Author: Teena Myers
There are perks to what I do. My relationship with Pastor Robert Burnside, whose story is in Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, led to a meeting with Dave Clark, the event coordinator for Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). I had never heard of the organization until a breakfast was sponsored by CCDA to honor the ministers in my book. While chatting with Dave, he invited me to film comments from conference attendees and write about my experience at their national conference held the second week in September at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency.
Before the conference, I explored CCDA’s website, read Let Justice Roll Down by Dr. John Perkins, one of the original founders of CCDA, and read portions of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I concluded CCDA and its adherents fell in the liberal spectrum of Christianity. I fall in the middle leaning slightly conservative, as do most of the Christians I fellowship with. However, writing the Faith, Beliefs and Spirituality blog on NOLA.com has opened the door for me to interact with Christians of various beliefs as well as Pagans, Atheist, Jews, and Muslims. Regardless of our beliefs, I’ve learned humanity desires the same things: to be loved, accepted, safe and at peace with one another. The culprits that keep us apart and quarreling are usually misinformation and assumptions. I looked forward to viewing Christianity through a different lens at the conference.
I’d heard the term social justice but knew nothing about its concept. During the breakfast Noel Castellanos, the CEO of CCDA, spoke about the heart of God to help the poor. The churches I’ve attended had benevolence funds, and sent missionaries to impoverished nations but did little (that I was aware of) to raise the standard of living in the poor neighborhoods we avoided driving through. I had even experienced resistance to helping the poor. “You are just enabling them to buy drugs and liquor,” some claimed.
The original three components of CCDA, redistribution, reconciliation and relocation were conceived in the heart of Dr. John Perkins. Redistribution when he was paid for $0.15 cents for a job that should have paid $1.50. (The word “redistribution” led me to believe CCDA embraced socialist concepts, which I later learned to be false.) Reconciliation after his brother was killed during a racial incident with white police officers. The final component, the need for relocation, became apparent when Dr. Perkins converted to Christianity and spoke to prison inmates who were barely more than children. For a more thorough explanation of CCDA’s ministry, I recommend Making Neighborhoods Whole by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins.
My husband dropped me off at the Hyatt. I walked into a crowded foyer. As the long line inched toward the registration desk, I chatted with a man from California. “A number of years ago my wife was transformed at a CCDA conference,” said Benjamin. I typed his cell phone number into my Ipad’s notepad intent on learning about her transformation.
The mass of people in the hotel foyer made the room warm. My parched throat was screaming for water by the time I reached my room. I filled a glass with tap water and opened my Ipad to record some notes. I don’t recall why I hit backspace, but I did, and backspaced right over Benjamin’s cell phone number. Benjamin, if you happen to read this, I really wanted to talk to you and your wife.
Obtaining my conference badge proved a little more difficult than checking into the Hyatt. Fortunately, a supervisor recognized my name and told Fernando from Puerto Rico to make me a badge. The delightful Fernando rejected the first badge. “Your name is off center,” he said. He asked his partner to make me another one. The second one passed his inspection.
On the elevator, I made the acquaintance of David Spickard, President/CEO of Jobs for Life, which helps those struggling with unemployment and underemployment. David was appointed CEO in 2006. Dr. Perkins was on their original board, and the organization has been associated with CCDA for many years. A representative attends the CCDA conference every year for encouragement and inspiration.
I was on the way to Stage II, a designated area for exhibitors and special activities, when I ran into Pastor Burnside, one of CCDA’s Host Team’s Co-Chair and the driving force behind the breakfast. He paused long enough to tell me how excited he was about the conference. Most of the exhibitors in Stage II were still setting up. One gentleman looked up from the book he was reading and flashed a warm smile. I stopped to chat. Malcom Wall told me about Biblical Theological Seminary (BTS). The school was established in 1971 when a Bible scholar and evangelist prayed for God’s help to teach those who wished to understand the scripture and communicate the hope of the gospel. BTS had been blessed by the ministry of CCDA and the school strives to return that blessings.
