by LaTangela Fay Sherman
Just as we were born into the world, we were born into our purpose. God makes no mistakes. Before you filled your lungs with the first breath of air, God had already assigned a purpose on our life.
Your purpose becomes clearer as you begin to allow Christ to be the captain of your soul. Leading a purpose-driven life is aligned when our steps are ordered by God.
We enter into seasons not knowing what to expect upon our arrival, but once the veil is lifted from our eyes, we begin to understand more by and by. Family, friends, relationships, colleagues and strangers … anyone that you interact with, they all serve a purpose in your life just as you serve a purpose in theirs.
The mark you leave along this trail of life as you travel through is a part of your purpose. Pray and ask for clarity as you long to fill your purpose to the best of your ability.
May your tongue stem with the PURPOSE to uplift your brethren.
May your actions display the PURPOSE of love for your neighbor.
May your daily walk with Christ lead you to living to the highest potential of your PURPOSE.
by David Day
Passivity is rampant. True leadership is in rare supply, but that means that true leadership stands out.
If you were to ask someone what the qualities of a leader are, you may get a variety of answers. The list is long, and most would be the typical answers: strong, dedicated, brave, committed, persuasive, etc. I agree! But I think there is a deeper level of qualities that make a true leader stand out.
Leaders know why they lead. They are internally motivated. They know who they are. They don’t lead by default – they stand up and speak up. They aren’t always the smartest, or the loudest, or the strongest, but they know why they are here. There’s just something about a person who has answered the “why” question that makes them worth following.
Leaders have vision. They don’t meander and experiment. They know where they are going, and they see the path before them. Detours, delays and roadblocks happen, but leaders stay the course and invite others to follow them. What throws you off? Setbacks? Opportunities? True leaders see them for what they are: distractions.
Leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence. Simply put, they have the unique ability to sense and perceive their own emotions and those of others in order to adapt, adjust and act appropriately – even under stress. Some of this is learned, but the propensity for it is innate. Regardless of your level of emotional intelligence, working to grow in this area will serve you well.
Leaders are good communicators. That’s more than just talking or being accurate with words. Good leadership requires the ability to interpret words, principles, emotions and ideas and repackage them for the desired audience. This is the essence of inspiration. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a great communicator. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he used the facts, fear and the feelings of a nation and turned them into one of the most memorable speeches of all time, igniting a country and unifying a divided congress toward a singular purpose. He didn’t use fancy words or lofty ideals. He spoke straight to the heart, and every word had meaning. The speech was short and to the point, and what followed was one of America’s most difficult, yet greatest decades.
Leaders are servants. They seek the betterment of the ones they lead. In an age where it seems everyone seeks their 15 minutes of fame, leaders are committed to the well-being of those they lead. My friend David is a graduate of West Point Military Academy and shares the story of how the student soldiers eat their meals. The highest ranked upperclassmen at the table are served last. Why? Because a leader leads by example. He gives his troops whatever is needed for life and victory, even if it means he goes without. He earns their trust and respect by sacrifice, not by force or coercion. That soldier will follow that leader anywhere.
Leadership is one of those terms that is thrown about casually, used loosely and misunderstood greatly. Merely standing at the podium doesn’t make you a leader any more than eating a meal makes you a chef. True leadership is a rare and valuable thing.
by Rev. Derrius M. Montgomery
As I quietly stepped into the elevator and gently pushed the “L” button to return to the lobby, the incredible blessing I’d just experienced held me spellbound. On the elevator ride down, I pondered on the wisdom just shared by the legendary Bishop T.D. Jakes during our last day of our mentoring session.
More than 150 young preachers and business leaders under 40 gathered from around the country in Dallas, Texas for a two-day retreat designed to educate and empower those of us called to be change agents within our communities.
One of the main topics the bishop spoke about was “overcoming adversity.” You can only imagine how electrifying that sermon must have been to a conference room packed with millennials, full of caffeine and the Holy Spirit! Let’s just say, by the end of his message, the entire room had received an impartation from Jakes that had us all slain in the spirit!
As he came to a close 63 minutes later, he shared a story of an Olympic champion who had been charged with a serious crime. After he was released on bond, the first thing he did was resume his workout routine. As I sat there, I thought, “If I were under the public microscope for that kind of crime, no way in the world would I be spending my time working out.” But as Jakes continued, I considered the fact that this man was a championship athlete, and real champions cannot help but do what they are gifted to do. It’s almost as if it’s their therapy. It’s how they fortify themselves. You know you’re a champion when you overcome adversity and go back to doing what you were doing before.
But the question that led me to write this article was this: how many of us allow adversities to get us off our game? We allow circumstances outside of our control to cause us to doubt God’s ability to see us through. Why are we so quick to question God, as if our belief system is something contingent on the outcome? Paul said it best in his letter to the church in Romans 8: 28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Paul reminds us that the very things that are working together may not feel right. They may even seem unfair at times! But, if you allow them to, they can usher you into areas and opportunities that shift your life into a pattern of focus and purpose that work together for your good and the good of humanity.
Although this sounds good, many of us will never experience the fullness of what God has for our lives because of one simple thing, doubt.
In John 20 we find an interesting story about a disciple that struggled with self-doubt. In verses 24 and 25, we read that the resurrected Jesus has made an appearance to the disciples. We see that the disciples who had experienced the surprising appearance of Jesus and his empowering commissioning were apparently full of enthusiasm and ready to share the details of their post-resurrection experience with Thomas.
In verse 25, Thomas replies, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hand and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Have you ever had the feeling when you walk into a party late, that you just missed the big surprise? And the only way to find out is to eavesdrop into someone else’s conversation as they celebrate among themselves. Or have you ever found yourself coming in on the tail end of a discussion, and the person telling you the story is filled with so much joy you almost find it hard to believe because you weren’t able to experience it for yourself?
Before you judge Thomas on his response, let’s look at what he was saying. Have you ever wished you could actually see Jesus, touch him and hear his words? Are there times you want to sit down with him and get his advice?
