Monday, March 20, 2017

A Conversation with Jade

       I do not venture into the city of New Orleans very often. In the three and a half years I have been back in Louisiana, I can count on one hand the number of times I have been in the Big Easy aside from trips to the airport, and I certainly have never been in New Orleans during the crazy time of year known to Louisianians as Carnival or Mardi Gras season. A few weekends ago, however, was a special occasion. My friend’s birthday was fast approaching, and her sister had come to Louisiana for the first time. The birthday girl wanted to introduce her visiting sister to some authentic Louisiana cooking and show her some local sights too. There is no better place to combine the two than the city of New Orleans.

When the big day arrived, Victoria, Breanna, Caly, and I loaded into my car and made the hour and a half drive into the city. That’s right… three girls and me. More importantly, I (who like to have a plan for these sort of outings) and three girls (who have no intention of making or following any plan of any kind) made our way into the city. I was stressed just thinking of the day as it approached, but I digress.

As soon as we arrived, we set out on a very important quest: deciding on a restaurant. We ended up at a little place called The Gumbo Pot. After we introduced Breanna to the awesomeness that is Gumbo YaYa and Boudin Balls, we began making our way to Jackson Square. As we approached the east corner of the square, Victoria began informing her sister of some unusual things we might see. Taken aback at the fact that Breanna did not already know this information, I began to elaborate. New Orleans is famous for many things: amazing food, elegant architecture, soulful music, and the usually disappointing New Orleans Saints to name a few. There is one other thing, however, for which New Orleans is famous. It is something dark and wicked which most people of our time probably consider to be nonsensical superstition, but as any born again believer who is engaged in spiritual battle can tell, it is very real none the less. I am talking about the demonic practices of voodoo.

Jackson Square is a busy place. By day, the fence surrounding the square is adorned with paintings by local artists as they try to earn a living by selling their work. Performers are on every corner. Whether they are musicians, dancers, or magicians, they do their best to acquire a crowd from both interested and disinterested passersby, never forgetting to point to a basket which they hope will be filled with tips by the end of the day. By night, the sidewalk around the square becomes the less than ideal place of slumber for many of the city’s homeless. However, there is one other group of people who gather around the square during the day: the fortune tellers. Lined up along the northwestern side of the square, fortune tellers set up their tables and sit anxiously. Some wait to be approached, while others call out to passersby, trying to entice them to come and sit.

As we walked along the square looking at all of the art, I noted the beauty of many paintings, but also the darkness of many others. My eyes fell upon a painting of what looked to be a demon holding the hands of two happy children, and I could not simply walk past it. I tried to move on to other paintings, but my eyes were always drawn back to that sad, wicked painting. As I gazed upon it, the Holy Spirit in me began to stir. I did not know it yet, but He was not going to let me leave that dark place without shining His light. 

When we reached the north corner of the square, one of the ladies excused herself to a cafe restroom. While the rest of us waited outside, I looked at the line of fortune tellers seated by their respective tables. As the moments passed, God granted me His eyes, and I began to see them and others not as nameless strangers, but as precious souls who desperately need to hear the Gospel of Christ. My gaze fell upon the fortune teller seated first in the line of many. Her name was Miss Cindy, as I learned from the large sign placed beside her table. She was a well dressed, middle aged lady with neatly styled hair. My spirit began to stir as I felt God prompting me to speak to her, but my flesh answered back, “What in the world do I say?” By now, our group had been reunited, and we started to walk slowly past each table. A rather large family seated themselves at Miss Cindy’s table, one at a time offering their palms for her to examine. We stopped to watch a musician play a very unique instrument. It was a string instrument about five feet in length which looked to be made of a large gourd attached to a long piece of wood. It resembled a mutated cross between a guitar and a double bass, but it sounded as elegant as a harp. As the beautiful music played, I repeatedly glanced at Miss Cindy’s table, hoping she would be free, but the same family remained seated.

