Dear Family and Friends,
Eight and a half years ago we left beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida, a job we loved with K-Life, a ministry role as a chaplain in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, a wonderful church, as well as many great friends and mentors to come to Mississippi State and start doing discipleship ministry on campus. None of it made sense to us at the time but we just knew that God was leading us to MSU. We had such a peace about it and didn’t mind the waiting it took to sell our house, raise support, and get settled in Starkville. At the time it did seem like we were crazy, but looking back on it now, everyone would say it was definitely what God was leading us to do. God had some really unique doors to open for us here at MSU and the past eight years we have seen the Lord use us in many ways from the original Phase 2 Ministry we took over on campus, serving as chaplain of the MSU baseball team, getting more groups and ministry going on the island of Eleuthera, and helping launch Lightbearers here in Starkville.
Last semester the Lord began to give me a restless spirit similar to what I had when we left Florida. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what God was doing or where He was leading. We have always assumed we would stay in Starkville the rest of our lives, raise our kids here, and continue to do college ministry in some way, so the thought of anything different than doing ministry at MSU never came to mind.
A couple of months ago Crystal and I were up early having our quiet time. With us outgrowing our house, we had been looking for a while for a home that would be a better fit for our family in Starkville and were trying to decide if we wanted to sell our house and buy a new one or just add on to our current home. We finally decided that we would add on to our house since we love our neighbors and the area we live in so much. We already had a design architect come out and look at our house and tell him what we wanted to do. He had given us a budget on what it would cost, and we were about to enter into contract with him to get started on the design. But I never had a total peace about it, and Crystal just had a feeling God would drop something else in our laps if this wasn’t what we were supposed to do.
That morning I was telling Crystal I just didn’t have a peace about signing a contract. She had a list of things she had written down that would be a “perfect home and culture for our family” and started reading the list off to me and I just said to her, “We aren’t gonna find a place like that around here that we can afford.” She said “can’t we just find a house in the mountains somewhere?” And for the first time it hit me that maybe we weren’t supposed to stay in Starkville.” No sooner than I had that thought, came “Western Carolina University.” I looked at Crystal and said “Maybe we are supposed to go to Western Carolina University.” I only knew the name of the school because Nick Mingione, our former baseball coach and close friend, coached there for 1 year before coming to Mississippi State and had told me some about it. So I googled “Western Carolina University” and found out it’s a small university in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains called Cullowhee.
Crystal was just as surprised as I was and we started doing more research and praying. The more we looked into it, we both had this peace and later excitement that God was leading us there. We first asked our parents what they thought since we would be moving seven hours away and most importantly taking the grandkids with us! My parents were surprisingly supportive! Crystal, not wanting to leave her mom in Mississippi asked if she wanted to move there too, and she was immediately excited at the possibility, as well.
Next, we started looking at churches and campus ministries. One church, The Bridge Church, just really stood out to us as a church we would want to be a part of and partner with to do discipleship on campus. Of course, we started looking at houses in the area to see if we could afford a home there that would be a good fit for our family. So after a couple weeks of research and prayer we still had a peace about everything and decided to move forward.
So on Wednesday, August 23rd at 4:36pm I texted Nick and told him I thought the Lord may be leading us to Western Carolina and asked if he still knew anyone there. He replied, “MATT!!! You’re not gonna believe this!!! I just hung up the phone with their head baseball coach at 4:24!!! That’s 12 minutes ago. Call me tonight.” That led to him putting me in touch with one of the assistant coaches at Western Carolina, who told me his brother-in-law was a pastor in town at The Bridge Church! The next week I talked to the pastor, Josh Hyde, and just really connected with him on several levels. One awesome thing he said is that he had been praying for God to send laborers and wanted to know how soon we could get there! At this point, we figured we better make a trip there and meet some people and get to know the area, so we drove up on Labor Day and spent a week there. During our time there the Lord continued to confirm that is where He is leading us. We are just as surprised as you are, but just have a peace that this is what the Lord has for us for the next season of our lives and ministry. We actually found a home with some acreage that seemed so perfect for us, and we are now due to close in January!
So what’s next you ask? Well, we are committed to be in Starkville and finish this school year out with Lightbearers. We love the Lightbearers ministry and all of the staff, locally and nationally, and we want to make sure to do all we can to leave on the best of terms and help them find the right person to take my place and make the transition in Starkville. And, we obviously love Starkville, MSU, and all the wonderful people here, so it is really bittersweet to think about leaving. Just typing this out is so emotional and brings tears to my eyes! But just like when we left St. Petersburg, FL eight years ago, on one level it doesn’t make sense to go somewhere else and leave a place we love and people we love where God has used us in so many ways, but we just know God is leading us there so we are going to trust Him and follow. We are thankful to know we have several more months here to see everyone we want to see and make the most of our time here.
Once we get to Western Carolina we will still do discipleship on campus much like we’ve done here at MSU. We will also continue to be really involved with ministry in Eleuthera going forward. We are planning our annual Christmas break trip with some of the former and current MSU baseball players and hoping to get a few players from Kentucky and Auburn to join us this year as well. We have 4 church groups signed up to come down next spring and summer for a week and are hoping to put together a month long discipleship program for college students there in the coming summers. We know God has called us to Eleuthera long term and can see our family being down there 2-3 months a year in the future.
One of the many blessings of working for Lightbearers the last two years is that they have paid 1/2 of our salary, while we’ve raised 1/2. So we will also start doing some support raising in the coming months to help us make up the difference Lightbearers has been paying. For those of you who have been supporting us you can begin praying if the Lord would lead you to continue as we make this transition. We know some of you have supported us because we have been at MSU and we totally understand if the Lord leads you to find someone else to support that will be doing ministry at MSU.
We are also praying for the Lord to bring us new supporters to partner with us in this next season of ministry, so please be praying and seeing if that is something the Lord would lead you in. We are looking into where our support will go through as we make this transition and hope to know something by December so we can let everyone know. The Lord has been so good and faithful to provide all we need these past 8 years and we know He will continue to do so!
This is all we know for now and will update everyone as more things come together. Please feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions. Thanks so much for taking time to read this and praying for us!