Thomas wanted Jesus’ physical presence. But God’s plan is wiser. He has not limited himself to one physical body; he wants to be present with you at all times. Even now he is with you in the form of the Holy Spirit. You can talk to him, and you can find his words to you in the pages of the Bible. He can be as real to you as he was to Thomas.
But look how his perspective changes when Jesus comes back just for him. Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts. Despite his skepticism in verse 25, Thomas was still loyal to the believers and to Jesus himself, and in verse 27 Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers and the answer is accepted, then doubt has done good work! It is when doubt becomes stubbornness, and stubbornness become a lifestyle, that doubt harms faith. When you doubt, don’t stop there. Let your doubt deepen your faith as you continue to search for the answer.
by Trapper S. Kinchen
Often times, we millennials are not fully aware of the impact – positive or negative – we have on other people’s lives. We are young, and most of us are comfortable deferring to someone else when pressure runs high. But, despite our relative lack of life experience, we all have the potential to influence the world in a concrete way.
Sara Stevens is from Holden, La., a community tucked in the dense groves between Baton Rouge and Hammond, where the local high school graduates roughly 40 students each year.
She is 22, and she is currently at work sharing the gospel in the Middle East. She will spend the next three months on the mission field at an undisclosed location (for security reasons).
Missionary work is the sort of occupation that requires a commitment to leadership and someone unafraid to face a challenge. But, it is also a job that any one of us might unexpectedly be compelled to undertake.
Stevens is a regular young woman. She attends classes at Southeastern during the day, spends time with her friends in the evening, and recently became engaged to be married. Truthfully, there is nothing that would outwardly imply that she is an adventurer or an experienced leader. But, there is much more to her than meets the eye.
Stevens is very much like the rest of us. It took time for her to develop an open and personal relationship with the Lord. “I was christened when I was a baby, but I grew up in a Baptist church. And, I got saved when I was in the eleventh grade at a Global Youth Camp,” she explained.
It was at that camp – run by Global Youth Ministry – where Stevens began to grow spiritually and build the sort of leadership skills that would later come in handy on the mission field.
She spent the summer of 2014 as a staff member with Global Youth Ministry. Her duties included functioning as an official photographer and stand-in mother for her team. “We traveled a lot, and I was in charge of fixing lunch for about 20 people. I would make snacks for everyone too, and basically be the mama of the staff,” Stevens said.
She and the rest of the group toured Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina, holding youth camps for local teenagers who wanted to learn more about Jesus and have an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Under the guidance of the Global Youth mentors, Stevens’ inner strength grew. She honed her instinctive aptitude for leadership with each camp she helped organize. The confidence and passion she developed while working during that summer ultimately equipped her for the mission trip she would undertake two years later.
Although she is well prepared to serve in the field, Stevens’ journey to her mission has not been easy. She was responsible, over the past several months, for raising the funds to get herself to the Middle East, and for having enough money to sustain her while she is there.
“I prepared financially by doing a lot of babysitting, and I’ve cleaned houses to raise the money I need,” Stevens said.
The self-motivation, fortitude, and adaptability she utilized at home will eventually benefit her on the mission field. When she reaches the Middle East, Stevens is joining her fiancé – a mentor with Global Youth Ministry – who works as an IT coordinator for a small Christian school in the desert. She will work alongside him and his team to spread the gospel to the local Arabic-speaking community.
The town where Stevens will minister has a large Christian population, and her service will have less to do with the sort of human aid work we often associate with missionaries, digging wells, building houses, etc., and will mostly focus on holding camp meetings and verbally spreading the word of God.
At their camps, missionaries take questions the local youth might have and help them dig deeper into the word in order to find answers. “They do home groups. So, every Thursday night, the missionaries go to a house and have a deep Bible study with the kids who choose to come,” Stevens explained.
Most of the millennials in the town where she will work come from Christian families, but their knowledge of the Bible is dismal. “They are often confused. They believe what their parents believe, but they don’t have their own understanding of the word or Jesus Christ. So, that’s what the youth group Bible studies are for,” she said.
The opportunity to have a positive impact is enormous, but Stevens will rely on both common sense and spiritual discernment to help her know how to best interact with the locals. “You have to know who you’re talking to before sharing the gospel. Otherwise, it could be dangerous,” Stevens said.
Despite the potential hazards, Stevens does not seem worried about her expedition. “I’m not necessarily scared. Flying by myself makes me a little nervous, but I’m excited to get there,” she said.
While political and cultural conflict currently disrupts much of the Middle East, Stevens maintains a strong perspective on it saying, “The way I think about it is this: Louisiana has a problem with human trafficking, and that’s dangerous! If I’m here everyday, facing real-life threats, what’s the difference between that and dealing with the risks in the Middle East?”
It will take every ounce of Stevens’s faith and courage to see her mission through to the end. The echoing of bombs from the Syrian Civil War can be heard from the town where she will sleep. Those bombs signify the displacement of over 13 million people, half of whom are children, from their homeland, according to worldvision.org.
Despite numerous challenges, Stevens will endure, and she is determined to effect positive change in the lives of the people she encounters. Like any first-rate leader, she is undeterred in the face of opposition.
A good leader is not difficult to define. She must be able to effectively communicate. She also needs to possess a deep capacity for listening and have a desire to help others succeed. “Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean being in charge. It’s being able to work well with others and encourage those around you. It is not just about giving orders,” Stevens explained.
When Stevens returns home, she will start back to Southeastern, where she will graduate in December with a degree in education. Afterwards, she will spend the whole of 2017 on the mission field to see if the Lord is calling her there permanently.
For Stevens, it is about taking the time to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say. “Don’t do something just because you think you’re supposed to do it. You need to be sure, and, most importantly, be patient,” she said.
If you want to get involved in the sort of work Stevens is doing, conduct some research on Global Youth Ministry and explore the opportunities they have available by visiting their website www.globalyouthministry.org. You can also donate to its work via the website through a monthly financial contribution or one-time donation.