I entered Wednesday evening’s plenary session to a jazz rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”. Mid-way through their fifteen minute set a group of people broke out into a second line (an impromptu parade common in New Orleans). The exuberant second liners returned to their seat. I heard Noel Castellanos speak for the second time. He seems to be most comfortable presenting his points with a dry erase board and hand-full of dry erase markers. The message was basically the same one he presented at the breakfast.
Rev. Leroy Barber, CCDA Chair, followed Noel with a masterful job of weaving Isaiah Chapter 61 into an explanation CCDA’s mission. He emphasized that God had convened the convention and each of the attendees had divine appointments. He then pointed out that the Spirit offers divine healing and divine healing is the heart of cultivation – the theme of the New Orleans conference. Finally, if the practitioners allow the Spirit to use them as agents of healing, the people they cultivate will become the planting of the Lord. Not the practitioners, but the plantings of the Lord will rebuild the waste cities.
I am not a practitioner of CCDA. I won’t be relocating or raising up indigenous leaders in poverty stricken neighbors, but I did have a few divine appointments during the conference. Within 48 hours, I encountered two very different faces of CCDA. More about that in my next post. Until then, enjoy the video of my day. I especially enjoyed the Salsa dancing.
Christa Allan reads from her first novel Walking on Broken Glass at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
Susan Muth reads from her latest book The Beach at Herculaneum at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
The weather man had said 70’s. He was wrong. I looked at the overcast sky and shivered, felt more like 50’s. I walked to my shared table on Exhibitors Row at the Louisiana Book Fest thankful I had brought my coat. Rebecca Gernon had already discovered anything lite would fly off the table. Copies of Amy Signs were placed strategically on the table pinning down marketing material. I proceeded to do the same with Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot.
Rod, my husband, left in pursuit of hot chocolate. Despite our strategically placed books, post cards and business cards managed to escape. “Yours”, I said to Rebecca. She retrieved the escapee. A post card floated off the table. “Yours,” Rebecca said to me. Then Rebecca’s large poster leaped from the table and slapped a woman walking by. We added more books to the table to keep the poster from attacking another potential customer.
An hour had elapsed since my husband left. I pulled my cell phone from my coat pocket and dialed his number. He couldn’t find hot chocolate, so he embarked on another pursuit. He was in the tent talking to vendors about my book. “If you are going to do that come get some marketing material to leave with them.” He returned took some cards and left. Rebecca grabbed some of her cards to pass out on her way to the bathroom.
While chatting with Walt, Rebecca’s husband, I saw the sun peek through the clouds. I pointed to the sun. “Look it feels a little warmer.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling it,” said Walt.
Rebecca returned with a funnel cake. I tested the batteries in my wireless microphone, and attached it to my camera so I could film people who had books about faith, beliefs or spirituality and waited for Rod to return. By noon, the wind had driven the grey clouds away. We sat under a crystal blue sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds and slightly warmer temperatures. The day would have been perfect if not for the wind. Rod returned and I left him in charge while I filmed authors.
First stop, Angela Bertone’s Mary’s Christmas, a full color children’s book. I knew Angela, so she was glad to accommodate the camera. Deborah Lynne who I had filmed at a writer’s conference was also happy to talk about her latest release. The next stop was not so cooperative. Vicki Salloum thought I wanted to sell her advertising. When she realized I only wanted to help her gain exposure for her book, we had a long conversation about the difficulties of marketing. The author of One Moment With God and a book about surviving divorce from a Christian perspective by Dr. Cheryl Brandon concluded my quest to film authors. I returned to my table to learn my husband had sold a book.
By 3 p.m. I was ready to leave. Rod had to be up early for work and the crowds had thinned. We helped Rebecca move the table into the sun and departed for a Mexican dinner before returning to New Orleans. Speaking to Christian groups work best for me. The sales that day were sparse, but I wasn’t discouraged. I am always humbled that someone would pay money for something I wrote. I consider one sale a successful day, and I sold more than one.
Pamela Ewen reads from her latest novel An Accidental Life at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
A friend sent me an email about a regional book festival looking for authors to sell their books. I skimmed through the email. Sounded promising. No charge for the table. Last year, 900 attended. I sent an inquiry thinking I was too late. Free tables are a rarity that would be snapped up fast.