Another lady caught my eye. She walked along the square carrying a small basket of voodoo dolls for sale. As she walked back and forth talking to different people, I again felt the Holy Spirit stirring in me. How desperately lost these souls are! As we walked down the side of the square, a performer caught our attention; he spun around and around inside a giant metal ring. We stopped to watch his very entertaining performance, but my full attention was not on him. I was still thinking of how terribly lost all those souls must be. 

After the performance was over, we walked back up the square from where we had come and stood on the corner deciding where we wanted to go next. I did not add much input to the decision as my eyes were glued to Miss Cindy’s table at which a different family was now seated. Suddenly, Victoria’s voice broke my trance as she informed me we were about to start walking again. Along the way to our unknown destination, Victoria asked what I would like to do. I had no idea what to do next as far as our fun outing was concerned, but I knew exactly what the Holy Spirit was prompting me to do. I said, “I don’t care as long as we’re back at the square before dark.” Intrigued, she asked why I wanted to return, so I explained that I wanted to talk to one of the fortune tellers. She immediately knew what was on my heart and agreed. 

We made our way through the culturally rich streets of the French Quarter, passing many musicians whose talent easily drew large crowds. One sight particularly peaked our interest for quite a while: a lady making bubbles. She held a stick in each hand; each of which were attached to opposite ends of two long pieces of string. She would dip the strings into a small container filled with a soapy solution and then lift them from the solution spreading the strings while taking a step back causing air to fill the bubble. The bubbles produced were sometimes as large as two feet in diameter. The looks of pure happiness and innocence on the faces of children were priceless. Many of them would race to pop the bubble before it was even released from the string.

Finally, we began to make our way back to the square. My heart raced faster with each step closer. Throughout the entire afternoon, my mind had rehearsed possible conversations with Miss Cindy. How would they really turn out? What would God do? We reached the square, and Victoria asked me, “Which one is she?” My heart sank as I pointed to the corner toward Mrs. Cindy’s table. Her table was there, but she was nowhere to be found. Looking around, Victoria suggested I talk to another fortune teller. She pointed and said, “How about her?”  After I agreed, she asked, “What are you going to say?” I said, “Well, I think I’ll start by asking why she does what she does and then go from there. You know… make it about her.” I stood there staring for a moment. I do not know if it showed, but I was overwhelmed with anxiety. Suddenly, though, I felt a power that was not my own, and without hesitation I began walking toward a fortune teller whose name was Jade. 

Jade was a middle aged lady who looked as though time had not been friendly to her. Her long, stringy hair was dark with strands of grey scattered throughout. Lines had begun to form on her face, and she had not a tooth in her mouth. She sat at a small, folding table adorned with a thick, blue tablecloth along with many superstitious trinkets. She looked up at me with a modest smile as I approached the side of her table. I am sure she was not expecting what would come. “May I ask you a personal question?” I asked. I knew it was important to lay a very simple yet necessary foundation for this conversation: the fact that I was there because I cared about her. “Sure,” she replied. I asked, “Why do you do what you do?” Her answer took me completely by surprise. Knowing the wickedness of voodoo, black magic, fortune telling, and the kind, I was almost at a loss when she replied, “To help people.” I do not know what I was expecting her answer to be, but I most certainly was not expecting that.  To clarify, I asked, “You want to help people? In what way?” She replied, “Physically, emotionally, spiritually… however I can. My psychic abilities are not as limited as other psychics.” The next logical question seemed apparent to me, “I’ve never had the opportunity to talk to a psychic before, so I’m curious… How did you get your psychic abilities?” Again, her answer took me completely off guard, but it was indeed a very telling one. “Well, everyone is psychic, but the extent of your abilities depends on how much you exercise them. It’s just like drawing; everyone can doodle on a piece of paper, but with practice, you can learn to draw a picture or write words.” Changing directions, I asked one more question about herself, “What do you believe about eternity?” “I believe in reincarnation,” she replied. “There is a judgement, and how you come back depends on how well you performed in this life.”

