I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist the summer before I began high school. Growing up in upstate New York my parents always allowed me to keep all kinds of pets, and I always knew I would do something with animals. Walking on the Jersey Shore during our usual summer vacation, it clicked. Why not combine my interest in animals with my love for the ocean. Boom - Marine Biology!
That decision lasted through high school, and after investigating some colleges in tropical south Florida, I ended up closer to home at Long Island University: Southampton (now a campus of SUNY Stonybrook). The top-notch, hands-on marine science program provided great experiences: co-op in a New Jersey Aquarium, semester sailing around the reefs of the Caribbean, winter course on tropical marine biology in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, and finally, an internship at the Bodega Marine Lab in Bodega Bay, California.
My internship led to grad school at UC Davis, and I began my doctoral research with a Fulbright Fellowship in La Paz, Mexico. Studying the feeding ecology of large pelagic fish in the beautiful and dynamic environment of Baja and the Gulf of California was a dream realized. I was doing what I had planned and what I was passionate about.
That is when God began to do something I had not planned. When my wife, Garricyn, and I had moved to Davis, CA we started attended a new church called Discovery. As a young couple far from home, we quickly became core servants and leaders in the church plant. Garricyn was the church's first children's ministry director, and together we started the first college group together. Soon my passion for people began to outweigh my passion for fish. It is not that I lost a passion for the oceans or my work there, it was just that God gave me a greater passion for the mission of advancing the gospel to a world in need. As I neared the completion of my PhD, I felt God beginning to call me to surrender my marine biology career and enter pastoral ministry. However, since I was living my dream job, I did not easily surrender. I offered God my time, my money, my talents, but my career was mine to hold on to. After two months wrestling with God, He won. On a boat in the Gulf of California, after completing two amazing dives, I sat there and finally surrendered, "God if you want all of this, how can I withhold anything from you."
You see, what ultimately broke my hold on my career was not the logical side of things or the promise of a better life, but the realization of God's grace toward me. I had grown up in a Christ-centered family with a very blessed foundation, but in college I became the runaway son. I lived the college life, literally putting my Bible on the shelf and enjoying the ways of the world. But God led me through, protecting me in spite of my bad decisions along the way, giving me a wonderful wife, and now graciously using a flawed sinner to do His kingdom work. Realizing the depths of His grace, how could I withhold anything from Him? I made a decision that day to give whatever He asked. And that day, He asked for my career, and I heard His call to complete my Ph.D. and prepare to pastor.
What followed was a whirlwind twelve years of ministry. I intended to complete my Ph.D. and then head back to the east coast to go to seminary, but a transition in leadership at Discovery thrust me into ministry. I became the Lead Pastor of Discovery six months before finishing my Ph.D. I would spend three days a week leading staff and preparing sermons and the other three days sorting through fish guts in the lab. In August 2007, I completed my Ph.D., not sure that it would be used for anything more than to lend credibility to a pastor in a university town... and some good fish illustrations for my sermons.
Despite the challenges of being a young, growing leader in a young, growing church, ministry was amazing and fruitful at Discovery. I was blessed to see the fruit of building up young believers, sending out college students, preparing couples for marriage, encouraging new parents, and launching missions partnerships. But in another unexpected twist to my plans, God was doing something new.
In 2013 I was offered the opportunity to begin teaching a course at William Jessup University. The Bible college turned Christian university was just beginning a biology program, and I was invited to develop and teach their basic Biology 100 for non-majors. This was the perfect setting for my pastoral mindset, as I challenged Christian students to think deeper on topics of science and faith. I also developed an Aquatic and Marine Ecology course for their new Environmental Science degree. Through it all, I was confident in my calling as a pastor and this was just a good outlet for my love for marine biology.
But in the Fall of 2016, God turned the tables on my plans and once again, challenging me once again to my commitment to give Him whatever it was He asked for. This time He asked me to surrender the vision that had filled my heart and the ministry that I had worked so hard to establish. Once again, my stubbornness lasted about two months, until I decided to step out of the boat and onto the water, not knowing exactly where it would lead but obediently trusting the voice of the Lord.
Today, I find myself in an unfolding story as a pastor, professor, marine biologist and missionary. I am in the unique position as a Christian in science and researcher with faith. My hope is that my story will encourage others on the side of science and the side of faith to realize that there is one BIG story of Creation with Christ at the center. We were all made to declare the glory of God and live in relationship with Him, it may just be that the oceans to a better and more consistent job than we do a people.
I hope my story encourages you to explore Christ and His creation. I simply believe that the oceans are one of the best places to look and see the majesty and wonder of our Creator. So let's join together, with the oceans, to declare the glory of God.