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Casino workers fellowship grows at Gulf Coast gambling mecca

GULFPORT, Miss. (BP)–Gathered in an office building in downtown Gulfport, Miss., they look like any other group of Christians about to embark on Bible study, but there is something uniquely different about this group.
Each participant works at a casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
They are part of the Fellowship of Christian Casino Workers (FCCW), an organization started in November 1997 under the guidance of John Landrum, a former Baptist pastor now serving as chaplain to the Mississippi beach.
While there is something paradoxical about the name of this organization, the fact is there are thousands of Christians working in the casino industry, according to Landrum.
“Many of them love the Lord and want to fellowship with other Christians. Most casino workers, if active in a church, tend to pull back from church involvement because of the hours they work,” Landrum said. When weekends and all holidays are major work times in casinos, church involvement becomes problematic.
Landrum is aware that the ministry is controversial. To his critics he says, remember that Jesus always started with a person where that person was, not where Jesus wanted them to be.
The spiritual philosophy for the ministry, he said, is found in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.'”
“Some Christian workers find they must find something else to do. They cannot stay in the casino environment,” Landrum said.
“However, many Christian workers feel called to stay where they are and be a missionary. Some in FCCW have said to me they would really like to get out, but they feel that God has them there for a reason,” he explained.
“Many Christian casino workers are not missionaries,” he continued. “They have opportunities to witness, but it is just not a priority in their lives ­- just like many of our church members.”
Landrum noted, “We are experiencing revival at two of the casinos.
“We are told of employees coming to FCCW members and asking about the Lord.” One assistant manager said people used to come to him for help with personal problems, but he didn’t know how to help them.
“Since learning from ‘Experiencing God,’ now he knows how to offer help,” Landrum said.
“At FCCW, we try to offer opportunities for Christian casino employees to fellowship [and have] opportunities for spiritual growth.
“We have two ‘Experiencing God’ groups. Two days a month Christians from casino row in Biloxi meet at St. Marks Catholic Church parish house -­ a meeting started by a Catholic casino worker.
“We held an Easter rally [for casino workers] in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church, Gulfport,” Landrum said, recounting it was so well attended they decided to hold future FCCW rallies during the week before most major holidays.
“There are Catholics, Baptists, Assembles of God … we’ve had some that I didn’t even know what their denominational affiliation was,” Landrum said. “One ‘Experiencing God’ group includes everything from a beverage server to an assistant manager of a casino.
“One casino has invited us to have a booth at their annual employee’s health fair. “We give away Bibles [at the fairs]. We gave away 50 Bibles last year,” he said. A personnel manager in one casino asked Landrum for extra Bibles.
“She said she could not offer them to employees, but she could put them on her shelf and if employees see them and ask about them, she can give them away,” Landrum said.
“One manager came to me and asked, ‘How do you know when God is speaking to you?’ He had been led to the Lord by a Baptist pastor in the area but didn’t have an opportunity to grow in Christ.
“I invited him to one of our ‘Experiencing God’ studies. He came and brought his wife, who is a pit boss. She in turn brought her mother!” Landrum said.
“An employee from one casino attends the Bible study of another [casino’s employee group]. That employee goes to management and asks that a Bible study group be allowed there. This is how it has grown,” he said.
Landrum’s ministry is supported by individual donations. While it is a completely autonomous organization, Landrum is very much Southern Baptist.
“We got into this ministry because God said, ‘Do it.’ This is a ‘where the rubber meets the road’ kind of ministry,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Carl M. White