The following day, I received an email welcoming me and my book, Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, to be part of the event. “You will be in a theater on Main Street,” he wrote. Nice. I would not have to deal with unpredictable weather. “The front of the theater is large glass windows making it easy for attendees of the festival to see you,” he wrote. Better than nice, good placement, we won’t be in a corner where no one can see us!
Luck? A blessing from God! Neither.
Rebecca, a friend and the author of Amy Signs, and I arrived at the theater. The email information was correct. We were in a nice lobby that faced Main Street with large glass windows. FREE BOOK FESTIVAL glared at me from the poster on the theater door. How did I miss “THAT”? FREE! Was that in the email? Why did they invite authors to sell books at a “FREE BOOK” festival?
I knew most of the authors that were already set up in the theater. A mystery writer, whose class on writing I had taken at a community college had just finished his twenty-fourth book. I must have made an impression at the writing class. He remembered me.
One of the authors, who I did not know, said he recognized me from the North Shore Literary Society. I hate it when people know me and I don’t know them. His book Random Allotment was a Faulkner, 2012 William Wisdom Creative Writing Finalist. He writes in his spare time and works full time as an attorney. We had a long talk about publishing. He had self-published through Amazon, and was frustrated that book stores would not stock his book. “How do publishers decided which bookstores to place your book in?” he asked.
His question told me that he knew more about being an attorney than he did about publishing. “Publishers don’t place books in bookstores. Bookstores are independently owned. They purchase books that they have a reasonable expectation will sale. And they rarely purchase books that are not returnable. Most self-published and print-on-demand books fall in that category, which is why bookstores won’t pick up your book.” That answer started a conversation on marketing that lasted until my mouth was dry and begging for water.
I noticed a woman looking at my book and excused myself for a possible sale. Another long conversation, my mouth morphing into the Sahara Desert with each word. She left with a free magazine that contains a sample of my writing and a brochure about Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. She wanted the book but didn’t have any money. Of course, she had no expectation of needing money at a FREE BOOK Festival.
“The theater is selling drinks and snacks at the end of the hall,” said Rebecca as she took a sip from her 16.9 FL OZ bottled water.
I grabbed my wallet and headed for the end of the hall. “How much for bottled water?”
“One dollar,” she said and turned to dig for one in the ice chest.
I thought that was cheap. Until she handed me a 4 FL OZ bottle of water.
Rebecca grinned. “I brought mine from home.”
I downed my 4 OZ’s of water while I surveyed the empty street in front of the theater except for an occasional car that whizzed by. The only people who had visited the theater were a few friends of the authors. I wondered where the rest of the festival was being held and if any of the 900 people from last year had returned or if this year simply failed to draw a crowd.
The children’s author who forwarded the email about the festival to me approached my table. “Everyone is at the library across the street,” she said. “Let’s grab some of our promotional material and let them know we are over here.” That sounded like a good idea. I grabbed some brochures and followed her out the door.
In front of the crowded library, a man running for mayor handed me a brochure and asked me to consider him at the next election. I handed him my brochure and asked for his consideration as well. Behind the library, free food was being served. My friend and I met a woman who had light brown hair, a six week old baby strapped to her chest and three elementary age children fidgeting by her side. My friend handed her information about her children’s book. I didn’t give her a brochure. I doubted she would have time to read my book if she bought it. Two of her children had fiery red hair. “Your husband must be a red head,” I said.
“No, he’s not.” She pointed to her daughter’s brunette hair. “His hair is that color. We think the red hair came from a great, great grandparent.”
Inside the library there was free everything you can imagine and a mass of people. I browsed the tables. Picked up two free poster of the Cajun Ten Commandments for my husband and the Children’s pastor at my church. Then I rounded the corner and ran into another author friend. “How did you get in here with all the people?” I inquired.
“I did a “Get Published” seminar a few months ago. They invited me to return for the festival. But I have not sold one book,” he said.
“Me either,” I replied. “I do better at Christian events and it doesn’t help that this is a FREE BOOK festival.”
