Matt Bond puts it simply like this — before he met Jesus, he was lost.
He was also sick.
Matt, a freshman at the University of Alabama, was sent to live for two weeks in a quarantine dorm on campus after he learned he had COVID-19 in January. It was a lonely place to be.
But back in the fall, Micah Parker and other students at the university’s Baptist Campus Ministries had put together bags to let students in quarantine know that they weren’t alone. They had filled them with goodies and necessities purchased with donations from an area Woman’s Missionary Union group and Tuscaloosa Association churches.
“We used the bags to let the students know, ‘Hey, you’re not isolated. There are people who love you and are praying for you,’” Micah said.
When Matt moved in, there was a bag waiting for him. It had a connection card in it directing him to a website, and he went to the website, filled out the form and checked the box that said, “I want to know more about what it means to live a life for Jesus.”
Then when he got out of quarantine, one of the first things he did was meet up with Micah to talk.
“God had been laying the foundation to reach him,” said Micah, who had gotten Matt’s number from campus minister Kim Andrews.
Micah started a conversation with Matt, and the next thing he knew, Matt was sharing with him the tough journey his family had been on with life and faith.
Matt had grown up in church, but they had lost his dad’s brother to a suicide because of alcoholism. “My dad has been sober for 26 years,” Matt said, “and to lose his brother to the same disease that he’d been rid of and lost his dad to before I was born — it completely ruined his faith.”
It was part of the “hardest five years” of Matt’s life, and “we hated God,” he said.
But it didn’t change the fact that he had questions, and now sitting with Micah, he planned to ask them.
“He was super open, super vulnerable,” Micah said.
He gave Matt a Bible from the BCM, gave him a passage to read and told him to write down any questions he had. The two started meeting up regularly and walking through Romans together.
Then Matt accepted Micah’s invitation to a service at a new collegiate church plant in Tuscaloosa, Church at the Oaks. He went for several weeks, and on Feb. 21, Pastor Britton Latham preached a sermon that flipped the switch for him — a sermon on Philippians 1:21, where Paul writes that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Matt told Britton that day that he was ready to follow Christ, and on March 28, he was baptized in the church’s first ever baptismal service.
“Since then, I’ve really had a sense of clarity and purpose,” Matt said. “I used to be fairly lonely, but now I have someone to turn to and learn from. I know how to set the example for other members of my family who have yet to follow Christ. And I know that the road ahead is long and it’s going to be difficult but that it is now possible because I have Jesus with me.”
And on the day he was baptized, he called his brother to tell him — and before he could, his brother told him he too had started attending a Bible study.
Micah said it’s “been amazing” to walk with Matt through the discipleship process and “to see God work in his life and the life of his family members.”
Britton said the whole story has been incredible to see.
“It’s a story where multiple avenues of Baptist work overlap and coincide, which is really special,” he said.
God wove together the combined efforts of BCM, a new church plant and Alabama WMU — ministries made possible by gifts of Alabama Baptists through the Cooperative Program and to the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering. And ultimately, Britton said, it became a story of Matt coming to Christ.
Matt sums it up like this — it was “all because the BCM on campus made these little COVID bags for students in isolation.”
“The rest is history,” he said. “They introduced me to Micah, Micah brought me to church and church brought me back to Jesus.”