Standing Out and Discipling Others

It’s impossible to hide on a naval ship. In crowded quarters, people know what you eat, what you read, and what you say.

When Trey Souder sat in a ward room eating lunch he wasn’t trying to stand out. But when a fellow officer commented on Souder’s plate of fruits and vegetables—with all eyes trained on him—Souder said he was fasting. And he stood out.

“When you’re around people who don’t know Jesus, you have to be intentional about knowing Him better yourself—and showing Him to the world around you. You have to be counter-cultural without looking down on others,” says Trey.

Standing out is something he’s experienced before. Souder, an African American, was raised in an Atlanta suburb where there were few African American families. After high school, he attended the predominantly white U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

But shortly after arriving at the academy, he met upperclassman Jake Owens, who told him about a ministry The Navigators had recently started, one geared specifically to African Americans. Trey then met Mike Slone, the Navigator staff member who led the group, and began to be discipled by him.

“I was pretty inconsistent—just going through the motions,” says Trey. “But Mike and Jake were persistent, consistent, and faithful. They never gave up on me.”

“I really got excited about my faith, about living for God,” says Trey. He was amped up about sharing the Good News and the lessons that were transforming him daily. But after graduating from the Academy, life wasn’t exactly what he had envisioned.

It was harder to make connections. He felt alone and struggled to live the life he was called to while surrounded by dozens of different faiths and lifestyles. Still, he worked hard to establish trust with his shipmates where close quarters demand authenticity. That authenticity also made it impossible to keep his newfound passion a secret.

Trey worried about standing out and being judged. Yet he wanted to invest in others, to share his hope, and to disciple others. He wanted to love his neighbors.

One neighbor was Devon*, an older officer who was the son of a Muslim extremist. Devon began to notice subtle differences between Trey and the other sailors. “He was intrigued by my faith,” says Trey. “We talked a lot, and even began praying and reading the Bible together. I was vulnerable. I listened. I just wanted to offer him Christ.”

Devon later came to faith in Jesus. “It was awesome to be part of that,” says Trey, “and to see how God’s plan keeps working even after we’ve done our part.”

Trey’s life looks different today than it did as a Naval Academy student or as an active duty officer. Although still in the military as a recruiter for the Army, his primary community these days is young African American men living in his neighborhood in New Orleans’ Third Ward. These young men wander with no direction. Still, he disciples them with the same intentionality with which he was once mentored. The lessons he learned all those years ago serve him well in every ethnic and social context.

“Every encounter, every person, every challenge, has made me who I am today,” says Trey.

And that is something that makes Trey Souder stand out.

*Not his real name.

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