I couldn’t find my friend in the crowd, so I headed back to the empty theater to see if she had returned. Her husband shook his head NO. I joined a conversation Rebecca was having with an author. He was an associate professor at a nearby University. Another very long conversation ensued. Rebecca returned to her table while the professor and I talked about racism and justice. He wasn’t interested in the book I was selling, but he was interested in the article I wrote about the different perception of racism I encountered at the Christian Community Development Associations national conference. He was also interested in my first book, A Reason to Believe, about the seven appearances of God to Abraham and the faith he taught him. The book is no longer in print. I have been rewriting it and posting chapters to my personal website. He asked for links to the material which I was happy to provide.
I returned to my table. A woman walked into the theater. A customer? NO! Just another author who was in a different building across the street. Sigh.
I looked at Rebecca. “Are you hungry?”
“Yea, do you want a free hot dog?”
I have gradually changed my diet to hold my expanding waist line at bay. Hot dogs are not on my list of acceptable foods. “No, it’s 1:00 pm. I am ready to leave and eat a salad.”
We agreed that leaving an hour early would not be a problem, since no one had been in the theater except authors most of the day. I had everything neatly secured in my water proof box when the brown haired woman with the fiery red haired children walked in and stood in front of my table. This time I gave her a brochure.
When I returned home, I checked the email about the regional book festival. Yes, it said FREE BOOK festival. That is what I get for skimming instead of reading the whole email. The day was not a total loss. I did have some interesting conversations with an attorney and professor, as well as a pleasant healthy lunch with a good friend.
I first heard the name Waylon Bailey when I wrote “Prodigal Daughter” about Christa Allan’s journey to becoming a published author. Christa had great respect for her pastor. She told me about the positive influence he had on her family, which I included in “Prodigal Daughter”. I also included her story in Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. That was the first, but not the last time I heard the name “Waylon Bailey” in a positive light. I concluded he is a man of excellent reputation and Googled his name to learn more about him.
Pastor Bailey accepted my friend request on Facebook. Occasionally, a title to a blog post he wrote would grab my attention, and I’d click through to read the article. A few months ago, I noticed an invitation to share his blog articles with friends. I share a lot of material for pastors, authors and friends on NOLA’s Faith blog, so I sent him an email requesting permission to pick up some of his articles. In the course of exchanging emails with Pastor Bailey, I learned Martha, his wife, is an excellent teacher and also had a blog. By the time the details of sharing their material were finished, Pastor Bailey not only consented to speak to the Southern Christian Writers Guild about blogging, he also agreed to tell me his story.
He arrived at the Guild meeting full of intriguing information about social media. Seventy-two percent of Americans use social media. The percentage of eighteen to twenty-nine year olds is higher. In the past four years, the usage of those sixty-five and older has increased four times. Facebook has become America’s front porch. He then addressed how blogging opened a door for shy people in their church to communicate with them. People uncomfortable speaking to them personally willingly shared their thoughts through comments on Pastor Bailey and Martha’s blogs.
This information resonated with me. In recent months, I’d heard several ministers criticize the use of social media as though it were a demon destroying relationships. I even received a phone call chiding me for using Facebook. If I was limited to face to face encounters or even phone calls, it would have been impossible for me to connect with some of the people I have written about. As already stated, I connected with Pastor Bailey via Facebook.
“I’m not a writer,” said Pastor Bailey. “I am a pastor who writes.” The pastor who would not call himself a writer has written and co-written seven books. Marlaine Peachey, the Chairman of the Southern Christian Writers Guild set them on the table before he arrived. Marlaine also informed me that Pastor Bailey is her pastor and the President of the Southern Baptist Convention for the state of Louisiana. I thought what a truly humble man to come speak to our little group of writers!
Pastor Bailey taught us how to discern the will of God for our writing by taking the next step. Throughout his ministry, he normally knew the next step to take but never knows the second step before he has taken the first. Following God one step at a time has served him well. He oversees a large church, which is currently expanding its facility to accommodate the growing congregation.
