Longtime Alabama Baptist campus minister Gary Brittain says there are “not enough pages” to tell the story of what God has done and is doing through college ministry.
Brittain is retiring this month after more than 40 years of collegiate ministry, 33 ½ of those as Baptist Campus Ministries campus minister at Jacksonville State University,
“How do you describe 33 ½ years, other than in broad strokes? The story is a lot longer than what is here, and I stood on the shoulders of the people before me,” he said.
Brittain did not start out intending to be a campus minister. Though he knew God was calling him to ministry, all he knew were the traditional pastoral roles. Campus ministry wasn’t on his radar.
“God called me to a ministry I couldn’t define,” he said.
He was a pastor for three years and earned a degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he found his specific calling.
He first served as an area campus minister in northwest Alabama and later as BCM campus minister at Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama). Once he got to JSU, he never left.
“I never asked to come here (to JSU),” he said. “I was asked to move and that’s how God works. I never knew I was coming here to stay this long.”
The BCM students became family to the Brittains as they experienced milestones: the birth of his children, babysitting, missions trips and ministry throughout the years, the death of Brittain’s first wife and a daughter, his own brush with a serious illness.
“The students have shared in the joy and in the pain,” he said.
And when he married Donna 14 years ago, students were there as well.
Donna has played a significant role in Brittain’s long tenure, he said.
“Donna met me when I was broken, and God used her in a mighty way to face up to the grief and the hurt. She was a huge part in the healing in my life,” he said.
All about people
Brittain said his favorite part of campus ministry is helping students realize that God can use them wherever they are. JSU is mostly made up of students from the surrounding area who talk alike, have similar outlooks and share the same culture. That’s one reason he has always enjoyed taking students on missions trips to places they have never imagined.
“When I think about this ministry I think about people,” he said. “Every one of these students has influenced me in so many different ways.”
The students he served feel the same.
Jamie Mackey, minister to students at First Baptist Church Huntsville, called Brittain “a tremendous influence in my life.”
They began at JSU together, Brittain as a campus minister and Mackey as a freshman.
“He and the BCM ministry helped expand my world through missions, Bible study and providing an on-campus Christian community,” Mackey said. “Through his influence, I experienced a call to ministry — something I never would have imagined for myself. I am grateful for Gary’s ministry.”
Matt Coby, class of 2013, called Brittain a “mentor and father figure.” Brandon Pisacrita, a 2011 JSU graduate, said, “Gary’s investment in my life during college helped me to discern God’s call on my life.” Logan Huggins, JSU class of 2012, said he “couldn’t have wished for a better minister, mentor and friend.”
“His love of missions, students and above all, the gospel, made him a beloved influence to literally thousands and thousands of JSU students over his career,” Huggins said. “He leaves a huge, lasting legacy for which we, his students, will forever be thankful.”
Ben Edfeldt, director of collegiate and student ministries for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, noted Brittain’s years in campus ministry are “filled with a long faithfulness in gospel ministry.”
“As Gary’s impact stretches across generations, one of the clear indicators of its effectiveness is seen in Gary’s constant ministry to those who have long graduated from JSU,” Edfeldt said. “Gary has embodied our desire to reach students, equip students and send students. We are grateful for Gary Brittain.”
Looking ahead, the Brittains plan to live in Foley, where they will enjoy time with their family, especially their grandchildren. Brittain said campus ministry intern Timothy Curvin, along with the future new campus minister, will breathe new life into the ministry. They and the students will “keep this moving forward,” Brittain said.
“I am thankful for the Cooperative Program, which allows me to be a state missionary and serve in this way,” he said. “It is only through faith in the Lord and Alabama Baptists that I could have served in this way. I have been privileged to serve.”