Austin Graduate School of Theology's newest Living Stones Award recipient Joel Petty serves the Lord as a missionary in Russia.
“I find fulfillment when someone comes to the realization that God exists and loves them…when someone finds joy by hearing and obeying God's word not only when coming to Christ initially, but as they follow him throughout life with all its ups, downs, adventures and suffering,” Joel said.
Joel received his bachelor’s degree from Southwest Texas (now known as Texas State Universary) in geography and political science with a concentration in Soviet studies. It was the late 80's. By the time he graduated, the Soviet Union fell and his career path evaporated. He says he worked in conference and meeting planning as well as the rental car business for a few years before the Lord found him and changed his life, blessed him with a great wife, and always reoriented him from career to ministry.
In 1987, Joel made a trip to the Soviet Union.
“It changed my life… rather God changed my life through that trip,” Joel said. He says he had a burgeoning interest in Russia and her people. As a conservative student who was not yet a Christian, he says he assumed wrongly that Russians needed mainly political freedom. He wanted to help free them by working for the state department or intelligence services. Shortly after his graduation, the Soviet Union fell.
“After that Christ found me and I came to faith, repented, and was baptized at Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ in Austin," he said. It was there that Joel met people who were going to Russia on mission trips.
Joel first entered missionary work in the spring of 1993 when he went on his first short-term mission while a student at Austin Grad (formerly known as Institute of Christian Studies). It was during that trip to Ekaterinburg, Siberia that he realized that God may be calling him to serve in Russia.
He shared that he wanted to go back to Russia again after he returned there in the spring of 1993 because he began to see Ephesians 2:10 coming true in his life. He had the knowledge of Russian culture, geography, history, political science and a desire to help.
“God used all that to re-orient my life from helping provide Soviet citizens political freedom to declaring the good news of freedom in Christ to Russians,” Joel writes.
Joel has ministered in about 20 Russian cities and the former Soviet Union as well as with some people in Austin while studying at Austin Grad and as a member of Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ.
Joel believes his time at Austin Grad has equipped him for his missionary work. He says he is frequently amazed by how often he goes back to the paper files of what he learned in the classes, his studies, and papers written while at Austin Grad.
The wisdom and example of service of the full-time and adjunct professors at Austin Grad left a deep imprint. While he only had one class on missions and evangelism, he says the solid foundation of theology and scripture, doctrine, and worship prepared him well.
Joel says he appreciated the personalized approach to his master's final when the professors asked him questions and case studies based on his future context of missions in Russia. Dr. David Worley suggested alternating semesters of study and then a semester on the field. For several years he did just that. He believes the back and forth of learning and service was invaluable.
When asked about the successes he’s witnesses as a missionary Joel says, “It is a success when a person comes to God and continues, like Israel before them through fits and starts, to follow and grow as he or she learns to honor the Lord and serve others in community in spite of (and sometimes because of) various sufferings. I have seen Jesus Christ work in many people's lives. May God be glorified whenever that happens.”
The Living Stones Award "honors individuals who are actively building up the church by passing on the faith and being Christ to the world through merciful service," Austin Grad President Stan Reid said. "We want to recognize Christians who are modeling how to live out the Christian faith in their church and community. Through the Living Stones Award we will tell the stories of those who are doing this with grace and humility." For more information about this award, please go here.
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Austin Graduate School of Theology is an Austin seminary offering B.A. and M.A. ministry degrees, and Austin Grad is accredited by the same agency that accredits Abilene Christian University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas, and others. Austin Grad -- one of the top Christian colleges in Texas and among the top seminaries in Texas -- is affiliated with the Church of Christ and is in conversation with all who confess Jesus as Lord. Austin Grad promotes faith seeking understanding and is committed to providing a high quality education for those who desire to be equipped to expand the Kingdom of God.