A part of Steve Armstrong died the day he buried his grandmother nearly 20 years ago.
During the funeral in 1995, the then-35-year-old Armstrong also said goodbye to the old “self-centered” Steve and became a new person in Christ with a newfound love and commitment to God and others.
“I came under deep conviction of my sin as the pastor exhorted or encouraged everyone there to be a witness to the Lord like (my grandmother) was,” Armstrong said. “I walked out of church that day and I told my wife, ‘Today, I’m surrendering my life to follow him the rest of my life.’ ”
Armstrong, 53, said his parents were believers who raised him in the church and provided him a solid foundation. He said he fell away after high school but turned his life around “180 degrees” starting that day of the funeral.
“The words that pastor spoke connected and were spoken to me and was taught to me as a child,” he said.
Armstrong returned home to Addis from north Louisiana, and the following Sunday, he and his family attended First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
“That was the beginning of a journey to follow Christ and truly seek to know Him and know His ways, and through that process of surrendering to Him and studying and fellowship with His people, my heart began to change in a way that only God can do,” he said.
A new heart and love for people and his community eventually led to a desire to plant a church. Armstrong became pastor of Westside Community Church in Addis in 2007.
“I felt a call to start a church that would be a people who would live out their faith daily in the community,” Armstrong said. “It would be much more than a one-hour experience on Sundays but it would be a lifestyle for them. … That’s our heart: to express God’s love and advance the Gospel message.”
One of the ways Westside Community Church, a Southern Baptist Convention church, tries to share the hope of the Gospel is through its Hopemobile, a refurbished former prison bus.
“It’s basically a classroom on wheels,” Armstrong said of the white bus, which has desks, school supplies and televisions.
Since the beginning of the summer, the church has taken the Hopemobile around the Brusly and Addis area, feeding children and offering Bible classes. The Hopemobile rolls from 5:45 p.m. to about 7 p.m. each Tuesday.
“We felt like we needed to bring the church to the people instead of trying to be more creative about how to find ways to bring people to the church,” Armstrong said. “It’s amazing the difference we’re making in the lives of these children.”
The church’s desire to change lives even stretches to the foreign mission fields.
“Our church is not only in love with people here in Brusly and Addis and have that desire for them to experience Christ, but we’re a mission-minded church,” Armstrong said. “We want to take His love, His hope and His joy and this mission of good news to all people.”
It was his first mission trip to India in 1998 that served to stretch his faith, Armstrong said.
“From that experience and seeing men and women faithful and being completely and wholeheartedly to God, my faith was catapulted,” he said. “I saw firsthand those pastors who left everything to follow Christ.”
Armstrong, who has taken subsequent mission trips to Mexico and four times to Haiti, said 12 members of Westside Community Church went on a mission to Haiti in July.
“I love to tell the story of what the love is doing through our people,” said Armstrong, whose 23-year-old daughter, Brittany, is serving a two-year mission to South Asia.
Armstrong said he is amazed at how God has blessed him and his family, including his wife of 25 years, De Anne.
“I cannot live and not just rejoice in what God has done for me,” he said. “If you truly grasp what He’s done through Christ on the cross, it has got to radically change your life. … It’s amazing to think about His grace and how amazing it is. I really can’t think of living life any other away.”
Bullying, teasing, rejection, discrimination and depression are among the many challenges Jamie Womack has faced in her life. Most of it has to do with cerebral palsy.
While raised in the church, it wasn’t until Womack “surrendered” her life to Christ that she was able to overcome those challenges and be a witness to the power of God.
Womack, 41, shares her life of faith in her new book “A Call to Surrender” (Austin Brothers Publishing).
In the 92-page book, Womack tries to take readers into the chambers of her heart “where emotional battles have been fought and victories have been won through Jesus Christ.”
Her biggest battle was during her birth in Oklahoma on May 20, 1973. A breech position caused the cord that connected her to her mother’s womb to wrap around her neck, cutting off her oxygen. She didn’t breathe on her own for the first 32 minutes after her birth, and doctors predicted the worst.
“They said if I did survive the night, which was questionable, I would be nothing more than a vegetable. … Fortunately, I have parents who believe in the sanctity of life,” she writes.
Womack said she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 15.
Life wasn’t easy for Womack as she withstood a lot of emotional pain because of her physical disability. Yet, she learned the power of forgiveness and grace in surrendering her life to God.
“When trials come our way, we are faced with the choice of either becoming bitter or better people,” she writes. “It all boils down to human nature versus a surrendered life to Jesus Christ. For it is within a surrendered life that we find purpose for the heart-wrenching time of life. … I firmly believe that no heartache is wasted without meaning. There is always a spiritual lesson to be learned. It is the tough times of life that force us to rely on God and to press for that truth of knowing that His ways are higher than our ways. … God is willing and able to turn each trial in life into a tool of ministry for His honor and His glory.”
Womack attended college, got married and started Jamie Womack Ministries to lead others to a deeper commitment to discipleship.
Chapters in the book include “A Miraculous Beginning,” “Social Barriers” and “Guard Your Heart.” Womack also includes the plan of salvation.
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or by email to trobinson@ theadvocate.com.