Jeff Appling arrived in Lithuania, not knowing what to expect. The Iron Curtain had just fallen, and a U.S.-based leadership training team saw an opportunity to teach local pastors. Appling, a team member, was both surprised and impressed. The Lithuanians studied the Bible so intensely that they reminded him of the Bereans who were “examining the Scriptures daily” to see if what Paul and Silas preached was true (Acts 17:11). “We’re not going to die for [anyone’s] opinion,” one man said. “But if it comes down to pay[ing] a price, we will pay it for the Word of God.”
As he continued to travel and teach across continents, Appling developed a deep love for the worldwide body of Christ. At his church back home in rural Georgia, he exhorted the congregation to get involved in global missions. And his reputation for meeting needs resulted in a surprising donation: A woman sent $16,000 to drill a well for an international community in need. It mattered little that Appling wasn’t involved in water projects—the donor trusted that he could find a way.
Appling had walked a much different path as a nonbeliever and in fact got himself expelled from high school three times. Following what he now describes as a “miraculous” graduation in a different county, Appling was smoking marijuana in the cab of his truck when he sensed something within himself saying, “So this is what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.” Something inside him snapped, and Appling burst into tears. He had tried to fill the void in his heart with many things, but nothing worked. Appling thought about a group of teens at school who had seemed different and remembered they went to church. Well, I’ve tried everything else, he thought.
On his first visit, he felt the weight and conviction of his sin. On his second, he repented and gave his life to the Lord. Within a year Appling felt called to preach but didn’t know where to start. He studied the Bible daily. Then someone introduced him to the teachings of Dr. Charles Stanley. Appling listened to stacks of cassette tapes, taking notes and making outlines for sermons he hoped to give one day. Referring to his “first mentor,” he still tries to emulate Dr. Stanley’s ability to communicate clearly to a broad spectrum of people. After attending seminary, Appling eventually found a home at the Grove—the Baptist church he has now pastored for more than three decades.
The week after receiving that $16,000 check, Appling traveled to Florida to be the guest preacher at a friend’s church. Following the service, a man approached and introduced himself as Bob McMillan. “But most people call me ‘Bob the well driller,’” he added. Appling says he nearly fainted. They struck up a partnership and within a year had installed a well providing fresh water for a ministry community center in Haiti. Appling loves these moments of connection. He always looks forward to seeing how God will move next—and to moving with Him.
Photography by Ben Rollins