Hard times often are described as “going through a valley.” But Bruce Watson, pastor of First Baptist Jeanerette, Louisiana, describes life’s valleys as the place where the soil is the richest.
“It’s not until you get in the valley where the dirt of life is, where the thorns and thistles are, and life happens and becomes dirty, that you find that that’s where the fertile soil is, where the fruit grows,” Watson said.
Watson and his wife Danielle have walked the valley of financial worries, sudden life changes, and the loss of a child they cared for and loved.
Watson’s journey began eight years ago when he felt God calling him to the ministry. Laid off at that time from his job in the oilfield, Watson decided the only way he could provide for his family and attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College to prepare for ministry was to draw from his 401(k) retirement fund.
Together, the couple agreed to do so.
“Okay,” Watson promised the Lord. “If that’s what it takes.”
The plan changed one month before beginning classes when Watson learned he had received the full-tuition Caskey scholarship provided by the NOBTS Caskey Center for Church Excellence. In the spring of 2016, the day before Watson’s first classes began, First Baptist Jeanerette called him as their bi-vocational pastor.
A few short months later, life changed abruptly again when Danielle’s sister suffered a medical crisis that left her unable to care for her three children, two of whom had severe cerebral palsy.
The Watson home, full already with the couple’s four children, became home to three more.
“It was an overnight crash course in making sure [the children] had what they needed,” Watson said.
Securing the care and equipment Chris and Cici needed to manage their cerebral palsy required, at first, that Watson spend “six to eight hours a day, two or three days a week on the phone,” he explained.
Danielle adjusted her homeschool schedule to care for the seven children even as she took classes online through the NOBTS Thrive program for minister’s wives.
With car seats and wheelchairs needed for the teenaged children, the family car seating limit was maxed out and Danielle and the children were forced to take turns going to church. As the children grew, transporting them became more difficult until the North American Mission Board surprised the couple at the NAMB luncheon during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans this year with a van suitable for their needs.
A bi-vocational pastor, Watson teaches at Dyslexia Institutes of America, keeps bees and sells honey. Watson praised his congregation for their support as the family adjusted to a new life, new studies, and a new ministry.
Watson graduated from Leavell College in 2020 and continues his education as a Caskey student in the master of arts in pastoral ministries program. Watson is grateful for the Caskey Center and its leadership for their support and encouragement both in ministry and through difficulty.
“It was such a blessing to get that scholarship,” Watson said. “I don’t think the biggest part of the blessing was the financial aspect but it was the extra ministry experience that I’ve gained because of it.”
The family walked once again through a valley when Chris, aged 23, passed away last year due to complications from his medical condition.
LESSONS FROM THE VALLEY
More than anything else, Watson said he hopes his journey encourages pastors, especially bi-vocational pastors, to “press on” and stay faithful to the ministry to which God has called them. Secondly, Watson said he wants God to get the glory.
“Ministry’s tough and it can be discouraging … [But] God is faithful and even though you can’t see the big picture, He does. He’s always faithful,” Watson said.
While “mountaintop” experiences are enticing, the valley soil produces the greatest fruit in a believer’s life, Watson said.
“When you get through that valley and onto the other side, and then back up on a mountaintop, back close to God, you can look back on that valley and see ‘this is where God was with me’ … and you’re able to see that fruit grow,” Watson said.
God will use the valleys a believer walks through to encourage others, Watson said.
“Trust Him in the process. He’s going to get you through,” Watson tells others. “You’ll be able to encourage somebody else who may be going through the same thing you went through [and] that will either help to develop spiritual fruit in their lives, or give them a better understanding of the awesome God you serve.”
*photo provided courtesy of the North American Mission Board.