointment. For others, it is a creeping realization that Christianity prompts questions – and they don’t have answers.
But with a faith animated by their own search for struggles, the Duhon family was uniquely equipped to embrace these issues head-on. Their own painful reality – similar to the tragedy experienced by the professor in “God’s Not Dead” – brought a stronger faith and deeper commitment to serve. But it was an agonizing process that Troy and Tracy share to encourage faith through crisis.
After giving birth to two healthy children, Joshua and Abigail, Tracy looked forward to a third baby in 2004. But she was told that the baby would not even survive her pregnancy. In faith, the Duhon family and members of their church prayed through scripture and trusted God for a miracle. But Baby Jonathan died on the day he was born. Tracy and Troy were devastated.
“You could have taken anything in this world from me – anything but my children,” Tracy said. She felt that God had let her down. “We did not receive our miracle the way that we believed.” But Tracy said God was working out a different plan – one that took shape with wave after wave of trauma.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded four of the car dealerships in their New Orleans-based business. Some 1,200 cars were under water. Troy set up a relief center for the community in his Honda store. Soon, they were servicing 1,200 cars per day. “What was incredible wasn’t the number of cars, it was the joy of watching our employees give back,” Troy explained. “And from that moment on, I made a decision that it was never going to be about how many cars I sold, it was going to be about how many people that I could bless.”
Then, tragedy struck again. In May 2006, their son, Joseph, was born and lived only seven hours. “Losing one child was pain enough, and then it happened a second time. Truly you’re going to doubt your faith,” Troy said. Depression set in, along with self-doubt: was there something in his past that caused present pain?
“It was way too much for a mama to walk through. I was totally broken,” Tracy said. “And one day in the shower I cried out to the Lord, screamed, yelled at him, ‘Why don’t you just take away this pain?’” Then, she sensed God’s direction; as she emotionally released her baby boys to him, she began to move forward. “I chose to obey one day at a time. He asked me to be faithful with what is in my hand, and at the time it was Joshua, six years old, and Abigail, three years old, looking up at me. Joshua said, ‘I’m going to keep kissing you ‘til you stop crying, Mama.’”
“You begin to try to justify or rationalize without knowing that God truly has a plan and a purpose,” Troy said. “Because if those events hadn’t happened, I don’t see myself here today adopting, building orphanages and doing the things I’m doing.”
“My pain became my purpose,” he said. “I told Tracy, ‘Baby, you’re going to be the mother of many before we go to heaven. I will build 20 orphanages – that’s my goal.’” In the meantime, Tracy gave birth to another daughter, Avah, now age 6, and they gained a daughter through adoption. Anna, now age five, was brought home from China in 2012.
“The extravagant love of God loved me back to life – gave me a passion,” Tracy said. There are three lessons she passes along to others. First, there is purpose in your pain and you must choose to let it go. Then, you must tell yourself and others that God has not failed you. Finally, you must recognize that there is hope, and while you’re waiting on your miracle, become a miracle for someone else. “God gave me the word Hope, and he told me never to let go of it. And H.O.P.E. became Helping Other People Every day.”
Gradually, God began to reveal their purpose: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25: 35, 36). The Giving Hope Foundation began to take shape. They commit a small portion of each vehicle sale to the foundation’s work.
Through their non-profit, the Duhons established Hope for a Home to help families with international adoptions. They built orphanages in Honduras, India and Africa, and plan a ribbon cutting for the orphanage in Moscow, Russia in July. Through a partnership with the New Orleans Mission, they have built the Giving Hope Retreat Center to serve men and women who face the challenges of addiction, mental illness and physical or sexual abuse. A Women’s Pavilion provides 100 rooms to battered women, victims of human trafficking and formerly homeless women. Giving Hope also works with inmates released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola through the New Orleans Mission.
Another branch of Giving Hope – H.A.T.E., Hope Against Trafficking Everywhere – educates and provides rescue and recovery for victims of human trafficking, the fastest growing crime in the world, with an average age of 11 to 14-year-old girls and boys.
Giving Hope operates a full-staff kitchen that cooks 1,000 hot meals every day in one of their car dealerships. Their food pantry partners with Winn-Dixie, Wal-Mart and Second Harvesters to provide some 2.5 million pounds of food a year.
“So, I’m here to tell you today: God did not fail me, he has not failed you,” Tracy said. “His word came to pass in our life. But it came to pass much greater and much different than I had imagined.”
Their pastor told them, “The miracle of your sons living would have been incredible, but the miracle is that you and Troy are holding hands, walking back in church, moving forward, trusting God, because people can relate to your pain. They need to see someone who dared to believe and move forward and trust God again – that he can take it and turn it around.”
For more information: givinghopenola.org.
Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.
