By Becky Hobbs
Bart Garrett was only six years old when he realized he was in spiritual trouble and needed a Savior. His Sunday School teacher had shared the Gospel with her class as she told them the story of the prodigal son (on the flannelgraph boards where the characters always fall off). Riding home from church, Bart asked his mother if she had Jesus in her heart. When she replied that she did, he said, "Well, I don't think I do, and I really think he needs to be there." So they prayed at a red light, and Bart began his walk with Jesus Christ.
That was nineteen years ago, and none of that simple passion for Christ and His salvation has worn off of this RTS/Orlando senior. Today those who have come into contact with him in ministry or school attest to Bart's love for the Lord.
"Bart possesses the all-important combination of a love for God and a love for people," says Ken Currie, National Director of Campus Outreach Ministry. "I first met him at Furman University and in ten years of student ministry, I can name no one who is more passionate for eternal issues and as gifted to reach others. It is difficult to come in contact with his infectious energy for life and not be affected. Bart is a student of the Word and committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus to people in need with relevance and love.
"I remember his insatiable desire to study the deeper truths of God and an equally zealous commitment to share the simple good news of Jesus' offer of eternal life with unsaved friends - a balanced emphasis sometimes hard to find among Christian leaders."
In May, Bart and his wife, Katie, will begin a three-year term at Perimeter Presbyterian Church in Atlanta to participate in their church planting program. They hope to transfer the techniques learned there to church planting efforts in Japan, working with RTS graduates already there.
THE STRUGGLES OF A COVENANT CHILD
Although saved at age six and raised as a covenant child in Montgomery, Alabama, by his teen years Bart had become consumed by his Christian reputation - excelling in academics, sports, and outward Christian behavior. While a school leader, an honor role student, and president of several clubs, he had lost his Christian focus.
"When my peers started making wrong moral decisions, I was perfectly aware that I was the one all the mothers wanted their daughters to marry because I made all the right decisions," he recalls. "But I was prideful; my actions did not come from a love of Jesus but from a desire to please others."
As God would have it, Bart attended a Christian leadership conference in California his sophomore year in high school that challenged him for the first time in his life. As a spiritual exercise, he was given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, some water, and his Bible and was sent into the woods by himself for twenty-four hours.
"Being a sixteen-year-old boy, I consumed all of my food in the first ten minutes," he remembers, laughing. "What was I going to do with the other twenty-three hours and fifty minutes? After realizing that a bear was not going to come along for entertainment, I began to read The Revelation (with exciting dragons and monsters) out of sheer boredom. I came to the verses where Jesus tells the church at Laodicea that He will spit them out of His mouth because they were lukewarm, and the words seem to jump off the page. God grabbed my heart in a way He hadn't for ten years - when I thought I had been a Christian! I was broken and in tears over my pride and my failure to live for Him. That was the moment God began calling me to the ministry."
Friends from those early years still marvel at his passion to follow Christ. "Bart is truly one of the most Godly men I have ever known," says high school friend David Stanley. "His desire to follow God's will for his life is certainly a model for me and everyone else with whom he comes into contact. His actions definitely speak louder than words.
During his senior year, a swimming accident resulted in a break to the orbital bone under his right eye, and doctors said he should not play football any longer. Devastated, he saw his dreams of a future in football go up in smoke. Yet, God used this to steer him closer to the ministry.
Upon graduation he entered Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and met Katie at the freshman orientation picnic. Subsequently he became involved with Campus Outreach Ministry and met Ken Currie, who would have a profound impact on his life. As he felt God's call on his life more and more, he began to struggle against it. His father had always expected Bart to become a lawyer and go into practice with him. Through prayer and study, however, Bart came to embrace God's calling and his father gave him his blessing to do the Lord's will.
"Oddly enough, God was drawing me to church ministry, even though I had always been so bored in church," says Bart. "Katie had not had a good experience with organized churches either. Yet, by God's grace we both came to love His body and the church. Although I had participated in Campus Outreach's beach ministry for two summers, I really began to want to plant a church."
During his senior year at Furman, he and Katie led a youth group at a church plant in Greenville. There God affirmed their gifts for ministry, and Ken challenged Bart to join the Campus Outreach staff. Although he was attracted to college ministry because it hadturned his life around, Bart knew after Bible study and prayer that God wanted them at seminary. He and Katie married three weeks after graduation and subsequently entered RTS.
They arrived at RTS for summer classes, and after being in Orlando for only one night, they received word that Katie's fifty-year-old mother was apparently dying. Doctors had found colon cancer the year before, but surgery had contained it and her prognosis was excellent. Yet, a few months before she had been diagnosed with scleriderma, an auto-immune arthritic condition that causes a tightening of organ tissue; many cases are terminal. She died in August, and for Katie, who was very close to her mother, and Bart, who loved her like a son, the loss was overwhelming.
"She was like a mother to me," says Bart. "I cherished talking with her about my relationship with Katie and gleaning wisdom and understanding about how I could love Katie better. "I missed greatly her joy for life and intense love for her family."
Looking back, the couple readily admits that her death has shaped their faith. Before the tragedy, they had led easy lives, fellowshipping with many friends and excelling in school and sports -- the perfect script. Beginning seminary under such a burden was the most humbling experience each had ever endured.
"We were both completely broken and could not help each other," Bart recalls. "Through her death God has really shown us the way of the cross -- how to be vulnerable and authentic in a world of suffering. We know now that people find it hard to relate to people with perfect lives; they can identify much better with people who have suffered. I can honestly say that the first two years of seminary have been like meeting Jesus for the first time; we have cried out to Him doubting His love, and He has come to us and given us peace."
A HEART FOR JAPAN
While at RTS/Orlando, Bart has worked part time in the Admissions Office and spent a great deal of time at Rollins College, where Katie is an admissions counselor.
Although the couple went to England with RTS/Orlando Old Testament Professor Dr. Richard Pratt this past summer on an evangelistic trip, their real love is Japan. Bart doesn't know from where his love for the country came, although his father lived there while Bart's grandfather served in the military. A college Japanese history course also piqued his curiosity about the country. God has somehow used these experiences to develop in both Bart and Katie a passion to see the Japanese come to Christ. Through several short-term mission trips to Japan their vision has solidified as they worked in a downtown Tokyo church and met with RTS graduates such as Dan Iverson and Fred Reid in Chiba, Japan.
They call their vision Team Epaphroditus, based on Luke 10 where Jesus sent seventy-two evangelists out in pairs. A year ago they sent letters to twenty-seven families with whom they have close ties, asking them to pray about team missions.
"We see that loneliness and isolation are a big frustration on the mission field and cause some people to come home," Bart relates. "Part of the problem is not being able to relate well to the team. We have a desire for God to raise up people that we've grown up with in the faith -- college friends, seminary friends, family members with whom we already have a good working relationship."
The couple is trusting that, by the end of their stay at Perimeter Presbyterian, God will have built a team consisting of a church planter, a college minister, a businessman, and a school teacher. They can then move into the Japanese culture, infiltrate the entire community with the Gospel, and plant a church there.
It's not hard to imagine God granting Bart's vision because Bart plans to take every opportunity to prepare himself to make it happen. Two years ago he decided that he wanted to learn more about missions from Richard Pratt. He went to the Student Life Office and asked to take Dr. Pratt to the airport any time he needed to go. He estimates he's made the thirty-five- minute drive over fifty times now, consequently receiving Dr. Pratt's undivided attention to all of his questions.
Pretty clever, don't you think?
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 4, Winter 2000