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Chapter 43. The Possum Gumbo Church

October 15, 2010

The ‘Possum Gumbo Church

Martyn Ballestero

Almost fifty people sat in the little wooden church house in Lunita, Louisiana. They had come to a Youth Revival to hear 19-year-old Marty Ballestero from South Bend, Indiana. Pastor Kirkland had announced revival services for the next nine nights.

There was only one musical instrument in the church, a piano. The pastor’s 16yr. old daughter played the best she could. She was backslidden, but they needed some music, and that’s all they had. No one else could play the piano.

The year was 1963, the month was November, and I was out in the sticks. There was not a traffic light or a stop sign to be found for miles. There was not much to be seen here, but piney woods. While praying in those woods I got 59 chigger bites in one hour. I spent the rest of my prayer meetings indoors. It is easier to scratch indoors.

The song service was started with the ‘choir’ coming up on the platform to sing. The ‘choir’ consisted of whoever wanted to come up. Only a few remained seated in the audience. No one shouted during the revival, nor seemed to be overly blessed by the singing or the preaching. But everyone was friendly and said nice things to their guest.

The crowd was made up of hard working but poor, salt-of-the-earth kind of folks. During prayer requests, names like, ‘Sis. Turtle’, and ‘One-Legged Willie’ got mentioned. No one seemed to be amused by the unusual nicknames.

The offering pan was passed every night and the change clanging on the bottom was very noticeable.

I was staying in the wing just to the left of the auditorium. My room had a bed and nothing more. An outhouse was near where a white building now stands. The wing has been more than doubled in size and everything is enlarged and bricked now.

The woods came right up beside the church house then. The trees came so close it was possible to squirrel hunt sitting on the platform.

Bro. Kirkland, the pastor, lived in a mobile home with his wife, his daughter, and son. The trailer was parked to the right of the church. It sat in the tree line as well. He drove a casket delivery truck for Batesville Casket Company. I rode with him a few times during the day for fellowship.

At night after church, I would be invited to eat at their house.

I had never had much of an opportunity to eat Cajun cooking before. I had spent too many years out west and up north. One night, Sister Kirkland said, “I hope you like gumbo, brother,” as I entered her house.

“Oh yes ma’am,” I said. I didn’t know if I did or didn’t, but when you are only eating one meal a day, you don’t get too picky, because it’s 24 hours till they invite you over again.

I watched how my hosts ate their gumbo. It was served with a whole egg in it on one side and a generous helping of warm potato salad over on the other side. The rue was dark. I was hungry and ate mine up. The taste was a little different, but then I’d never had gumbo before, so I didn’t know.

“That’s ‘possum gumbo, brother.” The pastor’s 14yr. old son said. Did you like it?”

I didn’t want to say I liked it because the inward shock of being told I’d just eaten ‘possum was one thing, but to knowingly lie was another.

“It tasted pretty good whatever it was.” Was my come back.  I don’t think I would have knowingly wished to eat possum, but I did.

I had been gone from home a little over a month and had been preaching a few nights here and there. This was my first revival since going full time.

Since the piano player was backslidden, I chose not to have any music for altar service the entire revival. I had to give altar calls without music. I wanted her to pray through and knew she couldn’t play and pray at the same time. She did pray through on the last weekend.

I didn’t know, till after service one night, that President Kennedy had been assassinated the day before. There was no radio in my room or newspaper in Lunita to keep me informed.

Sixteen young people prayed through during those nine nights. Many of them were backsliders.

The last night, Bro. Kirkland announced that an offering had been taken every night and that a total of $4.65 had come in for the evangelist. He said that he would like to have the church vote to give him permission to raise the total up to $5.00.

All those that were in favor of the evangelistic increase in funds stood to their feet, it was the first election I had ever won.

I went to Deweyville, Texas, on the Texas/Louisiana state line that night. I spent $3.50 in a phone booth for a 3 minute call to my dad, telling him of my offering. I then bought 5 gallons of gas at the Billups station for $1.00, for my ’55 ford and drove across the street to Nick’s Restaurant. There I ordered a $.35 Cheeseburger and spent my last $.15 on a large Dr. Pepper.

I left Deweyville broke and happy.

This Is Home Missions Too.

Lunita Pentecostal Church - October 2010

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Carlene Branham permalink
    October 15, 2010 10:30 pm

    Oh Marty, I do love this story. It made it more gross than ever, tho, seeing that picture of the possum! All I can say is “EWWWWWWWW”!!!!!!!!!

  2. Evangelist David Boyd permalink
    October 15, 2010 10:45 pm

    All those that in favor of the evangelistic increase in funds stood to their feet, it was the first election I had ever won.

    Classic!!!

    I LOVE IT!!!

  3. Nila Marxer permalink
    October 15, 2010 11:29 pm

    I love this story! I vaguely remember mom praying desperately for her boy. Dad prayed, but his sense of humor came through! As for you, what made me so frustrated, is that you only ate once a day 😦

  4. September 28, 2011 8:05 pm

    thanks for sharing, i laughed so hard, i cried

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