I was finally ready to make the transition to the topic or rather the Person to whom I wanted to introduce her. I asked if I could tell her a little about myself, and she very kindly allowed me to do so. I began sharing my testimony with her. I told her how I was raised in a superstitious religion, and how God brought me from that religion. I explained that God revealed my sinfulness to me but also the fact that He sent His only begotten Son to save me. To my satisfaction, she paid full attention as I shared my story with her, but when it came time for her to reply, she did so with a blatant disregard for the God of the Bible. “That’s why I don’t believe in monotheism. If there is one ultimate, supreme God, why do such bad things happen to people all over the world? Why does He sit back and allow things to happen the way they do?” I followed by explaining how the bad things which happen in this world are a result of sin. God does not want a bunch of robots worshiping Him, because we have to. He created us with a free will, because He wants us to desire to love and obey Him. It is impossible to truly love without a free will; otherwise love would simply be a mechanical obligation.

From this point, our conversation evolved to the topic of salvation. I explained that because of the sin of Adam, all of mankind inherited a sin nature and is condemned to an eternity in Hell, separated from God. Jade got especially agitated when I mentioned that no amount of good we do can change the end result. We cannot earn our salvation. She questioned why an all-powerful God would condemn anyone to such an eternity. Quickly, I explained that God has not left us without hope. Although we cannot earn our own salvation, He graciously provides the means of our redemption for us through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Jade had earlier mentioned that she believes in reincarnation, but in the midst of this portion of our conversation, Jade further elaborated on her beliefs of eternity. “Monotheism teaches that there is one God who is the judge, jury, and executioner, but there are many gods. One of them is in me, but it does not have power or authority over me. When we go through this life, we try to do the very best we can, but we obviously fail in some areas. There are things we can do better. There is a judgement when we die, but we judge ourselves. When I die, I’ll look back on my life and judge my performance. Then I’ll be reincarnated based on my performance.” As soon as she gave this explanation, I saw it. I saw the sin which is at every sin’s core. Her desire was to only be accountable to herself. She had no desire for a higher power to hold her accountable to a higher standard. It is the sin of all sins: pride.

Along the course of our conversation, I asked how she had come to her beliefs. Matter of factly, she explained that she had not come to her conclusions haphazardly. “I was curious, and I was searching. I had an open mind and began researching many religions. I wanted to know the meaning of it all. Why am I here? One day I prayed to whatever god might exist and asked for a sign. Soon my eyes were opened, and I could then see what was in front of me.” I assumed she meant she could see spirits, but I did not pursue in that direction. I said, “I want you to know that my God loves you. He is the One True God, and I believe there’s a reason I’m sitting here talking to you today. The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:11, ‘I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.’ My God loves you, and He has a purpose for you.” As soon as those words exited my mouth, Jade began to shake, and tears filled her eyes. It became obvious that she was tired; she longed for the peace which only comes from Jesus Christ. I continued, “All you have to do is believe.” She countered, “I don’t want to believe what I can’t see.” “We won’t see Him until after this life,” I informed her. Stubbornly, she replied, “Then, I’ll wait until then.” Desperately, I said, “It will be too late at that point. He wants us to trust Him by faith. He offers salvation to us now; all we have to do is trust Him by faith. He offers salvation as a free give, and we can simply accept it or reject it as we would accept or reject a birthday gift.” Pointedly, she said, “Then I reject it.” I knew at this point our conversation was drawing to a close. My time was running out with her patience as well as with my parking.

