The Legend of John Zell

I met John Zell while I was in Seminary. I was preaching at a little mission church is East New Orleans and one of John’s friends made a profession of faith and invited John to check out the scene which he did. I don’t think I am likely to forget. John comes motoring up to church on a chopper. He has on a nazi style helmet and a bud-wiser T-shirt. John listened to the sermon intently. The next week he showed up again, same T-shirt. Eventually John made a profession of faith and I was scheduled to baptize John and several more. Folks, you have to remember that we are in New Orleans. John walks into the baptistery and I smell beer on his breath. I said a quick prayer…”Father what am I to do, this man has been drinking.” I never heard a clear message but I baptized him on faith. After the service I said, “John I am coming to your house today, we have to have a talk.” Long story short, John had been raised Lutheran and he did not have any conviction about drinking. He knew not to get drunk but to drink casually, he saw nothing wrong with it. I talk to him till I was blue in the face and left his apartment feeling like a total failure. John called me in a few days and ask me to come over. He said, “I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I have poured all the booze down the drain.” We celebrated together and I felt a major victory. On the way back to our apartment, June said, “I don’t think John and Clara are married. She has a different last name.” As usual, June turned out to be right and here we go again. I go back a few days later and we talk about marriage which they are all for but Clara does not have a legal divorce from her last husband so they did a common law on their own. I think that they got married eventually. John was one excited dude and I hated to rain on his parade. He was a bold visitor and he and I would go down the streets cold door knocking. John had no fear and I didn’t want him to know that I had any. He sold his chopper and bought an old 56 stepside Ford truck. He found out that I could do a little wood work and he had me make him some side boards [1X12 shelving board] for his truck. He painted them white and then in bright red, he painted JESUS SAVES. As soon as he joined the church he said, “I know how we can pay off the debt.” I said “How can we do that John?” He said, “We have one building that we are not using, lets covert in to a dance hall.” He was serious folks. Every preacher ought to pastor a church in New Orleans at least once.


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