I have only been doing this blog for a couple months. This week I am going to just do the lazy thing and redirect some of you who have only recently been visiting the site. So, no new material this week.
Tag Archives: profiles
Frankie France was one of the “HCOG Volunteer Hall of Fame” members, at least in my book. Sister France was a member of Homestead Church of God (now Life Pointe) before my dad moved to Homestead to become the pastor in the summer of 1986. She was about 5 feet tall, and she had gray hair, and she was… hmm, how do you say… spunky! Our first week in Homestead here at the church, Frankie told my dad that she was going to run him off. She declared that she was the meanest! Just five minutes or so hanging out with her and you knew that was not true!
She had a fiercely independent “can-do” style about her that is pretty much non-existent these days. That was probably because she grew up Kentucky in without electricity, without running water in her house, and she had to ride for miles on a horse every day just to get to school. My dad called her “The Kentucky Wonder”. Before retiring, she managed a restaurant, so she knew lots of tricks about consolidating several small amounts of condiments into one bottle, and how to make candy, and how to fix large quantities of food for church dinners. She always had an angle at how to do stuff. As she was getting up in years, she was determined to be at church and to get around on her own in her car as long as she physically could.
As far as her volunteer work, as a classroom monitor she spent every school day at Pathway Christian School, which was a ministry of our church, helping the little ones learn to read and keeping the rowdy teenage boys (who were of course unlike me) in line. Every day she would collect coupons from boxes, newspapers, mail-outs, and store papers to cut them out and and redeem them for a fraction of a penny each to the company of origin to donate some money to the Florida Boy’s Ranch. She was always first in line to donate some canned goods for food drives even though she was on a very meager fixed income. Anytime the church had an activity that required workers, she was there to clean up, or cook, or do her part and more to help with the work day.
One of the most endearing characteristics she had was her spunky attitude and sense of humor. I remember one time I was leaning back in my chair at school talking to one of my neighbors when Sister France came up behind me and popped me on the head with a booklet. She laughed and told me to get back to work. But Sister France always had my back. For years after we joked about her popping me in the head with the booklet, even when she was in a retirement home. She never did really give me a hard time, although she would joke a lot about giving me a tough time. Travis and I adopted her as our Homestead granny and she adopted us back. I guarantee you this; if anyone messed with my dad, they would have to go through Frankie France before they got to him. She was loyal as loyal could be. And she always had a good joke or a story.
Due to a condition that caused her vision to deteriorate, Sister France eventually had to give up driving at night, then altogether. Soon, she was no longer able to read her bible. After a few years, she was totally blind and unable to take care of herself. I regret to this day that I didn’t visit her more than I did, because every single time I went to see her in her little room at her retirement home, she would get me to laugh and joke, and we would have such a good time. And I loved to go see her.
For years, she was an integral part of the church, tithing faithfully though she was on a very limited fixed income, and providing ladies’ meetings with some of the best jokes and nuggets of wisdom. She exemplified the attitude that we should all have, loyal to God, her church, her pastor, and her friends, and loving God and man with reckless abandon. About four years ago, Frankie France went on to meet Jesus. I want everyone to remember this awesome woman who meant so much to my church, my family, and me. I challenge each of you who read this and myself to carry on the legacy of Frankie France with faithful giving, volunteering, loyalty, dedication, and cheerfulness. One day, I will see her in Heaven.
This is a very special edition of Profiles. I want to tell everyone about one of the most amazing volunteers in the history of Life Pointe Church/Homestead Church of God. I want to steal the words of Pastor Travis when he said,”When I hear people give excuses why they cannot serve, I think of Ela Ortega.” Shame on me and others for excuse-making when it was unacceptable.
Easter 2005 was Ela and Ivan’s first time with us at Life Pointe. They were driving by the church one day, and felt drawn to come. In the first service, there was a call to donate canned goods (the event was “Canning Hunger”) and as visitors they made one of the largest contributions. In that same year, they joined in making handmade gifts for Mother’s Day. She also donated her dishes and several appliances after an appeal was made to help someone in the church. From there, the volunteering just multiplied.
Ela Ortega is without question one of the most important pieces of Life Pointe’s volunteer group. She serves as the right hand volunteer coordinator to my mom, Anne Johnson. Anytime a new person walks through the doors at the theater and writes his or her information on a connection card, they are sure to get a personal contact from Ela. Ela also helps coordinate the volunteers in hospitality by reminder phone calls during the week. Ela also has a nack for encouraging people. She definitely has a heart of gold. The most amazing part is that does all this in spite of a debilitating condition which has left her lungs at a fraction of the capacity of most people. This beautiful and kind woman of God has also dealt with the loss of her husband, Ivan, who was also a member and volunteer at Life Pointe. Through all these struggles, Ela remains an example of perseverance, dedication, faith, and kindness. Ela doesn’t get to come to church very often anymore, but every week she listens to the message via podcast and encourages the LPC bloggers with her thoughtful comments.