Just like the brave men and women in the American armed forces, missionaries risk their lives to enact positive worldwide change. Just like soldiers, they need our emotional support and verbal acknowledgment of their service.
“People can help missionaries by donating money, with prayer or by sending packages and letters of encouragement,” Stevens said. Don’t hesitate to contribute in whatever capacity you are able.
“If you don’t know if it’s really the Holy Spirit leading you, pray about it. Wait. Don’t rush into something unless you’re sure,” Stevens concluded. Her words hold value whether you’re preparing to embark on an international excursion or choosing a college major. Don’t be afraid. With a little faith and a healthy dose of commitment, we can all be part of something great.
by Pennington Biomedical Research Center
If your spouse or significant other is a fitness buff or a couch potato, chances are that your activity habits are similar to theirs. Data from the “Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study” shows that by middle age, couples’ exercise habits tend to become very similar. Hence, if you exercise more, your partner is likely to join you and experience improved health and fitness.
Because of the mirror effect on exercise and overall health, the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive Program is utilizing spouses, significant others, live-in relatives, or even older children to encourage the partners and loved ones in their lives to make healthier choices. Designed by LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive aims to improve soldiers’ health by having those people closest to them help encourage healthy activities, like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals and managing stress.
As part of the program, each soldier and their partner receive a Fitbit to measure physical activity, a smart scale which remotely tracks weight and sends data back to researchers, and access to an app filled with information on diet, exercise, sleep and more. The participant pairs also hear throughout the study from behavioral specialists at Pennington Biomedical who try to help them overcome obstacles to making healthy decisions and provide insight along the way.
“We know that family life makes a huge contribution to overall health, and as we focus on improving the health of the soldier, we are looking beyond just what these men and women eat and how much exercise they’re getting. We want the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive to equip families to help serve as a support system for their soldier (and vice versa),” said Dr. Tiffany Stewart, the Dudley & Beverly Coates Endowed Professor at Pennington Biomedical and a psychologist who is leading this behavioral health program.
“As an engineer officer in the Louisiana National Guard and a father of four children, I am excited that the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive Program allows military families to participate together with a common goal to improve their overall health. It is also an incredible tool that allows leaders to help improve their soldiers’ physical and mental fitness,” says First Lieutenant Michael B. Switzer, an Army H.E.A.L.T.H. project manager at Pennington Biomedical.
The Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive focuses on four key goals: nutrition, physical activity, sleep and resilience. That fourth objective –resilience – is a combination of stress management and reduction, mood and anxiety modification, and mindfulness training, which Stewart says can play a big role in overall wellness.
“We know that if you’re stressed out or struggling with depressed mood or anxiety, that can lead to a loss of sleep, a feeling of low energy that makes it more difficult to exercise, and on top of that you can easily consume more calories than your body needs or not enough healthy foods to fuel your body for optimum health and performance,” said Stewart.
Weight loss is an initial goal in the first phase of the program, which lasts for six months. The next six months focus on weight maintenance, which Stewart notes is important for soldiers, given the military’s strict standards for weight and fitness, which can play a role in whether a soldier is able to advance, and/or continue his or her career with the military.
Pennington Biomedical has a long history of partnering with the U.S. military to ensure soldiers are resilient and healthy. Its 28-year history of working with the U.S. Department of Defense makes Pennington Biomedical their largest provider of nutrition information. Among the more than 100 research studies they have conducted in health and performance for the military, Pennington Biomedical scientists have helped to develop and test First Strike Rations, which are more portable than traditional MREs, more palatable to soldiers and are fortified with vitamins and minerals that help maintain overall health.
“At Pennington Biomedical, we are looking at the health of the whole solider. We want our men and women in uniform to be ready for whatever they may face during their service, and that means being physically, emotionally and mentally healthy,” said Stewart.
Additionally, the Army has already been using a program similar to the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive for years. Prior to the Intensive program, the original Army H.E.A.L.T.H. program – with a similar goal, but without the more intensive one-on-one coaching component – was tested with active duty soldiers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and the New England Reserves before rolling out with the Louisiana National Guard. The program was recommended by the U.S. Army Surgeon General in 2013 and is now in use Army-wide.
The Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Intensive is looking for soldiers and their family members to volunteer to participate in the program. For more information about how you can volunteer, e-mail Michael Switzer at Pennington Biomedical: email@example.com.
by Kristen Hogan
The Y has always been a leader in promoting healthy lifestyles and fostering wellness in all of the communities we serve. Now, the Y is hoping to lead the way in preventative health care by offering a broad range of research-based programs that target specific health issues.
Hoping to reduce the negative effects of chronic illness, the Y has launched several new programs that promote healthier decisions and support physical, intellectual and spiritual strength. These programs are delivered through the Y, school system, BREC swimming pools, community centers and through community partnerships.
The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, one of the new programs offered, is an innovative lifestyle modification program designed to help those at a high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The goal of the program is to help people reduce their risk and gain the tools needed for healthy living. The program focuses on healthy eating, increasing physical activity and losing a modest amount of weight to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes.
Louisiana has one of the highest mortality rates due to diabetes in the country. More than 10 percent of the adult population in Louisiana is living with diabetes, and more than 1 million others are living with prediabetes. The state spends $1.6 billion annually in direct medical costs related to diabetes.
The Y also offers a blood pressure self-monitoring program, a four-month evidence-based program that teaches participants how to self-monitor their blood pressure, increase their physical activity, improve their eating habits and utilize a portable self-tracking tool. High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke, and it can cause arteries to fill up with plaque, potentially leading to completely blocked blood flow and a heart attack.
