Above photo: The Ayars family (from left): Lily (12), Benjamin (2), Stacey, Sofia (10), Nora (5), Matt.
August 2021 – “So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9, NKJV).
“That’s when Covid hit!” Dr. Matt Ayars exclaimed. “We got a phone call from the airline at 9 p.m., and they said, ‘Your flight leaves at nine tomorrow morning.’”
Missionaries in Haiti, Matt and Stacey Ayars and their four young children had 12 hours’ notice to pack and leave the country that had been home for 13 years. Little time to say goodbyes or pack to leave home, maybe for good.
“It was heart-wrenching,” he told AFA Journal. “We loved Haiti. Our kids loved Haiti.”
The couple’s path to serving Christ had blossomed when the South Jersey man met the Ohio coed at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. They both sensed God’s call to missions ministry on a foreign field.
In 2007, soon after marriage and completing college, they found their way to Acul du Nord, Haiti. Under the umbrella of One Mission Society, he began teaching at Emmaus Biblical Seminary and a few years later became president.
It was a fast-paced 13 years – growing family, home schooling, higher education, evolving ministry, greater leadership demands.
Along the way, he completed seminary via distance learning at Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS) in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and a Ph.D. at St. John’s College, Nottingham, England.
Fortunately, their abrupt 2020 departure from Haiti was softened by the fact that they were already preparing to follow God’s new call to a stateside ministry.
But that was more than three months later. So they returned to Stacey Ayars’ hometown, Columbus, Ohio. There they would wait until July 1 when he was to begin his new ministry as president of WBS.
God’s grace intervened almost immediately in a big way. WBS called to see if Dr. Ayars could change his start date from July 1 to April 1. Of course, he could!
Dr. Ayars visited AFA Journal offices in May to share insights from his first year back in the States.
AFA Journal: What was the bridge that brought you to WBS?
Dr. Matt Ayars: They contacted me and asked if I was interested in applying. We said, “No. Things are good in Haiti. Family’s happy and healthy. The ministry’s got traction.”
Then Dr. John Oswalt, interim president at WBS and a beloved mentor of mine, asked me to reconsider. So I prayed with my wife and submitted the paperwork. The chance of us getting the position was slim, but we sensed that God spoke and said, “If they offer you this position, take it.”
They made the offer, and God made His will really clear. That’s right at the time Covid hit, and we were evacuated. We’ve been at WBS a little over a year.
AFAJ: What excites you about WBS?
MA: Enrollment is growing tremendously. And there’s really a healthy culture within the organization. There’s trust. There’s mutual love. There’s honesty. There’s transparency. There’s competence.
Within the staff there’s collegiality and professionalism. It’s just a really healthy work environment. We all have this sense together that God is doing something new.
One new thing is we’re starting an undergraduate program. There are a lot of community college graduates, and the cost is a huge preventative factor for them to go on and get a ministry degree that’s accredited. [Many] want to complete ministry training, but they can’t afford time or money to go to a university – you know, $50,000 a year or so.
AFAJ: How will WBS meet their needs?
MA: We are rolling out a poly-synchronous program, which means they can study fully online or in person. It will be a super affordable, accredited undergraduate program beginning this fall. We were anticipating 50 enrollees, but we’re already past that three months in advance.
AFAJ: What makes WBS unique from other Wesleyan and Methodist seminaries?
MA: There are only two or three other Wesleyan or Armenian seminaries that are as conservative as WBS to train pastors for conservative Methodist and other churches. Our enrollment will increase with the new conservative Global Methodist Church that is being formed.
AFAJ: How would you describe your student body?
MA: We’re the most racially diverse seminary in the nation. And we didn’t take any special initiative to achieve that.
It just happened that way, partly because WBS serves the African-American Methodist denominations in the South. And we have a lot of students from Africa and Mexico and Haiti and other places around the world. Then we have a Mexico extension site where we have about 30 students in a master’s program in
We have now added the Shepherd Project, a scholarship program for international students. They can get a master’s degree with minimal costs; there are no tuition fees or technology fees. We admit six to nine new Shepherd Project students each school year.
AFAJ: How do you perceive the Western church today?
MA: We’ve inherited this European Protestant tradition – people think the average Christian life is only what’s described as spiritual warfare in Romans 7. And they stop there. It’s the mentality of “I know what’s wrong, and I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do it anyway because it’s just my flesh!”
People aren’t living victorious Christian lives; they’re living defeated Christian lives. The average person sitting in the pew does not fully understand that the atoning work of Jesus is enough for deliverance not only from the guilt of our sin, but also the power of sin and the sin nature.
We must move on to Romans 8: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (v. 1, NASB).
AFAJ: How do we correct course?
MA: Step One is for every Christian to employ prayer and fasting as means of grace to work piety – holiness – in our lives.
Step Two, we need to train leaders who can teach and preach the full counsel of the Word of God.
And we need preachers who are holy pastors – not the frequent sex scandal stuff. Holiness matters. If Jesus can’t deliver us from sexual desires and fantasies, the world wonders “Why Christianity?”
If Christianity has no power to change lives, it’s just an escape from final judgment.
The Bible’s central message is about a redeemed life having power over the flesh. We need leaders who model this and who teach this, leaders who are living redeemed, victorious Christian lives.
Seminary level, seeking learners
Wesley Biblical Seminary offers the Wesley Institute, a creative program for students not seeking degrees, but who only want to go deeper into the Scriptures.
“Most Christians know the Bible at a surface level,” said Dr. Matt Ayars, WBS president. “But I invite you to join the Wesley Institute. It’s a nine-month program that will give you in-depth understanding of all 66 books of the Bible taught by seminary professors.”
WI is accessible live from anywhere in the world, or via class videos on the student’s own schedule. Learn more at wbs.edu.