Moving from California to Baton Rouge with no job took faith for Paul Hammontree in 2005.
Purchasing a home online without ever having visited Louisiana took faith.
Battling a rare and deadly cancer required Hammontree to take his faith to another level.
“That was a real test of my faith,” he said of the 2014 diagnosis.
The three instances have proven faithful for Hammontree.
He resolved the job situation by starting a profitable grass-cutting business. That new home hosted a Bible study with one other family that eventually led to the founding of Calvary Fellowship Church.
And that cancer report turned into a praise report.
Hammontree, 49, said he was just answering the call of God to move with his wife, Amy, and three children to Louisiana 11 years ago.
“We didn’t really come with these expectations that we were going to create a church or anything like that. We just wanted to be faithful to do what God was calling us to do,” said Hammontree, the senior pastor of Calvary, the nondenominational church with about 150 members at 3535 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite 160, in Baton Rouge.
“God gave me a very simple vision: to teach his word and love the people who showed up,” Hammontree said.
It was the word of God that played a pivotal role in Hammontree’s approach to the cancer diagnosis.
The morning he was to get the results of his biopsy, Hammontree ssaid God spoke to him through Psalms 91 — “ Surely, he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. … ”
“I knew that morning I was going to be told I had a deadly cancer,” he said. “I just knew without a doubt, and I knew it wasn’t going to kill me. I knew that God was going to bring me through it. So I went to the doctor and they told me it was a very rare … and it’s very deadly. They said, ‘We don’t know enough about this cancer, and we don’t know what it’s going to do. We just know there’s a very low survival rate and the outlook is grim.’ ”
Hammontree’s outlook was positive.
“God had prepared me for that announcement,” Hammontree said.
He even shared with the doctors and nurses what God told him that morning.
He then went home and shared the news with his family.
“They all had faith through the whole process, and God did exactly what he said he was going to do. He healed me,” said Hammontree, whose cancer went into remission last month.
The process involved intense treatment, radiation and chemotherapy — and pain.
“They said they came at me with all guns blazing,” he said. “God didn’t answer my prayer to relieve me of the pain I was in. But I was able to hold on to his promise that I would get through it.”
The ordeal served only to strengthen Hammontree’s faith.
“It affirmed my desire to read the Bible every morning,” he said. “Had I not read (Psalms 91) that morning, I don’t know what I would have thought, how I would have acted, how that would have affected me.”
During Hammontree’s time away from teaching and preaching, his assistant pastor and another minister filled in, and the church grew.
“It didn’t affect the church, which reaffirmed to us the understanding that it’s (God’s) church, not my church,” he said.
Hammontree said he’s excited about the future of the church, his first to serve as lead pastor after seven years as an assistant at Calvary church in California. Calvary Fellowship is part of the Calvary Chapel association of 3,000 Christian churches that emphasizes the “verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book” approach to teaching the Bible, Hammontree said.
A graduate of the Lutheran-affiliated Concordia University in Irvine, California, Hammontree said he was called to preach at age 12 while growing up in Colorado.
“I knew that God was calling me to be a pastor at that time, then I preceded to run out into the world and do drugs, heavy drinking and just do everything that the world had to offer for quite a few years until I came back,” he said.
He rededicated his life to God at age 20 while in his dorm room after a long week of partying.
“I realized there was nothing out there worthwhile. I came back to the Lord and just continued on that calling that he had placed on my life originally,” he said. “I felt like God just came to me and said, ‘This is your last chance.’ ”
Hammontree made the most of that chance. He studied Christian education in college with a concentration on youth evangelism, and he obtained a teaching certification and taught for three years.
He was “comfortable” with his life and ministry in California before getting a visit from a former church member who had moved to Louisiana, asking if he’d consider a move.
“We had no plans on going out and planting a church or anything like that,” he said. “That same night, God put the burden on my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about Baton Rouge and this area.”
He took the leap of faith three months later.
“We love the area. I wish we had moved here many years ago now,” he said.
‘Big weekend’ at Bethel
The Rev. Herman Kelly, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, has had a difficult time sleeping.
The main reason for Kelly’s restlessness is the “major event” honoring Richard Allen, who founded the AME church 200 years ago.
The U.S. Postal Service will sponsor an unveiling of the Richard Allen Black Heritage Stamp in a ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bethel, 1358 South Blvd.
“I haven’t slept in a couple of days,” said Kelly, the pastor at Bethel for 18 years. “I’m humbled and excited, and I just thank God that I’m in a position for this to happen because this is history. I don’t take it lightly.”
The Bethel event is actually the second unveiling of the stamp. The stamp was displayed in a ceremony Feb. 2 at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. More than 40,000 people signed a petition urging the Postal Service to create the 39th stamp in the Black Heritage series in honor of the former slave.
“It’s been a battle to get it,” Kelly said. “It’s been a long process. That’s like Richard Allen’s life.”
Saturday’s speaker will be Bishop Julius H. McAllister, president of the Council of Bishops of the AME Church and prelate of the Eighth District.
On Sunday, Bethel will celebrate Allen’s birthday during its annual Founders Day program at 11 a.m. The speaker will be state Rep. Ted James.
The Shroud returns
The Shroud of Turin presentation makes a return to Baton Rouge with different topics.
Shroud expert Russ Breault will discuss Adolf Hitler’s obsession with the shroud in the presentation “How the Shroud Foiled Hitler” at 6 p.m. Friday at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, 2250 Main St.
At 7 p.m., Breault will present “The Seven Secrets of the Shroud.”
The Shroud of Turin is the centuries-old linen cloth that many believe bears the image of Jesus Christ. A life-sized replica of the shroud will be on display.
“It will hopefully get word out to those who might have either lost their faith or might not have been very strong in their faith to see the sacrifice Christ made for his people,” said Deacon David Dawson, a pastoral associate at Sacred Heart. “When you look at the Shroud of Turin and the see the presentation, it’s just unreal the amount of torture, pain and suffering that he went through to redeem us and to save us from our sins.”
Breault, of Atlanta, is president and founder of the Shroud of Turin Education Project Inc., which works to raise awareness of the shroud. He has appeared or been involved in documentaries on “Good Morning America,” the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.
More than 400 people attended last year’s presentation, Dawson said.
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email email@example.com.