Home Christian News Church Grows Through Unlikely Friendship

Church Grows Through Unlikely Friendship

Dustin Emfinger watches as his daughter, Dezi, lies on the back of J Bear, a donkey owned by fellow Kelly Baptist Church member Evelyn Pardue. (Submitted photo courtesy of Baptist Press.)

KELLY, La. (BP) – J Bear is old and can get stuck in his ways, stubborn even. At any moment he makes a racket for no other reason than to let others know he’s there. Small in stature, a first impression may leave you wondering what kind of good he can accomplish.

Evelyn Pardue has known these things for at least 18 years, the length of time J Bear has lived alongside her other donkey, Jack, and cows and on the same 40 acres where she was born 82 years ago. But Pardue knows something else about J Bear .

He can work with kids like no other animal she’s ever encountered.

That’s what led Pardue to invite Dustin and Brittany Emfinger, all members at Kelly Baptist Church, to her property on July 24. Perhaps it was time for the couple’s three-year-old autistic daughter, Dezi, to meet J Bear.

RELATED: Gospel Emphasis, Community Connections Lead in Rural Church’s Growth

Dezi isn’t much for animals, only recently being on friendly terms with the family’s dog. At Pardue’s insistence, though, a blanket was put on J Bear’s back for Dezi to take a seat.

“She would look at animals, even little ones, from a distance but that would be it,” said Brittany. “But when she got on his back, she just sat there. That donkey was amazing. It’s like he just sensed something and got completely still.”

Then something happened that took everyone’s breath. Little Dezi leaned forward and hugged J Bear’s neck.

“It was … I don’t know. When she laid down it made me so happy to see her doing something you typically see other kids do,” said her mother.

The scene could ring true for how members of Kelly Baptist, which averages 60 in Sunday attendance, look out for each other.

Pardue’s story includes much heartbreak. In her lifetime, cancer has claimed two husbands and all four of her children. It tried to claim her, too, in 2018.

RELATED: 15 Church Growth Ideas

Her second husband, Bob Pardue, got her to attend Kelly Baptist Church. At 73 years old she prayed for Christ to be her Savior and has since assumed the role of the church matriarch.

“She’s just a pioneer woman who has worked hard all her life,” said Pastor Joe Aguillard. “I was blessed to baptize her a few years ago.”

At her age with cows, donkeys and two bulls she keeps in separate pastures, Pardue still finds time to help others. Time was spent this week clothes-shopping for a family who lost their home in a fire.

Kelly Baptist has become a spiritual home and extended family for the Emfingers, too. As a couple, battles with addiction had pushed their marriage to the brink and cost them almost everything. One day a friend of Brittany’s invited her to church. Dustin eventually joined her as did their four children.

The support they’ve received has been crucial. Their youngest daughter was technically nonverbal, but that didn’t mean she was quiet nor inactive. As a baby and toddler, she cried often. It wasn’t unusual for her to wake at 1 a.m. and not go back to sleep until six. Brittany, a former nurse, stayed home with her during the day while Dustin put in his long hours as a contractor.