Five years ago, James’ life looked drastically different. Born and raised in California, preparing to play college baseball – in the world’s perspective, he was on the track to stardom. But James gave up a pro baseball dream to pursue a future life of missions in a closed-access country.
What caused such a drastic change in his life? The power of personal discipleship.
James’ direction started to change during his freshman year of college when a close friend began to disciple him. “College was a challenge,” James said. “Trying to grow spiritually while being in [the] very godless world which is college baseball was tough.” James continued to grow when he connected with a solid church pastored by a DBTS graduate who intentionally discipled James. While many people stray away from the gospel during their college years, James took the opposite route. “I grew a lot over my four years, even with limited contact with the local church, because I had such strong discipleship in my life which was pretty cool.”
James got his first taste in missions when he took a 15-week missions class. He loved the class, but wasn’t convinced that a life of missions was for him. He argued with the various missionaries who taught class sessions about the value of devoting his life to missions and after wrestling with the idea for the entire class length, he came to the conclusion that missions work might be what God had planned for his life after all.
Deciding to take a step further into the field, he went on a short-term mission trip to Papua New Guinea. For James, the trip was eye opening. “After that trip, I really felt like ‘alright, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.’” After more prayer and conversation with his pastor, James finally made his decision. He decided to call his baseball agent to say that he was no longer pursuing a career on a baseball field, but instead a life on the mission field.
His pastor encouraged him to get more grounded in his beliefs before going and recommended that he visit DBTS. James agreed and decided to make the journey to Detroit to check it out. After visiting, Inter-City Baptist Church offered him a 5-month internship to start in July of that year. The internship gave James the opportunity to immerse himself in full-time church ministry while getting acquainted with DBTS during his first semester of seminary.
While James didn’t plan on finishing his entire seminary education at DBTS, God had different plans. Four months into the internship, ICBC offered James an extension on his position. James came to love the seminary for its professors, its connection to the church, and its stance on doctrine and missions work. “God gave the mission to the church to go reach the world. We’re to do everything in our ministry in accordance with the church, and the clarity that DBTS has on that has been really helpful for me.”
James moved closer toward his goal of missions—this time under the discipleship of Pastor David Doran. Pastor Doran saw James’ hunger for foreign missions and decided to give him the opportunity to experience it for himself. He gave James the green light to take leave from his internship during the summer and travel to Kenya for a conference, then to Turkey and Central Asia – both creative-access countries. “You have to go in with a business that you’re going to start and that’s your way in,” James said. “You’re evangelizing and discipling while you’re working your job.”
While in Turkey, James joined forces with five other interns from America who were on their way to work in Central Asia. He and the other interns immersed themselves in the daily life of missions work to experience the culture and get a taste for the food. For the next four weeks, James and the other interns helped a missionary develop his own business and, through that work, learned for themselves what it meant to conduct missions work in a country where evangelism is prohibited.
James traveled with a translator and learned how to deal with real-life problems that missionaries experience like car problems, foreign food, and less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements. Even though he experienced frustrations, he also got to see the fruits of missionary labor. James and his group shared the gospel with their translator and saw her become a believer.
Although the language barrier was often frustrating for James, the struggle also motivated him to get ready for the mission field. “It makes me feel like, ‘alright, well get yourself ready to go,’ you know? Get motivated! Get ready to go out, get prepared, go out and share the gospel with those people.” Through these trips James got to see what ministry looks like in different parts of the world. “What does ministry look like in Kenya? Turkey? Central Asia? Three totally different places with their own issues, so for me it was a learning experience to kind of see where I can fit in in the future.”
Until his next opportunity to jump back into the mission field, James continues to learn under the discipleship of the professors at DBTS and his co-workers at ICBC. Being able to share an office with people who hold the same passion for people and ministry as he does has pushed him to grow and cultivate a heart for discipleship.
James’ next goal is clear: after completing his seminary degree, he plans on returning to a closed-access country to plant a church. He wants to spread the gospel to unreached people and disciple others, just as he was discipled from the start of his ministry path.
*James’s full name is withheld due to his plans to minister in a restricted access country.