FINCASTLE, Va. (BP) – Jason Gravely, a formerly incarcerated man now a part of Fincastle Baptist Church, said his skeptical search for God concluded with his involvement in the outdoor kids’ ministry program at the church, where he found spiritual answers and discipleship.
Gravely began attending the ministry’s activities with his two step-sons last year. Through these events he began a friendship with the ministry’s leader Seth Thompson, who would engage in consistent spiritual conversations with him.
This culminated with Gravely eventually making a decision to follow Christ last fall, and he has noticed a difference in his personal life.
“It now feels like I’ve got somebody watching over me and this sort of helping hand on me,” Gravely said. “I can see the Holy Spirit working in my life.”
Gravely explained his search for spiritual answers began long before his attendance at kids’ ministry activities. In fact, it began during the more than five years he spent in prison.
He spent a lot of time in prison learning and researching various topics, including religion. And though he studied Christianity quite a bit, he said it “never really connected” with him.
This began to change when he finished his time in prison and married his wife. His wife’s parents are devoted Christians, and Gravely said his father-in-law would often take him to church events. His father-in-law then began taking his sons to Fincastle’s outdoor ministry.
Gravely began attending the events too, where he met Thompson.
Soon, he would begin attending Fincastle’s men’s ministry events, where he would connect frequently with Thompson. At one of the men’s events, Gravely ended up meeting someone who recognized him from their time serving in the same prison. The man encouraged Gravely to listen to what Thompson had to say regarding spiritual matters.
After several months of conversations with Thompson, Gravely said he again encountered troubled times, including the loss of a job.
“I remember praying to God, ‘If you’re real I need you to show me,’” Gravely said. “I said ‘God, I’ve been looking for you, so if you’re out there show yourself and that you’re real. Because I don’t believe. You have to show me.’
“After that I just kept on seeing different signs here and there and I felt like I was getting answers. I was on the edge after several months of looking for God, and then my job loss really pushed me over the edge. I was scared to death and didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought if God could really help, then I really needed it, and that’s when I decided to call Seth about asking Christ into my heart. I thought if God could really help, then I really needed it.”
Since Gravely’s conversion, Thompson and Gravely talk weekly in a discipling relationship where they pray and read the Bible together. Thompson said he has already noticed a positive change in his friend.
“I’ve noticed he’s now always asking questions about God, and he’s eager to learn more about Him,” Thompson said. “I noticed he’s getting involved with serving in the church and started making a lot of changes in the way that he’s seeing things.
The ministry Thompson helps lead that was influential in Gravely’s conversion is Kids Outdoor Zone (KOZ).
KOZ is a boys-only ministry organization designed to equip men in local churches to mentor young boys into godly men by using outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing.
Thompson leads the group at Fincastle and said the ministry has been incredibly influential in the lives of many young men.
“Being able to instill in them at an early age what it means to be a godly man, have good values and serve is makes a huge difference in their lives,” Thompson said.
Rich Magee is the Chief Operating Officer and East Coast Director for KOZ.
He told Baptist Press that although KOZ works with several different evangelical denominations, Southern Baptist churches have the largest representation.
“A boy needs a man to become a man,” Magee said. “We think the men of the Church are the answer to this dilemma and mentoring changes everything.
“The men of the Church are this army, and they can show young boys there is somebody out there who cares. Watching men come alive in Kingdom work is the highlight for me.”
Mitch Turner is the Next Gen pastor at Fincastle, and echoed Magee’s thoughts about the KOZ’s impact at Fincastle not just for boys, but also for the men of the congregation.
“It’s making an impact on our men who are a part of it and helping lead it,” Turner said. “It’s helping our men understand what discipleship is a little bit better. In Jason’s life it has definitely allowed for discipleship and encouragement.
“Part of the Great Commission is discipling everyone, and without discipling the next generation it would die. We need to be focused on the next generation and training up leaders.”
Gravely was baptized in the months after his conversion, and his entire family, including his in-laws now attend Fincastle.
“God knew that I needed Him,” Gravely said. “God knew that I was looking for Him and this kids’ ministry may have been his way of stepping into showing me that He was there. I feel that God has blessed me tremendously.”