(There are those who are called to serve in the military and there are those who are called to preach the Gospel. And then, there are those who answered the call to do both. For the month of November, the month we celebrate our veterans, the Journal Record will feature four local preachers who answered the call to both serve their country, and to preach the Gospel. In Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22, many are called but few are chosen. For the next four weeks we will feature the stories of local veterans Jeremy Sorrells, Harrison Walker, Cam Spain and Drew Manley, all local men who served their country and now serve the spiritual needs of our community.)
HAMILTON - For Hamilton First Baptist Church pastor Jeremy Sorrells, who served six years active duty in the U.S. Air Force, there is little difference in serving his country and ministering to his flock.
“All the military organization and all those administrative skills that I learned while I was in the Air Force play into the religious side of things in how I interact with other people in the ministry and staff--the camaraderie--and in how I organize the business aspects of the church,” Sorrells said.
Sorrels joined the Air Force after he graduated from Sulligent High School in 1996. After seven weeks of basic training in San Antonio, Texas, Sorrells then transferred to Witchita Falls, Texas, at Midwestern State University for the radiology program.
There, he earned a bachelors of science degree in radiological services and sciences and even joined the Air Force basketball travel team. The team travelled up and down the East Coast playing in exhibition games.
While at Midwestern State, Sorrels learned his trade and started working in computerized tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“Then they sent me to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery,” Sorrells said. It wasn’t the far-flung outpost he had hoped for.
“People join the Air Force to see the world and they sent me to Montgomery,” Sorrells said, laughing.
After three years in Montgomery, the AirForce transferred Sorrells west, to Columbus, Miss. There, Sorrells took over as the non-commissioned officer in charge of the radiology department.
In Columbus, Sorrells married his high school sweetheart, Rebecca, and his success in his field gave him many options for the future.
“As my career was progressing, I had an opportunity to go through Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.”
But instead of taking a path that led to a more well-paying job in the medical field, Sorrells took another path.
“In Columbus, I was working with Dr. Mark Ellis at the Golden Triangle Regional Medical Center and while I was there, I got involved with a church and I had to make a decision: Do I stay in the military, or do I get out and try to go through medical school on my own, or what should I do? In the midst of all that, the Lord called me to preach,” Sorrells said.
“Instead of going to medical school, I got to go to seminary and went to Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Germantown, Tenn.”
Sorrells said he was saved at age 12 in Sulligent. He had always been involved in the church but had gotten away from it in the military.
“I always tell people I had a ‘drug’ problem growing up. That is, my parents ‘drug’ me to church. So, I was in church when I was growing up, but when I got into the military, I got involved in basketball and got involved in the military life and really got away from the religious aspect of things. After I was married, we started getting involved in church again and that’s when that calling started coming back to me,” Sorrells said.
The path into the ministry was not something that happened overnight for Sorrells.
“When I started getting back involved in church, I kept thinking, ‘Something is missing. Something is not right.’ I never could find that fulfillment that I was looking for, whether it was in basketball or my career as I was advancing. I never could find that fire.”
With a little nudging from former Mississippi State lineman and pastor Andy Parrish, Sorrells was able to find the fire that he had been seeking.
“When I surrendered to preach, I was at Springhill Baptist Church in Millport. Andy was our pastor and since he knew that I loved to play basketball, he got out on the basketball court, all six-foot-five, 300-plus pounds of him. He knocked me around and the whole time he was doing that he was asking me ‘What is God doing in your life?’ and I never understood until later on, when I was struggling with the call to ministry, what he was really doing. He was trying to help me and disciple me into what I needed to be doing.”
Sorrells says Parrish’s questioning made him question his own life.
