Caitlin and I are both now transitioning our lives from college to being full-fledged adults. Caitlin graduated with her nursing degree in December (2015), I graduate with my degree in civil engineering in May (2017), we are getting married in May (2016) and starting our young lives together in this process. Engineering degrees typically require a move to somewhere new, I certainly was not going to be able to find a job in Tuscaloosa, AL, a town of not great size but has an engineering school in its back yard. Rather than compete in the flooded market here, we always assumed moving was in our near future as a couple. Both our professions are in high demand and jobs would not be hard to find the majority of places we would move. However, until a few months ago we had never given any thought to where we were going or when we might go there. We had no plan, we just knew that we weren’t meant to stay in Tuscaloosa.
Back in October, our college minister, Jared Case, mentioned to us for the first time the plan that Pastor John Jenkins had for our church. The plan was to plant 5 churches in 10 years, starting with bringing a church planter in later that year to begin training and building a team to plant a church. When he brought this up, long before we had met Chris, Jared threw an off handed comment to Caitlin and I as well as two of our close friends (another engineer and nurse couple), saying “Look we already have two engineers and two nurses going to graduate just in time and can get a job and build a church and boom, perfect!” At the time we all blew this off and laughed as Jared often jokes around a lot. However as weeks went on I couldn’t get this thought out of my head. I started asking God, wait are you serious about this? Just out of the blue, just go somewhere random? I had always had dreams and thoughts of starting a ministry to work with kids, especially kids who grew up without father/authority figures in their lives (I already do this in Upward sports, but wanted to in more capacity). I began to think, could this be my opportunity to start this ministry? Before I knew it I began to pray about it, because as I had realized, we had no real plans after I graduated anyway. I brought up the fact that this idea had been on my mind to my fiancé and she revealed a similar feeling and we agreed to pray and discuss this matter in further detail later, after we have spent time both together and separate, praying and asking God to show us what he would have us do in the coming years.
Matt’s side of the story:
Fast forward a couple of months and we have met this man who is to become our church planter. While I was not there to hear his first sermon at the church, the first time I heard him speak to the college group and give a bible study, I knew right then that he had a gift. Sometimes in life when you hear someone speak, whether it be a preacher, a political figure, a motivational speaker, athlete, etc., they move you and you think, “Yep, this is my guy”. This is the feeling I got listening to him preach. After this I began to pray with more urgency and passion about this church plant, because my feeling for it had become stronger the more I looked into it. I went into intense prayer, discussion, research, and contemplation in the coming days and weeks. This was, after all, a difficult move for my fiancé (soon to be wife) and I. Her family is all from here and she grew up here so this would be much more difficult on her than it is for me (I grew up in Tennessee and have been away from home 4 years already, not as big of a shock for me).
The thing that finally did it for me was diving into God’s word, as it should be the look to for anything we are struggling with in our lives. Caitlin and I had decided to go through the book of Acts as devotions again and reading about the faith and willing nature of the Apostles, despite the terrible things they faced daily. It is hard to reject God’s calling by saying it is too risky when we look at what the early church faced every day. Persecution, uncertainty, hunger, ridicule, and countless other obstacles; yet we (myself included) find it hard to ever leave our hometown to share the gospel, much less face the circumstances that they did in the early 1st century. There has to be faith in everything you do that God will work everything out that he has called you to do, he wouldn’t call you to do it otherwise. Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:19 (NLT) “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked”. Another verse that stood out to me was James 1:3 (NLT) “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow”. How can my faith grow if it is never tested? If I never leave my comfort bubble? I cannot bring people to Christ if I do not first put myself in a position to be tested! I read a chapter out of a book we had been going through in small group, “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, and in the book it talks about how, as Christian’s, we should live intentionally; Always seeking to grow the kingdom of God and never sitting idle in the baby stages of our faith, but doing as Jesus called us and truly making disciples. This struck me as I thought to myself, what have I done lately or plan to do in the future to further God’s kingdom? And that was the moment I decided it was time to stop questioning and rejecting God’s calling for my life; I had hopes to make a difference and bring people to Christ. Caitlin and I spoke, decided, and have been committed with Chris to plant a church ever since.
Caitlin’s Side of the Story:
As Matthew mentioned, I recently graduated with my nursing degree and we are getting married in just 3 months. As exciting as all this is, the most exciting story is how God led me to this opportunity, led us to this opportunity. My journey doesn’t start with Chris Parker, it starts the moment I met Matthew. To begin, I belonged to another church close to my home before I met Matthew. I had belonged to this church for several years, but through series of events, I didn’t feel it was where God wanted me to stay. It is at this point I met Matthew and, whether I knew or not, God was weaving a story I could never have imagined myself. Matthew was going to Northport Baptist Church as it happens because it was one of the only churches that had the Upward basketball league he was a part of back in Tennessee. I began to go with him and before I knew it I never missed a service. It felt as though I had been there my whole life. God was confirming that He wanted me there. We also received the opportunity for us to become Sunday school teachers. This, for me, was a big deal because I always felt a call to lead my own group. He just continued to confirm where He wanted me.
Alright, now for more recent events. As Matthew mentioned, we knew we most likely would not be able to stay in Tuscaloosa. I have been struggling with this for a while since I grew up here and my family either lives here or close by. I will admit I had been praying not to move too far away, so we could still visit loved ones. However, God had other plans, but the same time answering my prayers. Any 3 of the places mentioned in Chris’s explanation and the Chessers are far away, but obviously we will not make this move on our own. God provided a way for us to move with fellow believers and close friends. That was one of the first confirmations God gave me. My second confirmation came in prayer. I have been on mission trips in the past, even overseas, but didn’t feel anything special going across the ocean. I used to wonder how sincerely I took the Great Commission, but then God spoke. He revealed to me you do not have to go across the ocean to share Jesus. There are people all around us every day that need Jesus, and that is where I am called. I am called to the everyday people just trying to get through the day. The ones who struggle with doubts, fears, and stresses. He gave me a gift of Words of Wisdom to be able to answer some of the tougher questions, and I plan to use this gift to help start the church, to reach those everyday people. My last confirmation is through my favorite verses, 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity; understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; and having nothing, yet possessing everything.” I had to ask myself, what was I doing to share the gospel of Christ? What was I sacrificing? Anything? Is my life too easy? Does the devil consider me a threat? My conclusions were not what I wanted. So I decided to take a risk, and Matthew did too. We don’t know the details, but we know we are called. I want to encourage all of you reading this to take that risk God is calling you to, no matter how unlikely it seems.