It’s really amazing that one of the areas in which Ela is so gifted, her words of encouragement and talking to people, is the area in which her physical body has been attacked. If there was a Life Pointe Hall of Fame, Ela would get my vote on the first ballot!
Please take the time to watch this video in Ela’s own words. This was recorded for a series called “LikeUs.tv“.
This installment will once again focus on a couple of people that most of the current LPC membership do not know. Gene and Margaret were an older couple from Georgia who coincidentally were parents of a classmate of my father JT Johnson. Gene and Margaret were missionaries to South America and frequented Homestead Church of God when they were in the US. They stayed in a little one room home behind the church and worked in the church while they were in town. They were some of the strongest examples of dedication and volunteerism, and were committed to seeing the lost saved.
Gene was a really nice fella. He was always “Johnny on the spot” when something broke at the church. He worked on toilets, appliances, replaced lightbulbs, and did electrical work. This was very important considering the church budget and the state of the large mortgage on the relatively new sanctuary (built in 78). Gene ALWAYS had a grin on his face. He always had a kind word to say and a very pleasant demeanor. I remember his hard physical work at the church. In particular, he would set up shaky scaffolding in the sanctuary so he could climb up to the mercury vapor chandeliers about 30 feet in the air. I would get a little nervous seeing him up at the top with nothing to hold on to while it wobbled around. It was quite a feet for someone who could see, but Gene was legally blind! He said that was part of why he wasn’t afraid of the heights.
Margaret worked with the children’s church and had a heart to tell the little ones about Jesus. While many of her methods are now outdated (flannelgraphs, some of the puppets, and the style of the songs she taught), she was actually skilled as a children’s minister. One of her best talents was the lost art of ventriloquism. She could have a conversation with herself! She would sit with her wood puppet on her lap and tell Bible stories, demonstrate by example how to tell friends about Jesus, how to pray for someone, how to treat each other, and also would tell the children about all the other people around the world who dress and sound different than they do. I remember she would try to teach me how to be a ventriloquist, but it never quite worked out for me. Margaret could cook as well and was always ready to cook a nice meal for church guests and volunteers.
I lost touch with Gene and Margaret sometime around the late 80’s, and I cannot tell you where they are or what they are doing now. But I can tell you that we would all do well to be as selfless, to strive to share the gospel message, and to work as hard as Gene and Margaret Hadsel.
Due to the massive Moonlight Easter Egg Hunt event, we decided to hear about about another massive event in our church’s history. Last week’s “Profiles” entry about Giving Thanks With a Grateful Heart has been one of the most read entries since I started blogging. Therefore, I asked my dad to provide another entry about the Christmas event in 92 that was a gi-normous (that’s gigantic and enormous) outreach of the Homestead Church of God, now Life Pointe.
by JT Johnson
Giving Thanks With A Grateful Heart was such a great success that sponsors were lining up to help HCOG (now Life Pointe) do something special for Andrew survivors during the Christmas season. The energetic, irrepressible Dr. William E. Bailey of the Insurance Information Institute was not only open to doing something big for Homestead area, he set about raising enough money to do it. What a fine Christian business man!
Bill seemed to know personally the CEOs of virtually every significant insurance company in America : Hartford , Allstate, USF&G, Church Mutual, Mutual of Omaha, as well as Independent Insurance Agents of America from numerous states responded in substantive ways to his appeals for sponsorship of the HCOG Disaster Relief Fund. HCOG used this fund to help thousands of Andrew survivors and we did so without using one penny of it for administrative costs. Every dollar donated was a dollar spent on Andrew survivors.
Christmas is always a tough time for people in extreme situations. It is supposed to be a happy time for families, but it is hard to be filled with good cheer when your roof is gone and you are sleeping in the many makeshift shelters that dotted the ravaged trail left by that monster, Hurricane Andrew.
So we came up with a way to empower parents to be the hero to their children. The idea was to provide vouchers, worth $25, to parents for each of their children so that the parents would be the heroes to their own kids. Parents with five children got five vouchers. Parents could buy for Christmas what they, in their parental wisdom, decided would be best for their children.
