Belfred T. Pryer Sr. believed all Christians heard voices and had visions.
Then one day he realized God was speaking specifically to him.
"I really had felt the calling for a long time," said Pryer, who was recently installed as the pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church in Maringouin. "I was seeing visions. I was hearing voices. A lot of things were going on, but I always felt that it was a normal thing that Christians should go through. That doesn't mean God wants you to be a preacher because you're seeing things and hearing voices."
Raised in the church, Pryer said his Christian walk began in earnest nearly 25 years ago.
"That's when I found the Lord," said Pryer, 58.
A native of Maringouin, Pryer had an assignment in Shreveport as part of his job with Union Pacific Railroad. While there, he had a Christian co-worker who often read and discussed the Bible with him.
"I'd start getting encouraged and asked him things about some of the things he was reading about in the Bible," Pryer said.
The more Pryer heard, the more he wanted to know.
"I said, 'Don't tell me about it. Show it to me in God's word.' That's basically how everything started," Pryer recalled. "I started reading the word. I started reading the Bible everyday from that point on."
On March 21, 1996, Pryer said he surrendered his life to Christ.
"That day I confessed Christ as my Lord and personal savior, and I asked him to come into my life," Pryer said. "That's the day my life changed, and from that day to this day, I knew God was real. I knew that God had a purpose and plan for my life."
With a new sense of purpose, Pryer decided to come home. Just outside of Shreveport, driving down the interstate in his truck, Pryer said he heard a voice.
"I was smoking and a voice told me, 'Throw it out,' and I took the cigarette and plucked it out the window," he said. "And I kept on down the road and was feeling good about myself. I just had one of those moments where I was serving the Lord and ministering to myself."
The voice returned, commanding Pryer to throw the whole pack of cigarettes out. Pryer then flung the last three or four cigarettes in the pack out the window.
That represented another surrender for Pryer, who had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day even after trying smoking cessation programs.
"I had tried to quit smoking many times, but I would always convert back to them and start back smoking," he said. "But on that day, when that voice said 'Throw it out,' that's another milestone for me because I never smoked another cigarette."
The voice wasn't finished.
"Then a voice hollered at me and said, 'Here they come.' I'll never forget that as long as I live," Pryer said. "When that voice said, 'Here they come,' the only thing I could put together was it meant God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit was going to enter my life that day. Ever since, my life has been changed. I've been trying to serve the Lord in any way that I possibly can."
Pryer soon joined Rosehill Baptist Church in Rosedale, where, among other duties, he taught Sunday school.
"I just wanted to be around church," he said. "I just wanted to around people who work for God and just continue hearing his word."
In October 2011, Pryer answered his call into the ministry. He said it was his mother's terminal cancer diagnosis that helped affirm his decision.
"We were all torn up. I never felt that type of pain in my life," he said of his mother's illness. "That voice said, 'See how you feel about your mother, that's how I feel about my people.' That's why I accepted my calling. The more you read (the Bible), the more it fills you, the more you see how intense his love is for mankind."
Pryer said his mother, Anna Crump Pryer, was given a few months but lived two more years — enough time to be around for Pryer's first sermon on Nov. 6, 2011. He was ordained by the Fourth District Baptist Association on Nov. 11, 2016.
Pryer was serving as an associate minister at Rosehill when he was called to his first pastorate at Sweet Home.
"I really didn't see pastor as a part of this. I wanted to do whatever I could do to help in ministry, help people learn, give answers, work around churches — whatever it was that I could do," he said. "I feel like it was all his doing. He has prepared me for it by teaching and studying the word of God."
Before becoming pastor, Pryer would sometimes preach when needed.
"I never felt like I was trying out for this," he said. "I never saw myself as being one of those who was out there hunting for a church. I felt if God wanted me to be a pastor of a church, he would basically set it up for me. … I didn't feel like I was auditioning for anything. I tried to do the best I could possibly do with what God gave to bring."
In accepting the role as pastor, Pryer was reminded again of the comparison of his enduring love for his mother and God's love for his people.
"One of the things that I prayed for was that God would allow me to be one that he would be proud to call his own," he said. "I never had a desire to do that for me. My desire was to help God's people … The love that God has for his people is beyond what we can ever imagine. It's an honor, but I want to build that honor and be able to do things that he will be pleased with."
The installation service was a humbling experience, said Pryer, who celebrated the big day with his wife, Laura, and other family. Speaking at the service was his brother, Adrian, whom Pryer had encouraged to follow his calling into ministry.
"It was so inspiring," Pryer said of the message. "It was so good to see just how much God has done for him and see his intense love for God and knowing that he allowed me have a part of his calling. It was a blessed moment."
Pryer still has visions, like the one where he sees Sweet Home able "to once again become a pillar of this community and shining light in a dark world" and to be a church "that's going to stand on what God's word says above all else."