BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Some people say real miracles happen outside the four walls of the church building itself. That sentiment could not be truer than it is every Thursday afternoon in downtown Baton Rouge.
Tiffany Mellieon sent an e-mail to me around the middle of September to tell me a story that changed her life.
It happened about three years ago when her granddaughter was hospitalized at the Baton Rouge General on Bluebonnet. While her precious granddaughter was in surgery, a young, charismatic man was making rounds through the pediatric unit distributing Christmas gifts to children. He ran across Tiffany and detected her concerned demeanor seeping through a forced smile. He introduced himself to Tiffany and asked if he could pray with her. This was during Christmas week thus the presents.
His name was Keith Richard. He introduced himself as the pastor of a Baton Rouge church called Elevate Church. Tiffany had not heard of this church before but allowed the pastor to pray with her. Tiffany said there was something about Pastor Keith that was special; different. There was something about his spirit that just instantly connected with Tiffany. This man of God was not 'above' her but was walking life's walk with her. He was, well, real.
Months passed, Tiffany's granddaughter was now out of the hospital and well again. One day Tiffany ran into Pastor Keith at Little Caesar's Pizza on Government.
"When I walked in I remembered him from the hospital," Tiffany recalled. "I spoke to him, and he remembered me as well. It had been about eight months. Pastor Keith was picking up pizzas, and we began to talk. He said he was picking up pizzas to distribute to the homeless ministry at that time."
The more they spoke, the more Tiffany came to understand Pastor Keith's ministry.
In addition to being senior pastor at his own church, Elevate Church at 1900 North Boulevard, Pastor Keith was also interim pastor at Living Waters Outreach Ministries in Baton Rouge. He would preach there at 9:30 on Sunday mornings and then race to Elevate Church to serve his own flock.
There were several other encounters between Tiffany and Pastor Keith.
"Each encounter with Pastor Keith was very uplifting and positive. And he was always doing something for the community," Tiffany said.
One such community outreach Pastor Keith conducts weekly, rain or shine, and has done every single week for eight years is something Tiffany calls "Church on the Levee."
Every Thursday afternoon, Pastor Keith, his wife and a couple of vocalists from his choir, gather on the levee directly across from the Baton Rouge River Center, for food, fellowship, and a little encouragement from the gospel.
On Thursday afternoons at 5 p.m., Pastor Keith sets up a portable amplifier and microphone and conducts what amounts to a very uplifting praise and worship service that culminates with a meal being served to the homeless.
I was invited last week. I arrived at about 4:30 and saw volunteers and family members setting up a serving table. On the table were serving tins and crock pots full of everything needed for a hot meal they would eventually serve after Church on the Levee dismissed.
And across the sidewalk was Pastor Keith greeting all who would happen by the levee. He was warmly welcomed by his 'regulars,' extending a handshake or in most cases a warm, sincere hug. Some would smile, say hello, and move on. Others would embrace Pastor Keith and talk about their week, often sobbing. Pastor Keith would console them, pray with them, and assure them that 'everything is possible through Christ our Savior.' He took his time with each person. He was oblivious to the passing of time. If Church on the Levee started at five o'clock, fine. If not, that was fine too. And not one other person there was concerned about the clock either. They were simply blessed being in the presence of this great man of God.
Finally, everyone had gotten settled when his vocalists welcomed everyone and began leading the group in song.
After three or four uplifting renditions, Pastor Keith took the mic for encouraging words grounded in scripture. Every single soul in attendance was touched; moved by his message.
And everyday CATS commuters getting off the bus at the river center stopped and listened before continuing on their way.
At the end of a short but most powerful message, Pastor Keith invited everyone to physically move closer to him where he led the group in public prayer. With palms outstretched to heaven, heads bowed and eyes closed, the small congregation repeated the prayer aloud, each taking its meaning to heart in a very unique and different way.
But before the group broke up and moved to the food line, Tiffany borrowed the pastor's mic and completely stunned him with WAFB's Hand It On gift of $300.
"Pastor, we know that we have WAFB out here today. And we nominated you for the Hand It On program. We wanted to celebrate you pastor because of your love and compassion for the community," Tiffany said.
Pastor Keith's knees buckled as he knelt down, head in hands, and wept.
"Because of your heart for the community, because of your heart for those who have been forgotten, because of your heart for those who have been betrayed, who've been let down, who have been pushed aside, who have been cast down," Tiffany continued. "We wanted to hand it on to you today for all the service, for all the labor, all the prayers, all the hard work that you do pulling these things together and making it happen for other people. For the blessing that you are, to the Body of Christ into the community here in Baton Rouge, we love you."
Speechless. The pastor who just moments ago lifted up so many with his words, at this moment could not find any words. Speechless.
Hugs, tears, and laughter followed. And finally, the group moved to the food line where it was obvious that for some, this was the only balanced, hot meal they would receive this week.
The Bible says to give honor where honor is due. And Pastor Keith Richard is certainly worthy of the honor. He has true compassion for his fellow man, something that can only come from the spirit.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that in eight years, Pastor Keith Richard has only missed Church on the Levee twice? Twice in eight years!
Oh, by the way, did I mention that Pastor Keith Richard and his family are among the many who suffered loss from the recent floods? But that has not stopped his effort and desire to help others. Despite his own family being temporarily displaced and being downsized to one vehicle, Pastor Keith Richard still ministers to others while his own life is being rebuilt. The focus is never on him or his situation. His focus remains on his fellow man always.
Who among us can say the same?
To nominate someone for WAFB's Hand It On recognition, send an e-mail to HandItOn@wafb.com. Make sure to include your contact information, especially your phone number.