News Articles

Jena embraces ‘whatever God wants’

JENA, La. (BP)–Jena’s revival continues, now in its fifth week.

It’s meeting at Temple Baptist Church, where Jimmy Keene is pastor. Keene was on vacation in California for the first two weeks of the revival in the small Louisiana town when services were taking place at Midway Baptist Church. One of the first stories people bring up about the revival -– it was repeated during the March 19 service — is the apology Keene gave from his church to East Jena Baptist for a church split 70 years ago. No one seems to recall what that split was about.

The vacation allowed his mind to clear from the busyness of being a pastor, Keene said after Sunday morning worship March 16. He realized that the “job” of being a pastor could be tackled without God -– meeting physical needs, listening with a kind heart, even expounding on God’s Word. However, he rejected being simply a religious professional.

“I was tired of playing the game,” Keene said. “Being here 12 years … the church has been going good, finances are up, people are being saved. But if God’s not the center, there’s no joy in it.”

He was refilled with joy his first night back in Jena, when he attended the revival and God spoke to him about his need to make things right.

“That’s when I apologized from our church to East Jena,” Keene said.

It is this type of personal interaction with God that is fueling revival fires, said Bill Robertson, interim pastor at Midway and director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s pastoral leadership team. Robertson, at the request of the church, was the “guest speaker” for what was expected to be a four-day revival starting Feb. 17.

Now he said God has given him a vision for extending the revival throughout LaSalle Parish.

There has long been a rivalry between the south and north parts of the parish. Johnnie Phillips, pastor of First Baptist in Olla, has asked that the revival services move from southern Jena to northern Olla during the week after Easter.

“I think we all need revival,” Phillips said. “I think this is turning into a parish-wide revival. I’ve been a part of it in Jena and want to bring it up here.”

But it may spread wider than that.

Mark Lanier, fill-in music evangelist the first night the revival was at the Jena High School gym -– after moving first from Midway to East Jena Baptist -– was leading the Sunday morning service at Central Baptist in Buna, Texas, on March 16.

“I started at 10:30 with what I thought would be a typical service,” Lanier said. “About 30 minutes into it I begin to share about the revival in Jena, and told them, whatever you do, don’t give up on the possibility of revival. If God can move in Jena, he can move in Buna.”

Lanier felt led to move from those words into a time of invitation, and nine people made professions of faith, including five adults.

“So God used the revival in Jena to give hope to this church,” Lanier said.

“This thing is bigger than what you see here,” said Midway deacon Andy Gresham at the Wednesday, March 19, revival service at Temple Baptist. “People are witnessing to people who are getting saved, who are witnessing to others, who are getting saved.”

Craig Franklin, main music evangelist for the revival and assistant editor for The Jena Times weekly newspaper, concurred.

“I’m getting phone calls all day long; so is Bill [Robertson],” Franklin said. “What we’re seeing is a movement of God transcending just a worship service, which gives credibility to the fact that this is not just some emotional response that is worked up in a service. I think the test for a true work of God is, Does it go beyond that worship service? … There have been many people saved at work in the last five weeks.”

For the first time, the revival service Wednesday included a time of anointing peoples’ heads with oil, laying on of hands and prayer for individuals’ needs.

“Right before the service, the pastor of Temple came to me and said his daughter was having surgery tomorrow and he’d really like during the service to anoint her with oil and pray for her,” Franklin said. “I suggested we open it to anyone who wanted prayer for healing.”

One by one, people moved to the front row. Chairs were added all the way to the altar steps, and some more sat on the steps. A group of ordained pastors and deacons laid hands one by one on each person and prayer; during that extended time, the congregation sat in hushed respect -– many of them also with heads bowed in prayer.

“I had an order of service and we didn’t do anything past the opening song,” Franklin said. “Whenever God moves, you have to do what He wants to do.”

Some people came for spiritual healing as much as physical healing, the music evangelist said.

“I think that’s why God is moving in Jena,” Franklin said. “We have a situation with a lot of pastors and leaders who say, ‘I don’t have to be in the limelight; I don’t have to be recognized.’ That’s the attitude. They’ve elected to put aside any personal acknowledgement or personal lifting up and say, ‘OK –- whatever God wants to do.'”

Jimmy Ray Young, pastor of L&A Baptist Church in Jena, brought Wednesday’s revival message.

“When you’re spiritually dead you’re separated from God for all eternity,” he preached. “Keep on sinning; there’s a payday coming…. Men are so concerned about what they have than what’s having them.”

The black pastor’s best line, however, resulted in a standing ovation:

“This revival is not for the white folk,” Young preached to a largely white audience. “This revival is for Jena!”

Before the Wednesday service, 105 people had made professions of faith, about 80 percent adults, Robertson said. Perhaps 200 more made other decisions, mostly recommitments to follow Jesus, though three people responded to a call to the pastorate and one to ministry.

“Probably most [of the adults who made professions of faith] had joined the church at an early age,” Robertson said. “Here they are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and they haven’t been in church for years, but now they’re getting revived.

“I’ve preached revivals since I was 18-19 years old, and only one time have I seen anything resemble this,” Robertson said. “The pastor later said he’d stopped [the services] too soon. I wish he could have lived to have seen this. [Evangelist] Manley Beasley used to say a great revival is like a forest fire. You may trace its early course, following the first lines of flame, but soon its progress is so swift and widely diffused that the eye can no longer keep pace with it, and that’s what we’re praying God will do in Jena.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.