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Once a challenger to Tiger Woods, now a co-laborer with Christ

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–If a SportsCenter trivia question asked, “Which golfer finished high school ranked No. 2 behind Tiger Woods?” most people would scan the PGA Tour roster for possible answers. But they would be looking in the wrong place.

The answer, instead, was among the Dec. 17 graduates of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary: Brad Zwetschke, who, if featured in a SportsCenter segment, would have plenty to tell about the way God led him to seminary and in the way God cared for him and his family following Hurricane Katrina.

Zwetschke, originally from Chicago, was introduced to golf at age 3, began playing on courses at 4 and competed in his first tournament at 6. He was traveling to tournaments at 8 and touring the country at 13.

Such intense play at a young age allowed him to grow up competing against many of the golfers presently on the PGA Tour, the most notable being Tiger Woods. In 1991, Zwetschke came within a shot of beating Woods at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

As Woods took the fast track from college golf to the PGA Tour, Zwetschke began tournament play with the hopes of eventually making the circuit, but God had other plans in store.

In the midst of his first year as a professional golfer, Zwetschke began to see God at work in his life. He was surrounded by some Christian men who invited him to Bible studies and to church. When Zwetschke’s father had a heart attack on the golf course during one of his tournaments, God provided someone in the crowd who was able to perform CPR until help arrived. The experience changed his life, and during that tough time, Zwetschke turned to Christ.

Another change came not long afterward when Zwetschke met Christina Mauldin, a pastor’s daughter from the south side of Chicago. The couple married about a year and a half later. After their wedding, they moved to Florida where Zwetschke continued his golf career.

“When we first got married, we’d go [to tournaments] together,” Zwetschke said. “Sometimes the hotels were too expensive to stay in for four nights and we would sleep in the van in the parking lot of the clubhouse. Depending on how expensive some things were, we had to make do with what we had.

“But that’s the typical lifestyle of somebody who’s trying to make it. There’s a lot of eating out and sandwiches on the road and trying to find a place to do laundry. It wasn’t glamorous by any means.”

As the young couple traveled together to tournaments across the United States, they attended churches in the cities where they were staying. Zwetschke’s practice of attending church while away from home became an avenue by which God revealed His plans.

“I was at a qualifying in Australia and I was gone from my family for three weeks,” Zwetschke recounted. “I had been there for a week and I decided to go to this little church.” Zwetschke and his wife had been praying for a year about God’s will for their lives. If he placed high enough in the qualifying, there was a chance the family would move to Australia for him to play in the tour there. The pastor knew a lot was riding on his performance in the tournament.

“He brought me up in front of the church and the church leaders prayed over me,” Zwetschke continued. “He ended up preaching this sermon on John 21. I heard God speaking to my heart about how Peter had spent some time with Christ and that it was time for him to give up fishing.”

The parallel between Zwetschke and the disciple became suddenly clear. He, like Peter, had spent his life focused on a trade — golfing.

“He spoke to my heart, saying ‘This is all you’ve done. This is all you’ve ever known. I need you to take care of My sheep and feed My lambs,” Zwetschke said. “I came home and told my wife, ‘I don’t know what this means. But I know that God is doing something with us.'”

Before long, while traveling to a tournament in Canada, Zwetschke heard the same message from John 21 on the radio. He said he practically turned the van around — the decision was made.

Almost immediately, Zwetschke began attending the NOBTS extension center in Jacksonville, Fla., and nearly three years ago, Zwetschke and his family moved to New Orleans to live and study on campus.

As of last August, Zwetschke had just one semester left before graduation and also did not know for sure where God would lead his family next. Zwetschke and Christina were expecting a child in September — their third. Then came Hurricane Katrina.

As in countless other situations, God used the hurricane to plant the Zwetschke family exactly where He wanted them. When the storm drew near, Zwetschke took his family to Beatrice, Ala., along with several other seminary families. A church there was gracious to look after them for a couple weeks.

Foremost on his mind was finding a hospital for Christina to have the baby, so they called the doctor in Sarasota, Fla., who delivered their other two children. Shortly thereafter, Christian Thomas Zwetschke was born on Sept. 27.

From there things just fell into place.

Zwetschke went by Colonial Oaks Baptist Church in Sarasota to see if the church had a place where he could serve. They did. For about a year, the church had searched for an outreach and student minister. Almost at the very moment Zwetschke walked in the door, someone from the church was dialing the seminary’s number in hopes of offering it to a New Orleans seminary student. Zwetschke was a perfect match.

When classes started up again in October, he enrolled in the three classes he needed before graduation. The Internet-based threaded discussion classes were challenging, but Zwetschke persevered.

“I knew Hebrew was going to be the toughest online, but I was able to get that done,” he said. “It was very, very difficult.”

But he said that his Dec. 17 graduation in Birmingham, Ala., was worth all the tough work.

“The ceremony at graduation was incredible,” Zwetschke said. “It was closure to us, because we didn’t go back to campus [during the post-Katrina, post-flood move-out days]. We knew we lost everything. To see everyone at graduation was just closure.”

    About the Author

  • Michael McCormack