By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
MOWATA – Veteran church planting strategist Greg Penna has not lived in Louisiana for 22 years, but his wish was to one day return for burial near a church in the state that felt like home.
Penna, who died September 1 from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident in Oklahoma, desired to be buried in the Mowata Baptist Church cemetery, alongside many members that he and his wife, Cindy, referred to as their second family.
“We would call that our home church,” said Cindy Penna. “The people made it special. It was at Mowata he learned what family was all about. His dad was absent, but there he got to see family the way God intended it to be. They helped teach him what it meant to be a pastor.”
Penna accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized at First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, when he was eight years old. Shortly afterward, Penna moved with his family to Lake Charles.
When he turned 17, Penna began his service in vocational ministry as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bunkie when he was a student at Louisiana College.
Penna subsequently served churches in Florida, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Cindy Penna said she was blessed to share in her husband’s journey where they saw God bless their church planting opportunities, such as FishHawk Fellowship in Lithia, Florida. In 1998, they started a home-based Bible study with four people in Lithia. Through ministry to the military and other young families, the church saw tremendous growth to 2,000 people within 10 years.
John Hebert, directors of missions and ministries for Louisiana Baptists, said Penna was the shining example of a life that was lived and lived well.
“Greg is a native of our state and really cared about the work in Louisiana when he was at the North American Mission Board,” Hebert said. “He was our friend and co-worker in conferencing, training church planters, providing vision for reaching lost areas. He was truly a wonderful person. Greg has always contributed to the work of the kingdom and his death is a tremendous loss not just to his family but the larger family of faith where he worked and exerted his influence. Greg Penna will be missed by a lot of people.”
Cindy Penna believes her husband played a part in starting 50 churches as a church planting strategist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma shortly before his death.
“It was special to return there for his burial,” said Cindy Penna. “His body is where it needs to be. We had talked many times if something happened to either of us we would go to Mowata. Every pastor needs a church like Mowata.
“It was amazing,” she continued. “I told him we didn’t have much, but we had that abundant life Jesus talks about. The people gave us that abundant life. God brought so many people in our lives and we saw so many come to Christ. We did what Jesus was calling us to do. And it was amazing.”
“What an incredible blessing it was,” she said. “I am glad to be a part of helping any church we have been at and seeing what we do makes a difference, not for Florida, Oklahoma or Louisiana, but for the kingdom of God.”