On Mission: From PB&J to Portland

Chandra Martin can still hear the words University of Mobile President Dr. Mark Foley told her and other graduates including her husband, Justin Martin, at the university’s 2004 commencement.

“Go change the world,” Foley challenged. Those four words describe the couple’s mission – one they began long before they graduated.

“While we were students at the University of Mobile, the Lord really burdened our hearts for the nations to know and worship Jesus as Lord and Christ,” said Chandra. That desire has taken them to North Carolina, South Asia, back to Alabama and now to Portland, OR working to make disciples and plant a church through the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention

Love and PB&J
Chandra Barton ’04 was a sophomore and Justin Martin ’04 was a freshman when they met, and a friendship formed through their common interest in serving others. Chandra and a group of UMobile students had started a homeless ministry. The students would gather in dorm rooms and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool-Aid. They would meet and pray together outside of Ingram Hall before heading out on their mission, and then carpool to Bienville Square in downtown Mobile where they would pray again in the Square.

“We would usually split up and go in groups and just pass out sandwiches and Kool-Aid and get to know the homeless people with the intention of planting seeds of the Gospel,” said Chandra.

They met many people who called the streets of downtown Mobile their home, and relationships grew as students came weekly to share food and conversation, and specifically the hope of the Gospel message.

Their PB&J mission was popular, both with the people they were serving and with student volunteers.

As classes began in for fall semester 2000, Campus Ministry held a “Ministry Fair” at a skating rink in Saraland where freshmen could learn how they could get involved in community services. The homeless ministry set up a table to recruit more students.

One of those students was Justin Martin. As he became involved with the ministry, something sparked between the couple, and they soon started dating. They married during Christmas break two years later, on Dec. 14, 2002.

Hearing the Call
“Before we ever started dating, we both knew God was calling us to serve Him through missions,” Chandra said. Justin was a summer missionary in Montgomery, AL, with NAMB during college, and heard missionaries from India speak at his home church, Dalraida Baptist, about how they needed people to come serve under the business platform. When he returned to UMobile for fall semester, he declared a business major.

Chandra said her first international experience was a mission trip through UM Missions to Namibia, Africa. She sensed the Lord moving her heart toward serving Him vocationally, primarily through reaching the nations.

At the time they wed, Justin was serving as the youth and children’s minister at Smithtown Baptist Church. They lived in the church parsonage and commuted to UMobile, remaining involved in activities. The interest in missions that brought them together continued to be a passion in their lives.

Justin said the couple has adopted a quote from 16th century missionary John Falconer as their life quote: “I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light.”

They took mission trips together, including a University Missions trip to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada in March 2003 that was led by Dr. Doug Wilson, now dean of the School of Christian Ministries.

“We did a lot of things there – evangelism and volunteered with a Chinese church there in Canada,” Justin said.

Justin, who says he came to the University of Mobile via Montgomery from Dothan, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in business administration. Chandra, who is from Mobile, earned a Bachelor of Science in religion.

After graduating, the married couple lived in Bedsole Hall where Chandra was a resident coordinator for two years. Next, they headed to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where Justin enrolled in the 2+2 program that required two years on campus and two years on the mission field through the SBC’s International Mission Board.

The Martins, who had three daughters by that time, were appointed to serve in South Asia.

“We were doing church planting work in the Himalayan Mountains,” said Justin. The work involved training local pastors or leaders on how to start new churches.” It was a life-changing experience.

“Our lives have been forever changed as we were able to experience and enjoy another culture,” said Justin.

Chandra still has fond memories of their neighbors in South Asia who took them in as a family.

“Community life was so beautiful,” she said.

But it wasn’t always easy adjusting to a different lifestyle.

“They didn’t have the comforts and luxuries we have here, like hot water to wash dishes,” said Chandra.

Their term was unexpectedly cut short a year due to a daughter’s severe health conditions, plus visa issues.

“We found ourselves back in Alabama and not a clue what to do next,” Chandra said.

A New Mission Field
“The Lord was gracious in giving us exactly what our hearts needed, a position at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, where Justin became the associate pastor of missions and discipleship,” Chandra said.

It was an established church with a desire for church planting. Over the next three years, the Martins felt that the Lord was preparing both them and their church for that work.

“NAMB has ‘Send’ cities that they are highlighting as greatly needing church plants, so we began narrowing down where we would go. We chose Portland because of the great need for church, it has a local seminary where we could be involved with training up young folks for ministry, and the climate was great for our daughter who has an inability to sweat,” Chandra said.

Justin said they are utilizing many of the same principles in Portland that they were teaching in South Asia. The concept is based on Luke 10, where Jesus sent out many followers to declare the kingdom of God and to meet physical needs.

Chandra explained, “The way they were to carry out their task was through a person of peace. Justin trained church planters in South Asia to pray for and identify people of peace in order for the Gospel to advance as people come to faith in Jesus and new churches are started. When you identify a person of peace, it is a clear sign that God is at work. As followers of Jesus, we want to join God where He is at work.

“This strategy of praying for and identifying people of peace is the same strategy we are using in Portland as we seek to declare the Gospel of Jesus and meet practical needs through service with the ultimate hope that disciples will be made and a church planted.”

They are starting the church plant with a new addition to their family, son Luke. He joins sisters Catharine, Elizabeth and Madelyn. Justin will graduate in May from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Updates on their church plant can be found at

A Launching Pad for Life
The couple said their time at UMobile was a launching pad for many experiences in their lives.

“My time at the University of Mobile was so transformational,” said Chandra. “All of my religion classes helped me to have a foundation in life, spiritually speaking,” she said. “I had so many opportunities to go on mission trips and serve with so many people.”

She said those people were staff and professors, and included Marilyn Foley, wife of UMobile’s president.

“I came from a humble background, and she had me in her home and served me peach tea. She took a genuine interest in who I was as a person, as well as encouraging me along in who the Lord was shaping me to be,” recalled Chandra.

Justin said his years at the university prepared him for a life of Christian service.

“I had professors who were good teachers and also took an interest in students,” said Justin. He said School of Business students had opportunities to learn in class, and also have one-on-one sessions after class with professors about things in life.

“It could help you bridge the gap between classroom and what you can do in life,” said Justin.

Experiences such as Urban Plunge also bridged the gap between what students learned in the classroom and how they could apply that in the world. Urban Plunge, a part of the Campus Life program, sends teams of students to six cities in the southeast United States for an intense weekend of service.

Chandra said her group served at a food pantry, a clothes closet for people who can’t afford clothes, a battered women’s home and served food to homeless people. That experience served as a launching pad for their homeless ministry in downtown Mobile.

“It kept our eyes open to the larger world around us and gave us opportunities for service,” said Justin, who also volunteered with Urban Plunge.

While they live far away from the University of Mobile, they still keep in contact with professors, former classmates and their Mobile church family. College Park Baptist Church across the street from campus, where Chandra and Justin attended while they were married and finishing college, will be sending a short-term mission team to Portland this July to assist the Martins. College Park’s pastor is Mike Bedford, who also serves on the university’s Board of Regents and as an adjunct professor.

The UMobile connections continue, whether graduates are across the world across the continent.

“It’s so full circle for us,” said Chandra.

About the Author

Renee Busby