WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–When Jerry Higgins made the leap from journalism to public relations for a job in the National Hockey League, little did he know it would lead to a leap of a different sort — a leap of faith.
But that leap, from a life dictated by career to a life led by faith, was a big one for Higgins and for the rest of his family. It was a leap that took him from New England to North Carolina, from the NHL to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.
Higgins, recently named as public relations director at the seminary, knows a lot about the world of journalism, but he and his wife are still discovering the joy of being children of God.
Last August, Jerry and Andrea both accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and that is when the real changes began. Higgins left his high-pressured job with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, last year’s Eastern Conference champions, as director of public and media relations.
Within two months, friends at Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church — where he and his wife had been saved and were getting involved as new believers — mentioned that there was a public relations opening at the seminary.
Jerry was somewhat intimidated at first, but went for it anyway.
“I told them, ‘If you’re looking for a master theologian, I’m not it,'” he said. “I want to learn. But professionally, I know I can help the seminary because of my background.”
The story of the Higgins’ journey of faith began in 2000 when they lived in Connecticut, where Jerry was a sports reporter for the New Haven Register. He loved sports, he loved writing and had no intention of leaving. But then the Hurricanes — whom he had covered in Hartford when the team was known as the Hartford Whalers before the team moved to Raleigh in 1997 — called and offered him the public relations job.
Jerry was looking to make a career change. It would entail a move to the South, where they had never lived. Little did they know what other changes the move would bring.
Three days after Jerry started his new job in Raleigh, Andrea’s mother died. Andrea, who was still in Connecticut tending to the sale of their house, had to travel to upstate New York to care for her elderly father, who died only a few months later.
Meanwhile, Jerry was working at least 12 hours a day and often was on the road with the Hurricanes.
“I was in a fantasy world,” he said. “I don’t think I was ready for it. It’s such a high-paced atmosphere that’s based on wins and losses. You can’t have a bad day, and we had plenty.”
Andrea was left at home to care for their children, Alexandra, 9, and Andrew, 4, who has Down syndrome, while also coping with the loss of her parents as well as adjusting to a new home. Shortly after buying a house, Jerry left for 10 days of training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. The next day was Sept. 11, 2001.
“As proud as I was of Jerry, and as excited as I was about his new job, I barely saw him because he worked basically seven days and many nights a week,” she said. “Looking back at such a trying time, with nothing familiar around to support me — no home, no friends, no career, no family, no parents and for the most part no Jerry — I realize that God put me exactly where I needed to be. It gave me the humility to understand that I am not in control of everything, and more importantly to trust in God’s plan. I am grateful for those experiences in a way I could not have imagined when I was going through them.”
God was getting the Higgins family ready, they see now. Last summer, Alexandra went to Vacation Bible School at Wake Cross Roads and asked her parents if the family could go to Sunday morning services.
They had no idea what to expect from a Southern Baptist church, but the message from Bill Bowyer that first morning went right to their heart.
“Everything he was talking about hit home,” Jerry said. “He was talking about us. It was in a simple language that even a dummy like me could understand.”
A few weeks later, both Jerry and Andrea went forward during a morning service and accepted Christ into their lives. The change was immediate.
“I never slept better, I never felt better, I never looked at things better,” said Jerry, who grew up Catholic.
Their salvation had an impact on their marriage as well. Andrea said she had become resentful of Jerry’s job and the hours he put in at work, and that put a strain on their marriage. Jerry, meanwhile, said he knew he was neglecting his family and let that guilt block communication between himself and his wife.
“Everything changed when we became Christians,” Andrea said. “Faith has opened our hearts and the lines of communication.”
The third change came for Jerry at work. He was convicted not only about the long hours he was working, but also the environment he worked in — it was not building up his faith.
“I felt like I didn’t belong there anymore,” he said. “My separation from them worked out for me personally and professionally because I had to appreciate what’s important in my life.”
Waylan Owens, Southeastern’s vice president for institutional advancement, said it was more than mere coincidence that God kept the public relations director position unfilled for two years, even while many other people applied for the job.
“It could be a coincidence that Jerry’s journey from New England to Raleigh to the Lord to Southeastern matches our prayers, but I do not think so and neither do our public relations’ staffers who prayed every week since mid-2000 for God to send his choice for director,” Owens said.
He added that Jerry’s relative inexperience in the Christian life will be a boost to the entire Southeastern family, while his expertise in communications will serve the school well.
“As a man who has recently experienced and acutely understands the life-changing forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ, Jerry brings the bright and uncluttered perspective of a spiritual child that is so representative of genuine Christianity,” Owens said. “As a man who has chosen to love his family, including a son with Down syndrome, in difficult times, he brings a sense of commitment and perseverance so needed in the Kingdom. As a man who has lived in the fastest of fast lanes, in championship professional sports, Jerry possesses the skills and the understanding of the priorities necessary to tell our story to Southern Baptists and to the world.”
When Jerry first applied for the seminary job, Andrea said it was a shock. But she came to see it as another thread in God’s tapestry for their lives.
“It was such new territory and quite a departure from the sports world where he’d worked for so long,” she said. “But in the end, he was more excited about what he could learn and what he could contribute. His skills were needed, and people at the seminary seemed so confident in his ability. We had this feeling we were here for a reason. I can’t see it as anything other than God’s mystery unfolding in our lives.”
And the biggest change in Jerry’s life? He says he has a new boss, and he’s not talking about seminary President Paige Patterson.
“Before, I dictated my life,” he said. “Now there’s someone else who’s guiding me.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JERRY HIGGINS.