I know the power of prayer. There’s no doubt in our minds. When people gather, wherever, to pray for a common cause, it’s heard. And we have the proof. Is Nick a miracle? Well, yes. I mean, by everything that science told the doctors, Nick shouldn’t be here. -James Tullier, Nick Tullier’s father
If there is one lesson the Tullier family has learned over the past 18 months, it is that nothing is impossible with God. The 24-hour vigil over their son – that began with the 2016 fatal shooting of three law enforcement officers and wounding of three others – is bathed in the prayers and support of well-wishers from across the globe. They have learned to expect the unexpected.
“Nick did lose some brain mass. He’s got bullet fragments through his brain and on his brain stem,” said Nick’s father, James. “They had told us in the beginning he wouldn’t live 24 hours, then 48 hours, then five days.”
James and his wife, Mary, refused to believe the prognosis. “Mary told the doctor, ‘No, you don’t understand, this is not your decision. This decision is between God and Nick.’”
“About two weeks before we left Baton Rouge, the neurosurgeon caught Mary in the hall at Our Lady of the Lake and said, ‘I understand now. It never was in my hands,’” James said. “A higher power was guiding him.”
“Anoxic brain injury affects the whole brain. People usually don’t remember what happened, but the fact that Nick does is another miracle,” said Nick’s fiancé Danielle McNicholl. “He should not be able to breathe on his own or regulate his temperature or swallow, but he can, which is also a miracle. There are just so many delicate things he shouldn’t be able to do, and there’s no medical explanation for it.” And then, there is his smile. “It’s contagious,” Danielle said. “You can’t not smile when you see him smile.”
The journey toward healing is a journey of faith. “I grew up going to a Catholic church, Immaculate Conception in Denham, and Nick had questions. A lot of people do. I always had religion in my life, but it was what you’re supposed to do,” Danielle said. “I would pray to God when something bad happened, but I wouldn’t say that I really had a real deep connection before. This has changed all of us. It’s changed his parents; it’s changed me.”
“I blame my mom for this, actually,” she said with a smile. “It’s sort of our little joke. Because the morning this happened, she was at church with my stepdad, and she was praying, ‘Please God, bring my kids back to church, bring them back to prayer.’”
“I’ve never been a non-believer, but I’ve been from one end of the spectrum to the other,” James said. “I was raised Catholic and Mary was raised Baptist.” At his lowest point, he ended up in the chapel at Our Lady of the Lake where he made – not a bargain – but a promise to God to promote Him and promote prayer. “I talk to Him often, multiple times a day, multiple times a night. I ask for direction and help to keep that promise.”
“Nick did lose some brain mass. He’s got bullet fragments through his brain and on his brain stem,” said Nick’s father, James. “They had told us in the beginning he wouldn’t live 24 hours, then 48 hours, then five days.” James and his wife, Mary, refused to believe the prognosis. “Mary told the doctor, ‘No, you don’t understand, this is not your decision. This decision is between god and Nick.’”
As they celebrate each small step, the family is amazed at the way God places people in their path. “So many people were praying for Nick at this time,” James said. A church in Thailand asked for details to direct their prayers toward specific injuries. The family of former TV star Steve Irwin, owners of the Australia Zoo, sent a photograph of the entire staff wearing Pray for Nick bracelets. Tullier was contacted by praying people from the Philippines, Sweden, England, France, Germany, Italy and across the U.S. Father Charbel El-Jamhoury, pastor of St. Agnes Church, flew back to Baton Rouge from overseas to pray over Nick every night. The Tullier family still receives messages of support each day.
When memorial services were held for the three officers fatally wounded in the attack – Brad Garafola, Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson – at least two officers representing every state and Canada took time to visit. “At almost 3 in the morning there was a line of law enforcement officers in ICU,” James said. They would come in very formally and walk to the side of Nick, pop to attention and salute him. And every one of them asked, ‘Do you mind if we pray?’ So, we know what helped save Nick.”
God continues to connect the family with support, James said. Shortly after Nick was wounded, their home in Denham Springs was flooded. They were able to save only their three chihuahuas, two bags of clothes and their motor home. Lighthouse Charity Team stepped in to provide a place to park the motor home, so they could live near the treatment facility.
Then, after receiving care in Galveston, the family moved Nick back to Houston to remain under the TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) umbrella of care. With insurance for round-the-clock care ending, they needed to quickly find a home that would meet Nick’s needs. Then, they were offered a rental house through their connection with Houston police officer Ronny Cortez and his wife, Sheri, a couple they met while Ronny was also receiving treatment at TIRR. The Cortez family is providing the house rent-free for the first few months for Nick’s parents and fiancé, who share responsibility for his 24-hour care. “It’s a lot, but he doesn’t quit, so we’re not quitting,” Danielle said.
Tullier has been contacted by praying people from the Philippines, Sweden, England, France, Germany, Italy and across the U.S. Father Charbel el-Jamhoury, pastor of St. Agnes Church, flew back to Baton Rouge from overseas to pray over Nick every night. The Tullier family still receives messages of support each day.
