evangelism: Pastor Gregory Pembo and his outreach
teams take the gospel to the Big Easy on a weekly basis. Pembo visits
with a local resident who attends the churchs weekly prayer
As we roll into this sleepy town, several locals wave as we pass by.
At the edge of town wedged between a supermarket, another church,
a soybean field and a prison is Gods People in Unity Church
(Assemblies of God). As we step inside, Pastor Loraine Bingham, 49,
greets us. When this Tuesday night Bible study starts we realize it
is more akin to a revival service. The music and singing reach near-eardrum-bursting
decibels. Seasons of praise and petitions are peppered throughout the
worship service. At one point Bingham implores the congregation to worship
"Be loud and noisy and shout to the Lord," she implores. "Boast in
Its hard not to get swept into an outpouring of God, so I stop
writing to soak up His presence. Others pray vigorously and shout with
searing intensity to the Lord. "If the Lord has done something in your
life," shouts Bingham, "praise Him! Praise Him! Boast about it and praise
Bingham was born and raised in Rosedale with her 13 brothers and sisters.
Her clearest childhood memories are of being in school and picking cotton.
"There wasnt much else," she says.
But lately, she says, God has been moving in this community of 2,500.
"Were praying for revival," she tells me. "People are praying,
getting baptized in the Holy Spirit and reading their Bibles. We are
going to see more as we continue to seek souls."
Octavia Lee, 27, came to the church only to appease her mother-in-law.
During her first visit she was frightened by the intense worship and
use of spiritual gifts and decided never to attend again. But something,
she says, drew her back. Soon after her second visit to the church she
committed her life to Christ and was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Binghams
influence has had a profound effect on her life. "She is in tune with
this congregation and I really need that," says Lee. "There isnt
anything I am going through she hasnt already been through. She
has taught me that I can be victorious in Christ that gives me
Binghams difficult experiences including losing her husband,
Max, earlier this year have forged a spiritually strong woman
who uses them to reach others for Christ.
As the service nears an end, my dad and I leave in hope of making it
to our next destination before midnight. The singing begins anew after
most of those gathered have wished us well. As we pull away from the
church the words of Hattie Frank, who is new to the church, echo in
my mind: The Spirit of God is moving here. Just being in the presence
of God and the assurance of Him moving always gets me here.
As we drive through Vidalia, the words "feed the hungry" pull our eyes
from the road and toward a warehouse, which bears the name of Vidalia
First Assemblys ministry to lower-income families. After a U-turn
we pull into the churchs parking lot where the warehouse is located.
Pastor Albert Fraley, 58, his wife, Coralie, and Linda Bonnette, director
of the feeding ministry, come out to greet us.
"God laid it on our hearts for this church to move beyond its walls
and really get involved in the community," Albert, who has pastored
the church for four years, tells me. "It says in the Bible to feed the
hungry. We knew we had to get out and minister to people."
Bonnette started the ministry five years ago with a cracker barrel
she placed in the foyer for canned-food donations. Since then the congregation
and community have rallied behind the ministry, which feeds more than
275 families each month. A local Boy Scouts troop, the sheriffs
department, numerous businesses, the postal service and even a motorcycle
club hold fund-raisers, organize canned-food drives and place donation
jars in businesses. "Our church has joined hands with other churches
and the community to feed the hungry," says Bonnette. "We see this as
an opportunity to reach out to people and share the love of Christ."
In the warehouse boxes on long tables are neatly packed with rice,
beans, cooking oil, cereal, bread, other staples and a gospel tract
or newsletter from the church. Along the walls of the warehouse are
boxes of food. Near the front door is a new shipment of cereal. "When
we hand food out we are telling people that we love them," says Fraley.
John Smith receives a box of food each month. "It helps a lot," Smith
tells me. "When youre living on fixed income, all the bills make
it so youre living on practically nothing. This is one of the
greatest things any church could do."
We cross the Mississippi River into Natchez, perched 200 feet above
the river. Historic mansions, dating back to before the Civil War, line
many of the areas tree-covered bluffs and rolling hills.
Nestled at the base of a hillside is First Assembly of God. Here, children
rush to classrooms for Missionettes and Royal Rangers. Teens saunter
to the youth room as adults make their way to the sanctuary. Greetings,
handshakes and hugs are dispersed freely among worshippers.
"There is a sense of family here," Beverly Laurant, an African-American
woman who has attended the church for 10 years, tells me. "God is knitting
us together, and Im free to be who I am."
Some churches in the South are still segregated. But when revival swept
through the congregation five years ago, Doug Wright, pastor of the
church, says he was more determined than ever to break down racial barriers
that have plagued the community for generations. "We want everyone to
be a part of this church," Wright tells me before the service begins.
"Our faith and church are for everyone no matter what their skin
Laurant agrees. "This church accepts people no matter what," she says.
"They dont just tolerate people; they accept them."
