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First Thoughts Blog

Category Archives: Missions

A True Joy + Enlightening: Romania Mission Trip

Last year’s Christmas mission trip was a real joy. I witnessed first-hand, a country 30+ years post-communism beginning to become a “baby capitalist” society. With that transition, there are classes of people (elderly, mentally handicapped, orphans, homeless) and cultures (Gypsies, Ukrainian refugees) that have been left without meaningful support.
The Smiles Foundation has been operating in this region during this entire time and has made a constructive difference within these classes and cultures. Some of what I saw was hard to believe, but my biggest surprise is how effective true Christian philanthropy demonstrated by the Smiles Foundation has been and continues to be.
On Thursday, March 9, the man who leads Smiles Foundation, Kevin Hoy, will be in Baton Rouge to give a presentation at my house (5148 Mimosa St.) at 6 pm. Please RSVP to Whitney Alexander (225.810.2607).
Our next Romania mission trips are May 19-27 and December 1-10.
Posted in: Missions

Malachi Dads

God is transforming men’s lives in our prison population.The Malachi Dads program (started at Angola) is a faith-based program helping men develop skills to reconnect with their children using Christian principles. 
Malachi Dads is a structured program designed to take men through the basics of Christianity. Groups of 12 men (called families) meet weekly to discuss the lesson. In these sessions, men learn the Christian skills necessary to meet the challenges of life and reconnect with their kids. 
The joy of participating in Malachi Dad’s Bible Study is establishing relationships with the men. Many friendships have deepened and we have seen the release of both George Gillam and Keith Morse within the last three years. Both men are employed at FPC part-time and work with fathers and sons in north Baton Rouge (70805 and 70802)! It is a joy for us to continue pouring into their lives in Bible Study outside of Angola prison. 
We have an opportunity to provide assistance to inmate facilitators for a growing number of inmate participants. No formal training or preparation is required. Please consider getting involved. You will be blessed seeing God’s work in our prison population. Get in touch with Whitney, Hans Othmer, Jerry Stovall, Bill Barkas, Brian Kinchen, Charles Goebel or Gee Gee Hargon. Thank you for your support of missions at FPCBR! 
Posted in: Missions

Why Are You Here?

“De ce esti aici?” (Why are you here?) It is June 1, 2015, and I am on my third mission trip with The Smiles Foundation in Romania. We have been led by a Smiles team leader to the third sub-basement of an abandoned Communist era hospital where some homeless are hiding. How they came to be homeless and why they are hiding are discussions for another time. I don’t know many Romanian words; the Smiles team leader is translating. At first, I think the woman asking the question is annoyed by our intrusion. No! The leader explains that she is incredulous that anyone would travel so far to care about her. I had been going on mission trips to Romania for somewhat selfish reasons. The woman’s question caused me to rethink my reasons and I would invite you to contemplate what I realized that day. It changed my perspective on mission trips.
Of course, going on a mission trip does cost money, time and personal risk  but Smiles hosts missionaries of all ages very comfortably. I found from our trip in December that COVID exposure seems as well managed in Romania as in the USA. Still, it would be far easier as an American, wealthy by worldly standards, to just cut a check. But what I did not realize was how much it means to the poor for us to be there, especially in parts of the world with virtually no “social safety net.” These people are alone. Profoundly alone. They need human compassion as much as food. The human compassion we bring by being there means so much. I have also learned that the Smiles staff is greatly encouraged and rewarded by the company of mission visitors.
Please consider joining us on a mission trip to Romania. Trips are filled with opportunities suitable for all ages and abilities for compassion, service and joy. We depart May 26 and return June 5, 2022. You can contact me or my wife Carol for further information. 
Posted in: Missions

Mission Trip to Colombia

Come join us this summer, June 25-July 2, as we serve with Global Transformation Ministries in Medellin, Colombia! The team will stay at Esther's Home in comfortable rooms for short-term workers. Esther's Home is located outside the bustling city of Medellin in a small mountain town providing safe refuge and a home for rescued mothers and babies. Staying at Esther's Home gives a wonderful window into the daily rhythm of the ministry and allows lots of opportunity to love on the moms and babies. Other ministry opportunites will be adjusted to the gifts and composition of the team. 
One possible work project may be to begin construction of an outdoor church at Esther's Home. Other opportunites are leading devotionals or teaching Bible studies and skills-training such as financial management, time management and healthy meal preparation. We will visit the new "transitional" girls' home in Medellin that your donations to the Building Up campaign helped purchase. We will cap off our week with a dinner out with the moms and the team! This trip to Colombia is limited to 15 people. Please contact me (225.573.6982) or Darin Travis (313.574.1205) as soon as possible if you are interested in joining the team. We'd love to have you!
Posted in: Missions