Neither is the community that has supported the family with donations and encouragement. Courville Construction in Baton Rouge took on the task of remodeling the house to meet Nick’s needs, including a rolling shower and expanded doorways. Donors are contributing home furnishings from a gift registry. “Everybody’s been wonderful,” Danielle said.
“You hear all the time in the Bible that people dropped everything and just followed Jesus,” Danielle said. “In today’s time, how would you quit your job and leave everything? That wouldn’t work. I was a hair stylist. But literally, I have not worked since Nick was shot, and God has provided everything.”
It is prayer that keeps the family going, Danielle said. “Nick’s brain is fully there; his body needs to catch up. So that’s what we’re waiting on. Now that he’s past all the infection he was dealing with, his muscles are starting to listen to his brain.”
“He’s doing multiplication and division, and he remembers everybody and everything,” Danielle said. “He’ll nod his head for yes and then turn his head for no. If you ask him a multiple-choice question, you can say A, B or C and he’ll turn his head. He thrives with pushing and pushing.”
“God knows everything that’s going to happen, but he set up all the people in Nick’s life so perfectly,” Danielle said. “And we want to tell them, ‘thank you.’ It’s been a God thing.”
“Danielle’s just fantastic,” James said. “She could easily jump up and say this wasn’t in my plan. But Danielle is in this game with us.”
Before the shooting, Nick and Danielle planned to marry the next summer. “I told him as soon as he can say, ‘I do.’ No pressure,” Danielle said. “I believe 100 percent that he will talk and walk again. I’ve just had that in my heart since the beginning. If you ask him if he wants a break – no. He just doesn’t quit, he doesn’t stop.”
“People have called us for over a year asking, ‘What can I do for Nick?’ Continue to pray,” James said. “That’s my fear, that it loses momentum. But we’ve got prayer warriors all over the nation and outside the nation, who message me and assure me they’re not going to forget. Please continue to pray for Nick.”
For more information, visit the Nick Tullier Strong page on Facebook.
Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.
Jeff LeDuff is a strong believer in purpose . He was just 10 years old when he discovered his own.
by Lisa Tramontana
“Every Easter, my parents took me and my four sisters to downtown Baton Rouge to buy new clothes to wear to Easter Mass,” he said. “We were crossing the street and my eyes fell on this police officer on the corner. I was awestruck … I remember the sight of those long black boots, the badges and pins that shined like new money, and that big white motorcycle. He saw me as I walked by and didn’t say a word, but reached down and pinched my cheek. I’ll never forget it. I knew that day that I wanted to be a police officer.”
He made good on that promise to himself, becoming not just a police officer, but chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department from 2005 to 2011. People all over the city already knew LeDuff from his 20 years as a motorcycle officer, his years as an instructor at the Police Academy, and his frequent speaking engagements throughout the community. As chief, he worked hard to combat crime in the capital city, and was known for his leadership, his character, and his ability to connect with people from all backgrounds and in all situations.
Despite the crime and violence that surrounded him every day, LeDuff says his faith was never shaken. Why? Because he always saw the goodness in people. “I was Chief of Police during Katrina,” he said. “I saw people who had lost everything, but were willing to share with others what little they had left. I saw how strangers helped families get back on their feet. When five people were killed (four of them in a church) in 2006, I saw people comfort each other. In spite of all the negative things that happen in the world, people will surprise you with how much hope and promise they have in their hearts.”
LeDuff’s faith was truly tested in 2010 when his wife Sandy’s brother, Christopher, was murdered. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “… to go and tell my mother in-law that her son had died. It would be easy to ask God why did this have to happen? But I’ve never done that. I’ve never been angry with God. I just ask him to please let this be the last time … and I ask him to change us, to change our hearts, to make us better people.”
“When it comes to the end, I want to look back and know that I was a good man with a good heart. I want people to know that I loved God and I loved people and believed that there’s goodness in everyone.” – Chief Jeff LeDuff
When LeDuff announced his retirement from the police force, many community leaders were sad to see him go. They used terms such as “gracious” and “positive” to describe his management style, and agreed that he would be tough to replace. For a few years, he worked as Chief of Security at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, and today, he owns the security firm Open Eyes with his son Kelly. His career has always focused on service to others and the city is filled with people he has helped and encouraged over the years.
For 20 years, he helped operate a Police Explorer camp in Mississippi for young boys, and to this day, he stays in touch with many of them. “They’re grown men now,” he said, “with families of their own. But I still have a relationship with many of them. They call me to get advice, to talk about a new job, or to just say hello. Father’s Day usually fell during that week of camp, so I couldn’t be with my own son. One of the campers once said to him, ‘I’m sorry we take your dad away from you on Father’s Day.’ Kelly was about 9 or 10 and he said, ‘That’s okay. You get him for a week, but I’m lucky ‘cause I have him just about every day of the year.’”
