At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College, the phrase “Prepare here, serve anywhere” is more than just a motto. It’s a vital part of the school’s DNA. Since its founding more than a century ago, NOBTS and Leavell College have embraced missions and served as a training ground for students ministering in nations worldwide.
No one understands that better than Dr. Greg Mathias. As a former International Mission Board (IMB) missionary and current associate professor of global missions, the institution’s Great Commission legacy resonates with his passion.
“Part of what excites me as I step into NOBTS and Leavell College is the rich history, really since the school’s founding,” said Mathias, who joined the faculty in the fall of 2021. “This school was founded with one its primary purposes being to serve as a missionary training school. So, part of why my family came here is to connect those dots more firmly. Of course, NOBTS does many other things, but our mission statement includes fulfilling His mission. So, we’re excited to recapture and reinvigorate some of that founding purpose of the school.”
As a Navy kid growing up, Dr. Mathias moved around a lot before finally taking root in Virginia Beach, Virginia. But during his junior year at Virginia Tech, he got his first real taste of overseas ministry, spending ten weeks in Jordan and Israel. Meanwhile, his future wife, Page, served in another part of the Middle East. God used those experiences to confirm a call to missions in both of their lives.
“They say once the sand gets between your toes, you never want to leave,” Dr. Mathias said with a laugh. “And God used that time to begin working in me about what I was going to do with the rest of my life.”
After graduation, the Mathias’s joined the staff of what is now called CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). They spent three years at Penn State University ministering among the fraternities and sororities. Through those years, they never lost the call toward the nations, primarily to work among Muslim peoples. So, when they left CRU, they spent an extended season in North Africa.
“It was a bumpy time in a lot of ways, but what the Lord did for both of us confirmed that we needed to think about being overseas long term and working among the lost,” said Dr. Mathias.
Following God’s call, Dr. Mathias earned his master of divinity from Southeastern Seminary. Then, he and Page were commissioned by the IMB to serve in the Middle East. They spent four years working with Muslims in the region before feeling God’s leadership back to the United States and to Southeastern for doctoral work. That’s when God began to turn their attention toward multiplying their kingdom impact by promoting missions and pouring their lives into a new generation of missionaries.
“The Lord opened up some opportunities at Southeastern, not only to teach, but also to help run their Global Missions Center,” Dr. Mathias recalled. “He used that time for both my wife and me to say, ‘Hey, instead of just you two serving among the nations, why not invest in others and replicate yourself?” The Lord has been faithful in that, and we see what we’re doing as an extension of our initial call.”
Those experiences in North Carolina set the stage for his move to New Orleans. In addition to teaching, Dr. Mathias will also serve as the director of the upcoming Global Missions Center for NOBTS and Leavell College. The Center will be alongside the North American Mission Board Center in the hub of the Hardin Student Center, is scheduled to open this spring, and will foster a stronger partnership between the school and the International Mission Board.
“It really will be visible for our students, faculty, and staff, and we want it to become a part of the DNA on campus,” Dr. Mathias explained. “It will serve as the hub for all things missions.”
In addition to encouraging missions education, the Center will also participate in missions’ research and, of course, promote short-term missions opportunities. It will also connect with local congregations interested in sponsoring their mission trips.
Like many people who experience the city of New Orleans, Dr. Mathias understands the unique position that NOBTS and Leavell College are in to train well-equipped missionaries. The diverse culture and context of the city allow students to gain hands-on experience that complements their classroom learning. That’s also a part of what motivates the Mathias family to support the school financially—and encourage others to join them.
“My family and I are all in—not just living here and being here, but giving as well,” he said. “We want to be a part of what God is doing and stirring up here at every level. We want to invest in any way possible.
“And if people want to invest and give if they want to impact sending and impact lostness, NOBTS is positioned to do that. For those who want to invest and have a direct connection to equip and impact, New Orleans equips like no other.”
After years of studying and practicing missions, Dr. Mathias emphasizes an essential connection between the ethics of Christian love and the accomplishment of Christian missions. In other words, becoming Great Commandment people who love God and love others is the first step to effectively fulfilling the Great Commission. That’s why he believes NOBTS and Leavell College students who minister to the parishes are well-equipped to minister to all people.
“When we think of missions, we often move straight to strategy,” Dr. Mathias said. “I’m all for strategy. You have to plan to accomplish things, but we always want our grid to come back to how we live out the more profound things. So we need a more robust framework aside from just accomplishing a task.
“We have to ground ourselves in our love for the Lord. But, then, there’s a natural and beautiful overflow to our love for all people, no matter where they are.”
That spirit is nothing new to the NOBTS and Leavell College family. It’s been ingrained in the school’s heritage from the beginning. And Dr. Mathias believes the new Global Missions Center will take it to a new level.
And, for a hurting world in need of the gospel, that could change everything.