Do global missions right here in Baton Rouge. Global missions done on a local level is part of God's plan to reach the nations. It is quite remarkable when we think about the sheer number of internationals God has brought to our city; many from the least reached people groups of the world. We have Muslims, Hindus, Buddists and Chinese in Baton Rouge who have never had the opportunity to know the God that we follow and love. 
Consider the responsibility, privilege and joy of being the first ambassador of Christ to them or watering the seeds others have faithfully planted. The heartbeat of the International Fellowship Partners initiative is to share in word and deed the unconditional love and good news of Christ through genuine friendship building. 
God has brought them to us. An airplane ticket is not needed for this faith journey . . . just a willing heart to GO with God.  God calls us to GO and make disciples of the nations. Will you GO with IFP to internationals that God has brought to our city?
Consider giving a warm Kingdom welcome to Internationals playing fun games together at Games Galore Saturday, March 5, in the Gym from 2 to 5 pm. It is a great way to break the ice, share laughs and make friends. We will have toss games, indoor badminton, ping pong and outdoor badminton (weather permitting). Fun for the whole family!
RSVP to Valerie Gastinel (225.241.1386). Let her know if you plan to bring a game or snack (individually wrapped, please). Sharing food to display welcome is an integral part of most international cultures.
While food donations are appreciated, they are not required to attend.
IFP appreciates your prayers as we "reactivate" monthly gatherings with internationals after a long COVID pause. Please consider registering to be a Friendship Partner. Use the button to fill out a registration form. 
Posted in: Missions

Joyful Relief

One of the joys of hurricane relief is spending time with homeowners as we work on repairs. One of the families we met in March was Angie and Tim Brown from Iowa, Louisiana. We were tasked with repairing the patio soffit and then priming and painting fascia boards all around the home. Our team of volunteers replaced the broken soffit and continued to put two finish coats on the exterior of the Brown’s home over the course of four weeks. The contractors working on the inside of the home are hoping to complete the interior by Memorial Day. The move-in date is set for June 1. Our church family will help them move in. JOIN US.
We are asking the FPCBR congregation to come alongside the Brown family and help us restock their pantry by donating a pound of rice, beans, canned goods, paper products or maybe a gift card for supplies we do not know they need. If you are interested in blessing Angie and Tim’s pantry and home, please drop off these items in the gym on the Hurricane Relief tables labeled for the Brown family by June 1. Please put all gift cards in an envelope labeled, “Angie & Tim Brown” and bring to Laura Shaw’s desk in the church office. This is another beautiful opportunity to care for a family in need. 
Beginning May 10, a team of skilled sheetrock hangers is coming from Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. The goal is to sheetrock six homes in five weeks. Our church will purchase the sheetrock and all that is needed to complete this project by June 14. If you desire to make a donation for this ongoing work in Iowa and Lake Charles, please go online to and look for Hurricane Relief. Our church family has spent sixty days since Hurricane Laura came onshore on August 28, 2020 helping and assisting with hurricane recovery. If you are ever interested in joining us on Wednesdays and Saturdays, please SHOW UP! If you have any questions, please call me at 225.810.2607. THANK YOU for all your help and support the past eight months!
Posted in: Missions

A Brighter Christmas!

The outpouring of love from everyone has made for a brighter Christmas for the children in Iowa, Louisiana. We have blessed 600 families with gifts that included bicycles, Barbie dolls, sports equipment, puzzles, books, board games and a variety of toys. The love continued with the purchase of food for 75 Christmas boxes which were delivered to the poor in Iowa. These residents were overwhelmed with your generosity this Christmas. Thank you from everyone in Iowa and especially for supporting all of our efforts the past four months in hurricane relief cleanup. A huge thank you to all of the volunteers who have traveled with me since August 30 and to our First Presbyterian Church family for donating money and resources to help our brothers and sisters in southwest Louisiana after two hurricanes! Relief work resumes January 6. Anyone is welcome to join us. We leave the church parking lot at 6.30 am sharp. Bring sturdy work gloves!


Posted in: Missions

Bringing Hope! Sharing Hope! Growing Hope!

January is National Mentoring Month. With joyful thanks to our God and the 18 FPC Mentors and Prayer Partners, Kids Hope USA celebrates its partnership with Gardere Community Christian School. We do not always know what these children are going through but we do know your generous gifts of prayers, time and attention to a caring relationship brings much HOPE to make a remarkable difference for these children!

How do we see the difference? It is seen in the teacher who gratefully shares,“I can really see a difference in my students.” In the many “thank yous.” In the smiles. In the increased effort to do better academically. In the student’s excitement to meet with their mentor. In the chance to be heard and encouraged. In character growing. In the joy of playing a game. In the security of being safe. In the casual conversations. In the prayers, the hope and so much more!
Please join us in prayers of thanks and praise for the three remaining 1st grade students hoping for a mentor, for additional building space for GCCS and for Kids Hope USA to continue to be embraced, to expand and to excel.
Thank you for sharing the love of Christ and bringing HOPE! 
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” [2 Corinthians 9: 12].
Annette Lamond, Kids Hope USA Director   
First Presbyterian Church
Our Mission:
Kids Hope USA builds life-changing relationships one at a time: One Child. One Hour. One Church. One School.
Our Belief:
We believe in Jesus’ way.
Our Values:
Children: Because every child matters.
Relationships: Because love is only possible person to person.
Faithfulness: Because if I say I will, I will.
Prayer: Because it is our language of hope.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world . . .  they are precious in his sight!
Posted in: Missions

