English is Bishop A. James Vallier's first language.
The Lafayette native also speaks a little French and some Spanish.
But the language that changed Vallier's life and helped send him into a life of ministry came in speaking in tongues through the Holy Ghost.
"It wasn't a language I was familiar with," said Vallier, the general overseer of Special Deliverance Temple, an apostolic Pentecostal church in Baton Rouge.
Vallier, 64, has served as the interim pastor of the church since the death of the previous pastor, Elder Ronald Gotch. Vallier pastors another church in Alexandria, where he resides, and commutes to the Baton Rouge church at 1201 N. 47th St. twice a week for 12:30 p.m. Sunday services and 6:30 p.m. Thursday Bible classes.
Vallier first became familiar with the power of the Holy Ghost in 1978 at the age of 23. On the same day he repented and was baptized, he was in a grocery store to gather items to make gumbo.
"While I was going through one of the aisles of that grocery store, all of a sudden, I felt the presence of the Lord that I had never felt in all my life," he said. "I began to stammer uncontrollably. … The presence of the Lord was upon that strong."
Vallier collected himself enough to find a pay phone and call the pastor who had baptized him.
"He began to tell me that, 'It's the Holy Ghost and if you would just yield to it and just began to praise God, that's what you need to do,' ” Vallier said.
He was told it was only the beginning.
Vallier was working as a truck driver, delivering supplies to New Orleans by way of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.
"I just began to worship God and praise God while I was in that truck," he said. "God baptized me with the Holy Ghost. I spoke in other tongues uncontrollably. … I literally tried to stop, and could not stop. I spoke from one end of that Lake Pontchartrain bridge all the way into New Orleans, uncontrollably, language that I never learned."
Vallier wondered if he would speak normally ever again.
"I spoke and I spoke until I got to my destination, where I needed to make a delivery, and I literally thought I would never return to English," he said. "I finally came to English, and I was grateful and thankful. That night, I couldn't sleep. I had to tell to somebody of this conversion that had taken place. … I haven't been the same."
Vallier went on attend W.L. Bonner College in Columbia, South Carolina, which prepared him for a life of ministry. He started the Alexandria church in 1983.
Baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus and being filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues are two of the core beliefs of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith Inc., of which Special Deliverance Temple is a member. Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith was founded in New York City in 1919 by Bishop Robert C. Lawrence.
"We try to convey the true message of Jesus Christ as it is written," Vallier said. "We try to convey that it's a continuation of the apostles that began in A.D. 33. We stress the name for salvation purposes, that the same Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Also, we stress that he's a healer, a deliverer, a keeper, a savior of people."
The denomination strives to be Scripture-based and spirit-led, Vallier said.
"We try to speak to the need of the natural man, then we try to reach the need of the spiritual man. We try to rehabilitate people scripturally," he said. "We try not to embrace anything that is not based on Scripture where we will have to change. And that's a problem with a lot of denominations. If they were scripturally based, then they wouldn't have to change their doctrine, their teaching."
Upon Gotch's death in mid-2015, Vallier said it was important to maintain the church's apostolic faith message in the Baton Rouge community.
"We felt like Baton Rouge is the capital, and we need to have a church in the capital area. We need to know what's going on in every aspect," he said.
The Baton Rouge church suffered another setback when last year's historic flood forced it out of its Greenwell Springs Road location.
The church went about five months without a home. Members scattered. Some attended the next nearest Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith church in Lafayette. Others didn't come back when the church resumed at its modest location on North 47th Street.
"We lost people in the shuffle a little bit with the flood," Vallier said. "We're not despising small beginnings. We know that in due time, when God gets ready, he will bless us."
Vallier has faced challenges before.
He was raised as a devout member of another denomination before questioning his faith.
"I was a religious person who really believed in God. … I was a good churchgoer, but I could not defend what I believed," he said. "I was challenged and I could not defend my tradition with Scripture. I could not defend it, so I needed to get something that was scripturally based. As far as we're concerned, the apostolic church faith, the first church was that movement. And what we ought to embrace is something that is original."
The outpouring of the spirit is available for all, Vallier said, referencing Joel 2:28: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions."
"I believe it's not just for some people; it's for everybody if they are going to be in the kingdom of God," he said. "Everybody can see the kingdom from afar off. But to be part of the kingdom — what we call to be a part of the bride of Christ — it's imperative that everyone be filled with the Holy Ghost."
Vallier said Romans 8:9 — "You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ." — has significance for those desiring to be a part of the kingdom.
"He that has not the spirit of Christ is none of his," he said.
To contact the church, call (225) 930-8484. For more information on the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith Inc., visit cooljc.org.
Faith Matters run every other Saturday in The Advocate. To reach Terry Robinson, call (225) 388-0238 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.