“Him continually asking me, ‘Hey, what’s God doing in your life?’ began to get me to question, ‘Okay, what’s my purpose? Why am I here? Why am I doing these things? What’s the ultimate end of who I am? And from studying God’s word and being around other godly men and just listening to what God was speaking to my heart through, not only the testimony of other men and the things they were encouraging me to do, it began to cultivate that inward desire to try to find what God was wanting me to do. Inside of my heart, I asked, ‘God, what do You want me to do?’ In the back of my mind, I already knew and I was just surrendering to that. I can remember sitting in the church service listening to our student minister as he was preaching and he asked, ‘Will you be a hero for God?’ And I knew at that point it was pretty much my calling to do what He called me to do, and that was preach His word--to be a pastor in a church--and that’s when I surrendered to Him.”
Sorrels pastored his first church in 2006 at Fellowship Baptist Church just outside of Vernon. Sorrells then pastored the First Baptist Church (FBC) in Sulligent for a year before moving to Butler, where he was the pastor at the Butler FBC for the past eight years.
This past July, Sorrells, his wife and their three children--Paisley, 15, Aubrey, 13, and Ory, 7--moved to Hamilton where Sorrells became the pastor at the FBC.
Sorrells says he has seen growth in the church since he has become pastor.
“We have baptized 26 since July, which was twice the amount baptized last year. Church attendance has gone up and we have increased in attendance for Sunday morning worship. We are up into the 400-450 range every Sunday consistently now. We are averaging 300-320 in Sunday School every Sunday. Attendance is well up, which is good.”
Sorrells says he has had an interesting career in the medical field that has now shaped how he ministers to his congregation.
“I can see how it shaped everything. Not only from the military training but from everything that I got to see working with the doctors in medical centers and hospitals in Montgomery to Columbus.”
Whenever any of our church members go through anything medical, I can share with them what they are going to experience-- what they have to look forward to and some of the stuff they are going to face challenge-wise. It really opens up the opportunity for me to be able to minister to them even greater, to not only help them meet a spiritual need, but be able to walk them through what they are going to experience.”
A recent example of this, Sorrells said, is a church member who went into labor prematurely.
“Her baby was delivered and they were in the pediatric intensive care unit, and myself, having had experience going into those neonatal units and knowing what the child was going to have to go through with being intubated and all the different complications that could come with premature birth, I was able to go in and prepare them. I can say, ‘When you go in and get to see her, this is what you are going to see: You are going to see all these machines. These are things that are indications that she is doing well, these are indicators that she’s still struggling.
“So, just from the medical aspect of it, those things actually help me as a pastor to prepare the hearts of those who are getting ready to go in for those trials.
“On the spiritual side of it, I’m able to come along and say I have seen personally how God has worked in those situations. I can relate to them how I have seen babies that I was able to fit in the palm of my hand and they are now a fully functioning adult. I can say, ‘There is always hope, that we can hope for the best of what God can do and what the physicians are empowered to do and they know to do but, here’s how you prepare yourself for the days ahead.’”
Sorrells says the core values he learned in the Air Force are some of his guiding principles for leading the Hamilton FBC.
“We always talked about core values in the Air Force: Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all that we do. If you think about it, those are wonderful principles to adopt no matter what you are doing. Those core principles that led me into the ministry, I carry on even today.
“The Bible says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish, but happy is he who keeps the law.’ So, when you can cast a clear vision for people and they can see this is where we’re headed, they tend to buy-in and take ownership of where you are going as a group.
“A very influential person in my life, Lt. Col. Kelley, he always asked me two questions that summarize life in anything you do: ‘Am I ready to go and am I ready to die?’ And of course, he was equating that to the military life. He said if you are not ready to go, take the uniform off and go home. If you are not ready to die, take the uniform off and go home. He said if you can answer yes to those two questions, you can serve faithfully in the capacity that you have been called to serve and I equate that to what I’m doing now. Am I ready to go anywhere God leads me to go and am I ready to die for what I believe in? And the answer to that is ‘yes,’ because I’m not ashamed of the Gospel. Those principles that I learned in the military equate to what I do now in my vocational calling in the ministry. And it’s been good.”
See complete story in the Journal Record.