True Stories by Teena Myers
During prayer, God called Tony to ministry with a voice that permeated his entire being. His father questioned his decision to attend Bible college instead of medical school, but his mother knew he was predestined for ministry.
During his first week at college, Tony’s love for evangelism stirred him to join a group of students who ministered at a nearby park. Nelly, a beautiful woman from Canada, caught his eye. He hoped she would be his ministry partner. She later confessed to the same desire. Several years later, Tony proposed, and they became partners for life.
The Freemans were pastors when they met three ministers with a common dream: a Bible college that offered an affordable education to young ministers. Through much prayer and hard work, their dream became a reality when they established a school in New Orleans and then launched a second campus in California. Tony served the school for thirteen years, first as a professor and then as president. His final two years he presided over both campuses, flying from New Orleans to California and back every two weeks.
Tony thought he had found his final destination in ministry, but God had other plans. He submitted his resignation while at the California campus. On the flight back to New Orleans, Tony pondered the decade of service he had given to the students and sadness swept over him.
To relieve his depression, he joined his four sons in a game of basketball. During the game, Tony severely broke his ankle. The doctor immediately put his foot in a cast which restricted the swelling. The unbearable pain distracted Tony from the foreboding newscasts of a monster storm heading toward New Orleans. By the end of the week, a flurry of activity to secure the school and send the students to the safety of the California campus left little time to indulge his depression. He left the city with his family as the feeder bands of Katrina came ashore.
FEMA’s slow response to the disaster forced the mayor of a community adjoining New Orleans to seek help from other venues. The mayor knew Tony’s school had contacts with organizations that could supply food and water. Two days after the storm, he sent Tony a letter that gave him access through government check-points into the city.
Tony returned to a city in chaos. “When we entered the city, it looked like a bomb had exploded,” said Tony. He found the mayor in the public utilities building trying to save their city as water pumps continued to fail. He followed the mayor to his office in City Hall. As they entered the building, a group of police officers rushed out the door to help firefighters dodging bullets as they attempted to quench the fire set by looters at a shopping mall. The weary and discouraged mayor gladly allowed Tony to pray for him. Then he made Tony’s school the hub for faith-based groups that came to rebuild the city. Every morning, Tony met with the mayor and then dispatched volunteers to the areas of greatest need.
As Tony’s official last day with SUM approached, he decided to visit Nelly’s family in Canada while they pondered what to do next. They were on the highway between Ontario and Toronto discussing offers from various churches when they heard the Lord say, “Return to New Orleans and start a church.”
They were undaunted by the lack of a church building. “We decided that you don’t have to be in a church building to worship God,” said Tony, “so we started the church in my living room.” They offered a home-cooked meal and Bible study to the volunteers surviving on army-issued MREs (meals ready to eat). Volunteers from Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, and California accepted their invitation and became the core team that launched the church.
The church held its first service on Easter Sunday. The congregation consisted of the core team, a few families, and some homeless people until Tofu walked into the church. Tofu’s story began when Tony was president of the school. Tony helped Tesia, his administrative assistant and spiritual daughter, raise funds to return to Mozambique and work with Iris Ministries. The ministry was baptizing converts when Tofu, a young medical student from Boston, stopped to photograph the event and witnessed people receive the gift of tongues. When Tesia learned Tofu was on his way to New Orleans to attend a University, she encouraged him to visit Tony’s church.
Tofu knew nothing about the gift of tongues except what he had witnessed in Africa. When he visited All Nations Fellowship, he questioned Tony about the experience and expressed a desire to receive the gift. “I prayed God would give him the gift, and he spoke in tongues for three hours. I got tired of praying with him and left,” said Tony.
Tofu became the catalysts that caused Tony’s congregation to grow. When he shared his faith at the university, many of the students began attending Tony’s church.