NASHVILLE (BRN) — “Praxis is something that we envisioned from even before we left Pennsylvania, and moving here…we wanted to stay connected with college students, somehow, someway,” said former Baptist Resource Network (BRN) collegiate missionary Johnny Pons.
Praxis, by definition, means “putting theory into action.” It also happens to be the name for the new leadership/discipleship training program that Johnny and his wife, Kathy, launched this summer.
“Praxis was something that we were envisioning…where we could do a summer training experience that would be geared toward reaching upperclassmen and, especially, helping upperclassmen to start thinking about the transition from college to community life,” said Johnny.
Through the Praxis program, rising upperclassmen and/or recent college graduates are plugged into an internship within their career field, working Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, the students participate in a discipleship class and meet up with local workforce leaders.
“There’s a lot of discipleship theory [and] a lot of evangelism theory. We wanted to provide an experience where we can pull all that together in a summer and do it in a working experience. So, you [get] a taste of what it’s like, and going to be like, doing this kind of work [for] most of the rest of your life.”
Johnny continued: “I think that a lot of focus is on the college experience, which that’s helpful and beneficial but we really – when you’re done – want college students to be able to do the things that [they’ve] been trained to do [and] have the kind of experience where the work that [they] do matters.”
Three years ago, Johnny and Kathy moved to Gallatin, Tennessee, a quaint town roughly 30 minutes away from Nashville. Due to this proximity, students have the opportunity to be plugged into an internship in, currently, one of the most populous cities in the U.S.
“What we tried to do [was] leverage a network that I have here in Nashville of friends that I grew up with, and friends that I’ve met here now, who have the position of authority to hire and to work with us as partners… They’ve got to buy into the vision of what we’re doing,” explained Johnny.
Prior to his college ministry days with the BRN, Johnny grew up in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and then later went to college for agricultural science/agricultural engineering technology. After going overseas for agricultural mission work, he soon felt a call towards collegiate ministry.
He then pursued a degree in ministry from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he met Kathy at the church he was attending.
“I met Johnny at our church there [Fort Worth], we got married, [and] we moved to State College, Pennsylvania. We had four boys while we lived in State College, and that was my hobby for many years,” shared Kathy.
Johnny and Kathy led a college ministry at PSU called “New Life” for nearly 30 years, before moving to Tennessee.
“We just felt like the Lord was leading us to here, back to Tennessee, because my parents were needing some help,” shared Johnny.
“It wasn’t the move that I was hoping for. In fact, if I still had it my way, I’d be sitting in the middle of State College right now, but God has called us here, and we’re confident of that.”
Although they may no longer be at the center of a campus, the Ponses continue to pursue the call and passion God has placed on their lives for discipling the next generation.
“I love college ministry. I think it’s the most strategic demographic in the nation or the world. College students are the most send-able, because you when you’re done with college the world is your enchilada…you have lots of options and opportunities for where you’re going to go,” said Johnny.
Kathy echoed the importance of reaching the college-age demographic, by saying, “That age group is when a lot of decision making happens in their lives. This is where students decide – a lot of times – whether they’re going to follow Jesus or not…if it’s going to be their parents’ influence on their lives or are they going to really sell out for Jesus.”
She continued: “Beyond that, being able to help them transition into the real world after college – that’s really what drew us. We both were in collegiate ministry in college ourselves and that influenced us a lot, but also we just see the great need for people to have positive Christian influence in their lives during that time.”
For Praxis 2021, Johnny and Kathy welcomed two recent college grads into the program. One of these young adults being former PSU student and New Life aluma Kayla Merryman.
“Praxis Nashville was a great experience full of discipleship, spiritual growth, learning, and fun. Johnny and Kathy Pons have such a heart for young adults and there is no one more equipped to disciple young adults and help prepare them, and their faith, for the real world,” shared Merryman.
She continued: “I would highly recommend Praxis Nashville to any young adult wanting to get out of their comfort zone, grow in discipleship, and be mentored by two wonderful, godly people.”
With the first year under their belts, Johnny and Kathy are looking forward to what God has in store for Praxis 2022.
“We would love to have eight or 10 students, that’s really kind of the max [and] we are giving priority – first shot at Pennsylvania students. I think that’s one of the things that we really wanted this to be, something that would be a blessing to the BRN [and] our collegiate ministry network there,” said Johnny.
“We want to show Pennsylvania the love and do everything we can do to support and develop the work of Pennsylvania college ministries and churches.”
Any student, college missionary, or pastor desiring more information on Praxis: Nashville, can find out more, or apply for Praxis 2022, online at https://glocal-resources.org.
Listen to the podcast interview.
The “50 Stories of Transformation” series, told in honor of the Baptist Resource Network’s 50th anniversary, highlights the many ways God has moved throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and beyond. Your generous support of the Cooperative Program makes this ministry possible and fuels evangelism and outreach in our local churches and all over the world! Thank you!