By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
[img_assist|nid=8100|title=The Northerns|desc=The Northern family – Jerry, Charlie, Dee, Shala and baby Shannon – stand with Pastor Kevin Billiot (in glasses) in the baptistry at Northside Baptist Church in Montgomery.|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=373]MONTGOMERY – One of the many stories emerging from the Awaken movement is of two families baptized at Northside Baptist Church.
[img_assist|nid=8101|title=The Pools|desc=The Pool family – Jillian, Cyndi and Bill – stand with Pastor Kevin Billiot (in glasses) in the baptistry at Northside Baptist Church in Montgomery.|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=373]Kevin Billiot brought with him into this, his first pastorate, a commitment to fasting and praying, and to being an active partner in the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which includes about a half-million people in about 1,600 congregations strewn across the state.
“I was thrilled when the LBC started this 21 days of prayer and fasting,” said Billiot, who was called as pastor in November 2010 from the laity at First Baptist Church of Ponchatoula. “Prayer and fasting is, well, the fasting half of it is almost a forgotten discipline – but it seems to be experiencing a resurgence.
“I led my church last year during Lent with 40 days of praying and fasting, which culminated with a ‘Solemn Assembly’ on Palm Sunday.” the pastor continued. “It was a wonderful time for our church, but we didn’t coordinate with other churches. To do 21 days this January, with churches all across Louisiana, that was a privilege for us. God has really blessed us.”
God’s movement at Northside Montgomery starts with the church last summer seeing a need in the community and meeting it.
Montgomery is a town of about 750 people in northwest Grant Parish that’s at least 40 minutes from Pineville to the south and Natchitoches to the north. In other words, there’s not a lot for teens to do, once they get done checking out the Montgomery Carwash.
Northside Montgomery’s property on Highway 71 abuts that of Montgomery High School. Some members last summer came up with a plan to use the church as an after-school center for teens. A pool table, ping pong table and several games were purchased; couches and other casual furniture moved in; teens were invited to the church Wednesdays after school to “hang out.” The youth are invited to stay for supper at 5:30 p.m., part of the church’s regular mid-week ministry before evening Bible study, prayer and small groups.
Jillian Pool started attending the after-school program, and from that was encouraged to participate in the Youth Evangelism Conference, an annual LBC event for teens that takes place in late November.
Pool made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ during YEC; so did two of her friends. At Pool’s urging, her mom began attending Northside Montgomery, and both of them participated in the Awaken 21 Days of Prayer and fasting, which the church hosted this January.
“When the girl’s father got home – he works away – he started coming; that led to their baptism as a family,” Billiot said. Among this year’s baptisms at Northside, the Pool family – Billly, Cyndi and Jillian – was one of two entire families to be baptized together.
As part of the Awaken 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting January 2-22, Northside Montgomery opened the doors of the church at 6:30 p.m. each evening to anyone in the community who would like to pray. A notice to that effect went on the church’s sign.
“The father of the Northern family saw our sign,” Billiot said. “He came, and was led to the Lord. That was Wednesday. I visited him on Saturday, and his wife and two grown children also made a profession of faith.”
That was the second family to be baptized: Jerry, Charlie, Dee and Shala Northern.
“We’re still seeing ramifications of this” Awaken 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting emphasis, the pastor said. “It was an amazing time for our church and church families. By the end of March we had more than doubled all the baptisms of last year. Some youth got saved and baptized, some adults, and all ages in-between.”
The group praying each of the 21 nights in January was relatively small, the pastor said.
“It was informal, but powerful,” Billiot continued. “There were people we prayed for, during those 21 days, who got saved. There were others who had rejected the gospel before; the Lord opened the doors and people were able to share the gospel with them again. … There were some who shared the gospel for the first time in their lives.”
A baby dedication took place along with the baptism of the Northern Family.
“We practice what we call believer’s baptism,” Billiot said. “Since the baby is too young to make that decision, the church as a body of believers dedicated themselves to do all in their power to raise this child up in the ways of the Lord. … It’s the parents promising to do all in their power to train up Shannon in the way of the Lord, and the church membership doing all it can to help facilitate that. The hope is when Baby Shannon is old enough to understand, she will undergo her own believer’s baptism.”
Billiot began developing the discipline of prayer and fasting about five years ago, he said.
“The Lord led me on a 40-day fast and has done so every year since then,” the pastor said. “I had tried short-term fasts … and what I discovered was that all I could focus on was what my next meal would be. With a 40-day fast, food would not be a distraction so I could focus on rehabilitating my spiritual life.
“In the Bible, the number 40 appears many times,” Billiot continued. “It’s a number that seems to represent testing or trial. … Fasting is scriptural and is definitely applicable to the New Testament church. I think we miss out on many spiritual blessings because so many in the church do not practice the discipline of fasting.”
Even people with dietary or health restrictions are able to enjoy the blessings of fasting, the pastor said.
“Isaiah Chapter 58, for example, gives a clear indication that, in God’s eyes, a food fast is not always His prescription,” Billiot said. “In other words, He would prefer that we first obey –particularly in the area of evangelism and witnessing – than depriving ourselves of food for a season.”
In Isaiah 58, the fasting He calls them to is not abstaining from food, but to “break the chains of wickedness” by sharing the gospel, the pastor explained.
“God wants our willful obedience before He wants our offerings,” Billiot said, referring to 1 Samuel 15:22 – to obey is better than sacrifice.
Northside Montgomery plans to have an annual time of 40 days of prayer and fasting as long as God leads them in that direction, the pastor said. The pre-Easter season of Lent seems to be a good time, he added.