After the meeting, Pastor Bailey and Martha met with me privately to share their story. Five minutes into our conversation my camera flashed “Turning off to conserve battery”. I could not believe what I saw on the screen. This was an inopportune time for my camera to die. A quick survey of my screen revealed I had not pushed record. Duh. The fail safe to conserve the battery had activated because the camera thought I was not recording anything important and sought to do me a favor. I profusely apologized, and we started again.
Waylon Bailey is a generational Christian. Both is grandparents and parents were devoted to God. His parents set an example of loyalty that engraved character on their young son. His father served as chairman of deacons. His mother was active in the Women’s Missionary Union and a capable Bible teacher. Throughout his parents service within the church Waylon witnessed much turmoil and many occasions for his parents to be offended. Unlike some who abandon the church when the waters become rough, his parents remained faithful to God, to their ministries and to God’s people.
“I had the shortest confession of faith on record,” Waylon laughed. He made that confession in an automobile in his hometown of Brantley, Alabama. His questions about a revival taking place in Brantley led to a discussion about baptism and faith with his mother. During the conversation, she quoted Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, …” Waylon shifted his slender nine-year-old body back into the car seat, closed his eyes and said, “Lord, I believe.”
He had taken the first step in his walk with God, but he did not know where the next step would take him. As far as Waylon was concerned ministry was not in his future. Until he was a senior in high school and his pastor asked, “What are you going to do when you graduate?”
“I might go into business, I might be a lawyer, I might even be a preacher…,” nervous laughter followed. Waylon had no idea way he included a profession he had no desire to enter. The perceptive Pastor Bobby Brown recognized a calling resting on the young man’s life. The following week, he invited Waylon to come to his office and talk.
Waylon took the second step toward God’s will in Pastor Brown’s office on a crisp January afternoon. Pastor Brown asked Waylon why he included preacher in his list of options after graduation. Waylon admitted that he had thought about it. “This is what you need to do,” said Pastor Brown. “You need to tell God that you are willing to do what he tells you to do.” Waylon made his second shortest confession of faith on record. “Lord, I will do what you want me to do.”
God took Waylon at his word. Easter Sunday night, Waylon sat on the back row of the church with his friends when his heart and mind were arrested by the Spirit of God. He felt possessed by God’s Spirit, overwhelmed by his presence and a sense of the reverential fear of God engulfed him. When the invitation was given to come to the altar for prayer, he walked forward knowing exactly what had happened. God had set him apart to preach the gospel.
Waylon Bailey paused to collect his thoughts and said to me, “My call to preach came violently. When you asked me a moment ago about my salvation, whether something dramatic happened, or I just knew. Well, I just knew. But when I was called to preach it was a violent call, an astounding call. It was I know this is what God wants me to do. Not only do I know this is what God wants me to do. This is what I want to do. My passion to preach the gospel was immediate and that passion has only grown stronger through the years.”
Pastor Brown took Waylon under his wing. Waylon assisted in funerals, visited the sick, and delivered his first sermon at a small country church. He preached everything he knew about the call of Abraham from Genesis Chapter 12 in eight minutes. Then Pastor Brown put Waylon’s picture in the weekly Alabama Baptist Magazine announcing Waylon Bailey had been called to preach. A church twelve miles from his home town invited Waylon to be their pastor. His parents bought him the same set of commentaries Pastor Brown used when preparing his sermons, which helped Waylon increase his sermons from eight minutes to ten.
Circumstances and the peace of God led Waylon to pastor several different churches before he settled into a long-term position as a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Each pastorate taught him valuable lessons. He learned the importance of relationships. In the smaller pastorates, he knew every congregation member by name and their struggles. His current church is too large to build intimate relationships with everyone, but he still strives to know as many people as possible.
He learned how to conduct business meetings. Voting whether or not to pay the light bill seemed trivial to Waylon, but he learned it was important to the people who wanted to vote. At times, he sat through business meetings that left him confused regarding what was accomplished. But he learned to be patient and gentle.
Another pastorate taught him the importance of evangelism. He invited a college roommate to preach a revival at his seventy-five member church. The revival started a good relationship with a nearby school, which allowed them to share their faith with its students. Ultimately, the revival produced thirty professions of faith. In another church, the deacons requested permission to worship “with him” instead of asking him to “try out” for the office of pastor. Their humility left a mark on Waylon’s life and ministry.