LeDuff is also proud of his 39-year marriage. He met Sandy when they were just 15 years old. “I was an altar boy and one Sunday at Mass, I saw this girl for the first time,” he said. “She was in town visiting her relatives. Being that we were in church, I probably shouldn’t have been thinking this way, but oh, she was so pretty and I really wanted to meet her.”
They did meet, and they’ve been together ever since. Life wasn’t always easy, LeDuff said, but the couple always had faith that God would see them through any trials or problems they might face. Sandy says she loves her husband because he is strong, dedicated, passionate and hardworking. “He believes in something bigger than himself,” she said. “It’s the way he was raised.”
LeDuff has praise for his wife, too. “Sandy is an angel in our family,” he said as he describes how she cared for his sister who died of cancer. “My sister was given three months to live, and she was with us for 13 months. That’s because of Sandy taking care of her. Our family is so blessed to have her.”
The key to their happiness is mutual respect and commitment to their marriage vows. “When you marry someone, the two become one,” said LeDuff. “It’s that simple. You’ve got to make sure the two of you don’t ever fall out of love at the same time. One of you has always got to be willing to fight for the relationship and the love you have for each other.”
His determination to create good in the world comes from the feeling that he’s lucky to be alive. Literally. In 2006, as he rode his motorcycle down Florida Boulevard, a woman in a van hit him and he ended up pinned beneath the vehicle. He remembers the first responders cutting his clothes off of him as they attempted to pull him out.
“It’s because I’ve been through those kind of things that I believe I’m blessed,” he said. “But I’m still here, so clearly, God has more for me to do.”
Last summer when Baton Rouge was reeling from the flood devastation and the tragic shooting that killed three police officers, LeDuff was on hand to offer compassionate words to the community. In an appearance on WAFB-TV, his talk of hope, healing and unity reminded viewers why he is such a beloved fixture in the community.
“Today … I want every person in Baton Rouge to find someone that looks different from you, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. When you get beyond the color, beyond the differences, you’ll find that we’re not that far apart. Love everybody.”
These days, LeDuff focuses on his company and spends time with Sandy, Kelly, his daughter-in-law Shannon, his two grandchildren, and his extended family. “One day, I hope to be so old that I’m bent over, that I’m shaking. When it
comes to the end, I want to look back and know that I was a good man with a good heart. I want people to know that I loved God and I loved people and believed that there’s goodness in everyone.”
Which brings us back to the idea of purpose.
“I think we all innately want to do the right thing. I believe that before we’re born, God holds us in his mighty hands and molds us … and it’s our job to figure out why he made us that way. That’s how we learn what our purpose is … we’ve got to use the gifts he gave us to do good in this life.”
A middle school girl clutches brown bags of sandwiches and fruit as she gathers her young siblings and heads for home. She is bringing supper to her family – no small matter for many who struggle with food insecurity in Gardere, one of many communities in which holidays can mean hungry days.
Local mothers have spearheaded efforts to meet the basic need for food when it is most acute – those weeks and weekends when school breakfasts and lunches are not available. Several grassroots projects are connecting those who have means to spare with families that are hard-pressed to make ends meet. Although the brown bags were originally intended for lunches, they discovered the greater need was for take-home meals so children can have something for dinner.
With a keep-it-simple strategy, individuals have stepped into the gap to provide brown bag meals, some through the Gardere Initiative and others through Gardere Community Christian School. “God put it on a friend’s heart to find something where mothers can begin to teach their children to serve in a really tangible way,” said coordinator Robin Gaspard, a member of The Chapel on the Campus and coordinator of the Brown Bag Offering. “The first summer we served 10,000 lunches.” That was five years ago.
Planning is now underway for summer 2018 brown bag meals, served through the Gardere Initiative. There is also a need for take home dinners during the two-week Christmas break. That’s 200 bags per day. Each bag contains a meat and cheese sandwich with no condiments, a salty item such as chips or Goldfish, a fresh fruit, a sweet item and a small water bottle or juice box. Gaspard tries to get people to take a day, a week or several weeks and coordinate it with their friends. Networking is key.
“The first summer was really just moms. We sent the word out to everybody we could think of.” Then, a student working on his Eagle Scout project discovered the venture and coordinated a full week. Gaspard’s mother-in-law convinced her co-workers to provide meals for a week. Friends partnered with neighbors to stuff brown bags with food. BASF in Geismar joined the project, contributing meals for two summers as part of their community outreach.
“Last summer, I was beginning to sweat because people were not volunteering,” said Gaspard. Simple Shepherds, another group of moms led by Tammy Moran, stepped up to fill six weeks’ worth of brown bags. An Ascension Parish resident, Leila Banner, rallied people in Prairieville who had no real contact with Gardere but knew there was a need.