Called to Serve

In our country I see many churches are filled with godly, loving people. I give thanks and rejoice that the Lord has blessed his people here. But we have to come to grips with something. If we continue only to drink in blessings and neglect to give them out, we will face what happened to the church in Jerusalem. After the blessing of Pentecost, the believers there grew comfortable in their fellowship.
The book of Acts says the believers went from house to house eating together and sharing their experiences. What happened to the early church? The Lord sent persecution and that Spirit-filled church was suddenly scattered. The people ended up going to the nations preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, making disciples and establishing new churches.
I thank God for all the mission activity that takes place in First Presbyterian Church. The Lord’s goal is that every member of this great church becomes a missionary and that includes you.  We are all called to participate in local missions (i.e., Buchanan and Gardere schools), regional missions (i.e., Hurricane Laura recovery in Lake Charles) and global missions (i.e., short-term missions in Lebanon, Romania and Colombia).
Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s command here is spoken to every one of us with no exceptions. Everyone is not called to go physically. Please be assured God is looking for volunteers. We are to be about the work of praying for the harvest and God is touching people everywhere because of our faithfulness to pray. One example of this is the family of Jena and Kevin Smith who are being called to serve in Lebanon with World Outreach of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
When you know God’s heart, you won’t be able to restrain yourself from the gospel mission. You’ll find yourself concerned for the needy in your neighborhood (i.e., Open Air Ministry with Pastor Moore). The nearer you are to Jesus, the more you’ll reflect his compassion for all creation. Our missions conference was a month ago and we were blessed to hear how God called Katherine and Brian Miller to Colombia and Ashley and MacGregor Magruder to Africa a decade ago to serve Jesus Christ.
Are you resisting a call? It’s never too late to sign up to go to the nations or to the hurricane ravaged city of Lake Charles. Every Wednesday and Saturday, a group of believers meets at 6.30 am to serve Lake Charles. If you’re open to being sent out and you’re diligent in prayer about it, God will open every door. He will place you exactly where he wants you to serve. Then you will find your life being fulfilled as never before.
Posted in: Missions

Opening Our Hearts as the Doors Open

There have been challenges in so many areas of our lives due to COVID-19 and those experienced by our educators are at the top of the list! School has finally begun at our adopted school Buchanan Elementary and, as you can imagine, teaching this year is a moving target. Virtual learning, two days a week for one group of students and two for another, masks, lunch in the classrooms, limited recess, no water fountains—how are they feeling? One word—stressed. 
After meeting with Principal Charlotte Britten, FPC has been asked to please step in and do what we do best—show them our love. She wants every staff member at the school to have an Encourager to help lift them up when they are discouraged. We have about ten folks who have already adopted a teacher at this point leaving 46 teachers/staff who need someone to come alongside and encourage them this year! It’s a super-easy ministry in which to participate. All that’s required is remembering your person at least once a month by sending them a small gift, note of encouragement, email, text, phone call and, of course, praying regularly for them. Gifts can be left at the Connection Center for delivery to the school so you don’t even have to make an extra trip. If you would like to become an Encourager, please contact Laura Shaw (225.387.0617 or and she will get you set up.
On October 9, we are providing lunch for the teachers as they participate in a work day at the school. We would also like to distribute notes of encouragement along with the box lunches. We will hand out notecards at the services on October 4 and we would love our members to write notes of encouragement that would let our friends at Buchanan know that we love them!  
We are also recruiting volunteers for the after school program at school. If you are interested in sharing your talents as a storytime reader, music leader, craft maker, etc. on Tuesdays or Thursdays please contact Nell Patrick ( 
Finally, FPC is collecting several items that will be a big help to the school. Items can be left at the Connection Center: masks, disinfecting wipes, gently used belts – all sizes (preferably black, brown or blue), gently used coats and sweaters – all sizes.
Thank you for blessing our friends at Buchanan Elementary!
Posted in: Missions

But God . . .

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. But what does Jonah do? Does he respond, “Yep, I’m going that way!” No, in fact, he goes to Joppa where he hopes to catch a ship going to Tarshish instead of going inland to preach the gospel. Scripture says, “He is fleeing from the presence of God.”
Have you ever heard God calling you to do something but you hesitated? The world will always have a ship ready to take you anywhere you want to go. Jonah was doomed in his disobedience and you always have to pay in full to ride a ship of the world. It costs a lot to not do the will of God. Jonah was disciplined for his disobedience, yet we still have a tendency to think that we can run away from God. God’s Word tells us that we cannot hide. God is calling you and me on a journey. There is a journey that leads to Nineveh and a journey that leads to Tarshish. In what direction are you headed? Are you going toward the presence of the Lord or are you going to make an excuse, “But God . . . ”   
This fall, we have the opportunity to serve the Lord here in Baton Rouge at Gardere Community Christian School as a mentor with Kid’s Hope or at Buchanan School as a Reading Buddy. The list is endless how we can serve the Lord. Just do it! 
Buchanan Volunteer Coordinator: Laura Shaw
Kids Hope USA Director: Annette Lamond
Posted in: Missions