Waylon had a strong foundation to tread upon as he began seventeen years of service at NOBTS which undergirded that foundation with a thorough, accurate understanding of the Bible. “Four years before I came to First Baptist Covington, I felt like Jeremiah,” said Waylon. “There was a fire in my bones to be a pastor again. Every time Martha and I found a place we thought we fit and should go, the door was closed. Every time we didn’t think we fit and were not inclined to go, the door was opened.”
In 1983, First Baptist Covington invited Waylon to serve as interim Pastor. An impromptu revival started. People were walking in off the street and getting saved. Waylon asked the associate ministers on staff what they were doing that produced the revival. They didn’t have a clue. A new pastor was elected, and Waylon continued to help other churches when and where needed as he taught at the seminary.
Five years later, September 1988, First Baptist Covington, once again in need of a pastor, remembered Waylon Bailey and asked him to return as a candidate for pastor. He was already serving as an interim pastor at a church in Mississippi. He made it a practice to stay in an interim position until the church found a suitable pastor. He turned down their invitation. First Baptist Covington said, “We will wait.”
A comparison of Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:9 reveals that the Apostle Paul interpreted to wait is to love. When First Baptist Covington chose to wait while Pastor Bailey walked in integrity, they chose to love. They chose wisely. After a long vetting process, Waylon became Senior Pastor of First Baptist Covington in May of 1989 where he learned another valuable lesson. How to successfully guide a church through change. He led his flock of three-hundred to Bootlegger Road where the congregation blossomed to several thousand and continues to grow.
There is a purity and maturity in the Baptist pastors I have written about that inevitable affects my life, but I had never attended a Baptist church service and decided to investigate. I punched 16333 Highway 1085, Covington into my GPS and made the one hour drive to First Baptist Covington. I walked past the hall that led to the Children’s church and encountered Martha Bailey at the Women’s Ministry Booth decorated with Fall themed crafts and an announcement about an upcoming meeting involving Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate and Crafts on October 18, 2013. I have never been adept at crafts, but I do love chocolate.
Martha and I chatted for a few moments, and I continued my exploration. I passed a coffee station with seven different blends of PJ’s coffee. People were scattered about the long foyer sipping coffee and chatting as they waited for the second of three Sunday morning services to begin. The sanctuary doors opened. The people from the first service formed a long line at the coffee station. I walked into the sanctuary. An usher handed me a small rock and a bulletin. I wasn’t sure what to do with the rock and dropped it in my purse.
The service was conducted in a format similar to the church I attend: worship music, announcements may the high tech way, an offering was received and then the sermon began. The bulletin had fill in the blank notes to keep us focused. The message about forgiveness taken from the life of Joseph brought tears to my eyes. We all have bitter experiences in life that can be difficult to forgive. I’ve done my best to practice forgiveness, and I am not angry with anyone who has hurt me. But Pastor Bailey also spoke about releasing the hurt. While he spoke, I remembered the day I accepted that some hurts are never healed; we take them to the grave. At the end of the sermon, he asked us drop our rocks in a nearby bucket as a sign that we are letting go of any unforgiveness or hurt we’ve been clinging to. I retrieved the symbol of my hurt from my purse and dropped it into the bucket. For the first time in more than a two decades, I had faith that God wanted to heal the hurt and renewed hope that he will. I am glad I visited a Baptist church.
Debra Burst reads from her first non-fiction book The Hallowed Halls of New Orleans at the Celebration of Words sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society and hosted by the Mandeville Barnes and Nobles.
I was a last minute addition to the author readings sponsored by the North Shore Literary Society (NLS). Somehow the bookstore was able to obtain the last four copies at Ingram in time for the event. NLS had been gracious to include me. I reciprocated the favor by volunteering to help with the all-day event.
In addition to reading from Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, I was assigned to organize and be Master of Ceremony at the last event of the day – Poets Corner. Poetry? I knew nothing about poetry. I opened my internet search engine and and Googled poetry. My research gave me a new appreciation for poetry, but more about that later.
