MTS–MI Grads Return to Caribbean to Plant Church
Submitted: February 2011
This September Al Blake, along with his wife Debbie, launched Harvest Bible Chapel of St. Vincent, drawing more than 200 people to the opening worship service in a building that used to house the island’s most popular nightclub.
“We were looking for a place where people who don’t normally come to church would feel welcome,” Al said. “It caused quite a stir, and the Lord has been using that to draw people to hear the Word.”
The Blakes, born and raised in St. Vincent, are graduates of Moody Theological Seminary–Michigan and Moody Bible Institute. They credit both schools with laying an invaluable foundation for their church planting ministry.
But it wasn’t too long ago that this kind of training seemed out of reach for them. Burdened about the spiritual needs of their nation and the shortage of leaders, Al and Debbie started praying for the opportunity and funding to pursue theological education.
Shortly after that, Dr. Bruce Fong—who was then president of MTS–Michigan—visited St. Vincent to speak at a conference where he met the Blakes. Hearing their heart for ministry, he connected them with Dr. Joe Stowell, then president of Moody Bible Institute. “Dr. Stowell told us that Moody is passionate about training nationals and sending them back to impact their countries for Christ,” Al said.
The Blakes eventually enrolled at Moody, graduating in 2005—Al with a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies and Debbie with a Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Counseling. Soon after, at Dr. Fong’s invitation, they applied and enrolled at MTS–Michigan. Al and Debbie graduated in 2009 with a Master of Theological Studies and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, respectively.
Al said that his experiences at both the undergraduate and seminary level equipped him with biblical knowledge and ministry skills that he now uses every day as a pastor. “Moody gave me ‘width’ in terms of surveying the whole expanse of theology,” he observed. “MTS gave me more of the ‘depth’ I needed. I learned the discipline of research at the master’s level and developed more skills in studying and exegeting the Word.”
In addition to coursework, several ministry experiences during his studies helped prepare Al for his ministry today. During his time at Moody, Al mentored children at Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects and completed an internship at Living Hope Community Church, pastored by one of his professors, Dr. Winfred Neely. And while a student in Michigan, Al served as associate pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Canton.
Those experiences instilled in him the conviction that ministry preparation is not only about learning to understand and communicate the biblical text but also about learning to love people. “Ministry can quickly become all about getting people in the door,” he noted, “but if you don’t shepherd and care for them, it defeats the purpose.”
Within the few months since Harvest Bible Chapel of St. Vincent opened its doors, the Blakes have seen at least 17 people commit their lives to Christ—including a young reporter who covered the church’s opening. Al said that he and Debbie are in awe of how God brought them to Moody and MTS–Michigan to prepare them for this season of spiritual harvest. “Without the training we received, my wife and I would not be able to do what we are doing now in church planting.”