Closing a Chapter

It is bittersweet to share with you all that Nour and I have stepped down as missionaries with World Outreach. As we say goodbye to this chapter of our lives, I want to take this opportunity to extend my deepest thanks to all of you for the emotional, financial and spiritual support you’ve given so generously over the years.
First Presbyterian Church has, from the very beginning, always been a crucial part of our work in missions, and my personal journey even before I was with World Outreach, as a young post-grad going off to Egypt. I want to thank you all for the incredible support you’ve given over the last decade. I felt so loved and cared for having such a wonderful home church standing behind me, and with me. You all are just as passionate about missions as I was, and it was a joy for me to be a member of our church family as a “home-grown” missionary. Moving forward, I will have the joy of being in regular, weekly worship with you here in Baton Rouge.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Missions Pastor Whitney Alexander and the entire Global Missions committee, especially committee leaders Jane Cooper and Chuck Barber, for your unwavering encouragement and Christ-like love you’ve extended over the years. Thank you to the Elders, Deacons and Session for the support and care you’ve blessed us with throughout our time with World Outreach. Lastly, but most importantly, thank you to my parents, Cynthia and Lloyd Lunceford, for the countless and often never-seen or shared ways you’ve loved and supported me, and also made sacrifices yourselves, without ever asking for formal recognition or applause. 
Our work over the last five years with Syrian refugees in Lebanon was remarkable. Not because of anything specific Nour or I did, but because it is an incredible time in history to be living and ministering to Muslims in Arab nations. We poured our hearts and souls out on the field, and now the seeds that we have sown together over the last few years are entrusted into God’s hands and the Holy Spirit’s continued work. This gives me peace as we close this chapter, and I pray it gives you peace also. We did faithful work, and we surrender it to him. 
Thank you all for coming alongside Nour and me in love. The church’s ongoing financial and spiritual support will not be forgotten. The church’s generosity was such a blessing to us while we were on the field, and so we want to personally thank each of you as part of our church family for your role and part in sustaining us during that season. Thanks be to God. 
Posted in: Missions

Preaching Peace Far and Near

The world cries for peace. Restorative peace. Personal peace. Spiritual peace.  
Daily our peace is challenged by economic conditions, shifting social dynamics, medical conditions, family and political strife. These challenges similarly plague families across the globe. Ultimately peace is a gift from God. It can only truly be sustained through our relationship with the Prince of Peace.
First Presbyterian has a long history of supporting our congregational members spreading God’s peace far and near. On February 2-3, Rebecca and Nour Botros will host FPC’s 2019 Global Mission Conference. The conference will transport us to the ministry of peace and reconciliation among the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, among the Ambo-Pasco Quechuas in Peru and with our international students here in Baton Rouge. 
Here at home, we are blessed to bring our disagreements and discord to God in prayer to sustain our peace. But, we often find ourselves in conversations with others resistant to God’s peace because of disappointment.  Nour and Rebecca will kick off a Saturday morning session on February 2. Learn from the Botroses how they minister in an aggressively discouraging environment leading Syrian refuges into relationship with the Prince of Peace. Don’t let your children miss out on an “adventure in missions” activity tract on Saturday morning. International themed activities will be provided including passport travel activities, food, games and songs from foreign lands. Let us plant a seed in your child’s heart for international Christian peace.  
Saturday morning will conclude with an International Friendship Partners lunch at noon. LSU International Students will join us for conversation and ministry. The International Friendship Program mentors international students here in Baton Rouge. International mission efforts can start here at home by extending God’s friendship and peace to these interested students before they return home.  
Wycliffe missionaries Ralph and Marilynn Toliver will transport us to the mountains of Peru to the Ambo-Pasco Quechua people group during our combined Sunday school hour. We will celebrate the completed translation of the New Testament into the Ambo-Pasco language; God’s word in their own language for the very first time!
Sunday morning, February 3, our guest preacher Pastor Scott Castleman of Ocean Springs, MS will join us and share about his missionary work. As we learn of the struggles of ministering afar, God will encourage us to overcome our own struggles to be more effective here at home. 
Get your passports ready!  Prepare your hearts through prayer! Please make plans to join us for the 2019 Global Mission Conference and celebrate those dedicated to Preaching Peace Far and Near. 
Posted in: Missions