About two weeks before Christmas, I went to Sears at Cutler Ridge Mall as it was called then with a HCOG disaster relief fund check, marched up to their customer service window and tried to buy one thousand (1000) $25.00 gift certificates. At first they didn’t notice me standing at the window, but finally someone came walking by inside the window and decided to ask me if I needed help. Words do not describe the range of looks I got when I told them I wanted to spend $25,000 buying Sears Gifts Certificates. The Credit Manager was called, who, apparently believing me to be some kook, told me a check for that much could not be used to buy Sears Gift Certificates, but that I would have to use a Cashier’s Check or a Certified Check. We all know that banks routinely verify checks, especially those drawn on local banks, which ours, of course, was. It was about noon . I didn’t waste time arguing, but told them I’d be right back. I went to our bank in Homestead , the same one we provided free hot meals every day for three months. Mr. Losner, the Bank’s president, instructed the cashier to get me, ASAP and without service charge, a Cashier’s check for $25,000.00 from HCOG’s Disaster Relief Fund made out to Sears.
When I walked back into the Sears Customer Service Department an hour later, I heard a guy behind the window say,” He’s back!” This time the Store Manager was summoned and she showed up fast. My treatment was a lot different this time. I was now being called, “Pastor”. However, when the Cashier’s Check for 25k smolliens was produced you should have seen their expressions!
Well, giving away $25,000, in twenty-five dollars increments is not as easy as you think. Bill Bailey provided a Florida State Highway Patrol escort. Crowd control was an issue we had a bit of experience with after Andrew, having endured a mini-riot giving away food and water. We controlled the crowd by requiring a signed, duly approved and filled out voucher to be exchanged for the gift certificate. The number of blank vouchers were limited to the number of Certificates we had. About a week prior to Christmas itself we used four church locations as well as our own location as staging areas for the gift giving. Blank vouchers were distributed by our fellow church congregations. Each voucher request had to be authorized by the respective church’s pastor, who had to approve that each request was valid. This eliminated fraud, strengthened the local church and pastor and gave proof to our donors, if they ever requested it, where every voucher went. It also provided a terrific database for follow-ups for each church. We distributed vouchers to every significant demographic we knew about in South Dade , without regard to their church or religious affiliation.
It was exhilarating. It was moving. It was joyful. I never felt so pumped. Giving is truly more blessed than receiving. My hand was shaken, my neck hugged and my picture taken so much a presidential candidate would have been downright envious of the whole day. Parents cried and children laughed. Scores of “Christmas in Homestead ” tee shirts, donated toys and turkeys were distributed, free of charge, too.
Then on Christmas Eve, ‘neath a beautiful night sky freckled with twinking stars, peering through the remaining steel beams of our roofless sanctuary, we sang Christmas Carols by candlelight, and reminded ourselves of another starry night about two thousand years ago when angels sang, a baby was born and Heaven kissed the planet Earth.
I’d like to tell you about the time The Sugar Bowl took up an offering for HCOG. I’ll save that for another time.
I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. It was beautiful. It was bigger than any person or church group. It was a moment ordained by God. Being an active part of the volunteers along with my mom, Arlene, Nancy, and many others, I can tell you that this was an amazing time in the history of Life Pointe/HCOG and the City of Homestead. So many people were able to share in a beautiful time with their families in the midst of the ruins of their once normal neighborhoods. Many families were given the opportunity to see the true meaning of Christmas, demonstrated by the tireless efforts of HCOG through relief and community outreach. The carols in the roofless building that many people mistakenly refer to as a church was memorable and touching. That year proved what we now know: We are the church and we meet in a building; the building is not the church. The building doesn’t have to have a steeple in order to hold a church; we show this at the theater. The building doesn’t even have to have a roof, as we have proven following Andrew. The building just makes it a little more comfortable for the church to get together.
In light of the events of the weekend, specifically the egg hunt, I wanted to write about a massive event rather than a person, that was held on the church property following hurricane Andrew. Instead, I asked my dad to write about the event since he planned and executed: Giving Thanks With a Grateful Heart – Thanksgiving in Homestead 1992. Christmas in Homestead 1992 was equally as big, maybe bigger. But the Thanksgiving event was just amazing.
-By JT Johnson
Giving Thanks With A Grateful Heart(GTWAGH) was another in a long list of illustrious events in the storied history of Life-Pointe Church/HCOG that brought thousands of people together in one place. We announced that 10,000 hot turkey dinners would be served to any and all comers.
That was a real step of courage since Homestead had been dubbed “Bumstead” in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Squatting along the canals or in damaged abandoned buildings were thousands of homeless job seekers/opportunists in search of a fast buck, a government handout or free meals; they would be glad to have a Turkey Dinner on Thanksgiving. We were glad to serve them, too, but we were really just trying to remind our town to be thankful to The Lord for the really important stuff–our families and our lives. Our housing could be replaced.