“It refreshed me to see God show up and literally orchestrate the summer,” said Gaspard. “That was an absolute blessing.”
“Simple Shepherds’ motto is ‘By his love’ – working with anyone in need,” said Caroline Lemann. “’By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35). All the gifts we have are on loan from God, not just for ourselves but to bless others and to be thankful.” The group includes families from different churches and schools including St. Aloysius, University Laboratory School and Our Lady of Mercy.
“We wanted to expose our kids to service – one thing per month,” Lemann said. “We hope and pray that this will instill those values of service. The kids love it when they can interact. They ask, ‘When is our next project?’”
“We’re not just celebrating the blessings we have – which we do – but we’re also grateful for the opportunity to give,” said Marie Johnson of St. Jude Catholic Church Family Life Ministry. She refers to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
“You have to start your kids young, teaching them that it’s the right thing to do, to help others,” Johnson said. Through the Gardere Initiative, St. Jude families typically provide 1-2 weeks of brown bag meals and also prepare lunches on a Sunday. “It means putting my worldly things aside and not worrying about them. If I feel we’re not getting enough responses, I just pray and God provides,” Johnson said.
“As we distribute the bags, it gives us good dialogue. I see a change in my children. In their prayer life, they are very specific. They are more aware of what’s going on around them. They are more accepting of people’s differences and not afraid of speaking about God to people.”
Holidays are not the only time that kids face hunger issues. It’s also a challenge for many families to provide adequate meals on weekends. River Community Church in Prairieville stepped in to pack take-home meals for each student at Gardere Community Christian School.
“The principal said some of the children have nothing to eat on the weekends – nothing to eat. From that day forward, it’s been a true commitment,” said church finance manager Lori Demand.”
“God put it on the heart of a church member, Beth Williams, to do a food pantry. It’s now open every Tuesday noon to 2 p.m. When the youth went to the Gardere School for a service opportunity,
they talked about how the food pantry could help the school,” Demand said. “At first, the vision was ‘how can we help the neediest families?’ But the school said they all have a need; it’s just at a different level. We do family bags now.”
River Community broke ground for a fruit orchard in March to help fill the bags over the long term and add to the food pantry. “We’re making such a small dent in such a big need, but it’s important because we need to understand that it’s not us making the dent, it’s God. And eventually God will take care of the big picture,” Demand said. “It’s not up to us to do it all.”
“I always go back to how blessed I am and that God blesses us to share,” Demand said. “We feel abundantly blessed and He doesn’t just give us that to wallow in our own goodness, but to see a need and act on it.”
“There are kids who need food. There’s nothing romantic about it,” Gaspard said. “People want to help. But when you don’t know where to go, who to ask or what to do, it’s too overwhelming. I’m a spoke in that whole wheel, one little piece that helps minister to those kids, to reach out to them.”
“We’re not just celebrating the blessings we have – which we do – but we’re also grateful for the opportunity to give.” – Marie Johnson of St. Jude Catholic Church Family Life Ministry.
One in four children regularly faces periods of hunger in Louisiana, a state with the second highest food insecurity rate in the nation, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards. In September, he and First Lady Donna Edwards announced the No Kid Hungry Louisiana and School Breakfast Challenge effort. They are hoping to involve many different individuals and groups in creative solutions to child hunger.
To learn more or volunteer, contact Robin Gaspard, Brown Bag Offering, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lori Demand at email@example.com.
Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.
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by Lisa Tramontana • photos provided by Baton Rouge Fire Department
Leading the Baton Rouge Fire Department is by no means an “easy” job. But for Fire Chief Ed Smith, who has held the position since 2002, faith certainly makes it easier.
The BRFD is comprised of 19 fire stations, more than 600 employees, and services that go far beyond firefighting to include motor vehicle rescues, arson investigation, firefighter training, hazardous materials response, community outreach, and more. As Chief, Smith is expected to manage all of these moving parts at the same time, while keeping a very important promise — to keep the community safe. It’s a heavy responsibility and he takes it seriously.
“My faith reminds me daily that it’s not what I do, but what I allow God to do in my life,” he said. “Almost every day there is a decision that has to be made that affects someone’s life or career … it’s a comfort to know I can pray and seek His guidance in making these decisions.”
Firefighting is a dangerous job. According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, 1.3 million fires were reported in the U.S. in 2016, resulting in more than 3,000 civilian fire deaths, more than 15,000 civilian fire injuries, and 69 firefighter deaths.
The NFPA also states that in the U.S., a fire department responds to a fire every 23 seconds, usually for accidents resulting from cooking, candles, smoking, electrical fires and heating elements.
“Over the past 40 years, I have seen so much death — among infants and the elderly, rich and poor, strong and weak,”
Chief Smith said. “It makes it easy to understand that no one is promised tomorrow.” Chief Smith agrees that it would be a better world if we didn’t need firefighters. “We’d be happy if we never had to fight another fire,” he said. But since that’s not a reasonable wish, education is the next best solution. The BRFD sponsors a number of outreach programs, which create an effective way to connect with the community and promote safety.