The Church Distributed

That’s a great title for a book about how God sends his people throughout the world as leaven that causes the whole dough to rise. As the New Year begins, we rejoice in the Christmas celebrations we had and all the homecomings we enjoyed. And we also return our gaze outward to see what the Triune God of Grace is doing and hear how he calls us to be part of it.  
January is our Global Missions Month. We give thanks that several missionaries were called from this congregation and are now serving throughout the world. Ashley and MacGregor Magruder didn’t feel far enough away in Kenya: they’ve relocated to Malaysia! Their work continues in training indigenous leaders to share the gospel. Rebecca [Lunceford] and Nour Botros have been on the front lines of ministering to Syrian refugees in Beirut. They’re home for rest right now, which means we will get to hear firsthand from them at our missions conference.  
The young Jesus knew what it was to have to flee violence in the middle of the night; to seek refuge in another country, arriving with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Jesus’ church sees the worldwide refugee crisis as an opportunity to extend the hospitality of gospel love. That’s why your church session recently approved up to $42,000 for medical mission trips to war-ravaged Syria. But here’s the kicker: these mission trips will be conducted by our Egyptian partner church Kasr El-Dobara, enabling more work to be done at a fraction of the cost.  
Meanwhile, we hear great reports from Brian Miller in Medellin, Colombia. A gift from our church contributed to his successful efforts to build a “safe house” for girls escaping sex trafficking. Wycliffe missionaries we have supported for years, the Tolivers, this year presented the work of a lifetime: the Bible translated into a Peruvian dialect. For the first time thousands will hear God’s Word in their native tongue!
Don’t you love being connected to Christ’s work around the world? You will love our Global Mission Conference February 2-3. We will hear from the Botroses and the Tolivers. And we will engage personally in Global Mission by doing what we do best: hosting a lunch for international students. Finally, we’ll hear from one of the best young preachers I know as Scott Castleman from Ocean Springs preaches to us on “Bringing Peace Far and Near.” As we look outward this month, we can see with wonder what God is doing.
Meanwhile back home, I’d like to highlight two hidden jewels of ministry. Every first Friday of the month a group of volunteers conducts reCess at our church: a night out for families of special needs kids. We keep the kids and their families enjoy an evening. And Threads of Love continues its quiet ministry of resurrection hope. These ladies sew garments for infants who have died, lending dignity and comfort to families who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth or infant illness. Both of these quiet ministries touch people deeply.
It astounds me to see all the ways our congregation serves and as a New Year begins I love, more than ever, being your pastor,
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor

By God's Grace and Mercy

On May 31, 2017, I was driving to New Orleans to do pre-marital counseling for three couples, but I was driving dangerously tired and did not realize my high level of exhaustion. As I drove about forty miles along Interstate 10, my eyes closed and only because of an angel did I awaken in time to keep from rear-ending an 18-wheeler. My eyes opened in time to slam into the right side of the 18-wheeler. The Lord Jesus allowed me to stay on this earth, but I received multiple breaks on the left side of my body. Through three operations and a day of radiation at OLOL, the Lord quietly began to put my heart and soul back together along with my broken body. I was crushed on the outside but my spirit was destroyed on the inside. I cried out to the Lord daily asking him to please help me through this pain. 
Everything I enjoyed doing for nineteen years at First Presbyterian Church Baton Rouge came to a halt in one second. I was in ICU and did not realize the severity of my injuries for about a week. When I realized that I could not walk or get out of bed, my heart sank lower and lower. Many people came by to say hello and cheer my spirits, but the loss of my freedom to come and go came to an end for a few months. I tried to be calm and cheerful, but this was difficult as I had three plates in my body along with 29 screws. The pain was incredible, and my left leg had no feeling for about three months as nerves began to regenerate after severe injuries to my hip and pelvis. I began to experience anxiety and depression. In all my days of serving the Lord and living life to the fullest, now I had to learn how to receive and rely on hundreds of others to care for my broken body and devastated heart. But God had new plans to bring me back to him in daily quiet times and through the kindness of friends and strangers. God brought my heart back to him as I cried through reading the book of Psalms and doing my best to encourage others in the rehab hospital with me.
Why did I allow myself to be so dangerously tired on May 31, 2017? I am not completely sure of this answer but the month of May was painful as I endured the loss of my 93 year old Aunt Helen as she had a stroke and died a few days later. My heart grieved the loss of this aunt and the influence she had on my entire life. Then the sudden loss of a beautiful friend who went home to the Lord crushed my spirit again. I was feeling pain and exhaustion and did not realize the toll this was taking on my heart and soul. My body was fatigued, and I was not resting properly during a more than active Spring 2017. 
As of May 31 this year, I have learned how to exercise with perseverance as I continue to go to the medical wellness facility three days a week (115 visits and counting). I have chosen to care for my body with a determination unlike any time in my life so one day I will be able to enjoy biking, hiking, and hopefully, snow skiing. I have also chosen to care for my soul in ways that I have never done before. I have read and reread Sacred Rhythms and am applying these spiritual disciplines in my daily life. I have attempted and failed in the past to do this, but God has given me another opportunity to grow closer to him. My one year anniversary of being renewed, refreshed and encouraged to move at a slower pace has allowed me to begin healing from the inside out. My prayer for the remainder of my life is to seek his face and pray without ceasing before choosing to move forward in any and all activities. 
My family has been a tremendous blessing, and hundreds of friends continue to encourage and be cheerleaders for a full recovery. Your kind words to our family have made all the difference in my healing, and we are thankful for every visit, phone call, email, card, meal, and hug given. We have felt the body of Christ surround us with love and compassion. We love each one of you deeply!


What Is Gratitude?

