I parked my car in front of Lafitte Miracle Assembly of God. The building looked vaguely familiar. I walked inside to meet with Pastor Joey Desmond and his wife Beth. “Was this building a gas station?”
“Yes,” said Pastor Joey.
“My husband held a children’s crusade here in the 80’s. He gave away a three foot candy bar.”
Beth laughed. “Where did he find one that big?”
“We glued candy bars to a three foot piece of cardboard.”
Joey finished paperwork while I set up my camera. I had met the Desmond’s at Hosanna Church where Beth worked as the church secretary, and Joey faithfully assisted Pastor George McLean. At the time, I was backlogged with stories to write and delayed setting up a meeting with them. In fact, I kept delaying until the Desmond’s had left Hosanna to accept the pastorate at Lafitte Miracle AG. Joey leaned back in his chair. I turned on my camera to record God’s remarkable ability to make bad things work for our good.
Joey, a devout Christian who worshipped God as a duty, was exposed to Pentecost in a Charismatic Catholic meeting. He had read about the gift of tongues in the Bible. Meeting people who possessed the gift piqued his interested, and he sought God to receive the same experience. As he sought God, he became dissatisfied with the church he attended. A friend invited him to Sunday School at Cornerstone Assembly of God where he learned God desired a personal relationship with him. After attending the class several times, Joey decided to visit the service in the main sanctuary.
“It was different from my church,” said Joey. “There was life and the people were excited about following Christ. My church taught salvation is acquired through good works, and most of its members attended to fulfill an obligation. I tried to get close to God by doing good works, but it wasn’t working.”
At the conclusion of Pastor Tony Shreffler’s message, Joey walked to the altar to seek a personal relationship with God. The pastor led him in a prayer asking forgiveness for sin and inviting Jesus to come into his heart. Before the day concluded, Joey realized his behavior had changed. The anger and depression he wrestled with were gone, and he had stopped cursing. Two weeks later, the pastor invited anyone who wanted to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit to come to the altar. Joey walked to the altar. The next thing he knew, he was on the floor speaking in a different language.
“I felt different as I prayed in tongues, lighter, as though a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders,” said Joey.
Joey believed God had called him to preach the gospel and he made an appointment to discuss it with his pastor. Pastor Tony recognized God’s hand on Joey’s life and agreed with his convictions. He sent Joey to teach a children’s Sunday School class. Two months later, Joey was leaving the church when the pastor stopped him, and said, “You are preaching the Sunday evening service tonight.” With little time to prepare, Joey was terrified. That evening, he stood before the congregation trusting God to help him. Joey spoke everything he knew in ten minutes. Within that short span of time, the conviction that he was called to be a pastor solidified into a firm resolve.
Pastor Tony became Joey’s mentor and introduced him to all facets of ministry. He allowed Joey to work with every age group and taught him how to handle the church finances. Two years later, Cornerstone AG paid Joey’s tuition to attend the School of Urban Missions (SUM), so he could prepare for ministry.
While attending SUM, he met Pastor George McLean and immediately felt a connection. Pastor George invited him to assist in his church home fellowship. Joey accepted the invitation and participated in the outreaches sponsored by the small church. He often filled in when Pastor George was not available to teach, but he knew it wasn’t time for him to leave Cornerstone.
Beth continued their story. “As a little child I always knew I would be a Pastor’s wife. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. But I wasn’t interested in dating when I met Joey. I had just graduated from high school and was content living at home with my parents.”
Beth was working in the church office when Pastor Tony walked in. “Beth, do you plan on getting married one day?”
“One day,” replied Beth, “if the right person comes along.”
“Let’s pray about it.”
“You pray about it. I have stuff to do,” said Beth, and returned to her work.
Pastor Tony did more than pray. He invited Beth and Joey to lunch at McDonalds. The pastor’s niece mentioned to Beth that Joey was single. A subsequent lunch with their church family at Applebee’s sealed Beth and Joey’s friendship that grew until love blossomed. Three months after they married, Joey accepted an associate pastor’s position at First Assembly of God Mangham in north Louisiana.
Beth developed complications during her first pregnancy a year after moving to Mangham. Her doctor sent her to a specialist who diagnosed the baby with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) and asked an odd question, “Do you have family in south Louisiana?”
“Yes sir,” replied Beth, “Our parents live in Covington.”
“Then you need to pack your bags and return to Covington.”
The doctor made an appointment for Beth at The Women’s Hospital in Baton Rouge where they learned their unborn daughter had a fifty per-cent chance of living. She would need surgery and a by-pass machine when she was born. They had two choices for the delivery of their baby: The Women’s Hospital or Oschner Hospital in New Orleans. They chose Oschner. They returned to Covington and Cornerstone welcomed the Desmond’s back on staff but their hearts yearned to be a part of Pastor George’s church.
“When Jo Ann was born, we were a nervous wreck,” said Beth. “But we also had peace that everything would be alright.”
The doctor immediately whisked Jo Ann away to stabilizer her for surgery. The nervous parents were permitted to see, but not touch her. Jo Ann remained stable throughout the surgery, never needed the bypass machine and remained on a ventilator shorter than anticipated. Another baby born that week also had CDH but did not fare as well. That baby had several surgeries and remained on the feeding tube long after Jo Ann had her’s removed.
Beth smiled. “Jo Ann spent four weeks in the natal intensive care unit. She came home with vitamins. No medication was needed. We returned to Oschner for an x-ray every six months for the next two years. The doctor never failed to be amazed at Jo Ann’s speedy recovery.”
“Every church we had ever been part of was praying for Jo Ann,” said Joey.
Beth nodded in agreement. “She is a walking testimony of the power of prayer.”
A year after Jo Ann was born the Desmond’s began attending Pastor George’s church. Even though the commute was substantial, they decided to leave Cornerstone in Mandeville and become members of Hosanna Church on the westbank of New Orleans.
“We did whatever Pastor George asked us to do,” said Beth. “We visited the sick; Joey preached; we taught classes. Eventually, I became the church secretary.”
“I was considered pastoral staff and served as a deacon for almost five years,” Joey continued. “Pastor George taught me that ministry is not as glamorous as people think it is, and I needed to see past a person’s faults and be compassionate. He also taught me the business aspect of ministry needs to be transparent.”
When health problems forced the pastor of Lafitte Miracle AG to resign, Pastor George, Presbyter of the Assemblies of God New Orleans Westbank Section, asked Joey to serve as an interim pastor at Lafitte Miracle. The day before Joey preached his first message to the small flock in need of a shepherd, his family stood in the parking lot of the church and said, “If this is where you want us, we are willing to come.” Joey and Beth never returned to Hosanna Church. Three months after he preached his first sermon, the congregation elected him to be their pastor.
The satisfaction on Joey’s face and contentment in his eyes answered my last question before I asked it. “Do you feel that you are exactly where God wants you?”
“Without a doubt,” Joey responded.
Instead of a birth defect destroying their daughter’s life, it set the Desmond family on a path that lead them into the center of God’s will. What the devil meant for evil; God turned for good.