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AAEO: Sending missionaries through military movement

Members of Pillar Church of Washington, D.C., prepare to grill out and host an Easter egg hunt as a community outreach event. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for North American Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is March 6-13, with a theme of United, which is also the theme for this year’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. The offering provides more than half of the North American Mission Board’s annual budget and 100 percent of the funds go to mission work on the field. Gifts to the Annie offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at anniearmstrong.com where there are also resources to help promote the offering. This year’s goal is $70 million.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP) – Jared and Jennifer Huntley had been praying for someone to be the bridge to help them reach Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., the oldest active post in the Marine Corps. They just didn’t know his name yet.

Jared Huntley moved to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Jennifer, to launch Pillar Church, which is part of the Praetorian Project, a family of multiplying churches in military communities. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

So, when the young man reached out to them, they knew he was an answer to their prayers.

“Johnathan originally got in touch with me, actually before he moved to D.C.,” Jared said. “It was right around the time we were launching.”

The Huntleys had moved to the area to relaunch Pillar Church of Washington, D.C., part of the Praetorian Project, a family of multiplying churches in military communities.

That mission is close to the Huntleys’ heart. Jared himself formerly served in the Army and has been deployed to the Middle East, so he’s seen the struggles that can affect military personnel – especially when they’re navigating trauma without Christ.

“I know the spiritual need that exists within the Armed Services,” Jared said.

But another reason he loved the idea of discipling and equipping military personnel and their families is because they’re set up for missions – they live close together in the barracks and can spread the Gospel rapidly. And they’re already transient, as the military moves them around.

Since moving to Washington, D.C., Jared and Jennifer Huntley have seen God move and change lives on the surrounding military bases. New personnel show up at the church almost every single week, Jared said. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

It’s a mission field that comes with challenges, but Jared sees it as a natural missions-sending machine.

“We’re supposed to send,” he said. “If the government is already moving these people all over the place naturally, why not instead of seeing that as a problem see that as an opportunity to say, ‘Let’s disciple these families, and then they’re going to take the Gospel with them everywhere.’ To me, it seems like a great way to accomplish the Great Commission.”

Before the Huntleys arrived, Pillar Church of Washington, D.C., an existing plant, was struggling. Leaders of the plant met with leaders of another local church, which had a campus nearby, and talked about a merger that would relaunch as a new Pillar Church plant. They brought Jared in to lead that effort.

Once on the ground, the Huntleys began making connections with nearby military bases. But they hadn’t yet been able to make any inroads at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.

NAMB church planter Jared Huntley preaches at an outdoor service at Pillar Church of Washington, D.C. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

“There’s about 1,200 Marines posted there, and it’s a really strategic place,” Jared said. “And we just were praying that we could get a foothold in there, because we didn’t really have one at that point. And we felt like that was a specific place that God was calling us to reach.”

That’s where Johnathan comes in. He had heard of the Praetorian Project, and he reached out to Jared to see how he could help.

“So, he showed up in town, and we met up,” Jared said. “He started attending the church, and it quickly became clear that he had a heart for evangelism and specifically wanted to share the Gospel with other Marines like himself.”

Johnathan latched onto that vision. Jared began to equip him, and he started putting what he was learning into practice at the barracks and inviting Marines to church with him.

“Little by little, we just started seeing more and more Marines start to trickle in,” Jared said.

The struggles of military personnel are not foreign to Jared and Jennifer Huntley. Jared served in the Army and was deployed to the Middle East before he met Jesus and had his life changed. Now the couple works to share that hope with other military personnel through Pillar Church of Washington, D.C. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

A military chaplain also got involved, and Jared was able to develop a relationship with him. “And then we saw our first convert, so the first Marine gave his life to Christ, and then we got to baptize him during the pandemic and saw another Marine give his life to Christ, and we got to baptize him later on,” Jared said.

Since then, they’ve had more Marines attend and join the church, and “it’s just been amazing to watch,” he said. “It seems like we have new Marines showing up almost every Sunday at this point.”

That’s a big change from the zero contact the Huntleys had back in September of 2019 when they relaunched the church.

“To see what God’s done in 18 months has just been amazing,” Jared said. “And God has used Jonathan as a key part of that.”

Not only that – they’ve been able to reach into the neighborhood around the church, which has a lot of poverty, drugs and crime.

Marche, for one, is someone they’ve met who struggles with addiction and lives just around the corner from the church. They crossed paths through some of the food distribution they’ve done in the community.

“She really wants to follow Jesus and really is excited about being involved in the church,” Jared said. Another church member has been meeting up with her for discipleship.

As more people from the military and the community join, the church becomes more and more diverse, which Jared said he loves.

“I think that what I love about our church is that whether it’s the Marines or it’s one of our young families or anybody like that, everybody’s focused on the kingdom of God and wants to serve and share the Gospel and make disciples of all nations,” he said. “So, it doesn’t matter what background somebody comes from, they’re going to be treated the same. They’re going to be welcomed the same way.”

The church has a heart to see the surrounding community become a part of the body, Jared said. “I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the body of Christ, is that you’re going to have socioeconomic diversity and ethnic diversity, and even diversity along the lines of military and civilian.”