Another innovative and evidence-based program offered at the Y is Rock Steady Boxing. Rock Steady Boxing is a fitness program designed to help fight Parkinson’s disease and improve quality of life, sense of efficacy and self-worth for those affected by the disease. Several medical studies have shown that this program helps delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
The YMCA’s focus goes beyond the health and well-being of the community; we have a strong commitment to nurturing the potential of youth with programs that focus on youth development. One in 10 children experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, and in 90 percent of the cases, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts. The Y is working to change these statistics by offering the child sexual abuse prevention program, Darkness to Light. This is a two-hour training is designed to educate adults on how to recognize, prevent and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
You can get involved in preventing child sexual abuse by attending a pre-scheduled training at the YMCA, participating in the online program, or scheduling a training for your organization where the Y will come to you!
In addition to the Darkness to Light program, the Y offers programs that focus on improving children’s safety around water. The Y’s Safety Around Water and SPLASH programs engage parents to educate them on the importance of water safety skills and provide more children access to water safety lessons.
Fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages one to 14. The Y is committed to reducing water-related injuries, particularly in communities where children are most at risk. Through programs like Swimming Lessons, SPLASH and Safety Around Water, the Y hopes to teach the valuable skills needed if someone finds himself or herself in water unexpectedly, a situation everyone should be equipped to handle.
The Y’s mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy, spirit, mind and body for all. The Y is open to individuals from all walks of life; it is a place where everyone is welcome regardless of their ethnicity, income level or background. To ensure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy all of the programs and services the Y offers, the Y has a scholarship fund, the Annual Community Support Campaign. The monies raised for this fund are used to scholarship individuals who need YMCA programs and services but are unable to afford them. Last year, the Y provided 6,347 scholarships for individuals to participate in YMCA programs. To find out how to donate or to apply for a scholarship, visit us online at ymcabr.org/support.
by Lisa Tramontana
Like the Pied Piper, Dustin LaFont had children following him just about everywhere. It started with a young neighbor who needed help fixing his bike, and pretty soon, there was a steady stream of kids in LaFont’s front yard with flat tires and broken gears. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was building a ministry, one that would become a full-fledged nonprofit organization that teaches important life skills, builds character and encourages a strong work ethic.
The path to Front Yard Bikes began when LaFont was 23 and had just graduated from LSU with a master’s degree in education. He needed an inexpensive place to live and ended up in the West Roosevelt neighborhood between Nicholson Drive and River Road. He noticed some of the kids in the area rode bikes that were practically falling apart. One child was literally riding around on metal rims. One day, 13-year-old Rejay Wilson showed up on a squeaky, broken-down bike and asked LaFont if he could help repair it. Of course, LaFont obliged. It didn’t take long for LaFont and his young neighbors to realize they needed each other.
“At that point in my life, I had been looking for some avenue to help people and inspire positive change,” LaFont said. “And then one day, as I looked at all these kids in my yard, I said, ‘God, why have you brought all these kids here?’ Then it dawned on me.”
LaFont made a deal with the kids who sought him out. He would instruct them, but they would have to help make the repairs themselves. Initially, his landlord was uncomfortable about the situation — all those kids working with tools on his property — but he began to see the value of what was happening. “I was on the verge of being evicted,” LaFont said. “And instead, my landlord had a change of heart and ended up giving me a workshop in the same neighborhood.”
It was a dark and dusty place made of wood and tin … no electricity, but just $300 a month. And right away, it was buzzing with activity. Within minutes of unlocking the shop on weekday afternoons, kids started appearing. They learned how to use tools. They took old bikes apart and built new ones. And with LaFont as their mentor, they learned about respect, hard work, leadership and teamwork.
“I began to feel a sense of destiny in all this,” LaFont said. “Baton Rouge has so many racial, social and economic barriers that keep people apart. I felt like our bikes were building a bridge and bringing people together.”
LaFont was working as a social studies teacher during this time and could only get to the shop a few times a week. But a private donor who heard about the program offered to pay his salary so he could work at the shop full-time. “There’s no doubt God had a hand in this,” LaFont said. “Here was an opportunity. I had to walk through that door and not be fearful.”
The next coincidence was even more incredible. LaFont was making small talk with a stranger and happened to mention Front Yard Bikes. He was completely unaware that the man he was speaking with was a BREC employee, and that BREC was looking for a community project that involved one of its parks. That conversation led to Front Yard Bikes opening a second facility at the Terrace Street Park. Participants can repair or build their own bikes, “earn” a bike by working in the shop for “credit,” and enjoy Friday bike rides to local parks, museums and libraries.
“On the days we meet, we always start with a moment of thanksgiving and a prayer,” LaFont said. “Then we have everyone tell a little about themselves. It’s an ‘identity shaping’ exercise.”
For newcomers to the group, this identity shaping can be life-changing. “We basically remind the kids that they are special in God’s eyes,” LaFont said. “I pray over them. I say, ‘God, thank you for bringing to us these wonderful kids in south Baton Rouge. They are so skilled, so talented, so smart. They have such bright futures ahead of them. I am so proud and grateful that they have joined us today.”
When they arrive at Front Yard Bikes, some children may not feel special or loved or valued. But they certainly do by the time they leave.
LaFont’s wife Kim, a teacher at Terrace Elementary, is also a big part of Front Yard Bikes. The couple met through AmeriCorps, and LaFont says he “fell in love with her heart.” They have an 11-month-old son named Abram. Life is good.
“Sometimes, you just know you’re in God’s favor,” LaFont said. “I feel like he put me in a position to make certain things happen. But then so many other things just fell into place. I hope to continue this ministry, but I know that ultimately, God is in charge.”
by Chad Dinkel
Imagine being in a dark, dangerous place, so dark that you can’t see a way out. A series of events caused you to end up here, and now you feel completely helpless. For the longest time you just keep moving around trying to get out. You can’t seem to find a way out and it’s getting progressively more dangerous.
That’s how so many hurting people spend their lives—those battling addiction, veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or with civilian life re-entry, women caught in human trafficking or abusive relationships, and other circumstances beyond our ability to comprehend.
For those in this dark place it seems hopeless, but there is hope. It takes those of us not in that dark place to be a guide toward the light.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you,” Hebrews 13:17 (HCSB).
