By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
JOHNSON BAYOU – After two hurricanes forced Johnson Bayou Baptist Church to meet in temporary facilities since 2008, the congregation has received an early Christmas gift – a new building at its original location.
During a special worship service Dec. 10, a crowd of 70 people dedicated the new facility which includes an auditorium with seating for 100, classrooms, a kitchen with a small fellowship area, restrooms and an elevator. Pastor Jack Gandy said now that the church has a permanent presence in the community, he believes the best days are ahead for Johnson Bayou Baptist Church.
“During the dedication services we were asking the Lord’s blessing on us as we begin this new phase of ministry,” said Gandy, who became pastor in 2007. “This is a miracle that has been nine years in the making. It is hard to believe that we are finally in our own building.”
For the past nine years, the congregation has worshiped and met for Sunday school at a community center and briefly in the church parsonage, while hoping to relocate back to its original site. Instead of giving up, they chose to continue with their dream. That persistence paid off with an official groundbreaking ceremony and the laying of the first boards of a new church building on June 22, 2016.
Built by Brystar Construction of Beaumont, Texas, the cost is approximately $575,000. To protect itself from possible rising water in the future, the 3,200-sq.-ft. structure sits on beams 10 feet high.
The original structure was damaged when Hurricane Rita made landfall Sept. 24, 2005, as 4-5 feet of floodwaters came inside the building and the high winds ripped apart the roof. Months passed before electricity was restored.
Throughout the next five months, Pastor Les Fogleman lived in a donated camper on the church grounds and coordinated all of the renovations. Groups from Louisiana and outside the state began helping rebuild the church.
By Thanksgiving the first group of his members returned to the church and more slowly trickled into Johnson Bayou throughout the next few months.
Renovations to the worship center and some classrooms were complete by April 2006. All of the volunteers had now left, leaving church members to hold services once again inside the sanctuary.
But two years later another tragedy struck the church and community.
Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston, Texas, Sept. 13, 2008, causing considerable damage to the community including the destruction of most of the town’s buildings. Among those was Johnson Bayou Baptist Church, which was forced to close its facility and meet in other locations in the area.
Johnson Bayou Baptist Church is the latest organization to contribute to the rebirth of the community. The town’s school – which is located next to the church – opened in 2015. Johnson Bayou also has seen its library, recreation center, fire station, homes, water works facility and several stores rebuild.
“While it has sometimes been hard to see it at the time, God has been with us each step of the way,” Gandy said. “We are looking forward to see what He will do next.”