On May 31, my life changed forever . . . in an instant. Driving to New Orleans to prepare three couples for marriage, I dozed for a moment and an angel of the Lord woke me to see the back of an 18-wheeler within inches of my car. I pulled the steering wheel to the right and prayed instantly, “Dear God, please help me,” and he immediately did. God spared my life and I would begin to receive his gracious blessings.
I crashed into the right side of the truck, peeling the left side of my car, while breaking several bones in my shoulder, hip, pelvis and knee. Within minutes after the car came to rest in the grass on the side of the interstate, a Good Samaritan pulled me gently from the wrecked vehicle and an ambulance took me to a hospital in Baton Rouge.
For the next 20 weeks, my family was reminded of the goodness of gratitude. We have been prayed for by thousands of people, many of whom we have never met. My recovery has been because of the prayers of the saints from all over the world. We have recognized that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives. The Good Samaritan, people who stopped to help move my body from the wrecked vehicle, doctors, nurses, radiologists, numerous physical and occupational therapists, hundreds of friends who stopped by the hospital, a band of brothers who stayed with me for forty nights in the hospital (you know who you are), and hundreds of meals, cards and texts kept us from sinking into despair. We are deeply thankful for the acts of love given to our family.
Our family sees this time as an emotional relationship strengthening opportunity because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. Many of our family and friends came to assist Phyllis immediately after the accident. This emotional support was key to our stability and welfare during the trauma of the first few hours.
As the outpouring of love and gifts overwhelmed us, I wondered why we received such an outpouring. I read his word often and realized the Lord’s people are generous and keep giving because of their deep abiding relationship with Jesus. One of our closest friends whispered to me, “Everyone loves your family and wants to support you in this difficult moment.”
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season, may we practice being gracious to our friends and especially our families. Gratitude brings us happiness, reduces anxiety and depression, and is good for our bodies. Grateful people sleep better and if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep. Gratitude strengthens relationships and I believe it promotes forgiveness. The past five months have taught me so much about being gracious and thankful for every person in my life. 
My favorite Scripture is Ephesians 3: 20: “Now to him who is able do abundantly more than we can ever begin to ask or imagine through the power at work in us.” God has worked through so many. My family is thankful for the awe-inspiring gratitude received in the past few months.

To Be A Buchanan Encourager

Being an encourager at Buchanan Elementary School has been such a blessing to me. This program seemed to answer the yearning from my heart to go outside of my comfort zone and utilize my spiritual gift of compassion to draw others closer to Christ. Over the course of the past year and a half, the relationships I have with the two ladies I encourage at Buchanan have drawn me closer to Christ. God is so faithful! He never ceases to take care of us, especially when we are earnestly trying to meet the needs of others. 1 Peter 3: 8 calls us to action, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”  
This First Presbyterian Church program is an outlet to truly connect with someone you would most likely never meet. I am calling on all members of our church who are gifted with compassion for others to consider adding adopting a teacher to pray for and support monthly. These teachers truly want to connect with a loving, praying friend. They accept us with smiling faces and open arms. If God is pulling at your heart, take this step and emotionally support a teacher at Buchanan Elementary. YOU will be blessed!
Posted in: Missions

We Caught the Vision

Folks caught the vision at the 2017 Global Missions Conference! After hearing from two phenomenal speakers, over forty people expressed interest in one of three mission opportunities —the Perspectives Course, hosting internationals through International Friendship Partners or joining a short-term mission trip to Romania with Smiles Foundation. 
Dr. Greg Livingstone kicked off the weekend with over 200 people in attendance on Saturday morning. For over 50 years, Greg has been a pioneer in missions to the unreached people of the Middle East with Operation Mobilization, Frontiers and now with the EPC’s World Outreach. Your Presbytery (EPC Gulf South) is focusing on Syria with Nour and Rebecca (Lunceford) Botros and their team ready to mobilize to that country once the war ends! 
Unreached people groups, of which there are 350 in the US alone, was the focus of the video Greg shared called, “What Is a UPG?” (Watch it on Understanding the meaning behind statistics which help missionaries gauge their effectiveness was a perfect tie-in to one of our global missions opportunities: International Friendship Partners. IFP currently has 14 international LSU students looking for friendship partners.  
International friends from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya, Egypt, Taiwan, Japan and Ghana joined First Presbyterian members by sharing their cuisine at Saturday’s International Friendship & Food Festival. Americans and internationals shared tables giving everyone an opportunity to engage with someone from another country. Mac Magruder graciously introduced our guests. It was a joy to see the pride in the faces of our international friends as they gave their names, told where they were from and thanked us for hosting them. 
Steve Douglass, President of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), was Sunday morning’s guest preacher. Darin Travis had the honor of introducing his former boss and welcoming him to the pulpit. In Steve’s 50 years with Cru he has never seen God more at work increasing prayer movements across the globe, reaching “unengaged, unreached people groups” where there is no church and no one is trying to bring the gospel, improving Bible translation, making The Jesus Film available online in 1,561 languages and church planting. The big takeaway is that the task of the Great Commission can be finished in our lifetime! As in the story of the woman at the well, our challenge is to “lift up our eyes” (John 4: 35) and get involved in the harvest. It is now.
Greg Livingstone and Gerrit Dawson wrapped up the conference Sunday evening with a time of prayer for global missions reminding us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 9: 35-38. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Do you want to catch the vision? Do you want to find your place in the story? Find out more about participating in a global missions opportunity by visiting You may also text missions to 38470 and see what happens! 
Cody Watson, a mission mobilizer with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, has been supported by First Presbyterian for many years. Cody attended our missions conference, and shared his thoughts and impressions.
Posted in: Missions

