The Pastor Joel Catlin I Know By Ron Fontenot
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Hebrews 13:17
In this scripture from Hebrews we are told to have confidence in our pastors because they are accountable to keep watch over us and help us mature in our walk with Jesus. By any measure that is a heavy burden a pastor carries and the road is not always paved. If you have not seen Pastor Joel’s presentation of Peter Cartwright then you may not know the Joel Catlin I know. As you know Peter Cartwright was known as the “Backwoods Preacher” and in my mind Pastor Joel personifies that rough outdoor minister touching people for Jesus Christ in their environment. Pastor Joel had printed on t-shirts “Take It to the Streets” and I’m pretty sure a modern day Peter Cartwright would agree.
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States early in the morning on August 29, 2005. When the storm made landfall it was a Category 3 hurricane which brought sustained winds of 100–140 miles per hour–and stretched some 400 miles across. The images of the damage on the television were horrific. In our church we began to take up offerings to send to the Midwest Mission Distribution Center to help with relief efforts. About a month after the storm we got a call from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference asking for volunteers to go to the damaged areas to help with clean-up. Pastor Joel, Ken Emery, and I answered the call.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8
That was the Pastor Joel I know. Always ready to help people in need. We joined other Conference members and traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi where we stayed in a church that was only mildly damaged. We were assigned to help clean up a flooded church in Pearlington, Mississippi about a 45 minute drive away.
On the trip to Mississippi I learned a lot about Pastor Joel. We pulled into a rest stop to wait for our other team members and there I learned Pastor Joel lived the spirit of “Take It to the Streets.” At the rest area, he was perfectly comfortable ministering to complete strangers in a very gentile way. I remember Pastor Joel saying to me “if I don’t tell them about Jesus Christ who will? That left an impression I will never forget.
The first day as we traveled from Gulfport to our assigned church in Pearlington we found the devastation much worse than what we saw on television even a month after the storm. When we arrived at our work site we found the church structure was a simple design made of cinder block. Mud stains could be found as high as nine feet on the inside walls from the flood. But most prominent was the stench of the mud all around us. When we first arrived we walked around the area surveying how we should approach our task. We walked cautiously not knowing what to expect and there in the mud mostly covered was a blue Methodist hymnal. After all the water and mud this hymnal survived. I am reminded of this scripture:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
I am encouraged to know God will always be there. It is people like Pastor Joel that can walk in the midst of the destruction, smell, and hurt and point where God is and that God is all powerful. Even in this destruction we could still see God at work. Pastor Joel would seek out those that have just lost everything and are hurting and pray with them. Many admitted that they had not prayed in years.
Pastor Joel not only ministered to those in need but also demonstrated Christian love in action. Many of the task we were assigned included covering damaged roofs with blue tarpaulins to help protect the homes from more damage. We would cut up tree limbs to haul off or remove items that floated onto the property during the flood. We gutted the inside of the church we were assigned to clean. The carpet had to be removed as well as the cabinets and kitchen appliances. Pastor Joel enjoyed getting dirty and being first upon a roof. He demonstrated his skill with a chainsaw.
For a week in 2005 Pastor Joel was the “Backwoods Preacher.” He was the rough outdoor minister touching people for Jesus Christ in their environment. The Pastor Joel I know is always available to do whatever is needed to be done.
Please pray with me: Father God we give You thanks for Your constant presence and love. We know of Pastor Joel’s faith in the Lord Jesus and his love for all of us, may we never stop giving thanks for him, always remembering him in our prayers. During this time of pastoral transition we will keep asking that You, the glorious Father, will give Pastor Joel the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that he may find strength in You. In Your precious Son’s name we pray. Amen.