BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's a small church. There is no big fellowship hall. There are no education buildings. No choir practice room. Just a small church house with barely enough space outside to park a handful of automobiles for Sunday worship. One single building. That's all.
But make no mistake about it, the Greater St. Michael Baptist Church on Gus Young Avenue in Baton Rouge is busting at the seams with the presence of God.
My mom always said from some of the smallest churches comes some of the most powerful symbols of the presence of Almighty God. That statement was never more evident to me than this week when I was invited to bible study one evening at Greater St. Michael.
Church member Mekeyba Carr had spoken with me earlier about nominating member and associate minister Ms. Ola V. Marshall for Hand It On. As I always do with our nominations, I asked Mekeyba to tell me what makes Minister Marshall so deserving of WAFB's Hand It On recognition.
"She is the true definition of a woman of God," Mekeyba began. "You should see her car! In the back of her P.T. Cruiser she has so much stuff that she just gives out to people who she would see along the way."
Rev. Melissa Dunn-Davis, the Greater St. Michael's senior pastor, concurred.
"Everywhere she walks, there's not gonna be anybody hungry that she doesn't have a bag of food to feed them," Pastor Dunn said, speaking of Ms. Ola V. "There's not gonna be anybody naked because she has clothes in her car. She's gonna clothe them. There's not gonna be anyone that doesn't know how to read because she's gonna stop and take the time and give them a book about Jesus."
Both Pastor Dunn and Mekeyba agreed this is not a 'sometimes thing' Ola V. does.
"Every day of her life is dedicated to Jesus," Pastor Dunn said. "She's the first one to arrive and always the last to leave."
The ladies describe Ola V. as a loving soul, but one not without her own issues. Ms. Ola V's hands hurt. Her feet hurt. Often she can't sleep at night for the pain.
"So I say 'Ms. Ola V. take a break,'" Mekeyba insists. "And says 'no, I can't. I have to continue to do what I need to do.'"
So we showed up for the 6 p.m. bible study that particular evening and sure enough Miss Ola V. was already there, and had been since around 4:30 p.m.
We disguised our visit as being there to do a 'feel good' story about small churches. Little did Ms. Ola V. know she had been nominated for WAFB's Hand It On award and was going to be recognized publicly during bible study. Public recognition, I learned later, was not something she was comfortable with in the very least.
After some singing and opening prayers, Pastor Dunn began.
"Minister Marshall, we want you to stand tonight because they're not here to film the small town church. They're here to film Hand It On," Pastor Dunn said.
At that point, realizing she was the target of this dialogue, Miss Ola V. tried to slip out the front door of the sanctuary, but Pastor Dunn blocked her exit and insisted she come back in.
"All of that walking that you do," the pastor continued. "All of the nursing homes that you do. All of the feeding the hungry that you do. All of the clothing the naked that you do. It is time for somebody to look at you and say thank you. These people nominated you, and God intervened in this thing. God did it. So we want to say to you, here's $300 dollars. May you spend it on you," Pastor Dunn instructed, putting the emphasis on the word you.
Overcome with emotion, tears, and the spirit of Our Lord, Minister Ola V. Marshall received the gift in the spirit with which it was intended, and was humbled and very grateful.
"We want to say to Mr. Johnny Ahysen, come for one second please if you don't mind," Pastor Dunn said, directing her attention to me.
I reluctantly made my way to the altar rail where Pastor Dunn handed me a beautiful plaque.
"You would not believe this, but this is a family prayer and we want you to have that. That's a part of Minister Marshall's work," Pastor Dunn said. "We want to say to you and Channel 9, we thank you and appreciate you all. And we love you very, very much."
With that, I was swept up in Ola V. arms for the biggest, warmest, most genuine hug I've ever gotten. I could feel the love of God through this amazing woman. At that moment, I realize the gift this day was not one I gave – it was one I received.
And as Ms. Ola V. Marshall says "There is no price on what God has given you. A gift from God is a gift to someone else."
It was divine intervention for me to be in that place that very night. I left with the overwhelming assurance that God is real and very much alive and well in 2016. And He is still in the business of performing miracles one person – one small church – at a time.
Hope. Faith. Belief. The Power of Prayer? Greater than ever at Greater St. Michael Baptist Church.
God Bless You Miss Ola V. Marshall. You are truly the face of God in today's hurting world.