As I opened a book from my library to research a message, I saw this inscription on the inside front cover: “To Bob … with Love in Christ, Bonnie.” Instantly, my mind flashed back 40 years and I began to think of my friend and sister in Christ, and her love for a relatively new believer and his wife. I remembered how the Lord had used her to plant the work here in Slidell, Louisiana and how it all traced back to Bonnie making obedience to biblical principles the priority in her life. She believed these principles were one of life’s non-negotiables. Where would Slidell Bible Chapel be today if it wasn’t for her, and others like her that chose to faithfully follow the biblical pattern. Bonnie went home to be with her Lord and Savior many years ago, but today the work still prospers.
Bonnie was a young lady from the Atlanta, Georgia area. While attending a denominational church there, she trusted Christ as her Savior. Later coming to understand New Testament church truths, she came into fellowship in an Atlanta area assembly. In late 1971 she was offered a job in the local hospital in Slidell, Louisiana, a bedroom community just east of New Orleans. Desiring to continue to fellowship in an assembly, she called a full-time worker in New Orleans, named Vernon Schlief, who assured her that there was an assembly meeting in the area and encouraged her to take the job.
In February, 1972, Bonnie moved from Georgia to Slidell. There she faithfully commuted each week to meet with the believers at Lake Park Chapel in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. In the spring of 1973, a local lady was hospitalized in Slidell. Bonnie and her found that they had a mutual interest in the Lord Jesus Christ and a mutual disillusionment with man-made organizations and the traditions of denominationalism. Consequently, upon her release from the hospital, she and eventually her husband joined Bonnie in faithfully commuting to Lake Park Chapel each week. There they met and got to know Vernon and Gladys Schlief as well as other believers. In this assembly, New Testament principles were taught and practiced. It became obvious to them that the Holy Spirit had brought Bonnie to them and that He had been leading them out of denominationalism and into the truths of his New Testament patterned church. In faithfulness to these teachings, they and Bonnie became convinced that God’s will was to establish a New Testament patterned assembly in Slidell.
In the Fall of 1973, home Bible Studies began in the couple’s home in Slidell. These studies included “What the Bible Teaches,” “Christ Loved the Church,” “The Gospel of John,” as well as other biblical books, Emmaus Correspondence Courses, and teaching on New Testament church truths. These subjects were expounded methodically verse by verse, primarily by Vernon Schlief with the help of a couple of other brethren from Lake Park Chapel. The Bible Study grew, and, over the next two years, the original three believers were joined by the couple’s two children, growing eventually to a total of 15. In 1975 they began praying for a chapel building. The new building was purchased in the “Old Town / Brugier” subdivision of Slidell. Only minor alterations were needed to remove a breakfast bar and install a partition wall and 55 padded theater seats removed from the local Spanish store-front meeting hall. A small pulpit and communion table finished off the auditorium. Behind the partition wall was a little kitchen. The other half of the building consisted of two Sunday School classrooms, a nursery, and a bathroom. In August 1975, the first meeting was held in the new chapel building. Ministry was provided by Vernon and others from Lake Park Chapel. Bonnie, the couple with two children, plus one other couple made up the fellowship. Two other couples along with two singles attended sporadically.
In 1977 JoAnne, I and our three girls moved to Slidell and joined in the work. In 1978, Bertley and Adilie Englade from Lake Park Chapel began coming on Sunday mornings to play the recently purchased piano. A year later the Englades moved to Slidell to help in the work. Over these and the following years people came and went, but the work moved ahead. An annual Bible Conference was begun, various outreaches were established, and the elders of Lake Park Chapel assisted in helping to recognize elders.
In 1985, JoAnne and I were commended to the service of the Lord and negotiations began on a new facility. The sale became final the following year. As the assembly moved to the new facility, it also moved to a new heart and mind. Up to this point we had just prayed that the Lord would bring people in to build the work. As a corporate body, we now committed ourselves to also go out into the world to reach the lost for Christ.
With the new building, we also gained a child care facility which was reorganized as a chapel ministry, consisting of 3 teachers and 43 children, comprised of infants and grades N2 through K5. Every child received a quality education, daily gospel lesson, and memory verse. In 1993, Slidell Christian Academy was established enabling the day care to deal with child care, and the school to take the rest. JoAnne directed the day care and I was the principal of the school. One grade was added to the school each year until in 2000, the day care took children from 8 weeks old through 3 years old, and the school took Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8. In 2010 Lee & Sharon Sandifer were commended to the service of the Lord, and in 2014 Lee took over as principal of the school. In December of 2017 Mandy Skiles took over directing the day care.
The Lord has brought us through some unimaginably tough times. In 2005 we survived a direct hit by Hurricane Katrina which resulted in the destruction of about 80% of our town and two of our four chapel buildings. As well, most of the homes of our families had to be rebuilt. In all, the city lost about one-half of its population. Then in 2010 the explosion of the off-shore exploration oil rig “Deep Water Horizon” shut down all our offshore oil industry, and the resulting oil spill shut down most of our fishing industry. But despite this the Lord has been faithful. We are slowly coming back to where we were before the hurricane, and while we are smaller, the meeting has never been stronger or more joyful.
Today a small but enthusiastic group meets for Sunday and Wednesday assembly meetings. Other chapel activities include men’s and ladies’ in-depth Bible Studies, AWANA Club, and campouts and other fun activities. We also visit a local nursing home every Sunday afternoon. Gospel tracts and “Our Daily Bread” booklets are distributed around town in hospitals and the local Crisis Pregnancy Help Center. The elders also provide discipleship classes and biblical counseling sessions. On any given day, 60-80 mostly unsaved children from infant through Grade 8, receive the gospel and a first-rate college preparatory education at Slidell Christian Academy and Lolli-Pop Ranch Christian Pre-School & Day Care. All these efforts are driven by the chapel’s heart to reach lost souls for Christ which results in roughly 8 to 16 professions each year. Hundreds of lives have been touched and changed because 40 years ago one young lady thought that faithful obedience to God’s Word was a non-negotiable. Think of what the Lord could do with your life! •