It's didn't take long for Jeremy Pruitt and Fellowship Baptist Church of Central to bond.
Less than two weeks after becoming its pastor, the church became a homeless shelter for months following the 2016 floods. Pruitt quickly found a different kind of way to serve the church — breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"We lived with our people," said Pruitt, who had been evacuated from an apartment where he'd been living since taking over as pastor on Aug. 1, 2016. "We turned Sunday school rooms into private bedrooms. … They saw us good, bad and ugly, and we saw them good, bad and ugly. We wept and grieved and had moments of frustration in the middle of all that stress … That caused them to see me for who I am and me to see them for who they are. And that just endeared us to each other. And through that, we got to pray with folk and encourage folk in one of the most difficult times for a community."
That difficult time accelerated the shepherd-sheep relationship, said the 42-year-old Pruitt.
"One of the keys for a new pastor coming into a ministry is relationship building," Pruitt said. "You've got to get to know the sheep (and) the people have to get to know you. And that's something that only comes with time or crisis. So we put about five years of pastoral ministry and relationship building into three months."
Part of Pruitt's ministry during that period was strictly as a servant. He and his wife, Delanie, would rise at 4 a.m. each day to prepare breakfast for people housed at Fellowship. The couple would also help prepare lunch and dinner, as well as meals for volunteers to take into the community.
"That's something I'd like to never experience again," Pruitt said. "At the same time, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
Through the crisis, Fellowship members quickly got to know Pruitt.
The congregation had actually been trying to get to know Pruitt for more than two years, reaching out to him in 2014 to become its pastor.
Pruitt was then at First Baptist Church in Garrison, Texas, and declined the offer. Pruitt said too much was going on at the time — including working on masters of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and the church's $2.5 million building project.
"I had a lot of irons in the fire, and on top of that, I felt like God wanted me to be (in Garrison). I didn't have any sense that God was leading me away, so I just immediately said no," he said.
That started to change after Pruitt obtained his degree and the church's project was completed.
"I just felt like the Lord started stirring in my heart in the early part of 2016," he said.
Pruitt and his associate minister accepted the call to Fellowship.
His arrival came on the heels of the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and three Baton Rouge police officers. Some members of his former church questioned a move to such a "dangerous place."
"All I know was that God had called me," Pruitt said. "I've always been of the conviction that the safest place in the world is in the middle of God's will, no matter what circumstances were around."
The flood, he said, seemed to put racial strife from the shootings on the back burner.
"From an outsider's perspective, coming into a new community, it seemed like God took a nasty situation and took people who were standing against one another and he gave them reason to come together," he said.
Pruitt said he witnessed plenty of collaborative efforts during that time, most notable from the religious community.
While just settling in himself, Pruitt said it was important in that critical summer of 2016 to encourage his new church family with the word of God. The church missed only one service.
"I felt very strongly that I needed to not only be the hands and feet of God and get volunteers to help our people, but I needed to be consistent in preaching. God's word speaks to every situation and every issue we have," said Pruitt, who also holds a bachelor's degree in applied science in Bible studies from Louisiana Baptist University.
It was that bond and God's word that helped the church get through and prosper today, Pruitt said.
"One of the things that people in our community have become more mindful of is life is short, and everything you build your life on like a house and cars and possessions can wash away in a weekend, and there has to be something underneath all of that, not just something but something solid and intangible," he said.
It has shown in the church.
"I think we've seen the results of that through a very traumatic time," he said. "They're a very loving congregation. They've seen God through difficult issues. They just want to love God. So we do our best to assure people when they come to give them the word of God, tell them there is hope in Jesus Christ."
The church of about 200 members raised $10,000 to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas a year after their own flood experience, Pruitt said.
"I'd say, if anything, that flood, as tough as it was, brought our people together," Pruitt said. "It brought them closer to Christ, and it gave them a love for others that they already had, but it just intensified it."
Two years later, Pruitt has found fellowship and a church that is making has stepped up. He knows all about how church outreach can make a difference in the lives of people. And that's something he knows about. It happened for him.
His parents, Pruitt said, weren't Christians.
"They would talk about God every so often, but not anything serious," he said.
When he was 12, his family moved across the street from a small Baptist church. That summer, Pruitt attended Vacation Bible School and made a life-changing decision.
"For the first time, I heard the gospel, and it touched my heart. I received the Lord as my Lord," he said.
At 16, he started dating the woman who would become his wife and bonded with her family and the church.
"It was really her and her family's influence that really brought me under conviction about living for the Lord," he said. "So I determined at age 17, if I was going to claim to be a Christian, I needed to live like one. That was a unique time in my life. God was really doing some things."
Another turning point came when he was 18 and went to Israel.
"It was there visiting Israel — in fact it was the Garden Tomb — that I felt like the Lord was calling me to preach," said Pruitt, said.
Pruitt, who was licensed to preach in 1996 and who was ordained in 2000 and has since made three more trips to Israel.
"Israel is no less impactful upon me, but it is a remarkable joy to watch somebody else experience it for the first time and see the profound impact it has on their walk with the Lord," he said.
The Lord walked with Pruitt through his early pastoral and personal journey with its hardships and life lessons.
One difficult experience gave Pruitt his life verse from Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
Pruitt and his wife leaned on those words on May 9,1996.
"I remember that date very well because my wife carried our first child to full term," he said. "And on that day, he was born and he died. And those verses have been real to me."
The Lord continued to walk with Pruitt through his first stint as a senior pastor at a church in Tomball, Texas, in 2000.
"I had to learn how to work with people of all generations, of all backgrounds and most of all of all spiritual maturity levels while trying to grow in the Lord myself," he said.
Pruitt stayed in Tomball for two years and pastored three more churches in Texas before taking coming to Fellowship.
Another day. Another blessing
"Way maker. Miracle worker. Promise keeper. Light in the darkness." The writer of that beautiful song "Way Maker" tries to sum up what all MY GOD is, but God is all that and much, much more.
The song goes to say: “You are here. Moving in our midst. I worship you. I worship you. You are here. Working in this place. I worship you.” Do you believe God is HERE, no matter where your HERE is? Wherever you are physically — in your bed, in your car, at work, in school, in the doctor’s office — you can worship God even now.
Wherever you are spiritually, emotionally or whatever season you are going through in life, you can worship God because first of all he’s a way maker and he’s going to see you through this. It doesn’t matter what your THIS is because he can work any kind of miracle and cure any kind of disease, sickness and affliction. God keeps his promises, like when he said he’ll never leave us or forsake us. And he’s light in a hate-filled, evil, violent, self-centered world. But always remember the fact that God is a way maker.
God reminded the Israelites how he made a way through their Red Sea experience and other obstacles, and God reminds us today that he’s still making a way for us over and over again. Isaiah 43:16 says, “Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters.”