Faith Matters for Sept. 10, 2011

Baker pastor celebrates 40 years in ministry

More than seminary or Bible college, the Rev. A.W. Azoney perhaps learned his biggest lesson in 40 years of ministry not from books but from the heart of his grandfather, a man with a third-grade education.

“God gave me what he had and it was a burning love for God, a love that transcends everything that you could experience in life,” said Azoney, pastor of the Greater United Baptist Church in Baker. Azoney, 72, started in ministry in 1972 under the leadership of his grandfather at the Baton Rouge No. 2 Church of God in Christ in the Eden Park area.

“I loved him and everything, but I wished (at the time) I had been under someone more educated, who knew more about administration and homiletics and different things that you learn in Bible college,” Azoney said. “I prayed, 'Lord, I want to learn more than he could teach me. Obviously, he loves you, but he can’t teach me all the things that I need to know.’ “

Nevertheless, Azoney stayed and was named pastor when his grandfather died in 1981.

“It was after he passed that I realized what he had somehow given me,” Azoney said. “Maybe he prayed to God and asked God to give me what he had.”

Another thing that struck Azoney about his grandfather was his knowledge of the Bible.

“He couldn’t read but he could read the Bible and interpret it and it was just amazing to me that he could do that. I knew it was the Holy Spirit that enabled him to read the Bible and pronounce names and places just like someone who had learned it in school,” he said.

Azoney celebrated 40 years in ministry this summer with a banquet and other events.

“I’ve had some trying times and there’s been times if maybe I had figured out something better to do, maybe I would have made a different decision, but loving God and loving the people I pastor ￉ that’s really been the key to my perseverance,” he said.

Loving people and trying to save souls is also a mission work and church planting is an integral part of Azoney’s ministry. Greater United Baptist Church sponsors a school in Ghana and has been active in other parts of West Africa. Azoney has made 25 to 30 trips to Africa.

Azoney was first called to ministry at age 14. But it wasn’t until he graduated from school and moved to Chicago that God called him again.

Azoney attended Trinity College of the Bible Theological Seminary in Indiana before coming back to Baton Rouge and joining his grandfather’s church. He later attended Christian Bible College in Baton Rouge.

The church has undergone several changes, including cutting ties with the Church of God in Christ. There also were a couple of relocations and name changes, including being called the Abyssinian Baptist Church on North Boulevard.

In 2003, the church decided on its current name and moved to Baker. The church, which once had as many as 600 members, is housed in a temporary location at 2602 Main St. with plans to build on a newly purchased 21 acres in Baker.

“We don’t have the membership we had back (in his first two years) , but still have a tremendous fervor to work for the Lord, and we have just outstanding people who have their heads on right when it comes to doing God’s will,” Azoney said.

Boys to men

Louis Jackson has noticed a trend regarding men and church.

“Once they turn 19 to 35, we lose them,” he said. “They go somewhere. And after they turn 35, they begin to drift back in.”

The key, Jackson said, is keeping the 19- to 35-somethings around while they have the energy and their health to help younger children.

Coming up with solutions will be part of the Louisiana Baptist State Laymen’s Workshop for men and boys set for 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 24. at McKowen Baptist Church, 7325 Jones-Connell Road in St. Francisville.

The theme for the event, which is being sponsored by the East Feliciana’s Laymen Ministry, is “The Building Of God’s Kingdom With Christian Men.”

Jackson said the purpose of the workshop is to motivate and train men in all aspects of laymen’s work; train men to work with junior laymen (boys 9-18); and encourage young adult men to become more active in church.

Topics will include “How to Start and Keep a Laymen Movement Going,” “How to Start and Keep a Boys Program Going” and “The Big Pictures (Church, District and State).”

“We’re trying to get the men to do something and relate to the young boys and maybe we can cut down on this crime (and other problems),” said Jackson, who heads the laymen’s group in the Fourth District Baptist Association’s six parishes - West and East Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee and Iberville.

Among the speakers will be the Rev. Jesse B. Bilberry, president of the Fourth District and pastor of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, and host pastor, the Rev. Burnett King.

Breakfast and registration will start at 8 a.m. A carryout lunch will be served. Call Jackson at (225) 774-6750.

Angels book

Angels are all around, waiting for us to request their services, author and minister James Hodges says in his new book, “Understanding the Angels” (ECKO House Publishing).

Hodges of Word Ministries Inc. in Livonia says angels ascend and descend from heaven to earth daily.

“If every individual could realize that with every struggle we have we are not alone; but there is at least one angel standing with us to defend us from all our enemies,” he writes.

Hodges, 57, said he has traveled throughout the country for the past 20 years speaking on angels and holding seminars to various groups and churches.

There are more than 100 million angels, he says.

“They are likened to the numbering of the stars of the heavens,” he writes. “Angels have been on earth and visited men like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Zechariah, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John and others.”

In his 234-page book, Hodges says angels are “mighty but not almighty,” disciplined and influential. He says they don’t die, stand as guards and have different ranks.

Hodges, who has been in the ministry since 1987, founded Project Word (Working on Renewed Determinations) in 1990 to assist youth and adults with emotional issues in life.

Contact Hodges at jameshodges@lightandlamp.com.

“Faith Matters” runs every other Saturday. Contact Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.