I had earlier iterated that I respect her as a person, and in the closing moments of our conversation, I made sure to reiterate that fact to her and also the fact that my God loves her and has a purpose for her. She responded with a statement of mutual respect. I asked if I could pray with her, but she declined saying, “I would rather you not, but what you do in your own private time is up to you.” She then gave me one last piece of information, “It’s Mardi Gras, so I know more of you (Christians) will be coming. Please keep in mind that what we (fortune tellers) do out here is what we do to earn a living. This is how we pay our bills. This is how I keep my lights on and food on the table. In the fifteen minutes that we’ve spent talking, two large families have passed by which would have been paying customers. Please keep that in mind as y'all come out.” She did not know it, but I already had that in mind. I took out my wallet and handed her a twenty dollar bill. Smiling, I said, “Pay your bills. Have a good day.” And with that, I walked away.

About twenty minutes had passed, and my friends were patiently waiting nearby. I recapped the conversation to them as we made our way back to the car. When we passed Miss Cindy’s table, I noticed she had returned, but time was running out on our parking. Still, I considered stopping to talk to her until I remembered Jade’s request, and having used all of the cash I brought with me, I decided instead to commit Miss Cindy to prayer.

Obviously, much more was said than what I’ve written here, but these are the highlights which are etched into my memory. This was one of the more unique experiences of my Christian life, and I’ve felt led to share it. Perhaps the Lord’s purpose in my sharing this is simply to help me remember and learn from this experience myself. Perhaps also, the Lord will use this in the life of another. I pray you learn with me.

Looking back, there are many things I learned that day. One is that you never know when God will send you to speak truth into someone’s life, so you had better stay prayed up. Another is there is great importance in taking time to show someone you care. A big part of sharing the Gospel is listening to what people have to say and then meeting them where they are. I probably could have done a better job especially in the last part of this conversation. And finally, do not forget the humanity of those to whom you minister. Until that day, I rightly viewed Voodoo and its practices as evil, but I neglected the fact that those who practice it are real people with real lives. God certainly does desire a relationship with them just as He desires one with me, and it does not take any more of God’s grace to save them than it did to save me. No one is beyond His reach. Please join me in praying for Jade, Miss Cindy, and all the others who are bound by the chains of Voodoo. Its chains are strong, but Jesus Christ is much stronger.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ministry Update, 3rd Quarter 2016

This quarter was filled with both amazing and devastating experiences, but the Lord was here through it all.

Guyana Trip

In July, I went on my 5th short term trip to Guyana. Each time I’ve traveled to Guyana, God has taught me about some overwhelming theme during the trip, such as trust, encouragement, and power. This trip was no different. The theme was faithfulness: God’s faithfulness to us. Throughout the trip, God repeatedly pointed out flaws and shortcomings in my life and, yes, sins also. Pastors and missionaries sin? Yes, we surely do. But, God took this opportunity to show me that even though I fall short, He is ever faithful. He is constantly chipping away like a master sculptor, taking away parts of me that don’t look like Him. I’m so thankful we serve a faithful God who doesn’t throw the clay away. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” ~Phillipians 1:6.

In addition to my personal lessons, God also blessed in that I was able to travel with Greg Mann and preach in several villages. Greg and I are excited about the growth of the ministries as the Lord blesses. We are committed to helping national pastors grow as they lead their families and ministries. During the trip, nearly all of the national pastors and church leaders were able to gather together for a series of teaching sessions during which I taught lessons on prayer and fasting, and Greg taught lessons on church planting and church growth. Their desire to learn and grow is encouraging. Greg and I have determined that the ongoing teaching and training of existing pastors and leaders will be one of my primary tasks when I reach the field full-time.

The Great Flood

In mid August, Louisiana was devastated by a historic flood. Areas which have never been considered flood zones suffered catastrophic damage. Over two feet of rain in a short amount of time caused eight rivers to reach record level flooding. As an example, the Amite River, which is at flood stage at 29 feet, crested at 46.2 feet. Among the affected areas, Livingston Parish (county) suffered the greatest amount of damage. 90% of homes suffered damage, and 75% of the parish was considered a total loss.

