Central Ohio may be a long way from a port or a shoreline, but a church there, where four NOBTS graduates are serving, has its eyes on the ends of the earth.
Rob (M.Div. ‘10) and Marci Hare (M.A.C.E. ’08) made First Baptist Church of Heath, Ohio home eight years ago when Rob joined the staff as discipleship and missions pastor. This year, NOBTS alums Bryan (M.A. ’19; current Ph.D. student) and Maria Shuler (B.A.M. ’17, M.A.C. ’19) arrived and put their NOBTS degrees to work. Bryan is music and worship pastor and leads the church’s educational program that delivers college-level-equivalent theology classes, while Maria serves as a counselor in the area.
Reaching the far corners of the earth from Heath, a quiet town of about 10,000, takes some planning and for FBC Heath, a partnership with Global Maritime Ministries (GMM) was strategic. At the Port of New Orleans, GMM ministers to seafarers from around the world.
“It’s a blessing for our church,” Hare said. “I can send anybody from our church down there and they can reach the ends of the earth without needing a passport.”
Philip Vandercook, GMM executive director, and wife Sandy Vandercook, Leavell College Professor of English, traveled this summer to FBC Heath for the church’s first-ever Global Fest Ohio, an event benefiting GMM and mirroring GMM’s Global Fest in New Orleans.
The partnership with GMM that began two years ago is also a friendship.
“They’re just part of our church family now,” Hare said.
As mission team members served alongside Vandercook and the GMM chaplains and staff at the ministry center, they talked to seafarers from 25 different countries.
“You can’t fly to 25 countries in a weekend,” Hare explained, adding that with direct flights from Columbus, Ohio -- thirty miles west of Heath -- to New Orleans, a mission trip “around the globe” requires only a weekend.
Any member can now be involved in missions, Hare explained.
“It’s not a cost issue any more, it’s not a time issue anymore,” Hare said. “Really the only issue is being obedient.”
FROM THE HEARTLAND TO THE WORLD
There in Ohio’s heartland, with its farmland and gently rolling hills, the quiet town of Heath has “a Midwestern charm,” Shuler said.
The church started when Southern Baptist “transplants” who wanted to reach their community held a tent revival along Route 79, in the ‘50s, Hare explained.
“I like to think we are continuing that mindset for missions,” Hare said.
An annual missions conference at the church highlights its active partnerships with International Mission Board church planters in Scotland and South Asia, as well as North American Mission Board church planters in Maine, Pittsburgh, along with a nearby Nepali community.
Someday perhaps, Shuler said, the mission trip destination will be Romania. “We happen to know somebody there,” he quipped, referring to Maria’s father, a Romanian pastor.
Going is key to the church’s strategy for missions.
“We’re not looking for people to just send money to, or to just watch videos about,” Shuler said. “Our church people want to go there. They want to physically go there.”
TEACHING THEOLOGY, TRAINING UP MISSIONARIES
A Great Commission mindset of every member on mission begins with a correct theology.
Shuler leads the church’s “Institute,” a ten-week rotation of theology classes on par with introductory college level courses, keeping always an eye on training missionaries.
“We want to develop lay leaders in the ministry. This would open up a lot more doors with a lot of different leaders in a lot of different contexts,” Bryan said. “We are raising up lay leaders in the church to disciple others.”
As Shuler teaches in the Institute, he draws from all he’s learned at NOBTS from theology to apologetics to discipleship.
Hare sees the experience and encouragement to be on mission in New Orleans while earning an education to be invaluable.
“Every class had that push of, ‘Go. Put this into play, then come back and let’s talk about it,” Hare said. “That really prepared me for ministry.”