By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS – Atheist Dezmond Boudreaux made it clear to Refuge Church Pastor Justin Haynes he wanted nothing to do with Christianity when the two met in January.
Bitter from past church experiences as a child, Boudreaux eventually became an atheist as a young adult and helped start a Marxist group in New Orleans he hoped would help silence Christianity.
However, Christian love displayed by Haynes and other members of the church caused a change of heart in Boudreaux, who on April 1 became the first new convert of Refuge Church.
Surrounded by Haynes and about 15 others inside the New Orleans Healing Center auditorium April 8, Boudreaux plunged beneath the baptistery waters to publicly display his newfound faith.
“The group I was with hated churches and Christianity,” Boudreaux said. “Once I got into it, I realized there was no peace in what I was pursuing. That’s when I met Justin and found Christ.
“The whole time I was searching for peace and truth, but could never find it,” he said. “Whenever I found Christ, that’s when I truly found what I was looking for.”
The baptism was affirmation for Haynes that his congregation’s labor was not in vain.
“It was awesome because we had shared the Gospel with so many people and he was the first one to accept,” Haynes said. “To have him come to Christ and be very sincere about it was a very encouraging thing. It was a person who was dead and came to life.”
After graduating from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015, Haynes felt led to plant a church in the city. Haynes began Refuge Church in the heavily post-Christian, artsy and eclectic Bywater-Marigny community of New Orleans.
The first two-and-a-half years were difficult and discouraging at times for Haynes and his members.
Despite sharing the Gospel with more than 400 people in coffee shops, in neighborhoods and at events, this congregation that averages 20-25 for its Sunday morning worship service saw no converts to Christianity.
“There’s not any low hanging fruit we found, so we usually have to get engaged and ask for a follow-up conversation to get to know the people,” Haynes said. “It’s hard ground, as all of New Orleans is for sure. There is opposition to the church and the Gospel. But we have started to see people who are now interested.”
Haynes credits his family and core team at Refuge Church for their dedication despite the obstacles they have faced.
“I have a fantastic family who has adopted that ‘never say die’ kind of attitude no matter the situation,” he said. “Our core group is dedicated, devoted and sold out to where God has called them. There are a lot of days where you think it would be easier to go somewhere else and try this, but when you have people behind you and walking with you, you find it encouraging to keep going.”
Haynes said a breakthrough came when he was diagnosed with cancer in January 2017.
Support and prayers were felt from all over the country. Through his brief battle with the disease, others in the community noticed the faith Haynes displayed and began to ask questions about how Christianity helped him persevere.
“That opened many doors to share the Gospel with people who wouldn’t talk to me before,” said Haynes, who was declared cancer-free in October. “Even though it was a discouraging time, it was very encouraging to know that so many people around the world were praying for us.”
Looking ahead, Haynes is excited about how God is moving at Refuge Church.
“We need prayer that God would send us laborers for our particular context,” he said. “And just continue to pray God would lead us to people of peace and He would continue to save people. We have gotten through the part where you don’t see anything of interest to a stage of where we will begin to see more fruit.”