My sending church, Open Door Baptist Church, is located in Livingston Parish. With 6 feet of water on our property and 3 feet of water inside our main church building, we suffered a lot of damage. Several in my church family lost nearly all they own. However, even through this great difficulty, God has shown Himself faithful. Churches and individuals from all over the country have donated money, supplies, food, etc. to see that the people of our community are taken care of. Teams have traveled from as far as New York to help with demolition and cleaning in our church/school buildings as well as in homes. One of the greatest blessings of this disaster is being able to see people loving one another regardless of differences. Civilians with boats volunteered to help police, fire departments, and national guard with rescue efforts. These civilians became affectionately known as The Cajun Navy. While the rest of the country argued over politics, race, and a host of other topics, the people of south Louisiana were simply loving each other as Christ calls us to love our neighbors. I saw it first hand; it was incredible. There is still a lot of work to do, so please be in prayer for my church and the surrounding communities. Some post-flood pictures of ODBC are below.

Praise the Lord, we now have sheetrock, the walls are primed and ready for paint, and we have temporary seating. There is still much to do in our church and community, so please continue to pray for us!

Prayer Requests
          • Wisdom in preparing for ministry in Guyana
          • Growth in financial support (I'm currently at 15%)
          • Growth in my personal Christian walk
          • Provision for Louisiana flood victims
          • Wisdom for the Guyanese pastors and leaders

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ministry Update, June 2016

Dear Friends,

I pray this update finds you strong in the Lord, and ever seeking His presence. Thank you so much for your prayers over the previous weeks; our Father certainly is faithful to answer them. When I wrote my last update, I was beginning a week long training seminar at Global Faith Mission Agency. The seminar proved to be a tremendous blessing as several men and women of God with decades of missions experience shared Godly knowledge and wisdom with several of us who are just beginning our adventure. I’m also thankful that God has already given me the opportunity to share what I learned that week with my dear friend who will soon be leaving on a nine month trip to serve and learn in Uganda. I love how the Lord teaches us, so we can teach and help others.

I was grateful, also, to be able to visit my good friend, Pastor Denver Ayres and preach and share the Guyana ministry with the people of New Haven Baptist Church in Oneida, TN. Shortly after returning to LA, I was able to help with VBS and a teen rally at my home church. It’s always a blessing to see children and teens learning about Christ, and I’m thankful to say we saw several souls saved at those events!

I’m excited to travel back to Guyana on July 9th for a week of teaching and preaching with Pastor Greg Mann. I will also be discussing my long term plans and strategy with several nationals during the trip. I have one dilemma, however: I hurt my back very badly last week. I’m currently under the care of a doctor and a physical therapist who believe that with medicine and the right stretches/exercises, I will be well enough in time for the trip. 

Here is how you can pray in the coming weeks. Pray that my back heals in time for the trip. Pray for the Lord to lead as Greg and I teach and preach in Guyana and as I discuss my long term goals. Pray for the Lord to go before us preparing hearts. Pray for the Lord’s provision as I am only 10% funded. Pray for my friend, Elizabeth, as she prepares to serve in Uganda.

Thank you for your faithfulness to pray and give. May you continue to seek His presence and not take one step without Him.

“If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.” ~Exodus 33:15

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ministry Update, May 2016

Dear Friends,

We surely serve a faithful God, and I pray this finds you abounding in His love and grace, seeking Him. When last I wrote, I was preparing for a trip to Jacksonville, FL where I was privileged to be part of missions conference at my alma mater, Trinity Baptist College/Trinity Baptist Church as well as present our ministry to my good friends at Oak Ridge Baptist Church where I served as youth pastor for four years. That trip was the beginning of a new phase into which God would lead me. The Lord has since led me into the new experience of preaching and presenting our ministry in several faithful churches around my home in Louisiana, and so far, two of them have committed to take me on for monthly support.

