LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Joel Osteen to visit Jackson: Pastor of America's largest church to bring 'Night of Hope'

LaReeca Rucker
The Oxford Eagle

The 85th Annual Academy Awards will be held Sunday. Will you be hosting an Oscar party to watch the winners?

Ten years ago, when Laine Lawson Craft was going through a dark period with a failing marriage, financial problems and sick children, she turned on the television and found inspiration.






"I came across this little man on TV," she said. "He was preaching about a God that can do the impossible. Our problems were so huge, but Joel made us have seeds of belief that our God was bigger and greater than anything we faced. I am convinced that through Joel, God was able to enlarge our expectations of who God was and is, and we experienced marriage restoration, financial breakthrough, and children healed."

The public can hear Osteen speak in Jackson at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4 during A Night of Hope at the Mississippi Coliseum. Doors open at 6 p.m. Arena tickets are $15 and available at the venue box office, or Ticketmaster outlets.

Billy Orr, executive director of the Mississippi Fair Commission, said tickets are selling well.

"It's been a very popular event," he said. "We have a lot of phone calls every day. There are some tickets left, but they are moving along steadily. We expect a big crowd."

Osteen and his wife, Victoria, have taken A Night of Hope to more than 100 cities across America and abroad since 2004. This will be Osteen's first trip to Mississippi.

The Texas native and son of John Osteen, founder of Lakewood Church in Houston, and Dodie Osteen, grew up with five brothers and sisters.

"I think some of my earliest memories are of a loving family," he said. "We used to play and laugh together. I remember being at church and playing connect-the-dots or tic-tac-toe with sister while my daddy was up there ministering."

Growing up, Osteen said, he never envisioned he would someday lead his father's church.

"I always thought I would be involved in television and production," he said. "I liked being behind the scenes."

Osteen attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, studying radio and television communications. In 1982, he returned to Houston and founded Lakewood's television ministry, producing his father's televised sermons for 17 years until January 1999 when his father passed away.

Joel Osteen preached his first sermon Jan. 17. Later that year, he was installed as the new senior pastor of the nondenominational church.

"I took that step of faith never knowing it would grow," he said.

It did, and Osteen eventually moved Lakewood Church to its present location, the former Compaq Center, a 16,000-seat arena that was once home to the Houston Rockets basketball team. It has been called America's largest church, at times drawing more than 40,000 attendees each week.

Lakewood welcomes everyone, Osteen said.

"The day we are living in, a lot of people weren't raised in the church like I was," he said. "They don't have any religious background. A lot people who come to our events don't consider themselves religious. My goal is to try to get them interested in the things of God. God has a goal for them. ... You come to God as you are."

Wherever he goes, he said issues are the same.

"It's health, financial and relationship issues," he said.

"It seems like we struggle with these three basic issues. A lot of my sermons are geared toward overcoming them."

It's also important to remain positive, he said.

"How you start the day, many times, will determine the kind of day you are going to have," he said.

"Many people get out of bed, and they don't want to go to work. Start the day being thankful.

"You can't bring negative baggage from yesterday into today and expect to live a good life," he said. "You have to let go of what didn't work out. "

Craft found peace after listening to Osteen's message.

"I will always give them (the Osteens) the honor and praise for planting seeds of faith that broke God out of box for me so much so that truly I experienced supernatural miraculous outcomes in my life," Craft said.

"Now, I, in response to the Lord's love that He poured out on me, hope to reach the globe through stories just like mine showing God is real. He loves us abundantly if we will dare to believe it."

"A lot people who come to our events don't consider themselves religious. My goal is to try to get them interested in the things of God. God has a goal for them... You come to God as you are."


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