A steadfast faith and a hearty laugh have served Ivory Boatner well for most of her 101 years.
“Do you want to live that long?” she asked last week, shortly after being treated to a birthday celebration at a Baton Rouge nursing facility.
Boatner, who has been a member of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for 72 years, said she has always eaten well and did not smoke or drink. She insisted that her longevity lies in her relationship with the Lord.
“My secret is talking to Jesus and treating people right. That’s it,” she said. “I’m still leaning on the Lord. Who else I’m going to lean on? Nobody but him.”
She still finds strength in the word.
“I like everything in the Bible,” she said, listing Psalm 23 and Psalm 119 among her favorite passages. “I read everything in the Bible. When God gives it to me, and I read it, it sets me on fire.”
That fire was ignited in her native Pointe Coupee Parish.
She remembers as a child attending a revival with her grandmother. On the night she didn’t go, it changed her life.
“I heard all the good singing, and I ran to the church and the Lord converted my soul … I got the Holy Ghost.”
She was later baptized in the Mississippi River.
After moving to Baton Rouge, Boatner joined Shiloh.
“I went to church every Sunday. I went for 8 (a.m.), I went for 11 (a.m.), and if they had something at night, I was right there,” she said.
Boatner raised her eight children — four girls and four boys — in the church.
“They loved to go to church,” she said. “I didn’t have to wake all them up on Sunday morning. They’ll be ready to go.”
Today, Boatner’s children range in age from 53 to 83. One son is a minister. Three have died. She also has 23 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren, 35 great-great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-great-grandchildren.
“I loved Shiloh, and I still love Shiloh,” she said.
She also loved the Rev. Charles T. Smith, Shiloh’s pastor for 50 years who died in 2012.
“That was my boy,” she said. “I loved him and he loved Sister Boatner. He brought Shiloh out … I loved to hear my pastor preach.”
Boatner served as president of the church’s deaconess board for 30 years. She said it was Smith who allowed her to hold pew rally fundraisers.
“I raised $3,000 to $4,000,” she said.
Boatner said she would always jump at the opportunity to join Smith and others on trips, whether it was riding in a car to the gravesite during a funeral or visiting the White House during the Clinton administration.
“They treated us so nice,” she said of the White House visit.
Remembering the visit brought another round of laughs from Boatner, but she did get serious to talk about a big decision she made after the death of one of her children a few years ago.
“I went to the funeral home, and I picked out what I wanted for my funeral,” she said. “The Lord told me to do it, and that’s what I did. When I die, they don’t have to worry.”
Boatner, who celebrated her 101st birthday on Aug. 29, said she’s grateful for the lives she’s been able to touch in and out of the church. She was uplifted by the recent visit from some church members.
“They said, ‘Sister Boatner, you taught us all so much. You taught us all that we know,’ ” she said.
She’s still reaching out and helping people and fellow residents at the facility she’s lived at for a year.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Boatner said. “I feel fine. I help people who can’t help themselves.”
The longtime Baptist said she doesn’t miss many events at the facility, regularly attending the Catholic Mass.
“I know there ain’t but one God,” she said.
One of the priests shared a special word with Boatner during her birthday celebration.
“He said, ‘You don’t look your age. God wants you to look like that because he’s got more work for you to do,’ ” she said.
Boatner is far from giving up.
“I’m special for Jesus because I know what’s he’s done for me,” she said. “I’m on the battlefield.”
Rebel with a cause
Clarence Jordan was a rebel from an early age.
Growing up white in the segregated South, Jordan couldn’t reconcile the racial inequality with his faith and a loving God.
In her new book, “Cotton Patch Rebel: The Story of Clarence Jordan” (Resource Publications), former LSU professor Ann M. Trousdale shares the extraordinary life and influence of Jordan (1912-1969).
Jordan was the inspiration behind Habitat for Humanity and author of the “Cotton Patch Gospels,” his unique stories from the New Testament.
Jordan grew up in a Christian home but was bothered by the racial injustice shown to black people, even those who worked for his family. He was also exposed to hatred directed at black people by others.
“The fact that white people stood so much to gain from maintaining an unfair social system was not acknowledged or discussed,” Trousdale writes. “But even as a young boy, Clarence, with his in-born ability to see a different side of an issue, recognized the unfairness of it. The resolve to do something about it grew as he grew to adulthood; the question was which path he would take to try to make things better.”
For Jordan, that path was through farming.
After college, he went on to create a Christian and farming community in Americus, Georgia, called Koinonia, that welcomed people of all races while sharing the love and Gospel of Christ and aiding the civil rights movement.
Chapters in the 102-page book include “The One in the Middle,” “A Calling,” “A Shared Dream” and “Fiery Trials.”
Trousdale, an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, first became familiar with Jordan more than 30 years ago when her pastor introduced her to the “Cotton Patch Gospels.”
After visiting Koinonia after Jordan’s death, Trousdale was inspired to learn more about Jordan. Her book is available on Amazon.
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or by email to email@example.com