Called by His Purpose
“What is my purpose in life?” Clyde Thibodeaux wondered. From an early age, he always felt that something was missing. “You have to have a purpose,” said Thibodeaux, “But nothing ever felt fulfilling in my life.” Little did he know that God had a greater plan that would not only change him, but it would also plant seeds of change in his entire community.
Thibodeaux grew up in a home that neighbored multiple nightclubs in New Iberia, Louisiana. His blended family loved each other, but poverty proved to be a continuous struggle. It didn’t help that he always felt different than the other kids his age. “Growing up, I always had a different feeling,” said Thibodeaux. “Also, my mom was Catholic. She had me do a first communion confirmation but I felt, going to church each Sunday, that something was missing.”
Despite feeling out of place, he always felt a sense of belonging with his father. Then, at just 12 years of age, Thibodeaux’s world turned upside down. His father passed away. “After my dad died, I went off the rails,” said Thibodeaux.
The lonely teen turned to other avenues for belonging and comfort. He started drinking and doing drugs. He sold drugs, too, and stayed out late partying. Life continued to spiral out of control.
Even in the thick of his dangerous lifestyle, Thibodeaux realized something needed to change. He felt the urge to leave town before he ended up in jail or worse. As a result, he made a plan that would forever change his life for the better. “I had no desire to be in jail,” said Thibodeaux. “There was a whole world out there that I wanted to see and experience. My mom tried her best with me, but at this rate, I thought, life was going to be short lived.”
Thibodeaux asked his mother for permission to move in with an older sibling: a brother and sister-in-law living in Petersburg, Virginia. She said yes!
He moved during the summer before eleventh grade without realizing that his brother was a Seventh-day Adventist. The family never pushed their beliefs upon Thibodeaux. Yet, they prayed together daily, and each Sabbath they attended the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There, Thibodeaux felt a sense of community and belonging like never before, and he felt God’s presence as he studied the Bible. Members of the church treated each other as family. Soon, without a doubt in his mind, he chose to give his life to Jesus through baptism. “God worked on my heart,” said Thibodeaux. “Watching the people and listening to the message … God put it in my heart that baptism was the right thing to do. I have never regretted that decision.”
Thibodeaux looks back on that time as some of the best years of his life. He finished high school at Pine Forge Academy in 1980. “At Pine Forge, I was surrounded by so many people that loved God,” said Thibodeaux. “Attending that school was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.”
Afterwards, Thibodeaux went on to attend Oakwood University for two quarters. There, sitting in church, he felt God impress a message that would finally answer the question, “What is my purpose in life?”
“I was listening to Pastor E. E. Cleveland preach and felt a call in my heart,” said Thibodeaux. “God told me to do a revival in my hometown of New Iberia.”
Strongly convicted, he immediately began to ask about how to host a revival. Yet, before anything could take place, old temptations resurfaced. Alcohol and drugs became difficult for the new convert to resist.
Feeling himself slip into old habits, Thibodeaux once again decided to avoid temptations by leaving town. But he left more than just his old habits behind.
After leaving Oakwood, Thibodeaux also left the church. The decision was not consciously rebellious. Rather, the young man became complacent. It was easier to attend church sporadically than to start over in a new community. For nearly 40 years, he let God’s calling on his heart for revival in New Iberia slip from his mind.
There, sitting in church, he felt God impress a message that would finally answer the question, “What is my purpose in life?”
“I regret the fact that I strayed because there was so much more I could have learned,” said Thibodeaux. “I could have been so much more knowledgeable in the Word.” It wasn’t until a few years ago that Thibodeaux felt re-convicted of his long-ago call from God. Not only that, but he felt impressed that God wanted him to fulfill that mission as soon as possible.
“All through the years, I would always think about the need to have a revival in my hometown,” said Thibodeaux. “Two years ago, I had started attending church again on my own and felt that it needed to happen. It really hit me that it needed to happen now.”
No more waiting, Thibodeaux put a plan into action. At first, he couldn't find a church that wanted to host the event. There were no volunteers, and living in Houston did not make for an easy commute to New Iberia. Yet, with God’s guiding hand, things began to fall into place.
Thibodeaux met Southwest Region Conference President Carlton Byrd at camp meeting in the summer of 2022. A month later, over breakfast in Houston, Byrd and Thibodeaux discussed the idea of hosting a revival in New Iberia. From there, Thibodeaux received the blessing of the Southwest Region Conference, including the support of Bible workers and conference members to promote and prepare for the event. Pastor Timothy Lee came on board as a speaker for the revival. In addition, a local Sunday-keeping church agreed to rent out their sanctuary for Sabbath services.
“We had the revival and 51 people got baptized!” said Thibodeaux. From the revival, a new church was formed. It even recently received a permanent pastor, Gregory Hines. People of all ages, from children to elderly, now attend the New Iberia Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is named after the church where Thibodeaux attended in Petersburg.
“Finally, I know that this is what I was put on this earth for,” said Thibodeaux. “To make sure that this happens.”
“God’s work will be finished by the united efforts of our denominational workers and laity, coupled most importantly, with the moving of the Holy Spirit,” said Byrd. “The dream of brother Clyde Thibodeaux, a layperson, is demonstrative of this. His desire to plant a new church in his hometown has been realized through the collaborative efforts between members and conference alike in pursuit of Christ’s Gospel Commission. Praise the Lord!”
Thibodeaux continues to commute between Houston and his hometown. He continues to follow his calling by supporting the church in New Iberia as much as possible. “God worked on my heart,” said Thibodeaux. “He never let me rest with this. I am at peace now. I have done what the Lord asked me to do, and that makes me happy.”
By Makala James. James is a writer based in North Texas. Photos by Jorge Moya. Clyde Thibodeaux is a member of the New Iberia Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Southwest Region Conference.