Tonight, I’m writing from Chattanooga, TN in one of my favorite places here, Coolidge Park. I’m in Chattanooga for a missionary training seminar with Global Faith Mission Agency in which veteran missionaries are seeking to impart some of the wisdom God has granted them into brand new field laborers as myself. I’m very thankful for the faithfulness of men like Roy Seals, Greg Mann and others to sacrifice their time to teach young missionaries like myself. Please be in prayer that this week will be a profitable time of growth and learning.

As I sit here in the park gazing into the river beneath an almost full moon, I’m reminded that the God who spoke all of this into existence loves us immensely, and He is faithful to lead us in our calling. My prayer is that I will be faithful to follow.

Please pray for me as I continue to learn to balance deputation and a full-time job. Pray that I will be Spirit-filled. Pray the Spirit will lead in my week long trip to Guyana this July. And, pray that God will continue to provide for me as well as many of my friends who are also preparing for the mission field. The great thing about our God being so faithful is we can pray confidently. He surely does hear and answer His little ones.

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. ~1Thes 5:24


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Becoming Homeless for God

     The Lord said to Joshua, "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:9). The people of God had left their comfort zone in Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Now, they were preparing to enter the land which God had promised them so many generations earlier. There would be battles and trials, but God offered strength and peace. He had a plan for His people, and though they were nervous and uncomfortable, He carried them through according to His will, and they possessed the land and the blessings He promised generations earlier.

     Several weeks ago, I was asked to speak at my home church's missions conference. I had been talking for years about becoming a missionary, but things seemed to be at a stand still. Finally, God gave me the push I needed, and in a matter of days, I had a phone interview with my mission agency, had prayer cards designed, created a missions display, and was a featured missionary in a missions conference. Needless to say, I was nervous... no scared... no terrified by this drastic acceleration from 0 to 60 in just a few seconds. In that time, God comforted and challenged me with the book of Joshua. The people of Israel crossed the Jordan, marched around Jericho, battled against Ai, battled against an allegiance of kings, and so much more. God had to discipline them for their sins, but He still kept His promise. He was with them wherever they went. He kept that promise thousands of years ago, and He still keeps it today. He is with me in the comfort of my home, in the familiarity of my job, on the road traveling to other churches, and even in the jungles of Guyana. He will never leave me nor forsake me. He is with me wherever I go.

     Today, I'm sitting in the comfort of my favorite coffee shop reflecting on the events of the last few days and anticipating the possibilities of the coming week. I am scheduled to share my ministry with three churches in Florida in the coming week. This will be the first time I present my ministry outside of my home church, though these churches are familiar to me as I served in them as a Bible college student. Nevertheless, this is the first of what will be many long distance trips to present my ministry, and I am learning the challenges of frequent travel. These are questions that have gone through my mind in the last week: Should I ask to stay at a friend's house? Would I be putting them out? Should I stay at a hotel? Can I afford a hotel? How can I eat healthy on the road? How much should I budget for this, that, and the other? This is truly a humbling experience; it's the closest I've ever been to feeling homeless. 

     Please, don't misunderstand. I'm not complaining at all! Actually, I'm very thankful for this experience, because the more out of control I feel, the more I trust the Lord is in complete control. Earlier this week, I heard an evangelist quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 which reads "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." He then said, "Revival comes from humbling yourself before the Lord." What a true statement! And, here is the paradox of Christianity: when we humble ourselves and submit to His Will, He gives us grace and lifts us up. He gives us of His power to serve Him wherever He places us.

     For whatever reason, God saw fit to call me to preach His Gospel, and He's now leading me to serve in the villages of Guyana. So, here I am at the beginning of this adventure, and this is the first lesson I'm learning as I begin to raise support: I must humble myself before the Lord. I must put my pride away. Don't worry about where I'll stay or where funds will come from. God is in control, and He's with me wherever I go.

     Thank you for reading and sharing this journey with me. Please pray that God will move in the services coming, and that I will learn from the experiences that are sure to come.

          In His Service,