By QUINN LAVESPERE, Message Summer Staff Writer
PORT BARRE – First Port Barre Baptist Church Pastor Benji Richard is a man who has seen both the depths of depravity and the fullness of God’s love.
Nearly eight years after being saved, Richard has realized his dream of becoming pastor in his hometown of Port Barre, leading First Port Barre to spiritual triumphs through the blessings and work of God.
“At the age of 26, God saved a rebellious and hell- bound sinner named Benji Richard,” Richard said. “The Lord answered the prayers my grandparents had been saying for me for 26 years.”
Richard began his story by recounting how he and his wife came to be saved.
“On Nov. 13, 2002, after hearing Matthew 11:28 being preached, God saved me and my wife Christy that night,” Richard said. “The preacher who was preaching had the touch of God on his life, and the Lord changed my life that night and saved my soul.
“My wife and I left that night with a new desire in our hearts, Jesus on the inside, and tears in our eyes,” Richard said. “We wanted a brand new start in life, and God gave it to us. We attended a church called Bible Baptist Church in Krotz Springs for seven years.
“On March 9, 2007, God called me to preach in a camp meeting,” Richard continued. “God had been burdening my heart for about six or seven months about preaching the Gospel, and that night, I surrendered to the call in obedience. God impressed on my heart to start a prison ministry, and we preached in prisons, parish jails, juvenile homes, and any kind of facility that we could get into in Louisiana.
“I preached in the prison ministry for 2 ½ years,” Richard said. “During that time, I was always burdened for the town of Port Barre, where I was born and raised. Even though I was attending another church, I would go down to Port Barre preaching the Gospel and leading people to Christ.
“For 7 ½ years, I would go to the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Port Barre, and I would get down on my knees and pray, ‘Lord, open the doors in this town one day for me to preach the Gospel. Lord, you know my heart and my desires, and I want to preach the Gospel to my people and my family in the place where I was born,’ Richard said.
“I met a guy in jail during my prison ministry named Mike Fitzgerald, who was a jailer and also a member of First Port Barre,” the pastor continued. “He used to hide under the stairwell and listen to me preach and sing, as well as hear my family play music. As he would escort us out, I would tell him about my burden for the town of Port Barre.
“Brother Mike told me one day that the church’s pastor had resigned and asked if I wanted to come preach that Sunday, and I said that I really wanted to,” Richard said. “On Oct. 4, 2009, I preached at First Port Barre as a visiting pastor, and I haven’t left yet. I was named interim pastor after five months here and full-time pastor after seven months.”
Richard talked about the blessings God had given First Port Barre in his nine months there.
“When I first came here, attendance was way down,” Richard said. “Now we normally run about 85-100 people on Sundays, and at one point we had as many as 125 people.
“Through repentance before God and faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ve had 24 people saved in the past nine months, including baptizing 14 on April 11, and we’re about to have another baptism,” Richard continued.
“My mother, aunt, and uncle got saved, a mother and her five children got saved, and the others were teenagers,” Richard said.
“We also had a 78-year-old woman named Leomi Fontenot who had made a profession of faith in high school, and she walked the aisle and said, ‘I’ve been lost this whole time.’ She got right with God and got saved.
“Also, when I first came here, the church was down to a couple of hundred dollars,” added Richard. “It came down to them making a choice of ‘Either we pay the Cooperative Program, or we keep the lights on.’ The Lord just started blessing the church, and we went from our tithes making $2-3,000 a month to $7-8,000. We give about 10 percent of that to the Cooperative Program, about $700 a month.
“The church has become really encouraged,” Richard said. “People who have been idle for years are now testifying, rejoicing, and singing. I’m just so glad that the Lord has brought unity where there was division, healing where there’s been hurt, financial freedom where there’s been bondage, and blessings all-around, especially for the youth group, who had nothing when I came here.”
Richard remained humble despite the blessings on his church.
“I tell people all the time that it’s not because I came here,” Richard said. “A preacher doesn’t bring revival in his briefcase. I believe God blessed us due to obedience and following His Word.
“I’m the type of fellow who believes in old-time Bible preaching and old-fashioned Gospel singing,” Richard said. “I also believe in godly sincerity, not holding back, putting your hand to the plow and not looking back, and pressing forward to the prize of higher calling that is in Christ Jesus.
“It’s always been a desire of my heart to walk in the ways of the old-timers and preach the gospel like they did it and not modernize God,” Richard said. “Jeremiah 6:16 says, ‘Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old past, where is the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ It worked for the old-timers, and it can work for us.”
For the future, Richard says that he and his congregation will mainly “trust God.
“As far as future plans, I don’t try to set myself up for a big fall or make goals, but believe that if we just wait on the Lord and trust Him, He’ll take us in the right direction. I tell people all the time that you cannot have a mountaintop experience without being in the valley. As good as things are going for us right now, we can’t fall to pieces when the valley comes.
“I’ve been in the valley for much of my Christian life, but through the valley, God has built true godly character in my life,” Richard said. “Faith that has never been tried is not true faith. The Bible says that we live by faith, not by sight, and by truly sticking to God’s word, we shall receive His blessings.
“I love my congregation,” Richard added. “I don’t mind eating, fishing, crying, or laughing with them. I know and enjoy my people and my people know and enjoy me. I believe that being a shepherd and true leader of the people is the key that unlocks the door of a church and the hearts of its people.”
Richard said that he will continue to “cling to the Rock of Ages” during his time as pastor.
“I’m not looking for fortune, fame, popularity, or even credit,” Richard said. “I’m just looking for God to move and God to do things.”