Nick and Mari Strube readily admit that they are living examples of the old adage, "opposites attract." In so many ways, their differences are apparent.
Nick was raised in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee, while Mari grew up in Brazil. He is reserved and keeps things close to the vest. She is an extrovert who brings energy and enthusiasm to any setting. He enjoys digging into philosophy and theology, while she has a passion for languages.
But God brought them together at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College—first as friends and then as husband and wife. Now, despite their differences, they form an incredible team focused on serving God with all their hearts.
As one might expect, their paths to NOBTS took different routes. Nick became a Christian as a teen and felt God's call to the ministry the summer before his senior year in high school. Meanwhile, Mari spent five years learning two new languages for a business degree in Brazil. But both connected with wise mentors who challenged them to pursue theological training in New Orleans.
"I was interested in stuff like broadcasting and sports because I had played a little bit in high school," Nick recalls. "But I had some conversations with staff at a church where I was serving at a summer camp, and they nudged me in the right direction. They said that since God had called me to ministry and not these other things, I didn't need a backup plan."
So, Nick arrived at Leavell College in 2013 to start his undergraduate studies. But, between uncertainty about his ministry direction and the impact of some personal disappointments, he began to struggle with his schoolwork. He lost his focus and admitted that his heart wasn't really in his studies as he went through the motions.
Then, he met Mari—who has never been accused of losing focus or working with anything less than a whole heart.
"One thing you need to know about me is that everything I do, I do the best that I can," she says with apparent determination. "Even though it might kill me, I will do the best that I can. I believe that you never do anything halfway. You do the best you can because you're doing it for God."
Mari had first come to the United States to learn English and work for a family in Minden, Louisiana. During that time, she also plugged into a First Baptist Church, Minden, and served with a senior adult ministry in the area. The church's pastor, an NOBTS trustee, recognized God's hand on Mari's life and encouraged her to return to America for seminary once she earned her degree in Brazil. Eventually, after three years of fasting and praying—which included a six-month stint in Spain to learn Spanish—God told her the time was right; and she came to NOBTS in 2016.
"I got a job in the cafeteria and a job in the coffee shop," she recalled. "I was working about 10 hours each place, but when the coffee shop offered more hours, I was able to quit the cafeteria and just work in the coffee shop. That was in May 2016. By August of 2016, my boss told me that he was moving to Chicago and wanted me to take over as director of the coffee shop. I was humbled and surprised."
Working full time and taking a full load of classes kept her busy, but she still had time to get to know Nick, whom she had met in the coffee shop. Even as he initially tried to discourage the relationship, Mari's impact on his life was indelible. As her passion rubbed off on him, he regained his focus, and his grades started to improve.
"That was a really important time for me because I was kind of drifting through," said Nick. "But she's the complete opposite—super driven, super dedicated. She helped me refocus and finish my undergrad degree. She lit a fire under me. And now, we're both 4.0 students—which I never thought I'd see again. Plus, we started serving together at First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula."
Less than a year after they started dating, Nick and Mari married. And now they're both on track toward master's degrees in their fields of interest. But while they love and support one another, they do laugh when they talk about the vast distance between their preferred academic disciplines. While Nick is intrigued with Aquinas and other Christian philosophers, Mari likes digging into Hebrew, Greek, and textual criticism.
Again, opposites attract.
"When she talks about languages, or I talk about philosophy, neither of us is fully listening to the other," Nick says with a smile. "But I think it's great that we complement each other."
Nick and Mari's backgrounds also give each of them a unique perspective on NOBTS and Leavell College. Nick's experiences have bridged the shift from Dr. Kelley to Dr. Dew. At the same time, Mari understands firsthand the struggles of international students for whom English is not the first language. But they are both excited about the direction the school is moving and highlight the vital role that donors play in supporting its continued growth.
"I would not be here without financial support," Mari explains. "My parents do not support me—first because they did not want me to leave Brazil, but also because I come from a poor family and they can't. So, especially in that first year, I sacrificed a lot. I used to walk an hour and 20 minutes to work to save gas and chose to eat only two meals a day to save money so I could be where God wanted me to be.
"I sacrificed as much as I could, but I still needed other people to help. Donors make it possible for me to be equipped to serve God in the best way I can. And there are other people like me. They make great sacrifices, but they still need the help."
Nick also sees how investing in the seminary strengthens its ability to draw quality students, acquire quality professors, and provide quality facilities. While the gifts of generous donors certainly make an eternal difference, they also provide for the needs of a growing number of students right now.
"Donations are a big part of what happens with things like building renovations and additions," he notes. "Those don't happen without donors. But those investments result in people moving here and meeting people they'll never forget. That's just not possible without someone going over and above.
"Now is the time to get in and support the school because it's moving in the right direction."
As they move closer to the end of their master's programs, neither of the Strubes knows God's plan for them precisely. Nick would like to continue his studies in a Ph.D. program and possibly teach philosophical theology or philosophy of religion. Mari might also pursue a Ph.D. as she looks for ways to minister through her love of languages. Whatever the future holds, they will continue supporting one another and serving as God opens doors.
And they will appreciate the role NOBTS and Leavell College played in bringing them together—along with connecting them to God and others. The impact of those relationships is something they will always carry with them.
"New Orleans has represented more than just my education," Nick said. "I've lived here less than a fourth of my life, but it feels longer because of things I've been able to experience with people."
"The seminary is a place where I have learned the most about God and how to do ministry," Mari added. "But it was also a place where I have met the most amazing people that I could ever ask God to meet in a lifetime. I met my husband. I met sweet friends. It is a place where I am being equipped, but it also a place where I have met people I could say are really my brothers and sisters in Christ."