By Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message staff writer
HAMMOND, La. (LBM) – A revival and a tent crusade in south Louisiana that have combined to produce 730 new believers, so far, also have resulted in 400 new converts, already, enrolling in a formal process of discipleship to become more like Christ.
According to local reports, 513 individuals surrendered their hearts and lives to Jesus during revival services, extended five times, Oct. 17-Nov. 18, at Old Zion Hill Baptist Church, Independence; and another 217 made decisions to follow Him during the South Louisiana Awakening Tent Crusade, Hammond, Nov. 28- Dec. 9, a multi-denominational spiritual outreach. At press time, it was not announced if the tent crusade would be extended.
“The revival continues to produce good fruit,” Old Zion Hill Baptist Church Associate Pastor Dave Ketchand told the Baptist Message. “Remarkable testimonies of salvation and changed lives abound. The need to follow up with intentional disciple making is daunting. Doing this effectively will not be accomplished by doing church as usual. We ask for the prayers of all Louisiana Baptists as we continue this work.”
Ketchand said area churches had formed a follow-up team that developed a strategy to connect every new believer from both spiritual events with a local congregation in order for them to begin discipleship training:
— each person who came forward received an email or text encouraging them to find a church home;
— pastors were given contact information and have pledged to reach out to everyone on the list; and
— churches were prepped to form new believer classes.
So far, Old Zion Hill Baptist Church has been blessed to receive 55 adults who made decisions during the awakening of the lost that accompanied the revivals, and each has been enrolled into discipleship classes, including Billy Hall. Previously, Hall was addicted to alcohol but ended that lifestyle after he decided to follow Christ, Oct. 25. He shared his testimony through baptism, Nov. 6, and has enjoyed growing deeper in his faith through the new believer training.
“It has opened my eyes to how your testimony opens doors for you to speak to others about Jesus,” he said. “We are only in our second class but I’m hoping the rest of it will help and change my life more.”
Randy Ray, tent crusade follow-up team leader and pastor of River Fellowship, a Louisiana Baptist congregation in Hammond, said Pastor Gary Dennis’s congregation handled follow-up for the revival held at their church. Meanwhile, his team was responsible for contacting those who made decisions during the tent crusade.
River Fellowship is slated to begin a 10-week discipleship class in the coming weeks.
“Hopefully, with the follow-up training initiated and follow up calls being made, we will see a good number of disciple groups formed,” he said. “And honestly, we are not concerned if they are connected to our church or not. We just want to see them discipled and connected to a local body of believers that teaches the Word and will continue to nurture them.”
Still Water Church, also a Louisiana Baptist congregation in Hammond, has two new converts who are about to enter discipleship training, said Pastor Elltore Austin, also a member of the crusade follow-up team. He said the new believers from both events are being engaged.
“We let them know that Christian discipleship is developing a lifelong obedient relationship with Jesus Christ in which He transforms your character into Christlikeness, changes your worldly values into Kingdom values and involves you in His mission in home, church and world,” he said. “It’s been nothing short of amazing, seeing so many people being obedient to the move of God at the revival and after through discipleship.”
Gary Dennis, pastor of Old Zion Hill Baptist Church, noted that the revival and tent crusade have brought about a spiritual renewal in schools, businesses and homes.
“It is astounding and incredibly gratifying to see God move in such a powerful way,” Dennis said. “Other words that come to mind are satisfying, humbling, exciting, surreal. At a deep level there is a quiet peace knowing that God is doing this and fulfilling His promises.
“I cannot make that happen nor can anyone else,” he continued. “We pray that God will bring to His churches the deep level of brokenness and humility that will allow God’s Spirit to spread revival. When Christ-followers humble themselves and pray, when we get serious about seeking the face of God and turn away from our sins, God will revive the church. When the church is revived, awakening of the lost will follow.”
Louis Husser, pastor of Crossgate Church, a Louisiana Baptist congregation in Robert, said he, too, has been amazed at how God has moved.
“Many Christians live and serve the Lord all their lives and never see hundreds of believers at the altar, repenting and reconciling old offenses … and hundreds of believers filling the altar, weeping over lost souls,” he said. “We are not taking anything for granted. God’s people are covering this meeting in prayer. He is doing a great work here.”
From the first revival service, which began Oct. 17, a spirit of expectancy was among the community of Independence, according to Dennis. Each night, the pews were packed out in the Old Zion Hill Baptist Church worship center and participants filled the altar as they cried out to God about their respective needs for Him.
In early November, in anticipation of the tent crusade, 355 individuals signed up to pray 30 minutes each day; and two weeks before the crusade, hundreds more gathered for prayer on site, he said.
Additionally, 81 were trained as decision counselors.
Meanwhile, due to the extent of revival among believers and awakening among the lost, the initial crusade (originally scheduled through Oct. 21) was extended five additional times through Nov. 18 (with a pause in services at various times including weekend services).
Once that prolonged event ended, the tent crusade preparations began.