The death of a close friend taught Christian Bell to appreciate her birthdays a lot more.
After losing her Southern University classmate to cancer in September, Bell decided to celebrate her 39th birthday with a big bash on Sunday at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church's Family Life Center.
"When my friend died, I said, 'You know what, tomorrow is not promised to nobody,'" Bell said. "I said 'I'm going to celebrate life while I'm here.' I'm not a type of person that's big on birthdays. I don't like to be out in the front. I hate the spotlight. I love being in the background."
Bell, a member of Heaven Bound Ministries, said the focus of the bash was on God getting the glory in her life.
"For some reason, God told me to do it. That's why I did it," she said. "It was about all him. I wasn't going to have it at all. I just reflected and felt like God impressed upon me to do it."
The memory of her friend, a divorced mother of five living in Dallas, wasn't far from Bell's mind.
"We became best friends back at Southern," Bell said. "We were like kindred spirits. We were connected at the heart."
The sight of the children at her friend's funeral was heart-wrenching and motivated Bell.
"It really made me think of what more could I do. What could I do better to serve my community," she said. "I'm a servant. That's what I do. I'm always helping wherever I can."
Bell planned the party, but that's part of what she does as an events promoter and planner and CEO of Flame of Fire Productions. She has worked with her husband, Alex Bell Jr., since 2015 to sponsor faith-based programs, such as praise and worship nights, musicals, gospel skate events and more.
"Everything I do is based around Christ," said Bell, who graduated from Southern in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in political science and an associate's degree in early childhood. She has worked in child care for 20 years.
Her birthday bash with seven performers and speakers was her biggest undertaking yet.
"I really stretched my faith on this one," she said.
Faith is what drives Bell, who didn't grow up in the church.
"The environment I grew up in wasn't that great," she said. "It was just something that God had to deliver me from — not that I was a bad person. Some seeds that was planted needed to be rooted up."
That growth process began when, as a Southern student, Bell moved in with her godmother and started attending church regularly.
"I knew about God, and I had church knowledge, but I didn't really know him," she said. "But when I got introduced to that church and started coming and learning of God, receiving Christ and feeling the Holy Spirit, then God began to show me things. That's how I knew God was real."
Heaven Bound Ministries was founded in a home, and it was after Bible study one night in 2001 that Bell got saved — in the driveway.
"It was liberating," she said. "I just felt free. I've been running for Jesus every since."
Bell said her faith may have waned and she's faced obstacles, but it's been those solitary moments communing with Christ outside of church service and Bible study that keeps her going.
"It's the extra time that you devote to Christ that builds you even stronger," she said. "It adds to what the word does as far as your personal relationship with Christ."
Bell enjoys helping grow other people's relationship with Christ by planning events and introducing them to Christian singers and musicians.
"I'm having the time of my life. I love it," said Bell, adding she is neither a singer or musician. "I love to bring artists to the forefront so people can see them. … I do it because I want the community to know what gifts and talents that's here — just here — in the city of Baton Rouge that people don't know about."
As she celebrates another year of life, Bell continues to find inspiration in Philippians 4:13, the verse she learned as a 10-year-old attending vacation Bible school one summer.
"That Scripture stuck with me: 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,'" she said.
For more information on Flame of Fire, contact Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think about that
Will it kill us to be just a little bit more considerate of other people? We have become a society that increasingly thinks less of others or could care less of how we offend and degrade others, especially those we consider "different."
Lamenting the loss in recent years of great faith leaders and thinkers such as Billy Graham, famed Bishop T.D. Jakes said, "Some of our top thinkers have gone home and been replaced by our top tweeters."
Ah, Twitter and other forms of social media have given people permission to spew their hate and let others know what they really think. They don't think or care about the consequences.
As believers, we should think of the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:9: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — THINK about such things."
The apostle also reminds believers to have the "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16), to "let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5) and to be not "conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing" of our minds (Romans 12:2).
When we truly have the mind of Christ and don't copy the boorish behavior of haters, it helps us to think about how our actions hurt others and affect our witness for Christ.
Whatever things are right, pure, praiseworthy, THINK on those things.