I had finished a low calorie diet a week before the event. Experience had already taught me to reintroduce foods gradually, but I thought it would be safe to put a little cheese on my omelet. NOT! I had picked up a friend and just started the 24 mile drive across the Causeway Bridge when a dull ache in the pit of my stomach told me I would pay for eating cheese.
Dallas, my friend, noticed my discomfort. I explained. She dug in her purse and produced a single dose of antacid. I devoured the tablets hoping for instant relief. NOT. Pain from the indigestion grew stronger cause me to break into a sweat. As soon as I exited the bridge, I pulled into a gas station. All they had was single packets of Pepto-Bismol, which did little to relieve the pain.
The cheerful founder of the NLS greeted me at the door. I wasn’t feeling very cheerful, but managed to smile. Then requested directions to the bathroom where I’d have a little privacy to pray for relief and decide if I would be able to read.
When I exited the bathroom, Dallas greeted me with a bottle of Maalox acquired from a nearby supermarket. I took several swallows and then set up my camera to record the readings and hoped I would be called upon to read last.
Most of the authors had never used a wireless mic. One author picked up the battery pack to speak into. Instead of clipping the battery pack to their clothing they left it sitting on the podium. When they walked away from the podium, the pack went swinging through the air. Another lady pulled the wireless mic from its clip. It fell to her waist before it ran out of cord. She picked it up and held the tiny orb in her hand to finish her presentation.
The wisdom of joining toastmasters this year was evident as some of the authors read from their book. Some stood awkwardly uncomfortable with public speaking. One author spoke so softly she could not be heard. Fortunately, I was asked to read last. By that time I was feeling much better.
After the readings Dallas and I went to lunch with one of the authors. I was careful to eat lite lest indigestion rear its head again. We returned for Adult Playtime to hear a reading of two of Rebecca Gernon’s plays: Winds of Change, a humorous story of New Orleans residents stranded in a dingy Arkansas motel during hurricane Katrina and Artistic Expressions, a semi-finalist in the Drury College (Springfield, MO) semi-annual play contest, finishing in the top 10 of over 300 plays.
By the time Poets Corner began I had caught my second wind. No longer weary and in pain I enjoyed being MC. My discoveries about poetry opened the event. Poetry preserved history until humanity developed a written language. The Greeks were the first to preserve their poems in writing. The word poetry comes from a Greek word that means “I create”. I also discovered that ancient medical doctors prescribed poems to their patients for healing their aliments. After 911 there was a phenomenon of poetry in New York City. In a quest to console themselves and others people left poems in public places all over the city.
I had never been a fan of poetry, but my experience as MC gave me a new appreciation for the art. The poems carried messages about our times, were filled with emotion and several were comical. On the way home, Dallas told me about some young people sitting in a nearby café who scowled and mocked the poets. Until an amusing poem about a woman with a bowling ball stuck on her toe was read. The young people listened attentively and applauded. I wasn’t the only one who found a new appreciation for poetry that night.
The pros outweighed the cons of the day. The cons. The book sales were dismal for all of the authors. The pros. We benefited by having our books placed in a bookstore. I also learned to be careful what I eat before speaking publicly. And it was a pleasant day with new friends and old.
Last year, Mike Marchese addressed the Southern Christian Writers Guild, and I requested to write his story. He invited me to visit his recording studio. Mike plays rhythm and lead guitar for Counting the Day; a Christian band he formed with a friend. He built his studio to record their music and to service Christian artists. I arrived expecting to record Mike’s story and received a bonus. He wanted me to Keva Fontenille’s story as well. Keva is the lead vocals for Counting the Day.
Keva always had an awareness of God. A benefit of attending Catholic schools until the eighth grade. But an awareness of God did not satisfy the deepest need of her heart for guidance and a consistent loving relationship. Her parents had divorced when she was a year old. During the school year, she lived a model 1950’s sort of life in New Orleans with her father and step-mother. She made good grades in school. Her family ate dinner together, but her father was often absent. Her summer months, living with her mother in Texas, were filled with stress. Her mother and step-father had a volatile relationship. Memories of fleeing the house with her mother for safety created fear and insecurity.
