Joseph Hobbs grew up surrounded by church culture.
One of 10 children, Joseph grew up in Woodland, Georgia, from 1946 to 1966—a place where revival meetings were common, but knowing God personally didn’t automatically follow.
At age nine, Joseph remembers sitting in a front row full of children at a revival meeting. The preacher zeroed in on the kids, his presence intimidatingly strong.
“As a child, I did not want to go to hell, so I joined the church and was baptized,” Joseph says. “I was thinking I was a believer because that’s how they taught us. I didn’t truly come to know the Lord until later.”
Even so, seeds were planted and waiting for water.
After studying business administration for two years at Columbus Technical College, Joseph joined the Air Force in 1968. He completed basic training, and studied international security.
The military gave Joseph a window into different communities and cultures, and a chance to examine his spiritual roots.
“When I was in the south, I had started to ask the question ‘what are real Christians like?’” Joseph says. “I had seen inconsistency in the lives of the Christians in my community. I saw that some led a dual life. I thought to myself there must be something different than that.”
After moving to North Dakota in 1968, Joseph began to feel the love of God through other people—often people who looked nothing like himself. In 1970, he was stationed in Thailand for a year. A young American Christian couple in Thailand invited Joseph to a special dinner for military personnel held every Saturday night, followed by a Bible study.
“That was when God began to teach me about the importance of the Word,” Joseph says. “The young man who invited me had been trained by The Navigators in California, so that was my first exposure to Navs. This is where I heard the Gospel and accepted Jesus as my Savior.”
The following months were filled with meals and fellowship, meditation on Scripture, and deep friendship. Joseph saw the world, met cross-cultural workers, and observed what their lives were like.
Another seed, a little more water.
When Joseph was later stationed in Germany (1971-1973), he sought out The Navigators immediately. For the next three and a half years, he was discipled by Tim and Jan Arensmeier.
Once his time in Germany was up, God seemed to be leading him out of the military. After returning to the States, Joseph got involved in ministry at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Eventually, he heard that The Navigators were looking to fill a vacant position in Southeast Asia. Joseph applied, excited to step into a new season of ministry in 1974.
As an “international trainee,” Joseph assisted Navigator cross-cultural workers by helping with conferences, babysitting, getting gas, doing Bible studies with students in the village, and helping with other daily needs so they could minister full-time. He took language lessons with a private tutor for about a year.
“Being in that culture taught me that God has a plan for each of us, and that He equips us in a way that we can uniquely reach people,” Joseph says. “Growing up on a farm, I could easily relate to the local people in their struggles to provide for their families, and I had an easy-going personality that fit well with their relational culture. As an African American, I feel like I had an easier time assimilating and relating.”
Adjusting to the food and the language was difficult at times, but after almost three years Joseph found life abroad to be more invigorating than challenging.
“It was a thrill to be there, to be able to say God was using me to impact people of different cultures,” Joseph says. “You have to be friendly and open. Even though you may not understand the culture or the language, you can smile, and you can show interest in their culture and how they live. That opens them up to be more open with you. When you’re not willing to do that, people notice.”
After returning home from the field, Joseph spent some time traveling around the States with The Navigators. He was asked to encourage a struggling young African American Navigator, Gwendolyn, and ended up marrying her in 1980.
Joseph went on to serve with the International Student Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. After his time with The Navigators ended, Joseph continued working for discipleship-focused ministries, traveling, and building relationships with international students. He also held several engineering jobs.
Since retiring from engineering, Joseph has been working with Worldwide Discipleship Association, a ministry focused on “developing Christ-like character in people and equipping them to disciple others.” Even though Joseph is no longer active Nav staff, Joseph says his Navigator training has helped him in his current ministry and life on a deep level.
“The Navigators trained me how to have time with God,” Joseph says. “That’s the number one thing that drives me—to know Christ and to let Christ be known—to help hurting people to grow in their Christian faith and life.”
Thanks for this story of Joe Hobbs… I ever met him several years ago when he visited Indonesia (again)…
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