While congregations gathered in churches across Baton Rouge to observe Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Istrouma Baptist Church quickly became empty.
Members attended a short worship service, then quickly dispersed across the metro area for the church’s fourth annual “Go Day.”
“We do ‘Go Day’ because Jesus loves people, and we love people and we want to be like Him,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Ginn, Istrouma’s senior pastor. “We want to be his hands and feet to the city.”
More than 1,000 church members, from elementary-school age to senior citizens, most wearing colorful T-shirts, participated in 30 projects, including cleaning apartment complexes, making home repairs, serving lunches and doing laundry for people at several laundromats.
One group held services at a senior center in Holden, while another went to public parks in Denham Springs to lead activities. Several groups provided goodie baskets to area law enforcement and firefighters. A large Istrouma group hosted activities and lunch at the LSU Parade Grounds for students.
And everyone involved invited those they met to attend church Easter Sunday.
At the College Park apartments, a Catholic Charities-operated complex for international refugees near Baton Rouge Community College, several Istrouma women gave more than a hundred loaves of homemade French bread to dozens of families, while some of the men grilled hamburgers and youngsters played games and jumped with the children in a bounce-house.
Jeff Hanson, an Istrouma volunteer, said the church has a regular presence there with an apartment they use for English as Second Language classes, computer lessons on eight computers and sewing classes for many of the women.
“We have residents here from several countries in South America, several countries in Africa and from all over the Middle East and Far East,” Hanson said. “We’ve established relationships with many of the families and help the kids, many of whom don’t speak English, when they enroll in the schools.”
Ibrahim Ibrahim, a recent refugee from Sudan, said he was thankful for a loaf of bread. Looking out his doorway at all the activity, he commented, “This is good, is wonderful.”
“I love it. I love these kids,” said Istrouma teen Rebecca Cody, 17, as she painted the face of Sulbert, an African boy. “I love to learn about each kid and their culture.”
Her sister, Sarah Cody, 19, an LSU student and intern in the church’s children ministry, was drawing with chalk on the parking lot with several children.
“We’re being the church, really, we’re just living out God’s love to Baton Rouge,” Sarah Cody said.
Salam Alghazi, who fled Iraq 10 years ago, and his friends, Najib Shamun and Khalid Ilziiedi, also from Iraq, were glad to receive a loaf of bread and an invitation to lunch from Jeff Hanson.
“They are doing a good job and are trying to help the people here,” Alghazi said with a big smile. “It is very nice, and we are thankful for it.”
Dwayne Pitre, Istrouma’s missions pastor, said the “laundry love” projects at four laundromats were well received.
“When you show up to pay for somebody’s laundry, they are, ‘Sure.’ Then they’re excited when we give them donuts and coffee and they see we really care for them,” Pitre said.
A few miles away, at the Ardenwood Terrace apartments, dozens of Istrouma members hosted an Easter egg hunt, played games with the children and served the residents a lunch.
While the small children played games and jumped rope, the older boys played a rough touch football game.
“The response has been good,” said Mike Holmes, Istrouma’s discipleship pastor. “We’re having fun and sharing Jesus.”
Nearby, standing under the shade of live oaks, Nyesha Bethley, a mother of four, and Lavonne Miles, a grandmother, were watching all the excitement.
“I think it’s really good,” Miles said.
“They’re telling the kids about Jesus and how He died on the cross,” Bethley said. “I think it’s very educational.”
Over at St. Vincent de Paul, about 70 Istrouma volunteers cleaned the rooms and bathrooms of the men’s and women’s homeless shelters, power-washed the playground equipment and served red beans and rice to more than 300 homeless people in the cafeteria.
“This is great. The food was good and you get to talk to people and that’s good,” said a homeless man, who asked not to be identified. “It’s an uplifting experience.”
Traci Lillie, an Istrouma team leader, said there were also 40 people at the McMains Children’s Developmental Center cleaning and painting rooms and equipment.
“It’s been amazing,” Lillie said of the St. Vincent de Paul response. “I definitely think they (homeless) appreciate just being recognized and talked to.
“It’s been good for our young people, too,” Lillie said. “I don’t think, most days, our young people realize there are children and young people who are homeless.”