International Friendship Partners

The Lord is sending the world to the church and the church to the world. During the last year we had visitors attend worship services with us from Nepal, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Egypt and Iran. It was the first time for each of them to visit a Christian church service. How amazing is that?!
What a privilege God is giving us to welcome and be conduits of his love to the nations here in Baton Rouge. As LeeAnn Kozan shared, “It is exciting to see the heartfelt joy on the faces of our international friends as they interact with the love of Jesus.”  
Fifty to sixty internationals, and sometimes more, are attending our monthly gatherings which serve as a bridge for our people to meet, interact and befriend internationals in our homes. We cherish these opportunities to show genuine hospitality and love. After a recent gathering, Mitzi Barber asked, “Are they always so thankful and tell you thank you over and over again?” Yes! Some words used to describe our gatherings are warm, peaceful, family, happy, relaxing, love, beautiful, inviting, fun, joyful. They love and appreciate coming to our homes and being included in regular family activities. 
Our constant prayer is that God will bring those to us who are spiritually hungry and us to them. God is answering our prayers. We have 30 internationals registered for a Friendship Partner or Family and 12 currently waiting to be matched with an American Friendship Partner. Consider becoming a friendship partner, friendship family, host or prayer partner and register on our church website. 
LSU will be home to close to 2,000 international students this 2017/2018 school year. Three quarters of them are graduate level students; the brightest and best from their countries. Many are visiting scholars. Will you help us welcome them? Our next gathering is during the mission conference Saturday, August 19 for the International Friendship and Food Festival in the gym. Plan on staying from 12-2 pm for a taste of international food and friendship.
Posted in: Missions

Right at Your Door: the Whole World!

This month, our focus will be on global missions. In worship and Sunday school classes for all ages, we want to find our place in the story the Triune God is telling in the world. And we want to consider what place we have in telling that story. Our God is on a massive redemption project. He intends to take the news of his atoning victory to the ends of the earth. And he purposed to make that Gospel known person to person to person. Through us.
We only know Jesus because someone told us about him. There’s no other way.  But God did not have us told in order for us to keep our mouths shut. The news of his all-redeeming love cannot stop with us. He sends it on. Through his church.
From the beginning the Gospel has been about reaching the world. “You shall be my witnesses,” Jesus told his disciples. “Here in Jerusalem. Then throughout Judea. Then even up among the Samaritans. And then to the end of the earth.” The gospel has always been about the world. Every human being is in the sphere of the church’s concern and mission.  
As Presbyterians, we know that salvation is a gift. We know that faith is a gift. We only know Jesus because God chose to make him known to us when he did. We understand we have been called to Christ by God himself. But such election is not unto privilege. Such election is unto service. Anytime in Scripture God called someone, he also sent that person to others. If we know Jesus, we have been sent. That’s a Biblical fact!
With a global perspective, the task can seem daunting. But God has given us a special place in Baton Rouge. The world comes to us! Thousands of graduate students from around the world attend LSU. Leaders who will return to their countries. What if they met Christians who loved them? What if they encountered Christ’s people who welcomed them into their homes? What if they found out we would be friends with them? Most international students are never (never!) invited into an American home. What if Christ’s people changed all that? 
This month, we are considering the Big Story of God’s world redeeming love, and our place in it. We will also be discovering how we can participate without ever leaving our city. Check out all the details in this issue.
I love to be on the journey with you!

The Bench Warmer

In 1994, Henry Blackaby & Claude King authored the book titled “Experiencing God.” I’m sure many of you have either read the book or devoted hours to the workbook. The book asked you to take a look at yourself and your relationship with God. It goes on by walking you through seven realities, the third reality being “God invites you to become involved with him in his work. And we are to join him."

When I received the phone call to join the group traveling to Beirut, Lebanon, for a medical mission trip, I knew in my heart exactly how I was supposed to respond. Go. I did question my own worth and value to the team, until I was reminded from God’s Word that he has been preparing me for this. I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a part of it. I knew that God wanted to do something special in my life and he did.

Having attended church most of my life, I’ve watched and listened to many videos from my pew in church (bench). I’d think, that was nice, but they probably have a lot more time for that or I’d convince myself that they are a lot more “churchy” than I am. Or I may have even thought that someday when I have more “resources”, just maybe I will do something like that. The problem with the above thoughts is the “I.”

