Cover Story, June 2017

Surrender to Hope


Surrender to Hope

by Susan Brown

“I am convinced that this world has yet to see what can happen when born again believers sincerely and truly surrender to God and ask God to direct our path. I believe that God can break down every chain, every warfare, every division that is among us, but we’ve got to put our faith and trust in God–not man, but in God.” -Fred Luter

With an easy grace and engaging frankness, Dr. Fred Luter has a way of cutting through the cultural clutter to convey a message of hope. As the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention [2012-2014] – the first African American to hold that position – Luter continues to be at the forefront of efforts to heal racial division, return churches to prayer and promote scripture-based action. Under his leadership, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans has grown from 65 members in 1986 to more than 7,000 in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Now, plans are underway to relocate the landlocked church to a more spacious site 15 miles away in New Orleans East to accommodate standingroom-only crowds.

 His message: Take a straightforward look at our communities, then recognize there is hope. “Understand that we can’t just sit idly by and see all the things that are happening in our community,” he said. “We’ve got to determine to make a difference. ‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

“We live in a crazy day and time. All across America, I go to big cities, small cities, country towns, and the message I try to share with people is: I know that when we read the news and watch stuff on the internet, all the things that are going on look dismal, but God is still on the throne,” he said. “We put trust in man and not in God. When we turn that around, I believe we’ll see God doing miracles in our lives and in our nation.” But it requires humility – surrendering to God’s will, Luter said. His “life verse” is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

  Pastor Luter believes that God can fully transform lives and circumstances through ordinary people who become humbly devoted to Him. “I grew up in the church, Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. My mama and daddy got divorced when I was six years old. I’m the middle of five kids, but one of Mama’s rules was on Sunday morning, everybody goes to church,” he said. “So, I tell people all the time: My mom gave me my first drug problem – she drug me to church, drug me to Sunday School and drug me to Bible study.”

“When I was 21 years old, I was in a motorcycle accident. I was in Charity Hospital. A senior deacon from the church I grew up in came to my hospital bed, put his finger right here in my face and said, ‘Boy, obedience is better than sacrifice.’ He said, ‘You need to surrender your life to the Lord, and if you surrender your life to the Lord, you will not be throwing your life away in this world.’ And so, I cried out to God that night. I said, ‘God, I don’t know if I’m going to live or if I’m going to die, but they tell me that I’ve got a 50-50 chance of living. God, if you wake me up tomorrow morning, I’ll serve you all the days of my life.’ That was in October of 1977, and I’ve never turned back.”

“We’ve got to consciously make decisions to do all we can to foster lives that the enemy and the world are pulling up,” he said. “Realize that you’re my brother; I’m your brother; you’re my sister. We need each other.”

“In the Body of Christ, we need to take the high road to show the world how we, as people with different racial and cultural heritages, should love our neighbor,” Pastor Luter said. “If we don’t get along down here, how do we think we’re going to go to heaven and get along?”

“We need to step up and realize, as I heard from a pastor friend in Philadelphia: ‘In America, we don’t have a skin problem; we have a sin problem.’ We need to give ourselves to God and realize that all of us are God’s children. We need to step up to the front and exemplify that in our lives.”

“First of all, we have to pray. Ask God for leadership,” Pastor Luter said. “Ask God for direction as to how we are to see the things that are happening in our society and deal with these times. Things will not change in America because of who the president is, or who the governor is, or who is riding an elephant or riding a donkey. Things will change in America when men of God and women of God seek God’s face. Because I believe that when God’s people stand, God’s people can make a difference.”

 “We need to pray for those in authority. There are some individuals that I call by name like the governor and his wife Donna, and the guys in my church who are representatives. But also pray in general that God will touch the hearts of those in our legislature because the decisions they make will affect all of us. And we need not only to start from the president, to our governors, to our state legislators, our mayors, the police chief, but everybody who’s in authority. God tells us to pray for them [1 Timothy 2:1, 2].”

“I have no doubt the reason I’m here today, the reason I’m a pastor, the reason I’m saved, is because somebody prayed for me,” he said. “I believe in the power of prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God. I’m not talking to you; you’re not talking to me. We’re talking to God. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ [Matthew 7:7]. It is a privilege and an honor to call on God in prayer as a believer, and we should exercise it every day of our lives.”

 A commitment to faithfulness is vital, Pastor Luter said, especially for young pastors. “Be faithful to God, be faithful to God’s word and be faithful to your wife and family. Be faithful to the church that called you. If you’re faithful in those areas – I’m a witness – God will be faithful to you.”

“I am convinced that if you have a genuine, authentic relationship with God, you’re going to treat your spouse with respect, with honor and with love,” Pastor Luter said of his 37-year marriage to Elizabeth W. Luter. “I find it very interesting, in Genesis chapter two, that both Adam and Eve knew God before they ever knew each other.” He recognizes Elizabeth as his most important influence. “She’s the love of my life, the apple of my eye, my prime rib, my good thing,” he said. They carve out one full day per week to spend together.

 “Every day of our lives, we should try to do all that we can to decrease ourselves, decrease in the flesh and surrender to God’s will. Because that will determine the choices we make, the decisions we make,” Pastor Luter said. “To surrender, for believers, is simply to realize that I am not my own.”

 “Whenever Jesus had a choice to make, he always, without fail, consulted with his Father,” Pastor Luter said at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Baton Rouge. “Put yourself in Jesus’ place. Why should I give my life for those who are ungrateful? Why should I give my life for those who are hard-hearted?”

