The story of a defiant Old Testament prophet proved a cautionary tale for Jessie Underwood.
As Jonah tried to flee his call to preach and found himself in the belly of a fish at the bottom of the sea, Underwood enthusiastically dove into the waters of ministry – accepting his call some 25 years ago at the age of 50.
“I couldn’t hide and I couldn’t run,” said Underwood, the pastor of Faith Rock Christian Center in Baton Rouge. “There was a man named Jonas. He had a lot of trouble. … That means he was doomed.
God graciously gave Jonah another chance and he eventually made his way to preach to people in the wicked city of Nineveh.
Underwood, 75, admits his calling was not so dramatic, but just as life-changing.
“I will never forget it,” he said. “It was beautiful. God spoke to me and he told me to go preach. He gave me the green light and I have been doing it ever since.
The Monroe native had spent years serving in a church as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. He said he had no doubt God had called another level of service.
“I knew it was God,” he said. “He just spoke to me in a straight voice.”
Underwood said he didn’t want to face similar retribution from Jonah.
“I did what he called me to do – or I got whipped by him,” Underwood said.
About 20 years ago, Underwood said he started the nondenominational Faith Rock Church in his home before eventually moving to its current location at 12330 Florida Blvd in the Longbow Mall.
“Things are going well,” he said. “It is a church led by the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe in him. We believe that whatever he says is what we do.
The church’s name, Underwood said, is based on Matthew 16:18: “And I say unto you also, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against she. “
“God gave me this name,” he said. “It was the revelation of the knowledge of the rock. We build on this knowledge.
Underwood said he knew God growing up in a Christian home. He was saved and baptized at an early age, beginning his lifelong connection with Christ.
“He means a lot to me,” Underwood said. “No. 1 is my saviour. He saved me and he called me. He anointed me and he named me.
Underwood said he was passionate about preaching and teaching the entirety of God’s word.
“I’m just led by the Holy Spirit, whatever word He gives me,” he said. “I love teaching everyone the word of God. I have no preference for any particular scripture.
The bi-vocational pastor continues to balance his commitment to God’s work and his building work.
“There is a time for all things,” he said. “There is a time to serve in the church and there is a time to serve in the field. Just coordinate the work.