Constructed in 2014, LaBelle Haven Baptist Church sits on an acreage in Olive Branch, at 4800 Hwy. 305 North. LaBelle Haven is a 1,500 member body led by Rev. Dean Stewart.
“I was a young 10-year-old, our home being in Purvis, and I was just an average boy,” Stewart said. “I wasn't a Christian at the time, but most of my friends were. We didn't attend church, but one Sunday morning I was watching the Roy Rogers TV show. Following it was a Sunday service program and I watched out of curiosity. The minister related how, after this life, everyone was going to spend eternity either in heaven or in hell, and listening to his descriptives I knew I didn't want to spend forever in hell. Convicted, fully understanding what I was listening to, I went into the next room in our house, knelt down, and accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. That Sunday morning in 1977 changed my life.”
Stewart grew into young manhood and after high school, he attended William Carey College in Hattiesburg. Then wanting to be in ministry, Stewart enrolled in the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his Bachelor's Degree. From there he went on to attend Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, where he earned his Master's Degree.
Working his way through ministerial positions, Stewart married his high school sweetheart Cheryl – whom he had known since kindergarten – and the couple began their family. Today, and married for 30 years, they have two sons, Micah and Joel.
In 2016, Stewart was called to be LaBelle Haven's pastor. It is a dynamic church, which serves the membership each Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. and again at 10:30 a.m. But there are also numerous programs available to members of all ages, many taking place during the week. “I'm at the church, in my office, every day and available,” Stewart confided. “It's where I need to be as a pastor, and where I spend most of my time.”
The church has a full choir, an orchestra; Sunday School for all ages, LaBelle Kids on Wednesday nights, LaBelle Students – youngsters through college age – on Wednesday nights, LaBelle Summer Nights, which is 'movie night' for students, Live Wires for adults to fellowship together, which includes outings and trips, Mother's Day Out for moms to get together, and Grief Share for those dealing with loss.
The church also supports the Memphis Union Mission one weekend each month.
Staff members, in addition to Stewart, include a worship leader, administrator, student pastor, children's director, and pastoral ministries. There are also on-campus teachers, a social coordinator, and a care group leader who all work tirelessly up to 60 hours each week. Everyone is focused on serving the members of the church, which includes young families and senior citizens.
“We're planning a July 5 'Gala' as a welcome back to normalcy and get together here on the church grounds,” Stewart stated. “There'll be a live concert, games, and food for everyone as a way of moving forward after the 'shelter-in-place' mandate.
“As a pastor, my personal objective is to get new members – no matter their age – involved in Sunday School, knowing that once they become part of a class and make friends, they're more likely to make their faith a part of their everyday life.”
The church was already serving members by live stream even before the COVID-19 by utilizing online video feeds so that members could attend church even from their homes.
Right now, LaBelle Haven has committed the month of June to allow members to come to the church while adhering to the mandated social distancing requirements.
But come July, “things will return to 'normal' as much as possible,” said Stewart.