Sue Goss came to the church as a single mother. After only being at
the church a short while her health deteriorated, and Wright and the
congregation stepped in to help. Goss says meals were brought to her
home and the church even offered some financial assistance. "That really
touched me," she says. "They brought me into the church family even
though I hadnt really even been a part of the church for that
Our trip is nearing its end. I am inspired by what God is doing along
the river, but, unknown to me, one of our most radical destinations
is still to come.
truth: Evangelism team members like Lou Bilac
(holding sign) station themselves in front of strip clubs and bars
on Bourbon Street. There they confront partygoers with the message
of Christs love, compassion and forgiveness.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is teeming with partygoers. Neon
signs beckon those who pass to enter the Quarters many strip clubs.
The lure of sin pervades this place. Strolling down the street one middle-aged
man walks proudly with a margarita in one hand and a scantily dressed,
20-something woman clinging to his other. Nearby, a pitchman flips a
sign. The walls and windows of his establishment are covered with pornographic
But one block away, in front of Vieux Carré
Assembly of God, members from the churchs outreach team are preparing
for spiritual warfare.
Lou Bilac, a team member, positions an 8-foot banner
that he will carry tonight. Another member, who goes by the name Johnny
Balloons, straps on a waist pouch filled with hundreds of gospel tracts.
A little past 8:30, members split into two teams. One sets up on Bourbon
Street; the other, a few blocks away on Jackson Square. Their mission:
distribute tracts, share their faith and pray for whoever is willing.
"Were not afraid to be here in the gates of hell," says Walter
On Jackson Square, Gregory Pembo, pastor of the church, and Balloons
have set up a table among the tarot card readers and fortune-tellers
that line the square. On Pembos table a candle flickers and a
sign reads: "Ill tell you your future for free."
"This outreach is breaking up hard ground in the devils territory,"
says Pembo as he sits in waiting at his table. "The people of the world
come to our doors we cant sit inside the church and ignore
them. We are fulfilling the Great Commission."
Balloons says at night the French Quarter is filthy and demonic, but
there is hope. "I got saved here when I was on the streets," he says.
"Now I go into the streets with the same message missionaries gave me.
If Jesus could give me that much mercy and forgiveness, I have to give
to other people too."
Many of the team members have been punched, kicked, spit on and threatened.
Why do they keep coming back?
"I used to work in the French Quarter and I gave a lot of years to
the devil," says Bilac, as he holds his banner in one hand and passes
out tracts with the other. "It breaks my heart to be down here. But
its all worth it because in the midst of all this filth people
will come to God."
for Gods provision: Pastor Max Latham and
other pastors are crossing denominational lines and praying together
Its just before midnight when we reach Buras, which is located
a few miles north of the Mississippi Rivers mouth.
The air is heavy and humid as we pull off the highway at a site that
has three gigantic lit crosses reaching toward the star-dotted sky.
Max Latham, pastor of Miracle Assembly of God, meets us and gives us
a tour of the property, which also includes a re-creation of the garden
tomb and a mini-version of the Sea of Galilee. Miracle Assembly owns
the land, called Three Crosses, and plans to build a church there. In
the meantime, Latham hopes the site will continue to be a community
prayer area and a catalyst for revival.
Most of Buras is in a precarious position, especially now during hurricane
season. At some points Buras is only 1,500 feet wide. Driving south,
toward Miracles building, we see the levee for the Mississippi
River on the left and to the right we see the back levee for the Gulf
of Mexico. Between the levees is this community of 3,000. In the past
30 years Miracle Assembly has been wiped out twice by hurricanes.
"Many people who live here are afraid that hurricanes are going to
wipe them out," says Latham. "So we gather at Three Crosses for prayer
at the start of hurricane season with the entire community and believe
the Lord is going to protect this place."
Latham and other pastors are also praying for revival. In 1979 a revival
swept through Miracle Assembly. Latham and his wife were not Christians
at the time, but when his wife attended one of the revival services
in search of healing for their daughter her life was radically transformed.
"My daughter was not healed," says Latham, recalling the revival, "but
my wife got saved. I could see there was such a difference in her that
I eventually went to church and got saved too."
The groundwork for another revival is being laid. The Miracle congregation
has been joining other congregations for services. Pastors are crossing
denominational lines and praying with one another for revival. Cooperation
between area churches began on March 19, 2000, when pastors and more
than 300 laypeople gathered near the mouth of the Mississippi and held
a prayer meeting in boats that stretched across the span of the river.
"We are committed to seeing this place change," says Latham with tears
in his eyes. "But its not just going to be our church, its
going to be the entire body of Christ here. All of us want this town
transformed for Christ."
Kirk Noonan and John W. Kennedy both returned to Springfield, Mo., with
many vivid images impressed upon their memories. They saw vibrant churches
that are reaching their communities with innovative approaches. They
learned there are different worship styles, generations, city sizes
and ethnic groups serving the same Lord. Communities along the Mississippi
River, a vital part of the country, are being changed because of the
influence of Assemblies of God churches.