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Smoking for Jesus celebrates God’s deliverance from New Orleans to Highland Lakes


HOOVER’S VALLEY — Very few people would consider the uprooting of their lives from a place they knew and loved to settling in an unfamiliar location a reason to celebrate.

But members of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry plan on doing just that as they begin their 10th year as residents of the Highland Lakes.

“We want people to come out and see what God can do in their lives,” said Courtnaye Richard, a member of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry. The church is hosting a celebration Aug. 31 starting during the 9:15 a.m. service and continuing through the day. The congregation wants to share not so much their story with the rest of the community but God’s story through them.

On Aug. 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. While some people stayed, many residents scattered beforehand, seeking a safe place to weather the storm. The Rev. William Monnet Sr. gathered up his church flock and headed for safety.

Richard and her family left before the rest of the church but soon reconnected with them. At first, the members hoped to return to New Orleans, but God had other plans.

After fleeing Katrina into Southeast Texas and then a second storm, Hurricane Rita, the Smoking for Jesus members landed in Marble Falls. The church later moved to the old Buckner’s children’s ranch on FM 2342 north of Kingsland. Many members moved to the location as well.

Richard said Hurricane Katrina devastated the congregation’s New Orleans’ home, making them, in sense, refugees.

“It was scary because we were city people from New Orleans. We weren’t from the country,” she said. “We had to trust in God.”

Since those early days in the Highland Lakes, the congregation has become part of the local community. Many members, Richard pointed out, have gone on to start their own businesses. But the journey from New Orleans to the Highland Lakes has also become a story from which others, not just Smoking for Jesus members, can learn the love and grace of God.

The Smoking for Jesus Ministry is hosting the “We Won’t Go Back” celebration at the church, 1804 FM 2342 just a few miles north of the RR 1431 and FM 2342 intersection in Kingsland. Folks are invited to enjoy free Creole and Cajun food, uplifting music, celebratory dance, testimonies and more starting at 1 p.m.

But Richard said she really hopes people will join the church at the 9:15 a.m. service that day. During the service, congregation members will re-enact the journey from New Orleans to the Highland Lakes and share stories about the events.

“The journey itself was a faith journey, a faith walk,” she said. “We didn’t know what was really going to happen. We just had to trust in God.”

Members of the church have grown from the journey and ensuing life in the Highland Lakes. It’s something they want to share with other Highland Lakes residents and show them how God works in their lives as well.

“We’ve seen the power of God move. He has blessed us,” Richard said. “We all try to plan our lives and think things will go a certain way, but God’s blessing is the best plan. We want to share that with everybody. If you trust God, you’ll be able to see things happen right in front of you, and it doesn’t always have to be something big like what happened to us.”

It’s all about faith and believing God is leading you where you need to go.

“We left New Orleans, a place most of us grew up in and knew,” Richard said. “But God led us here, and we’ve grown to love this beautiful place.”