Some of these programs include:
Fire safety – BRFD visits schools, churches and civic organizations to discuss safety topics, including prevention, fire extinguisher use, and escape plans.
Smoke trailer – A specially designed trailer reminds students to “stop, drop and roll” and teaches them to safely crawl out of a fire situation to avoid smoke inhalation.
Smoke detectors – BRFD partners with other community organizations to provide free smoke detectors to elderly and handicapped residents.
Poster competition – Students compete annually to design fire prevention posters, and winners are invited to a special recognition banquet and award ceremony.
Junior Fire Center program – Young offenders are identified, educated and mentored by BRFD staff on the dangers of arson. The non-confrontational program monitors them until age 18.
The Fire Department also works closely with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, both of which help fire victims recover after a fire. These organizations provide temporary shelter, clothing and medications to fire victims.
Public service and the desire to help others has always been an important part of Chief Smith’s personality. “My faith reminds me daily to stay humble because without God in my life, I am nothing,” he said. “I try to pattern this model in my workplace because without the 610 hardworking, dedicated men and women of the Baton Rouge Fire Department, we would not be the best department in the nation.”
His work has made his faith stronger, he says. A deacon at Zoar Baptist Church, he has taught Sunday school for 25 years to 7th and 8th grade boys. “Boys this age face a lot,” he said. “The temptations are not much different from decades ago — sex, drugs, alcohol — but exposure and access to these things is so much easiernow. The internet is a valuable tool in many ways, but look how it has made pornography so available, even to kids. It’s a real problem.”
Even so, Chief Smith is encouraged by how many of his Sunday school students have grown into strong Christian men over the years. “I’ve always told them that at some point, they will have to make their own decisions … they will find themselves in a situation where they need to ‘do the right thing.’ But they have to know what the right thing is. So it’s important that we, as adults, give them the guidance and support — the tools — to choose the right path.”
And that starts with the Bible, he added. “The Bible is a great blueprint for a successful life.”
Building a close family unit is another piece of the puzzle, said Chief Smith as he talked about his wife Trudy, their three children, Shelly, Edwin and Megan, and six grandchildren. “As a parent,
you prepare your family for the things they will have to face in life. You instill in them a love for God and teach them to lean on their Savior, Jesus Christ. And you have to understand that they may go through phases as far as their faith is concerned.”
As a community official and leader, Chief Smith has been asked often for his advice on how to promote unity, especially racial harmony, in Baton Rouge. After all, the community has faced a lot of division in the past year. The answer, he says, is really simple. “I feel that Mark 12 answers this question,” he said. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than this.”
For information on firefighter training, or to schedule educational activities, such as station tours or education classes, call the Baton Rouge Fire Department Headquarters at (225) 354-1400.
Reflections contributed by members of the ministry team including: bill mcmahan, mark lubbock, johnny leblanc, therese and elmo winters.
photos provided by br ministry team
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”— I Cor. 2:9 (KJV)
When the topic comes up about traveling to Israel or going to the Holy Land, most believers immediately express their desires to go. Those who have already made the journey usually reminisce about their blessed experiences while there. A Baton Rouge team of five ministers, distinctively chosen by God, took part in a trip to Israel that can best be described as a unique experience with the Messianic Jewish community. From September 5-14, team leader Bill McMahan of God’s Peace Ministry; Mark Lubbock, of Gulf South Men; Johnny Leblanc, of Child Evangelism Fellowship; and Elmo and Therese Winters, of the Kingdom Group International, participated in the 2016 Promise Keepers “One in Messiah” Israel tour and event. Each was touched in a special way as they were ministered to daily by the organizers of the trip.
Promise Keepers men’s ministry has been active in encouraging men toward action for about 25 years. Mostly, it has been known for rallies of men in sports venues, and now, continues in several ministry areas from daily devotions to inspirational messages. The Israel connection was started by Coach Bill McCartney and Dr. Raleigh Washington more than 5 years ago. They organized and coordinated two “One in Messiah” trips, one in 2014 and the second this year. This year’s tour was led by Dr. Washington and included a group of approximately 140 Americans from all walks of life.
Pastor Bill McMahan explained that this was his second trip to Israel, and as such, it gave him an opportunity to revisit some places to better appreciate and absorb the culture. Since Promise Keepers coordinated this trip, it was unique in that it had the dual purpose of touring the traditional biblical sites and establishing relationships with Messianic pastors ministering and living in Israel. “There were about 50 pastors from the U.S. on the trip, and we teamed [up] with 21 Jewish pastors with the goal of [creating] lifelong relationships between us,” McMahan said. This required much prayer and commitment.