I’ve spent years trying to help lead people out of the dark; some make it out and some don’t. One thing that I’ve learned is that the way out isn’t as far off as it may seem. We are all just a few good decisions from freedom, just like we are all just a few bad decisions from the dark.
In that dark dangerous place, you feel completely hopeless—what has my life come to? Then, along comes someone who is healthy, happy and whole. They are far from perfect, but they know the way out. You have two choices: take their hand and trust and submit to letting them guide you, or fight them and make it impossible for them to help you. One leads to freedom, the other ensures your remain in the pain of darkness.
If you’re in that dark place—making destructive decisions, hurting yourself and the people who love you—make the right decision today.
Start with a simple declaration to Jesus:
“Lord I need you in my life. Direct me to the people who will guide me in a direction that leads to light and freedom.”
Find a bible-believing, supportive church
You can’t do this alone. Your commitment to Jesus is the top priority, but life-giving strong believers will be the support you need to fight the challenges you face. Once you find a life-giving church, get there early and stay late … get involved!
Join a support group
This may be at your home church or through another church or organization. These groups exist and work. This is another step toward surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you too much to let you fail. Even if you mess up … KEEP GOING!
You are worth fighting for; you are valuable, and God doesn’t want you living in the dark. As long and you have breath in your lungs, you have hope. He wants you to have freedom, restoration and a life filled with purpose.
As leaders, we must care for the hurting and forgotten. Everyone has something they can contribute to this world and it is all mapped out in a plan God has for each living being. Even those in their darkest moment have God’s perfect plan waiting for them on the other side.
by Lisa Tramontana
Years ago, the Rev. John Edd Harper was working as a youth minister in a small town in Texas when he came up with the idea for a sex education class. The 8th grade girls and boys he taught seemed a little too worldly, and he believed it was only a matter of time before his students might be dealing with teen pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.
Yes, sex ed is taught in public schools, but it is often limited to the biology of human reproduction. The moral element is missing, and this can create confusion and conflict.
With the help of a local physician, Harper designed a sex education seminar that combines the physical and spiritual aspects of sexual intimacy in a format appropriate for young people. Eventually, he developed two versions of the seminar, one for junior high and another for senior high. His message was simple: Sexuality is a beautiful, valuable and powerful gift from God that is meant to be saved for marriage.
His first concern was whether parents would be supportive … after all, many parents dread “the talk.” While they might feel relieved that someone else is willing to start that discussion with their children, they also are naturally curious to know about the topics that will be covered. In today’s world, children are bombarded with sexual images and themes from television, social media and the Internet. Just how much information is appropriate?
“I always have a meeting with the parents and explain the material I’ll be teaching, the language that will be used, and the lessons we’re trying to get across,” Harper said. “In all the years I’ve been doing this, only one parent has ever pulled their child out. Most of them realize that this is a very important and necessary educational opportunity. The kids are going to learn about sex one way or another. Isn’t it better that they learn it in a Christian setting rather than on the street?”
To that end, his students learn about physical anatomy, the reproductive system, their changing bodies, contraception and pregnancy. The next layer of learning focuses on beliefs about sexuality, making smart choices, and being in healthy relationships. Through discussion, Bible study and prayer, the students share their feelings about morality, mutual respect, peer pressure, and the consequences of their actions.
Some students who attend the seminar have already had sex and feel like they’ve made a terrible mistake and it’s too late for redemption. Harper never judges his students, but instead, encourages them by introducing the idea of “secondary virginity” — basically a promise to abstain from sex from this point on until marriage.
“It’s never too late,” he tells them. “God forgives you. You can decide right now that you believe sex is a gift from God and you are going to save yourself for marriage and the right person to share that wonderful gift.”
At one point in the junior high seminar, Harper invites the class to share every slang term they can think of for sex and for certain parts of the male and female anatomy. Understandably, it prompts plenty of laughter and snickering. Then he takes a rose and shows it to the class, saying, “What if I chose not to call this a rose anymore, and instead gave it a new name … a disgusting or ugly word?”
His point is that young people are profaning something beautiful when they refer to sex in crude and vulgar terms. “It always has an effect on them,” Harper said. “They get it.”
Most important, though, is that the students come away with a new respect for themselves and a deeper understanding of God’s plan as it relates to human sexuality, love, marriage and family.
Harper is a coordinator of the Board of Ordained Ministry, Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. His secondary appointment is as a pastor at Hope Community United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. Harper has been leading human sexuality and morality seminars since 1985. He has served as a youth minister in Texas and Louisiana for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Johneddharper@LA-UMC.org.
by Krista Bordelon
“The lack of family, lack of neighborhood, and lack of religion in communities is a significant hit to the fiber of our nation.” — Hillar Moore
“We have a killing problem. I’ve always wondered why people are killing each other and what we can do to stop that,” District Attorney Hillar Moore said. He had received a 4 a.m. wake-up call regarding another murder here in the capital city, so the determination was fresh and strong. “All of the studies I’ve read on how to stop the murders are complete nonsense in my opinion. None of them ever work, and they are all too complicated,” he said. So what has he done throughout the past four years to address this issue in a city that has one of the nation’s leading per capita murder rates? “It’s a 24/7 job. You can’t ever stop; you can’t ever rest. They’re watching, and they know the exact moment you let up,” he says.
Moore was born and raised in New Orleans, one of 7 children born to his Italian mother and his German-Irish father. “My dad was in the Marine Corps returning from WWII when he met my mom while she was running her father’s grocery store,” Moore said. The family was very involved in the Catholic Church and school system. He graduated from Brother Martin High School and moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU, and his entire family followed him here shortly afterward.
For 42 years Moore has built a life in Baton Rouge, pouring his heart into the community long before his service to our city as district attorney. At 19 years old he became one of the youngest DA investigators in the country. “I was a volunteer student worker while getting my degree at LSU, and was hired here as an investigator after graduation,” he said. During his 11 years as an investigator he was in charge of crime scene investigation and forensics, which prompted his decision to go to law school. He became a defense lawyer working with Anthony Marabella (who is now a judge) and served for 16 years before deciding to run for DA in 2008.