I knew that God’s work, this mission, was going to happen with or without me. It was merely a question of responding to a call to get off “the bench” in which I have been keeping warm for years. Even when I began to pray about going, as the pastor suggested, I felt ridiculous, because I already knew in my heart how God wanted me to respond.

After arriving late at night in Beirut, I met Rebecca and Nour (last name omitted), and their lovely daughter. What a blessing they are to the refugees and all the people God sends their way in Beirut. They walk with our Lord, led and strengthened by the Holy Spirit in such harsh conditions, both spiritual and environmental. There are not enough words, particularly in my vocabulary, to explain how my heart goes out to them. By the end of the week, I also learned that the teams could not have been successful without the effort, work and preparation made by this couple. Plenty more could be said about how God is using Nour and Rebecca in Lebanon.

At each makeshift health clinic we set up at an inner city church or school, I was able to witness for myself a team of doctors, nurses and laymen, led and strengthened by God’s love for those around them, caring for His children of all ages who had been exiled from their homeland. Smiles were everywhere and on almost every face. And of course tears as it was a matter of the heart.

We won’t know the physical or spiritual impact, that one week made toward supporting Rebecca and Nour. I do know over 820 refugees received health care that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. Maybe a few just in the nick of time. I do know I saw a beautiful group of people both young and old who said Yes God, send me. I do know that I was blessed and God used this trip to Beirut, Lebanon to open my eyes, soften my heart and witness once again His greatness and His sovereignty in a lost world. 

Posted in: Missions

Detained In Russia

In September, Whitney Alexander, my daughter Katherine, and I traveled to Kaluga, Russia to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Word of Life Church. For over a dozen years, First Presbyterian has had a relationship with Word of Life church. We’ve shared fellowship, sent groups to visit the Kaluga church, and had their senior pastor, Albert Ratkin, speak at First Presbyterian conferences. So it was fitting that they would invite a group from First Presbyterian to celebrate with them.
In the last two and a half decades, the church has faced low-level harassment and legal assaults on their property rights, just because they are openly Protestant Christians. In the last year, however, changes at the national level have made their situation, and the situation of Protestant Christians throughout Russia, more tenuous.
On July 11 this year, while the team was working on visas, Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill prohibiting any evangelism except in a church building—be it online, at home or on the street. This was a dramatic roll-back of religious freedom in Russia. Many Russian Christians were concerned. Arch-bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Russian Evangelical Union, (of which the Kalgua church is a part) wrote in an open letter to Putin that the law “creates the basis for mass persecution of believers.”
We went ahead with our plans, and on arriving in Russia for the celebration found the 300-member Kaluga church full of joy and surrounded by well-wishers from other nearby churches. I was struck by how much love the other churches poured out on the Kaluga church: one church sent people to help serve tea at breaks, another sent a team to cook for the whole Kaluga congregation on Sunday, a number sent members bearing gifts, and several sent leaders to bring greetings.
The new laws didn’t dampen the joy of the event. Part of the celebration was a commemoration of the life and martyrdom by Stalin of the founder of Russian Protestantism in Kaluga. Even this potentially somber story filled the church with a spirit of courage.
On Friday night Whitney spoke, bringing greetings and encouraging the church. Saturday night he spoke again along with arch-bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky who came from Moscow for the event. After dinner at the church the arch-bishop left for Moscow and a few minutes later we, along with Pastor Ratkin and his family, walked out of the gates of the church-yard headed for the pastor’s van. 
Suddenly a uniformed police officer and five plain clothes officers (who turned out to be FSB, the current day equivalent of the KGB) approached us. “Let me see your documents,” said the uniformed officer to me and Whitney. (Thankfully, the pastor’s wife Elena put her arm around my daughter Katherine, spoke to her in Russian, and guided her to the van and out of the situation).
We were told we had to go to the police station. Albert, his wife and a number of church members (and visiting pastors) accompanied us and waited all night. At the police station, Whitney and I were separated and questioned for hours with no opportunity to have a lawyer. Finally, at 2.30 in the morning, a police colonel brought us together and pronounced us guilty of “religious connections” and fined us 3,000 rubles each.
During the Sunday service the next day Albert explained to the church what had happened: how a police informant had secretly (and illegally) video taped Whitney speaking to the church; we had been questioned without a lawyer until late at night and found guilty on the spot. Albert pointed out how appropriate it was that they had just learned how the Russian Protestant tradition in Kaluga was started in persecution and to take heart, because God is in charge. 
After that serious note the service turned joyful, with greetings and gifts from other churches then baptisms, and then cake, tea and food and more food and wonderful fellowship between the members of the Kaluga church and other churches who had come to share their joy.
The next day, as Albert drove us to Moscow to leave Russia, I told him I was concerned that the our case might cause problems. “This is bigger than you or me,” was his wise reply.
And he was right. The US embassy in Moscow has become involved, Russian media has picked up the story (both for and against), and a local television station has made it part of a documentary lambasting Protestant Christianity. And still it is bigger than all that. It’s part of the unfolding of the gospel story.
The Word promises: “Indeed, all who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We don’t think about it much in the US, but I for one, have decided maybe I should.
Posted in: Missions