Pastor McMahan was blessed to be paired with pastor Leon Mazin of the Return to Zion congregation in Haifa, Israel. (To learn more about the multifaceted ministry of this active fellowship, visit www.shaveitzion.org, and check out “Return to Zion” on social media.) McMahan counts it a blessing to now be a part of this Christian ministry, and plans to fulfill his commitment with the help of modern communications and social media. The Return to Zion congregation ministers with its soup kitchen, Olim (immigrant help), a pilgrim’s outreach program, a Holocaust survivor’s service, media communications, a theological institute, a music school and in many other ways. They network with two humanitarian ministries in Israel, the Joseph Project and the Joseph Storehouse, to provide help for refugees who frequently arrive with little but the clothes on their backs. Although the Messianic Jews in Israel comprise less than .5 percent of the Jewish population, they are very active and involved in serving their communities. Pastor McMahan said it is an honor to serve in his role and to come alongside them in ministry.
Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) minister Johnny Leblanc’s views of the trip to Israel were summed up with him saying, “If I had to pick one word to describe Israel it would be ‘transformation.’” Traveling the land from Jerusalem (~2,400 feet above sea level) all the way to the Dead Sea (1,400 feet below sea level) is much the same. It is brown, dry, desolate and harsh land.
“This is exactly what God said would happen when his children refused to obey his commandments,” Leblanc added. When all the evidence points to hopelessness and despair then comes a, “but God said,” experience. Ezekiel, chapter 47 prophecies of a day that is coming when living water will flow from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, all the way down to the Dead Sea, and will give life to everything on both sides, and it says that there will be an abundance of trees, food and fish. Only God can do this.
In God’s mercy and grace, He gives what is not deserved. This is happening now in Israel. While in the Holy Land, the Baton Rouge native saw a great sense from everyone of God calling and bringing his people back to Israel just as the prophet Ezekiel wrote in Ezekiel 37:21-22: “Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.”
Child Evangelism Fellowship’s mission is to reach every child, every nation, every day. Leblanc currently serves on the State Board for CEF of Louisiana, so it was a great opportunity for him to connect with Child Evangelism Fellowship’s National Director of Israel, Fadi Ramadan. It was a divine appointment. CEF of Israel is ministering to about 500 children a day across the nation.
What surprised LeBlanc, however, was the fact that it is illegal to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Jewish children. Subsequently, this Jewish ministry works with non-Jewish children and prays that the gospel will penetrate these man-made barriers. The CEF of Louisiana State Board has adopted CEF of Israel as a ministry partner, based on Genesis 12:3, where God tells Abraham that he will bless those who bless you [Israel]. It is the ministry’s prayer that it will, in some way, be part of God’s plan to transform Israel by imparting the grace of Jesus through children. Besides, why not tell all of Israel, it was a Jew who saved my life, and His name is Yeshua (Jesus).
A trip to Israel for a pastor offers the excitement of walking in the footsteps of Jesus, with the hope that it would transform future conversations about our Lord, Mark Lubbock remarked. He remembered that many of his friends returned from Israel sharing with joy the deep spiritual and emotional impact they experienced during the trip. It was important to him to have his own experience; thus he went without any preconception.
Some of the many sites that were visited offered mountain-top experiences. Standing in the temple where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah impacted Lubbock strongly. Yet, what he considered the most meaningful part of the trip was a surprise. It was not a biblical site nor venue. For him, the most significant part of this trip was coming away with a much deeper understanding of God’s people in God’s nation. Talking with many of the Israeli residents helped the pastor to see the ‘living land’ vs. dead history. What made it so fascinating was the way that the locals accepted biblical scripture as their ‘personal’ history. He came away from Israel seeing the nation as a still-living biblical narrative.
Most of the Israelis have a fierce pride in their nation and are extremely patriotic. However, it was astonishing to learn that 41 percent of the nation is secular. According to the Israel Bureau of Statistics 2014 Report roughly 12 percent of Israeli Jews are defined as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9 percent are “religious;” 35 percent consider themselves “traditionalists” (not strictly adhering to Jewish religious law), and 43 percent are “secular” (termed hiloni). An even greater surprise was that almost 9 percent of the Arabs in Israel are Christian, while fewer than 2 percent of the Jews are Christian.
Lubbock further explained that his takeaway from this wonderful experience was that there is a rich opportunity to share Jesus with the secular Jews, and perhaps the best approach is to empower locals whom God has raised in the nation as Messianic or Christian Jewish pastors.
He was paired with a young and dynamic pastor who emigrated with his family from Ukraine. Pastor Sergey Mazhuga graduated from Hillsong, and together with his wife, Natasha, led the ICF Tel Aviv Church (www.icf-telaviv.co.il.) Believing that God selected this pastor and his wife to reach the Jewish people, Lubbock’s goal is to offer resources, spiritual strength and support in his tremendous mission. Jewish Christians are making a significant sacrifice in the country they love, for the people they love, in favor of the one true Lord God whom they love and serve — Jesus Christ.