“Oftentimes in this Christian journey, oftentimes in your walk with God, there will be times when you face situations that just don’t make any sense.” Surrendering to God might bring sorrow and solitude. “Sometimes people don’t understand your pain. Sometimes people don’t understand your convictions. Sometimes people don’t understand your mission,” he said. “But according to the word of God, you are never, never, never alone.”

“Notice the submission of Jesus,” Pastor Luter said. “Submission means to let go and let God, to relent, to relinquish, to surrender, and that’s what Jesus did while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.” Even though Jesus faced people who were indifferent, cold-blooded and uncooperative, he prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” [Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42.

“That’s what God wants to hear from every last one of us who are called sons and daughters of God. When we are faced with decisions, when we don’t know what to do, God wants to hear, ‘Not my will, God, but your will be done.’” Look at the strength of Jesus. Look at the courage, look at the boldness, look at the energy of Jesus Christ…. and it’s all because Jesus had taken the time to talk to his Father,” he said.

“In essence, Jesus surrendered. And every day of my life that’s what I pray as I get opportunities around the country. ‘Lord, let me not get into self. Stand in my body, think with my mind, speak with my voice. I want to do your will.’”


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.

Baton Rouge Christian Life MAGAZINE


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Faith Life, September 2015

Forgiven and Set Free

by Susan Brown


133“You hear in society that it’s no big deal. You hear, ‘Oh, you need a quick solution, go have an abortion and then you’ll never have to deal with it or think about it again.’” That, says Georgia Small, is a lie, and she’s stepped out in faith to take her own story of healing and restoration to women who share her experience.

“They are human beings, too, just like the life that has been lost,” Small explains. “Sometimes that message gets lost in the pro-life issue. I think everyone is obviously concerned about the babies and they often treat the women who’ve had them as if they’re a non-entity.”

Her ministry embraces post-abortive women through small, Bible-based classes on the book, Forgiven and Set Free (Baker Books, 1996). Author Linda Cochrane recently held a workshop to train leaders from pregnancy centers and local churches to walk other women through the emotionally-charged process of healing. They hope others will catch the vision – and have the courage – to start similar ministries.

The courses are saturated with scripture, surrounded in prayer and confidential, Small says, because they involve a sensitive, spiritual battle. The next class begins Sept., 16 at River Community Church in Prairieville.

There are many who carry around this secret burden, according to Small. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports that 10,211 induced terminations of pregnancy occurred in Louisiana in 2014. Some 14 percent of pregnant women underwent abortions in Louisiana compared with 18 percent nationally in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit policy research institute originally affiliated with Planned Parenthood. About 1-in-3 women in the U.S will have an abortion by the time they reach age 45, institute research reveals, and 73 percent report a religious affiliation.

“You’re sitting next to them in church, they’re in your family, they’re your friends,” says Small. They haven’t told you because they’re scared to tell anybody. So it is an issue that everyone should be concerned about, and especially churches.”

But it was hard to convince many pastors that an abortion recovery ministry was needed, since few women talk openly about their abortions. Some pastors found it difficult to encourage grace – and at the same time – discourage future abortions. Small recognizes that there are no easy answers once an unwanted pregnancy occurs.

“Having a child out of wedlock or putting a child up for adoption leaves room for hope and time for God to write the end of the story,” says Small. “Abortion ends a life and leaves a void that can never be filled. There can be healing to be sure, but the consequences must still be endured.”

As an act of grace and support, River Community Church in Prairieville, an evangelical Presbyterian church where Small serves as deacon, has opened its doors to anyone who wants to participate in the abortion recovery course – and at no cost. Healing Place Church has offered the class through its Friday evening New Beginnings ministry.

Small’s own story reflects the challenges and choices many women have made. Young, recently divorced and newly employed at a desirable job, she was not really in a relationship but hanging out with a male friend. When she got pregnant, he offered to pay half the cost of an abortion. She talked to other friends who had gone through abortions and they agreed; after all, she was not in the best position to have a child.

“And I really believed that I’d never have to think about it again, that it was just a procedure. I didn’t value human life then in the way that I do now. I didn’t see that as a baby. I believed that it was a fetus like you’re told when you go to the abortion clinic.”

She was not prepared for what followed. “That weekend was the worst weekend of my life,” she remembers. “I just remember just crying uncontrollably and just feeling like I was empty and lost.” After a weekend flooded with emotions, she turned off her heart.

The process of hardening herself led to low self-regard and accompanying behavior. “I felt guilty about my divorce, then I felt guilty about the abortion and I just felt like it didn’t matter what I did anymore.”

A few years later, she became a Christian and her life began to turn around. But she didn’t realize there were layers of emotion that still influenced her relationships. “When we ask God for forgiveness we’re forgiven,” she explains. “But if we haven’t done the hard work of going through the past then we don’t know what is driving, necessarily, our thoughts and emotions and the way that we relate to other people. It’s just been amazingly freeing for me.”

“My favorite scripture is in Isaiah 61 that talks about changing ashes for a beautiful headdress, and I love that it ends with ‘so that they be made oaks of righteousness’ (Isa. 61:1-3),” Small says. That really speaks to me because I feel like God has called me to go into this difficult place and try to help people turn their experience into something they can heal from.”

“By the end of the class, we feel like we’re sisters. You feel definitely like you have a bond and a connection with these people that you don’t really have with anyone else,” Small says. “By the end of the class they’re just coming in radiating joy.”

For more information on the next Forgiven and Set Free class, or other recovery classes, contact, or call 225-395-1172.

(Linda Cochrane is CEO of Hopeline Pregnancy Resource Centers in CT)