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Post-flood ministry yields church’s wave of baptisms

WELSH, La. (BP) — The waters may have receded several months ago but the excitement at First Baptist Church hasn’t subsided.

First came the rain to Welsh, La. — nearly 24 inches in a 24-hour period during widespread flooding in the southern part of the state.

Soon after, the congregation began ministering to those hurting in its own area, paving the way for a spiritual harvest. Not only have they seen 13 baptisms since the flood of August 2016 but attendance has not waned, reaching 100 on an average Sunday morning for worship.

First Baptist member Tommy Chaisson was among those who received help after his property was damaged in the flooding. Chaisson, who was baptized in 2016, said that Christ-like attitude is what made him first want to attend First Baptist in 2015.

“[I]t’s heartwarming to know people like my church care enough to go out of their way for you,” Chaisson said. “They don’t just answer the phone when you call and say they want to help, but they genuinely want to be there for you.

“I still don’t understand a lot of things but I’m growing in my relationship with Christ, thanks to them. Being a part of this church is hard to describe in words.”

Pastor Pat Deshotel said First Baptist has been intent on ministering to a community in desperate need of the love and hope found in Christ.

The church “has been willing to step outside the doors and assist anyone in our community, and even as far away as Lake Charles. They have been willing not to just talk about their faith but actually live it.”

In the four weeks following the flooding, First Baptist became a safe haven for those affected in the town of 3,200.

Members cooked for nearly 70 disaster relief volunteers for 15 consecutive days, helped teams mud-out — clean out — flooded homes and distributed donated supplies and money to needy individuals. Deshotel estimates between 35 and 40 First Baptist members were helping with the effort in some manner.

When teams wrapped up their relief efforts, they had worked on 52 homes and ministered to hundreds of people.

The effort rallied a spirit of true community in Welsh, Deshotel said. Everyone, regardless of religion or race, came together and ministered to one another.

When the disaster struck, people no longer were asking about one another’s religious preference but instead were asking about the need, the pastor said. The church has started new ministries in recent months, including collecting clothes for needy individuals and a class for new Christians.

“We are working together so closely now,” Deshotel said. “The flood left a lot of destruction behind but also opened our eyes to the needs of one another. Sometimes you become callous in your everyday world. But a disaster comes and breaks down that callousness.”

Even before the baptism of 13 people, the fields were being sown by First Baptist for the harvest. Around 100 children have attended the church’s Vacation Bible School in each of the past four years. During the most recent VBS, nine children made a profession of faith. All of the children were awaiting baptism when the floods hit, with others close to a decision.

Once the congregation began ministering to the community after the flood, even more people made a decision to follow Christ. But following through with believer’s baptism is not the end of their spiritual journey at First Baptist.

Church leaders make intentional efforts for discipleship of every new Christian. Recently, those baptized participated in a class on Sunday mornings based on the book “What Every Christian Ought to Know.”

“It’s very safe to say when a person walks the Christian walk by himself or herself is when Satan hits people the hardest,” Deshotel said. “You can’t just go off and be a Christian by yourself.

“[The apostle] Paul talks about giving Christians the milk of the Word and bringing them along to give them meat,” the pastor continued. “And we are doing that. We feel like this will lead and show them this is what Christians should do — about the Bible, witnessing, eternal life. You educate them and that’s where the work begins.”

Margie Benoit, VBS director at First Baptist, said seeing children making a decision and following through with believer’s baptism makes the hard work worth it.

“It’s such a rewarding thing to see these young minds absorbing what God’s Word has for them and see them realize they haven’t yet invited Jesus in their heart,” she said. “It’s just a marvelous opportunity, especially after all we went through after last August.

“To be able to work hand in hand with disaster relief was an amazing experience…,” Benoit said. “Just being able to work and help people out in times of need has its own great rewards. God’s not done with us yet. He shows us different opportunities each day and we just have to be open to His leading.”