Elmo and Therese Winters saw this journey to Israel as a new door opening for reaching souls for Christ. Like their team, they approached it as a mission trip, rather than an opportunity to see the historical sites in the Holy Land. Thus, God started connecting them with Messianic Jewish believers before they even left Baton Rouge. The Winters initiated a relationship with Michael and Patricia Brian months before their trip. The Brians, originally from Louisiana, are ministers now serving in Israel. While in Jerusalem, the two families met and spent time together in fellowship, encouraging each other.
The highlight of the trip for Elmo and Therese was the partnership they established with pastor Jonathan Moore and the Ahavat Yeshua (Jesus’ Love) congregation in Jerusalem. After sharing some quality time together and touring the ministry’s sanctuary, it was obvious that this is truly a connection made in Heaven. Plans are to support the church in many ways, including annual visits to work and worship with this loving group of Jewish believers.
With such a powerful experience shared by the Baton Rouge group of ministers, plans are already being discussed about returning to the Holy Land in 2017. There is much work to be done in this precious harvest field, and the team has committed its support by visiting often. This is the greatest form of encouragement to the Messianic community in Israel.
As a pastor, the Rev. Raymond A. Jetson’s focus is on his congregation, but his compassion and concern extend far beyond the walls of his church and deeply into the community. Whether he is leading a youth group activity, repairing a home or counseling a family, Rev. Jetson is always aware that he is part of something larger than himself.
This became painfully clear when violence in Baton Rouge made national headlines this summer. When Alton Sterling was killed in a scuffle with two police officers, local citizens and outside groups held protests throughout the city. Rev. Jetson was leading a Bible study at Star Hill Church two days later and decided his group should participate at the protest being held at the site of the shooting. It was only a few blocks away, so he and his students walked, Bibles in hand, to the Triple S Food Mart where Sterling had died.
“We prayed for healing,” he said. “And we spoke with many of the people there. That evening, as Christians, there was no other place we should have been.”
Just a week later, six police officers were shot (and three of them killed). Tensions were high in the following days, and many looked to their spiritual leaders for guidance. Star Hill’s congregants were no exception.
“It has been a time of great uncertainty,” Rev. Jetson said. “The rhetoric and tenor of the conversations in our community divide us more than unify us. We have become a people of extremes. Everyone’s in one corner or the other. But truth and reality are somewhere in between, and that’s the direction we need to move toward. I have hope that we will come together.”
This willingness to engage with the world is at the core of Rev. Jetson’s being. Some might call it “divine providence.” In November 1983, his father was elected to the Louisiana Legislature but died just a few months later in 1984. So Rev. Jetson himself ran for office and was elected State Representative of District 61 that same year, serving until 1999.
In spite of a busy legislative career, he felt called to the ministry. He became pastor at Star Hill in 1994 and under his leadership, the church grew to more than 1,500 members. In spite of his full-time responsibilities at Star Hill, he was willing to do more. For three years after Hurricane Katrina, Rev. Jetson made a huge difference in the lives of many Katrina survivors. As CEO for the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps, he helped families connect with loved ones and matched individuals with resources needed to move on with their lives. He also served as deputy secretary for the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals.
His philosophy as a leader and a community member is simple. “We have to be people of love and forgiveness, care and compassion,” he said. “It must begin with us. Instead of looking at the differences among us, we should focus on who we are in Christ. We have to learn how to work together and meet the needs of the least, the last and the left behind.”
Rev. Jetson leads his church according to three basic missions or goals: congregational support, youth development, and community engagement. And in living out this mission, he challenges his congregants to become “spiritual entrepreneurs” and engage in important community issues.
Congregational support means taking care of basic needs, including financial help, family counseling, or support for single mothers. Youth development includes mentoring services, youth activities, and Bible studies for teens. Community engagement means connecting with local residents by hosting events such as fitness classes, health screenings and a blight reduction program.
“This way of living and serving is what we call ‘Kingdom expansion,’” Rev. Jetson said. “It’s the way we identify the God-given resources of the people in the pews every Sunday and mobilize them to become active and make a difference all the other days of the week.”
The “Kingdom expansion” idea can be applied to the entire Baton Rouge community, whose identity was completely altered by the events of this summer. The consequences will play out over the coming months, and possibly years, and hopefully, will lead to true reconciliation.
“Our current circumstances are an opportunity for believers to demonstrate before others what we say we believe,” said Rev. Jetson. “Those who profess to be Christians must demonstrate it through their actions.”
Rev. Jetson is married and has two adult children, J’Erica Nicole and Jeremy Louis. His wife Tammy is very active in the church. Star Hill is located at 1400 N. Foster Drive. For more information, call (225) 925-3133 or visit the website at starhillchurch.org. You can also join a live video stream broadcast of Sunday services and Wednesday Bible studies.