WEST MONROE, La.
— Normally, my children don’t beg to accompany me on reporting trips.
But when I decided to catch up with the Robertson family — faithful Christians and stars of A&E’s popular reality series “Duck Dynasty”
— Keaton and Kendall made it clear that they needed to go with me.
At the Sunday morning assembly of the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, we tried not to gawk as Duckman Jase Robertson offered the communion thoughts and Duck Commander
Phil Robertson joined other elders in praying with those who responded to the invitation (see related story
For me, the trip to West Monroe brought back fond memories totally unrelated to duck hunting or cable television.
That’s because — for two years during my early childhood — this Ouachita River community was my hometown and the White’s Ferry Road church
my home congregation.
In 1974, when my father, Bob Ross, decided to become a minister, he left the Air Force and enrolled at the now-defunct White’s Ferry Road School of Preaching.
I was 6 years old and had finished kindergarten in Blytheville, Ark. When we moved to West Monroe, my brother Scott — nearly a year younger than me — joined me in the first grade at Kiroli Elementary because the school did not offer kindergarten.
As a result, we remained on the same educational track all the way through high school and later at Oklahoma Christian University,
prompting questions about whether we were twins (despite how much better looking than him I am).
In the 1970s, a pungent odor from the paper mill permeated West Monroe. It still does, I discovered. Or, as a businessman told my friend John Dobbs, minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in nearby Monroe, “it smells like money.”
When I close my eyes, I can still see the pink JOY buses that picked up children all over town and brought them to worship at the White’s Ferry Road church. I spent countless hours on those buses with my mother, Judy Ross, brother Scott and baby sister Christy, singing all along the way about the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.”
In 1976, Dad finished his studies at White’s Ferry Road. He and two classmates — Wendell Jackson and Gary Dunavan — teamed up to plant a Church of Christ in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., near the Virginia state line.
With help from short-term teams from out of state, our three domestic missionary families refurbished an old nightclub — painted all black inside when we arrived — and turned it into a church building.
On March 13, 1977, Jackson preached a sermon on baptism. I was 9 years old.
Without saying a word to my parents, I marched to the front that Sunday morning and declared my desire to be immersed for the forgiveness of my sins.
However, the old nightclub did not have a baptistery, and I could not handle the freezing pond water where my father first tried to baptize me. Instead, I gave my life to Jesus that afternoon in my family’s bathtub.
During my recent trip to northeast Louisiana, I spoke on good news in Churches of Christ at the 19th annual Prayer Enrichment Workshop hosted by the Calhoun Church of Christ, west of West Monroe (see related story).
Before my presentation, a man with a slightly familiar face greeted me. He asked if I recognized him. I did not.
“I’m Wendell Jackson,” he said.
I had not seen him in 35 years, as my family left for a ministry in another North Carolina town not long after my baptism.
To my surprise, Jackson handed me a blue folder in which he had kept sermon outlines — written in pencil — that Scott and I prepared in a Sunday school class.
I titled one outline “Purpois to teach Babtism.”
The first point on the faded yellow notebook paper: “Do you have to be baptized to be saved?”
My take: “I’m not going to anser this question, but I think the scriptures will tell you the anser. Well, let’s go to the scriptures.”
The boyhood me referenced Matthew 28:18-20
and Acts 2:37-38.
As for the balding, middle-aged me, Jackson hugged me and told me he loved me.
What a joy to cross paths again this side of heaven. Thank God for forgotten teachers and unforgettable memories.