I remember reading a book by Merlin Carothers entitled From Prison to Praise years ago. The work is an autobiographical account of a man who had once been incarcerated in the military, came to know Christ, and went on to accept a call to evangelical ministry. This book profoundly impacted me, as I came across it while incarcerated in Bexar County jail ahead of a 13 month sentence to state prison. 

Just weeks before finding this book, I was in solitary confinement for fighting. I began to read a Bible left behind by the previous tenant in order to pass time. One night, it dawned on me that I had tried everything in my power to find peace, joy, and love in my life. Yet, all of my struggling to find those things had landed me in jail. I looked up at that pale cement ceiling and said, “God, if you’re there, please show me, and I will be yours.” 

I never would have thought that moment would change my entire life, but looking back, I see that moment was the beginning of my walk with the Lord. As I read Mr. Carothers book, I never thought I would ever be in ministry, but I latched onto the idea that our past mistakes and sins do not negate God’s plan and purpose for us. 

Through a nearly two-decade journey in faith and failure, God prepared me and led me to service in pastoral ministry. My wife and I committed our lives to serving God in mission and began the planting process of Coastal Bend Cowboy Fellowship in the spring of 2018. 

Stark College and Seminary has been a huge part of that preparatory process. The knowledge I gained in the classroom not only added to my depth of understanding, but it also had direct practical application. It has been a farm to table experience for our congregation as well. Even today, many of the things I learn throughout the week and discuss within the classroom find their way into the Sunday sermon and small group lessons throughout the week. Stark has given me the opportunity to share the blessing of knowledge directly to others who may not have the opportunity to be a part of formal theological classes. 

I will always be grateful for my education at Stark. In addition to my classes, I learned so much from the people I have sat alongside all of these years. From full-time church staff, retirees, law enforcement and first responders, and delivery drivers to every other flavor of vocation there is, my fellow classmates continually bring a wealth of life experience and practical faith application. All the staff are wonderful and truly love God. They are all committed to their mission of providing educational opportunities to the underserved. 

As I look back on all of my experiences, I thank God for speaking to me in jail through that book and planting the seeds of a call to pastoring. I thank God for presenting an opportunity to go to a college that equips the called for practical ministry in a way that is unique and wonderful. I never could have imagined this is where I would be in life, but now, I could never imagine doing anything else. 


This article was written by SCS student, Chris Sprenger. Chris is the pastor of Coastal Bend Cowboy Fellowship.