“I’ve been doing this for 42 years. I’ve been on both sides, the defense side and the prosecution side. The value of seeing both sides makes it better for me. Every side has its black and white, but you can’t see it like that when you’re in the middle,” Moore said. In a city with an average of 88 murders a year, and everyone looking at him for answers, he made the decision to contact Dr. David Kennedy with the John Jay College of Criminal justice in NYC. Kennedy is the director of the National Network for safe communities and has implemented programs in cities around the country to strengthen community relations and reduce crime and incarceration rates.
“He had this program in Boston, ‘The Boston Cease Fire’ or ‘The Boston Miracle’ which incorporated religion and faith based techniques and was government sponsored. I called him and said, ‘We have a serious murder problem,’ he told me, ‘You probably don’t, but go ahead and tell me about it,’ and once I did he said, ‘You have a serious murder problem.’” Moore said. “We had to figure out where the killings were coming from. Luckily for us it was a ‘fixable’ problem when 54 percent of our murders ended up being group related.”
Moore explained the long process they went through to examine the files of every single murder over the past several years to find some sort of connection to work with. “We identified 32 working groups at the time, and began to institute call-ins (a technique in the group violence reduction strategy),” he said.
Through intelligence work, the most active groups and the most active group members are identified and contacted. LSU is a huge research partner, gathering and translating all data to be usable by these programs. “We send them a letter to come in, sit down and talk. Usually, they are on probation, have an upcoming court date or are in prison. We tell them to invite their mom, their girlfriend, their lawyer, and that they’ve been identified as an influential member and we want them to take a message back to their groups from us. Basically, the message is, ‘We will do bad stuff to you if you do bad stuff to us,’” Moore explained.
This is the 10th call-in over three years, and they have seen great success. “For the first call-in, 40 were invited and 37 showed up, plus 4 additional people who were mad they didn’t get a letter from us. It is a scripted message we give them from law enforcement. This isn’t a dialogue, it is us one-way talking at them, no questions and no talking back. This isn’t a negotiation,” he said.
Moore continued, “Basically we say, ‘It’s a new day in Baton Rouge. If you shoot and kill, we are coming after you. Put your guns down and take our help. I have 50 community service providers who will put you at the top of the list for resources, so transportation, rehab, mental health, school, tell us what you need,’” he said. “At that point most refuse our help, so our next option is, ‘Put your guns down, and you won’t have to deal with us,’ but we know someone is going to screw up, it’s going to happen, so it always ends with, ‘If you screw up you will be met with swift, immediate action by a lot of folks.’”
At this part of the call-in, responsibility shifts from the white law enforcement side to the black faith-based and community leaders to deliver the message, and they can deliver it in a way law enforcement can’t.
“These leaders get the message to them that we are all in this together. We may disagree on some things, but we don’t disagree on the fact that you have to stop killing,” he said. Moore highlighted that there is a huge distrust between both parties (law enforcement and the community), and that gap needs to be bridged. The program won’t be successful without it.
“This is the only program I’ve seen that encourages and pays for the faith-based side of the message. We ask preachers every Sunday to preach a message of non-violence, do community cleanups and step out of the pulpit and into the community,” he said. “LSU tracks everything we do – cleanups, gun buy backs, community meetings, etc., and crime goes down significantly 25-40 percent for 2-4 weeks in that (specific) neighborhood. After a call-in, the reduction is incredible with these group members for a significant period of time (up to 6 weeks). We can hear them on the prison phone calls, which are always monitored, spreading the message we just gave them.”
“During these call-ins, computer screens are set up showing pictures of the former gang members that are dead, pictures of bodies on the ground, pictures of who is doing 40 years and who is doing life. Maps show where the prisons are that they will be sent to if they are caught. The reality of it all is in their face,” Moore said. The first year the call-ins started, very few were taking law enforcement’s help, but more and more are now taking help.
“If they don’t take our help we reach out to their family, their brothers and sisters, that also helps,” he said. The first year they started with a baseline of 85 murders, which dropped to 58. “That’s 25 less people who didn’t get killed, but that also means 25 people didn’t go to jail for life,” Moore explained. The second year was down even farther, and although the third year spiked back up due to 7 double murders and 3 triple murders (events that Moore says make them “mad because those are numbers that go against the work we are doing”), it still managed to stay below the baseline. “All major medium cities are up, but we are doing good. We’re good,” he said.
But, since school let out last week, it’s “killing season” again in Baton Rouge and Moore said everyone is just holding their breath for what’s next. “When we aren’t doing call-ins we’re doing customized notifications. We know who is about to kill and who is about to be killed, so we try to disrupt their behavior as much as we can. Usually the response is, ‘Get out of my life.’ Hopefully, we will eventually get murders down, because it’s still not acceptable at 60 a year,” he said.
They’re currently on the right track — with an expected reduction of 5 bodies that first year, the start up of 25 set a good precedent. Moore said we have to address the issues creating an environment for murder in the first place including, “truancy, lack of education, teen pregnancy, high HIV/AIDS rates, mental health, poverty, historical racial issues, cycles of incarceration beginning as juveniles, no fathers and no mentors …”
His next plan is to gain support for a mentorship program involving veterans. “Often those who served have the same emotional problems these kids have, they’re all suffering from post traumatic stress. Maybe they can help each other. This is a dangerous group we’re dealing with at only 15 or 16 years old. These military men are disciplined and trained,” Moore said.
There are many programs offered throughout Baton Rouge, but each one faces its challenges when it comes to success. “You can offer these kids everything, but they don’t even know how to take it,” he concluded. Regardless of the successes and setbacks, one thing is clear; this is a community problem that can’t be left in the hands of few. There is a great forward momentum, so let’s all join together to keep going.
by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis
Are you willing to stand on the frontlines of spiritual warfare for your family? Are you capable of being that selfless? Leadership is a choice within you. Every day we are faced with the decision of whether to be good at something or bad at something. Knowing your specific roles and where you fall on the grid allows you to make the decision of whether or not you will choose to line up with God’s ordained order for your life.
