Instead of going to church last Sunday, more than 1,000 members of Istrouma Baptist Church spread out across the 225 area code to “Go Be The Church.”
Members of all ages, from children to seniors, volunteered at 35 different locations as part of the church’s seventh annual “Go Day.” Dozens of members, many wearing colorful T-shirts emblazoned with “Go Be The Church,” or “#go225,” also spent the afternoon volunteering at six BREC parks where the Baton Rouge Sports Initiative hosted free sports clinics for hundreds of underserved children.
“The last words that Jesus said were, ‘Go ye and make disciples of all the nations,’ and we believe that Jesus’ last words ought to be our first priority,” said Jeff Ginn, Istrouma Baptist’s senior pastor. “We are going out to be the hands and feet of Jesus and loving on the 225.
“We want to put into practice the commands of Jesus to love our neighbor,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘even if you give a cup of cold water to one of these little ones you will in no way lose your reward.’”
Projects included bringing food and doing yard work for elderly residents and cutting brush, painting walls and organizing clothing and supplies at several nonprofit ministries. Volunteers paid for some people’s laundry at a few laundromats, hosted a picnic for special needs children and washed some law enforcement vehicles.
Istrouma’s newest ministry, Istrouma En Español, canvassed Southmoor Mobile Home Village, located south of Coursey Boulevard along Airline Highway, and invited the mostly Hispanic residents to a block party and cookout.
“The Bible says ‘make disciples in Jerusalem and Samaria and the ends of the world,’ and my Jerusalem is Baton Rouge because it is ‘Go 225,’” said Guillermo Mangieri, the Spanish church’s pastor, during a break in the action at the village. “We are the hands and feet of Jesus in Baton Rouge.”
Dozens of the Istrouma volunteers raked up and bagged leaves that had fallen from the village’s sprawling live oaks that provide shade but also clog the storm drains and flood the streets, according to residents.
Fred Reniedo, who has lived in the village for 24 years, many of them in a large commercial bus refitted into a living space, said he was glad to see so many people raking up the leaves.
“They are great Christian people,” Reniedo said.
At Caring to Love Ministries, a nonprofit ministry to thousands of pregnant and young mothers, located on North Flannery Road, about 40 young people spent the morning helping Donald and Dorothy Wallis and their volunteer staff. While the young men cut brush encroaching from the nearby forest, many of the girls and young women painted walls, sorted boxes of baby clothes and diapers, organized bags of groceries and prepared materials for a May 23 golf tournament fundraiser.
“For some girls with babies, they have to choose between buying diapers or formula — so we provide both,” said Dorothy Wallis. “The heart of Istrouma and its pastor is amazing, and we so appreciate them for getting involved with missions and Caring to Love is a mission.”
All across the parish, the Baton Rouge Sports Initiative, a coalition of churches, nonprofits and educational groups headed by Istrouma Baptist’s sports ministry, hosted clinics for hundreds of underserved children at six BREC parks and gyms in the afternoon.
The clinics were led by student-athletes and coaches from a dozen area high schools who taught the youngsters basic skills in football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and cheering. All of the kids received free equipment, such as basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, softballs, baseball gloves and T-shirts; a Bible lesson; a free lunch; and many were given a Bible.
“We’re using sports as a bridge to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said M.L. Woodruff, Istrouma’s Sports Outreach minister and recent Louisiana High School Hall of Fame inductee for his baseball coaching career at Parkview High School.
At the Hartley Vey Park in the Gardere neighborhood, Parkview High baseball and football players, McKinley High soccer players and Dutchtown girls softball players hosted clinics for about a hundred children.
Volunteers from Istrouma Baptist, Faith Chapel Church of God, Bethany Church, El Apostento Alto, Ephesus Apostolic Church, Greater Morning Star Baptist, Greater Sixty-Aid Baptist, the Gardere Youth Alliance and Gardere Initiative and Boys and Girls Club assisted and cooked hot dogs.
Rick Edmonds, a Bethany Church minister, gave a short presentation on Jesus’ parable of the young ruler and prayed with the group for salvation.
“A dozen children raised their hands acknowledging they asked Jesus into their heart,” he said. “It is a wonderful thing to see that.”
The Rev. Bartholomew Riggins, of Faith Chapel Church of God, said the Gardere area is their mission field and they coordinate their efforts with the Gardere Initiative.
“Some young people, you can’t reach them until you have something wholesome they can get involved in, like sports,” Riggins said. “You can touch children in events like this — have a spiritual intervention — and build relationships and then we can touch the parents and grandparents.”
Darin Fontenette, Gardere Youth Alliance director, said he was glad to see so many children participating.
“A long time ago we figured out that sports is the easiest way to get kids’ attention to present the Gospel,” he said.