Her mother dramatically changed when Keva was seven years old. An uncle had shared Christ with her mother. That summer Keva attended church with her mother every Sunday. Instead of fearing an eruption of violence, she was surrounded with love. She liked attending the church full of people who sang happy songs and were kind to her.
One day, Keva and her mother were alone in the living room. Her mother asked her to join her on the couch. She gave Keva a beautiful children’s Bible and told her the story of salvation. Keva didn’t pray to accept Christ that day, but she thought about Jesus and his love for her.
After she received the Bible from her mother, their pastor preached a sermon on water baptism. Keva listened intently as the pastor explained how being submerged in water was an outward symbol of what happens spiritually. Christ takes away our sin, and we rise to newness of life, spiritually clean and adopted as a child of God. Keva wanted to be a child of the loving God her mother had told her about, so she asked her mother if she could be baptized in water.
Her mother wanted to be sure Keva understood what it meant to be baptized in water. “Tell me what water baptism is?” Her mother queried.
“It’s like a locust,” said Keva. “Sometimes I find their shells on a tree, but the locust is not there. When I go in the water and come back up that old, yucky shell will stay in the water. I will have a new shell.”
Her mother laughed. “Yea, that’s kind of what it’s like.” Satisfied Keva had grasped the basic concept of water baptism, she made an appointment for Keva to speak to the pastor.
Their pastor questioned Keva and shared scriptures with her until he was convinced she understood what she was doing. Then he led her in a prayer for salvation. Keva left his office excited about her new found faith.
Keva’s voice filled with emotion as she described her experience. “I did more than believe that day. I was truly persuaded from the inside out that there is a living God who loves me, desires a relationship with me and would be an attentive father. It was an intensely personal and intimate moment. I knew I was making a pact with a best friend who would be my friend forever. In him, I found the peace, guidance and security I longed for.”
She returned to New Orleans at the end of the summer excited about sharing her faith with her father and grandmother. They listened politely but remained neutral about their daughter’s experience. Lacking the understanding of God that Keva had acquired, they were not able to encourage her in her walk of faith but neither did they discourage her.
Keva’s mother encouraged her daughter through the letters they exchanged when Keva lived with her father. Keva asked her mother what she should read in the Bible. Her mother knew that her young daughter was not ready to read the longer books of the Bible and offered her a workable solution. Knowing one or two sentences would be easier for Keva to read and understand, she instructed her to read one Proverb daily.
Every morning Keva opened her children’s Bible and read a Proverb. She also thought about it and prayed God would tell her what it meant. She often received insight, which helped her apply the proverb and gave her guidance in dealing with life. When she read “a wise son listens to his father’s rebuke”, she understood that it was okay for her parents to correct her. Instead of rebelling or resenting them she should think about why they corrected her. The result was an unusually well behaved child.
Keva also learned by watching the life of her siblings. They did not receive Christ until they were adults. Consequently, their journey to maturity was very different from Keva’s. “I spared myself a lot of trouble just watching them. I could see the lack of God’s word in action, and how that ends up. I learned that biblical principles work. They can give you a life of peace, stability and direction when life does not make sense,” said Keva.
Five years after Keva accepted Christ, her mother and step-father returned to Louisiana. Keva attended church with her mother on weekends. They joined the church choir where Keva’s talent for singing developed. In high school, she took choir as an elective.
“Music was not a lifelong dream, but it was always around,” said Keva. “Both my parents sang. I chose choir in high school because I needed an elective to graduate. I continued singing because my choir teacher told me to keep singing.”
Keva found her niche in music when her pastor asked her to sing a solo. She was nervous but didn’t think telling the pastor “No” was an option. After her performance, she received many request to sing and became a regular on the church’s worship team.
Ten years ago, she joined First Baptist Covington. She found a place to serve on the church’s worship team where she became acquainted with Mike Marchese. He was in the process of forming a Christian band called Counting the Day. One day, he showed up at her place of work and asked if she would be interested in singing with the band. “I said yes, and ever since then I have been singing with them, and I love it,” said Keva.