We had it all lined up, we thought. TBN purchased the turkeys, a local trucking company provided a refrigerated semi tractor-trailer to keep the food cold and CBN’s Operation Blessing donated thousands of bibles. Bill Bailey, brother of the OJ trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey, raised and donated thousands of dollars for this event and another one at Christmas time. We had all the food, T-shirts, shelter and paper goods/plates we needed. Funding providentially came in many sources. We had plenty of volunteers lined when one hundred twenty-five students/ teachers from West Virginia University heard about it the week before and asked if they could help.
Everything was just perfect until two days before Thanksgiving. Press releases went out to every major news outlet and calls were coming in from the press.
Then our volunteer cook welched on us and I was up the proverbial creek with no means of propulsion. I wanted to resign. Self-destruction seemed for a moment or two somewhat more pleasant than no cook.
Hungry Harry, Official caterer for the NFL Tampa Bay Bucs and personal friend of Bucs’ owner Hugh Culverhouse, got a call from me about 10 pm two days before Thanksgiving asking him to cook for us. He dropped what he was doing for three days and bailed us out. Whewww!! Life was sweet.
GTWAGH was a success amidst the ruins of our roofless sanctuary, unrepaired as yet. We were on the front page of our local paper, the Miami Herald did a multi-page article and USA Today included a picture with a brief mention of our church. AP news wires carried the story of the church with no roof serving South Florida 10,000 hot Turkey Dinners and a few days later the Hurricane Insurance Information Center sent me a copy of an article about it from the Sacramento Bee.
A few days later the foundation started by President George H. W. Bush, “Points of Light” and the charitable “Sears Foundation” awarded me the Hurricane Hero Award for conspicuous service to the survivors of Andrew. I didn’t feel like a hero. Harry was the hero. I was just doing what God gave me opportunity to do. Besides Anne and Phillip were right there with me all the way and they deserved it if anyone did.
I remember the crowds of people gathering, the slosh under foot from grass and dirt being walked on until it became mud, and the tents where the food was being prepared and served. That was a crazy time and it was so much work. The egg hunt actually gave me a couple of flashbacks to the Giving Thanks event, and the Christmas in Homestead. Not everyone has the opportunity to go through one of those events, but it is a character shaping time.
The majority of the current membership and attendance at Life Pointe have never heard of Bob Baker, but every one of you have felt his impact.
Background: Bob dedicated himself to the Lord in the early 80’s at Palmetto Church of God where my dad pastored. At the time, he was studying to be a nurse at Manatee Community College. Bob was commissioned by my dad, Pastor JT Johnson, to be the captain of the bus ministry. Every Saturday, Bob would jump in his convertible MG and drive all over Palmetto and Bradenton, knocking on doors and telling kids and families about Jesus and inviting them to church. Most of the homes he visited were low income and many were broken homes. Seeing dirty children, single mother families, children raised by their grandparents, and even some instances where cult religions were controlling the home wasn’t unusual. Bob was chased out of a few homes with violent threats and attempts, but that just made him want to work harder. For the most part, caregivers were glad to see Bob come around and gladly sent their kids to church with him on Sunday morning. Each Saturday, my brother Travis or I would go with Bob and spend the whole day knocking on doors and inviting other kids to church. Many of the snooty people in church would complain that they didn’t want these kids messing up their pretty church. These children were of many different ethnic backgrounds that were different from the background of some of the members of the church who complained. Honestly, they were prejudiced bigots who didn’t want the little kids invading their pretty little church. Bob Baker and my dad kept doing the work of the Lord. JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN!
In 1987, Bob moved to Homestead to work at Pathway Christian School and to work with the children’s ministry at the church. “The Bake”, as the kids at Pathway called him, would frequently be seen at church Sunday morning dressed as a clown for the children’s church. Sometimes, people would also see Bobo T Clown, aka Pastor Travis. Bob also brought with him his love for praise and worship music. This was a newer concept at the Homestead Church of God in ’87. Most of the songs led on Sunday morning were out of the red back hymnal. Bob loved “I Will Celebrate” and “Sing Unto the Lord” particularly, but he also enjoyed a lot of other Maranatha and Integrity worship songs.
The impact of Bob Baker’s work in the church here in Homestead and in Palmetto is enormous and it’s full implications will never be known until we get to Heaven. Because of Bob’s push for outreach and ministry to people of all colors and nationalities (which was really envisioned by Pastor JT Johnson prior to coming to Homestead), Travis Johnson was influenced to be outreach minded. The Moonlight Easter Egg Hunt is an activity that Bob would have been all over! To think of the link between Bob’s dedication to outreach and the current growth at LPC reminds me of the song “Thank You” by Ray Boltz. I have heard Pastor Travis attribute his desire to see people come to the lord through outreach in the community to the times he spent with Bob Baker in Palmetto on those Saturdays back in the 80’s.
I haven’t talked with Bob in a few years. Last I heard, he was practicing medicine as an MD in Waco, TX.
Thank you, Bob!