In Matthew’s* early years as a strategic sealift officer and civilian mariner with the US Merchant Marine, he eagerly sought out The Navigators Military ministry in every port where his ship docked. San Diego was his home port, but he only lived there for a few months a year. When his ship took him to other ports, he says, “I’d check in to see if there were any Navigators and try to meet up with those groups.”
Three years into his naval career, in 2011, Matthew married, while still taking various sailing positions as an assistant engineer. Then, in 2017, he reported for duty at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida, where he could “put down some roots.” As a Navy port engineer, he handles all off-ship maintenance while his ship is in port.
After he arrived, he continued growing in his faith and reaching out to others with the gospel, yet he felt underequipped. At the same time, he sensed that his personal life “was being held together by a thin thread.”
Answer the Call to Discipleship
Navigator Larry Hutson met Matthew when he visited Jacksonville, considering whether to launch a Navigators Military ministry there at Mayport. “Matthew was hungry for discipleship,” Larry says, “and hungry to figure out how to disciple others.”
As he prayed about the decision, Larry says, “Matthew was calling every week and asking, ‘Are you coming here yet?’”
Larry called Matthew “my Macedonian man,” referring to Acts 16:6-10, where a man appeared to the apostle Paul in a dream, begging him to come to Macedonia to preach the gospel.
Larry indeed moved to Jacksonville in 2017, and he and Matthew started meeting weekly. As part of their Life-to-LifeⓇ discipleship, they spoke of what God was doing in their lives and how He was speaking to them through the Bible. They talked intently, too, about marriage.
“My wife, Kristen, and I were having real problems communicating and not meeting each other’s unspoken expectations,” Matthew says. “We were probably heading for divorce.
“Larry came alongside at a critical point with good, godly counsel, telling me the things I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear. With biblical marriage counseling, we got our marriage back on track. Larry helped keep me on the mission field here at Mayport.”
Share Your Passion for Jesus
Matthew and Larry also started a Sunday evening Bible study group that walks through the “Every Man a Warrior” Bible study.
Larry truly “fanned the flame” of disciplemaking for him, Matthew says. “God has commissioned me to go [into all the world, Matthew 28:18-20], and as I’m going, to make disciples of all nations and people groups.”
His life verse for this season is Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
In other words, he explains, “There’s a big party we’re making ready for, and our prize is Jesus, and it’s up to us to gather every tribe, tongue, nation, race.”
Matthew is passing along to others his passion for that big party. One sailor in particular has begun meeting with both Larry and Matthew and has started bringing others with him.
This sailor also attends church with Matthew, who says, “There are times he’ll fill a pew—bring all his friends from his work center. It’s good to see him growing spiritually and intentionally inviting others to grow in Christ, during conversations after church.”
Equip Others to Lead
For a few years, Matthew has led a Saturday morning Bible study. COVID-19 brought challenges, but by using Zoom, they continued meeting, even inviting other Navy men from other parts of the country: active duty, reserve, and veterans. Now some of those men are ready to lead it. “I don’t need to be the one-man band,” Matthew says. “It’s not about me; it’s about generations. I’ve led for a season, and it’s time to let others lead it and bear fruit that way.”
Matthew is passionate about his unique mission field—a place that not just anyone can access. “Anyone can go on a mission trip. But not just anyone can walk onto a US warship,” he says. “On my daily walks I’ll talk with everyone from the captain to first- and second-class petty officers, seamen, and firemen. I have unfettered access to the sailors.”
The spiritual component he brings to those conversations is crucial, especially in an environment where constant travel means isolation. “They go out for a few months and come home for a few months, do some maintenance, then go out for a few months more,” he says. “It’s really hard on the crew as things are breaking, people are breaking.
“Being on a ship can be a dark place. When you’re away from friends and family, either the best or the worst of people comes out. It’s very hard being away from people who love and care about you. You start hearing the whispers and the lies. We come alongside folks with a good listening ear and offer hope and community.
“For now, this is where God has me planted, and I’m seeing a lot of fruit starting to blossom.”
When it comes to his life’s legacy, Matthew mentions Acts 11:22-24 (ESV) and the name of Barnabas, who was called “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
“There will be a day,” Matthew says, “when someone will get up and talk about us after we’ve gone to be with the Lord. There will be a marker with our name, birthdate, death date, a little dash and something like, ‘loving husband, loving father.’ I want to be remembered as: ‘He was a good and faithful man, full of the Holy Spirit, and many were brought to the Lord on his account.’”
Matthew persistently called Larry asking him to be a spiritual mentor in his life.
Is there someone already in your life who you need to call and ask them to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus? Pray for God to lead you to someone who can help you build a spiritual legacy—even if that means you need to make the ask.
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