“Leadership is about having a selfless heart and always being willing to reach out and lend a helping hand,” says Bob Reina, CEO and founder of Talk Fusion.
So, the first question I propose to you is: Are you being a good leader for your family? In the Bible God designed a correct order of how the family unit should line up – Christ, husband, wife, children. In today’s society, we as believers tend to get the order all wrong and it ends up looking something like – God, work, children or parents, spouse, children. Some believers will even put friends before their spouse and children. We’re often left wondering why we can’t get things lined up within our household – it’s because our order and structure are completely wrong.
The next question I propose is: Are we as believers lining up with our respective roles in the kingdom according to the Bible? What’s the husband’s role in the Bible? What’s the wife role according to the Bible? Although we are equal in relationships according to Christ, the Bible gives specific roles for husbands and wives in marriage.
In the Bible, God designed husbands as the leaders of the home (1 Corinthians 11:3). The husband’s role is ordained to be selfless, loving and compassionate. The husband is the provider, the protector and the companion (1 Timothy 5:8). It is said that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church. Husbands are also to cleanse their wives with the word of Jesus Christ to make them holy. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them,” Colossians 3:19.
A wife’s role according to the Bible is to be her husband’s helpmate. Wives are to be loving, compassionate and encouraging to their husbands. They are to mentor and witness to their husband and children. Proverbs 31 speaks in-depth about the role of a wife, and in those scriptures we learn that a wife is a blessing to her husband despite what some husbands think at times.
In today’s society, with spiritual warfare at an epic high, we as leaders within our homes need to be more aware of the spirits that attach themselves to us and our children. Our order has to be correct to help us stand as one in the body of Christ and to fight off the attacks of the enemy on our family, as this truly means war – spiritual warfare that is. However, God will never send you into a battle without equipping you with his armor, which is his word, your prayers and worship. That’s all you need to defeat the enemy. You must learn that the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s. There’s due season coming for you and your family; receive it in Jesus name today.
The final question I’ll propose is this: Is your household equipped for battle?
by Rachel Chustz
Our family had just spent a fantastic week at a Christian summer camp. We had made some amazing new friends, listened to wise words from an inspiring speaker and had many exciting outdoor adventures. We felt refreshed from a peaceful week, and our spiritual tanks were full. We had no clue what God was preparing us for, and we didn’t know that only four short days later, we would find out.
On this hot July morning, my hard-working husband, Michael, woke up early, as usual. He sang as he showered. His cheerfulness seeped melodically throughout the rooms of our home. He quickly dressed and gathered his things. Our children giggled as their playful daddy chased them around the house for goodbye kisses. I kissed Michael goodbye and told him I loved him.
Only several hours later, I got the phone call from a stranger. The stranger’s voice shook as he regretfully told me, “Ma’am, your husband has been in a very serious wreck.” Michael had run into the back of an 18-wheeler on the interstate. The 18-wheeler was almost completely stopped, and Michael had crashed into him going full speed. “Is he bleeding? Is he going to be okay? Is he alive?” I hysterically asked. The stranger explained that the Jaws of Life had pried him out of his smashed truck, and the helicopter would arrive any minute to fly him to the emergency room.
I was finally called back to see my husband. As I walked in, I saw Michael lying on the hospital bed with a horrified look on his face. His rapid, shallow breathing revealed how difficult and painful it was to breathe. When he saw me, his eyes filled with tears and he whispered, “I am so sorry.” I held his trembling hand and told him that everything was going to be okay. I could hear his broken bones in his chest snapping with each laborious breath.
Michael was moved to the trauma unit where they tried to manage his pain until surgery for his broken legs. Two surgeries later, both of his legs were full of hardware, covered in stitches and were two times their normal size. Michael was kept in a comatose state and remained on the ventilator to allow his lungs, sternum and ribs time to heal.
After several days, I noticed that Michael started to look different. His body began to swell and he started to turn yellow. He also developed a fever and his vital signs were too high. It was very difficult to manage his pain, even though he was extremely sedated, and when they tried to get Michael off of the ventilator, it was clear that his lungs were not ready to support his breathing.
The days in the hospital began to run together. Michael’s reports did not get better. His liver was still struggling, he had developed pneumonia, had several blood transfusions, had a persistent fever, and the doctors were beginning to worry that he had developed Staph. Then the worst news came. Michael had developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The doctors’ voices were low as they explained everything to us. The hopelessness and fear overwhelmed me, and I begged and pleaded for someone to tell me that he would be okay. Then one nurse explained, “I’ve seen people in much worse condition live, and I’ve seen people in much better condition die.”
My spirited husband, who was usually so full of life, lay so lifeless, taking only breaths that the ventilator initiated. As I stood over him, I saw the deep groove of where his wedding ring was and imagined him saying, “I have never taken this ring off and I never will.” I looked at the messy pink polish he had allowed our two-year-old daughter to paint onto his toes. I begged, “God, please don’t take this amazing man from us.”
As their grandmother read books to our children that night, I hid in my bedroom and listened to voicemails from Michael. His soothing voice sounded so sweet in my ear. I went into Michael’s closet and could smell his fragrance on his clothes. Michael felt so near. I could almost hear him saying the words he said to me only hours after his accident, “Rachel, I can’t tell you why this happened, but I know this happened for a reason. And I know God kept me alive for that reason.” I clung to his words so tightly.
As the fog of shock began to wear off, I was able to see and feel the indescribable outpouring of love from family and friends. Family and friends took care of our children, traveled to be with us, provided us with meals and groceries (which lasted for months!), set up a fund to help with the hospital expenses and constantly offered powerful words of encouragement and heartfelt prayers. They even built us a ramp so Michael could get into our home in his wheelchair. Churches all over our state were praying for Michael and his healing. Our community was lifting us up and carrying us through this terrifying time.
