Heeding the call to serve
by Sherrie Norris
Today, Cole works at Samaritan's Purse and pastors Beech Valley Baptist Church. His resume is impressive and those who know him say he practices what he preaches.
From an early age, Cole surrounded himself with mentors who helped direct his path, including "the locals," who gathered each morning at Vilas Grocery.
After finishing high school, he tried to enlist in the Air Force with his best friend. "But due to having a cornea transplant at the age of 4, I was unable to join," he said
After completing basic emergency service training, he became a state certified firefighter and EMT, but it wasn't enough. He continued to work hard and become a North Carolina firefighter instructor, EMT instructor, and basic life instructor for the American Heart Association.
"Wanting to serve in some other way," he said, he entered law enforcement as a 911 dispatcher.
"One of the most influential people in my life was Owen Tolbert, Blowing Rock police chief, who gave me my first dispatch job," he said. "I spent nine years as a 911 dispatcher, seven of which I proudly worked for the Boone Police Department."
Simultaneously, he also worked part time with Watauga Medics as an EMT.
In 2004, he married Maria Cline; two years later, their firstborn child arrived. "Spending nights away from home, because of rotating shifts, bothered me, so I decided to pursue another career away from the secular world," he said.
In May 2010, Cole became a logistics coordinator for World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan's Purse.
"Through this experience, I began to see how God used people with different backgrounds all over the world, even in Boone," he said.
"2010 was a big year for me," he said, which included the news that his family would be expanding "with another little blessing, come May 2011."
Despite doing all the right things to the best of his ability, Cole said, there was still a void.
"I knew I needed to do something greater, but I just wasn't sure what it was," he said.
His work with Samaritan's Purse began five months after the Haiti earthquake hit.
"In October 2010, a severe cholera outbreak occurred there and I was asked to deploy with the medical team as an EMT to help with triage and patient care," he said. "It was there, in the vomit and diarrhea, that God's plans for my life became real."
It was not to be a missionary, as some had thought, he said, "but it was to preach the gospel to a sick and dying world in my own back yard."
Cole said the Scripture passage in Luke 10:2 kept running through his head while in Haiti. "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest."
Returning home the day before Thanksgiving, Cole realized just how much in his life he had taken for granted.
"I had opportunities to attend church growing up, had a roof over my head, plenty of food on the table and a job to go to every day," he said, "But, I wrestled God for four long months after returning home from what was the first of several mission trips."
In March 2011, "after becoming distant from family, while trying to deal with what would be a life-changing event," Cole said, he surrendered to the call to preach at his home church, Willow Valley Baptist.
"My pastor, Ray Greene, has been my mentor and go-to-guy through it all," he said, "and when you have a home church like Willow Valley backing you with prayer, you can go anywhere and do anything."
While growing up, he attended Willowdale Baptist church, he said, "where my pastor, Kenneth Bryant, and his wife, Janice, along with my parents, lovingly taught me about God, his son and the meaning of eternal life through Christ."
At 14, Cole had accepted Jesus into his heart and life; like many teenagers he struggled with God's will during those years.
"I was never in trouble and I lived a good, clean life," he said. "I almost thought I was to go to seminary after graduation."
God had other plans. "He wanted me to deal with the public in the worst times of their lives through 911 and emergency services," he said. "I learned patience, how to care, how to listen and, most importantly, how to love one another (John 13:34)."
Cole said the Lord has directed his path through the years. "I feel that he has gotten me where he wants me to be, for now," he said. "I have had opportunities to preach the gospel in numerous churches around Watauga, Avery, Caldwell, Ashe and Johnson counties. I enjoyed traveling around to local churches where people I had known my whole life, and had helped mold me, were attending."
In January 2013, Cole was asked to preach at Beech Valley Baptist Church for a few weeks, while they formed a pulpit committee. "I accepted and preached there through April," he said.
In March, the church nominated him as pastor and a month later, he was voted in as the 19th pastor of Beech Valley Missionary Baptist Church.
"This new role has been a wonderful adventure so far," he said. "With this being my first pastoral job, I have started to see how the Lord works through the many people and talents in a church."
Like most pastors, his focus is on the lost. "I am not in this for nickels and noses, but for hearts and souls," he said. "I want to feed the congregation and encourage them to follow the great commission that Jesus has set in place for us. He said in Mark 16:15: 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.'"
The world, Cole said, starts in our own backyard and is limitless. "As long as we keep our eyes on him, he can take us around the world, Cole said.
It is his heart's desire to see Beech Valley Baptist grow spiritually and be the light in the community that it once was "and for that little church in the valley to be all that God wants it to be," Cole said.
Cole has witnessed a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in the church since he came. "It has been so encouraging to me and the members," he said. "We feel that it is just getting started."
Children and adults are being saved, he said: "New members are joining, excellent revivals have taken place, the homecoming was precious, the singing is joyful and everyone is just excited to be there."
He loves Sunday mornings, especially, when after the service, he walks out in the parking lot and most of the congregation is still there, fellowshipping with one another.
"The love that church has shown, not just to me, but to my family is overwhelming," he said. "The moment I first walked in to that church in May 2012, I felt at home. Not many places that I had gone to felt like walking in to Willow Valley (my home church), but Beech Valley did. I want my children to grow up in this church and, like all Christian parents, I want to see them saved there."
With the "rock solid teaching that comes from our Sunday school teachers and the messages brought from behind that sacred pulpit," Cole said, "I can see not just my children, but many others young and old, coming to know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
In August, the church sent Cole and Rick Harmon to Nome, Alaska, to help build a new place of worship for Nome Covenant Church.
"Through this trip I was able to feel the power of prayer - some 3,800 miles away - from all the prayer warriors at Beech Valley," Cole said.
In addition to that trip, his mission work has included another trip to Haiti and to Birmingham, Ala., following the 2012 tornadoes.
Combining his skills, Cole also offers CPR classes to his church members and has recently procured a grant through the American Red Cross to purchase a defibrillator for the church. He has also created a church website ( http://www.beechvalleychurch.org) and led the congregation in its first shoebox-packing party for Operation Christmas Child.
The church will be sending another member on a mission trip to Belize in December, he said.
For as long as God needs Cole at Beech Valley, the young pastor, 31, plans to be there. "But wherever he leads me, and whenever he leads me, that's where and when I'll go," Cole said.
Cole and his wife have two daughters, Abigail Renee, 7, and Paisley Grace, 2.