By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
WELSH – The waters may have receded in Welsh six months ago but the excitement built since then at First Baptist Church has anything but subsided.
First came the rain – nearly 24 inches in a 24-hour period.
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 after the flood of August 2016 but attendance has not waned, reaching 100 on an average Sunday morning for worship services.
Tommy Chaisson, a member of First Baptist Welsh, was among those who received help from the congregation after his personal property was damaged from floodwaters. Chaisson, who was baptized in 2016, said that Christ-like attitude is what made him first want to attend First Welsh in 2015.
“In this world we live in that is so cruel, it’s heart-warming 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 attributes the trend to his church showing the love of Christ to a community in desperate need of the love and hope found in Jesus.
“As a pastor, I am so proud of my church,” Deshotel said. “My congregation 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 mid-August flooding that sent water surrounding homes in the southern Louisiana community, First Welsh became a safe haven for those affected.
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 of his members were helping with the effort in some manner.
Teams wrapped up their relief efforts Sept. 1, having completed work on 52 homes and ministry to hundreds of people.
He said the effort rallied a spirit of true community in Welsh. Everyone, regardless of religion or race, came together and ministered to one another.
Deshotel said when the disaster struck, people no longer were asking one another’s religious preference but instead were asking about the need. The church has started new ministries since, including collecting clothes to distribute to 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.”
FIELDS SOWN FOR SPIRITIUAL HARVEST
Even before the baptism of 13 people, the fields were being sown for the harvest.
In the past four years, around 100 children have attended the church’s Vacation Bible School each year. During the most recent VBS, nine children made a profession of faith.
All of those children were awaiting baptism when the floods hit, with even more close to a decision when the historic rainfall came.
Once the congregation began to minister to its 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 Welsh.
Church leaders make intentional efforts for discipleship of every new Christian. Recently, those baptized participate in a class on Sunday mornings based off the book “What Every Christian Ought to Know.”
“It’s very safe to say when a person walks the Christian walk by him or herself is when Satan hits people the hardest,” Deshotel said. “You can’t just say go off and be a Christian by yourself.
“Paul talks about giving Christians the milk of the Word and bringing them along to give them meat,” he 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, the director of the VBS, 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 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 and seeing some of them baptized was extra special,” she 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.”