Over the next several days, Michael began to slowly improve. Then, I got the most incredible surprise of my life when I returned for the visitation with Michael one evening. Michael was off of the ventilator and was alert. He could barely lift his head or open his eyes, but when he saw me, he said, “Now there’s the love of my life.” I cannot even explain the joy that I felt in that moment.
We were very careful not to overwhelm Michael as he woke up. He had lost more than 20 pounds and was extremely weak. Michael remembered that he had been in a car accident but didn’t remember much of anything after that. He experienced lots of delusions and post-traumatic stress as he came back into consciousness.
As the days went on, Michael became more aware and was ready to see our two young children, and they were very excited to finally see their daddy. This was such a magical moment for us. Our children eagerly became little caretakers. I remember the tears pouring down my cheeks as I watched our 2-year-old and 4-year-old so naturally and courageously take on this new careful and gentle demeanor with their father.
Michael worked hard. He didn’t let being in a wheelchair slow him down. He was bound and determined to walk. With some great physical therapy and dedication, Michael was walking four months before the doctors predicted. Despite all of his suffering, Michael’s attitude remained optimistic as he focused on making his suffering count. Michael is my hero. I have never seen anything like his faith, courage or perseverance.
This experience has given our family new eyes to see this life. It has revealed to us that even in the wake of such uncertainty and fear, there are so many blessings. It has been a long road to recovery. However, with every trial, we have more joyously celebrated our victories. Michael’s scars are a reminder to us of the miracle we experienced and that God has a very big plan for Michael here on Earth.
by Lisa Tramontana
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
Through military challenges and personal tragedies, these words have comforted and motivated Major William Saint for most of his life. As a man, a son, a husband, a father and a military leader, he is bolstered by his faith and can’t imagine life without it.
Saint is Commander of the 62nd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team for the Louisiana National Guard. He leads a group of highly trained soldiers capable of responding to threats ranging from chemical leaks to natural disasters to terrorist attacks. His group often works behind the scenes, providing security for events such as the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, the Final Four or Jazz Fest.
Saint is good at his job, and his leadership skills were recognized early in his military career, which began when he joined the Army National Guard at just 17 years old. Parental permission was no problem since his family boasts a long tradition of military service that dates back to the Civil War. A life in the military was encouraged, if not expected.
College was still part of his plan, and Saint decided to study engineering at Louisiana State University. But when 9/11 happened, everything changed. “I was distracted after that,” he said. “My focus shifted. I suddenly felt a huge pull toward the military, and I knew it was my true calling.” To graduate as quickly as possible, he changed his major to history and finished his studies through Excelsior College — all while also going through officer’s training.
In 2004, he was deployed to Iraq, serving as platoon leader to 27 soldiers. On his third day in Iraq, one of his closest friends was struck by an IED (improvised explosive device) and lost his left leg. It was a test of faith for Saint.
“It was so tragic,” he said. “But it was also my first real revelation. I had never felt a departure from God, but on that day, I was strongly drawn to God. I realized that you must have faith to carry you through times like this. I was in a leadership position, responsible for the welfare of my soldiers and their families. I had to put on a strong face and make sure my soldiers were confident in my abilities. They looked up to me, but who did I have to look up to? I needed someone to release all my fears and trepidations. I needed someone to give me strength. And that someone was God.”
When his deployment ended, Saint was grateful that although some of his troops had been wounded, no one had died. “Even now when some of us get together, we talk about that,” he said. “Something kept us safe. We’re reminded of the Book of Ephesians, chapter 6.”
“Put on the full armor of God so that when the day comes, you may be able to stand your ground … with the belt of truth buckled around your waist and the breastplate of righteousness in place. In addition to this, take up the shield of faith …”
In short, Saint believes his faith life and his military career are intertwined, one and the same. “The Army uses an acronym — LDERSHIP — which stands for these qualities … loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. And when you think about it, those are all Christian qualities as well,” he said.
Saint’s foundation was always strong. His Korean mother converted to Christianity after she married Saint’s father and came to the U.S. Saint attended church regularly, even through his teenage years. But even a lifelong dedication to God doesn’t mean life will be easy or perfect.
Saint’s second test of faith came in 2008, when his wife Katherine delivered the couple’s twins prematurely at just 24 weeks. Madeleine survived but baby William died at just 18 days old.
“You go through a range of emotions,” Saint said. “I was heartbroken. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to know why God would take my son. Our pastor guided us after William’s passing and let us know that it was okay to be angry and upset. And I don’t put William’s death at the feet of God. I don’t believe God is up in Heaven holding puppet strings and making certain things happen (good or bad) to people. William died and I have to accept it, but I take comfort in the fact that my son is in the Kingdom of God now. He has already gained his reward.”
Saint adds that throughout their grieving, he and Katherine have felt Jesus’ peace through family, Christian friends, worship, music, prayer and reflection. “I often dread long drives because I know my thoughts and emotions will find their way back to me,” Saint said. “But in every instance, Jesus uses those long drives to minister a peace that surpasses all understanding. He truly is a comforter.”
Today, the Saints have four children — Madeleine, 8; Juliana, 6; David, 4; and Abigail, 3. Stationed in Carville, La., Saint is now in the third year of his assignment. Although he could retire in just a few years, he plans to have a long career in the military.
On Memorial Day weekend, Saint participated in several events, including a 6-mile road march from LSU to the State Capitol to deliver 11,000 U.S. flags to the Blue Star Mothers of Louisiana, Chapter 1, who were hosting their annual Memorial Day Garden of Flags. The flags were then planted by volunteers in memory of the 11,000 fallen Louisiana service members.
The march was an example of how Saint demonstrates the ideals he embraces. Respect. Service. Devotion to Duty. But most of all, he hopes to lead by example, living a life that inspires others, from family and friends to his brothers in the military. His desire is that his faith will be his legacy …