Alabama students now have a local opportunity to get three months of intensive discipleship and church planting training, thanks to the vision of Alabama native Jess Jennings and his wife, Wendy.
More than 20 years ago, the two International Mission Board missionaries caught a vision for mobilizing students to take the gospel to people who hadn’t heard it.
They started Nehemiah Teams, an IMB program that sends short-term student volunteers from the U.S. to take the hope of Jesus into unreached areas of the Philippines and many other countries.
About a decade later they added Advanced Operations Training, a three-month intensive course in evangelism, discipleship and church planting offered twice a year — one training specifically for young Filipino adults and one for students from throughout the world. The goal is to prepare them to be deployed to take the gospel to unreached peoples.
‘He is worthy’
“We really believe God wants to use young people,” Jennings explained, “and we are pleading with this generation to make their life count for Jesus — because He is worthy and there’s no greater cause than to live for Him and to make sure that in our lifetime that we give every person in the world a chance to hear about Him.”
Nehemiah Teams is opening a second AOT site, this time in Alabama, focused on preparing American students to go out into the world.
“Now that we are 10 years into Advance Operations Training in the Philippines, we have seen how having a training close by offers young people a clear, easy on-ramp to the nations,” Jennings said.
Training isn’t easy, he cautioned — much is expected of participants.
“However, having a stateside option for AOT gives our Alabama Baptist students an opportunity to grow up in the Lord and grow together as a team before deploying overseas,” Jennings said. “Some may not be ready to step into a cross-cultural setting at the first of AOT, but they will be by the end.”
Starting next semester, Alabama’s AOT will be in Mentone at a facility owned by Nehemiah Teams (a nonprofit organization), and leading the effort will be another Alabama native, Jacob Brooks, and his wife, Jessica.
‘God’s big plan’
“Nehemiah Teams’ heart and their vision and heartbeat is very much mine and Jessica’s heartbeat and our vision,” said Jacob, who grew up in Birmingham. “We are so excited to take this step of obedience and play this small part in God’s big plan for the world.”
Jacob’s journey to this point started when he was in college and came back from a mission trip to Ecuador. There he had met people he felt might never get a chance to hear the gospel. That bothered him — he wished he hadn’t had to leave so soon.
“But God kind of spoke to me and said, ‘You’re not really sharing the gospel where you are right now,’” Jacob admitted.
From that moment, “God started growing in me a heart to share the gospel, and to share the gospel among the nations.”
As he leaned into that, Jacob’s path led him to spend the summer after his junior year in the Philippines with Nehemiah Teams. After that, he was constantly in contact with Jennings, serving for several years as a student mobilizer for the IMB and returning to serve with Nehemiah Teams in Laos.
Then as he and his new wife made a life together in her home state of Oklahoma, God continued to work in their hearts to grow a passion for training students.
“The Lord was already working to put all those pieces into place,” Jacob said.
Over time God led them to Mentone.
Jessica said their primary role is to serve as trainers for students 18-29, but they plan to add a high school program next summer.
“We’ll have students come and spend a whole semester with intensive training in discipleship, church planting, sharing the gospel and leadership training, really focusing on building leaders who will lead out in building Kingdom work around the world,” she said.
“We want to share God’s big vision that He doesn’t just desire for us to know Him, but for all nations to know Him, and wants to use each individual in each church to help bring this good news to people.”
Another selling point of AOT — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will count the training as 19 hours of course credit toward any master’s degree.
Jennings said he had been praying for some time that God would send a trainer for Alabama’s site, and Jacob and Jessica Brooks are the answer to that prayer.
“Their example of faith in quitting their jobs and raising support to be a part of Nehemiah Teams staff, and their commitment to Christ and missions, will be caught as much as it will be taught,” Jennings said.
For more information visit nehemiahteams.com/aot.