BAY ST LOUIS, Miss. (BP)–When Johnny Rayford received the e-mail to Mississippi pastors requesting volunteers across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he decided he had to respond.
Rayford immediately gathered all the equipment he would need and headed south. But his truck wasn’t loaded with chain saws, cleaning supplies or water.
Rayford, pastor of Crestwood New Life Church in Jackson, Miss., brought cooking pots, four portable gas burners, propane tanks, a pile of spices and boxes of food and ended up at First Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis, Miss., doing one of the things he does best.
Rayford admitted he’s not good with a chain saw, “but I can do some cooking.” It was less than an hour before he made good on that statement.
At one time Rayford owned a Jackson restaurant, “A Little Taste of New Orleans,” and was pastor of a small church. But a fire that destroyed his restaurant sent him in a new direction. He decided to be a fulltime pastor.
“My restaurant was my passion,” he recounted. “And when it becomes your passion it consumes you. When the restaurant burned down I lost it all.
“So I gave myself to God. Now He gets everything. He’s my passion.”
Two years ago he began a church with five people. Today the church has 125 people worshiping on Sundays and almost as many involved in daily ministries, including food, clothing and after-school programs.
But Rayford hasn’t lost his love of cooking. He cooks every third Sunday for all New Life church members. And, in Bay St. Louis, he cooked for all the volunteers and First Baptist members cleaning up the flooded and damaged church.
“Your taste buds will be dancing,” Rayford promised the workers who walked through the church’s newly cleaned and sterilized kitchen.
Rayford came from a cooking kind of family. “My mom, my sister, my father, all of ’em are good cooks. They get in the kitchen and make magic.”
Magic indeed. The first afternoon Rayford whipped up clam chowder, red beans and rice and fried chicken. The next day it was smothered pork chops and fried catfish. When volunteers and church members asked for recipes -– and many of them did -– Rayford politely refused.
“I share the Gospel. I share the Good News. But I don’t share my cooking secrets,” he said.
Elaine Jollay, a disaster relief volunteer from Columbus, Ga., was disappointed she wouldn’t be taking Rayford’s secrets home with her. But as she ate her fourth piece of fried chicken, she said, “I love those disaster relief volunteers who cook for us. But as long as Johnny’s here, I’ll be eating with him.”