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Free ride for military trainees helps introduce Baptist ministry

PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–Dozens of military students returning to classes after the Christmas break received a welcome back present from Pensacola Bay (Fla.) Baptist Association’s Home Port Military Christian Center: free transportation from the airport to the barracks.
Home Port director Roy Chewning made nine round trips, picking up 91 people, in the Home Port van from the airport to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and the Navy Technical Training Center at Corry Station Jan. 2. Many of the students, averaging in age from 18 to 23, do not have ready access to transportation while they are in Pensacola for training, which typically lasts six weeks to six months.
Besides saving the students cab fare, providing the free service gave Chewning an occasion to invite them to the center.
The Home Port center, located a mile from the air station in Warrington Baptist Church’s former education building, has cooking facilities, study rooms with computers, game rooms, a TV room and a Bible study room. The facilities are open to students at various times seven days a week.
Whether students need time to themselves or want to interact with others, Home Port offers a relaxed environment away from the stresses of base life.
Baptist churches in Pensacola take turns providing home-cooked meals twice a month. Girls in Action groups host cookie bakes there several times a year.
Home Port currently is planning its annual Super Bowl party, which typically draws around 100 students.
More than 3,200 students have visited Home Port since it was established two years ago when the Technical Training Center in Millington, Tenn., relocated to Pensacola NAS.
There have been two professions of faith reported as a result of the ministry, Chewning said. Because classes of trainees come and go every week, he said, it sometimes can feel like starting over again. But that can be a positive thing, he said, because it means a whole new group can be introduced to the gospel and to Christian fellowship.
As a result of a student’s request, Chewning said he was invited to give 15-minute introductory talks about Home Port every Wednesday to a new class of trainees at Corry Station. Currently, chaplains at NAS acquaint students there with Home Port.
Several students have expressed appreciation to Home Port for offering a caring, comfortable place for them to spend their free time.
“This place is really cool and means a lot to me,” said Jason P. Dunham of Anchorage, Alaska. It is “a place where you can take your friends and relax and hear the gospel. The food reminds me of home.”
Shane Mathers from North Platte, Nev., said what is special about Home Port is that “people are brought together and, for a period, are allowed to expose their hearts and receive encouragement on a level that traditional church settings wouldn’t likely accommodate.”
Military students come for training in Pensacola from all over the United States. Last year, Home Port had visitors from every state except Delaware sign their guest book, Chewning said. In November alone, students from 25 states visited Home Port.
Chewning keeps track of students’ hometowns by having them place stickpins on a wall map. Different colors denote different branches of service, including Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force.

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  • Kristi Hodge