Craig Hartzog: faithful Bible teacher and alligator hunter

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Craig Hartzog stands in front Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where he assists with a weekly Bible study for the students. CRAIG HARTZOG/Special

BRUNSWICK — Most pastors have some kind of ministry that extends outside the local church. Some are chaplains for high school sports teams. Others preach in prisons. A few have television ministries. Yet others write books.

Craig Hartzog, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Brunswick, started a Bible study at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) next door to his church on Chapel Crossing Road. FLETC is an enormous operation with hundreds of employees.

There was a time when the training received by Federal law enforcement officers and agents varied from agency to agency. Nearly 50 years ago a decision was made to institute a high-quality, cost-effective training center with professional instructors using modern training facilities and standardized course content.

Subsequently, the creation of a consolidated Federal Law Enforcement Training Center was established under the Department of the Treasury. On March 1, 2003, the FLETC was formerly transferred from the Treasury Department to the newly created Department of Homeland Security.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center provides instruction and preparation for multiple federal agencies including the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Border Patrol, the Transportation Security Administration, the National Security Agency, and many others. FLETC has more than 250 programs taught each year and according to the Northside pastor trains up to 100,000 students in a year.

The Bible study

The opportunity to have a Bible study in the FLETC is a unique and providential. To be able teach men and women, many of whom will be in vulnerable positions of law enforcement, and yet in strategic places of service is meaningful on a number of levels.

Hartzog started the Bible study at the FLETC in 2014. He explained, “After ten years as pastor of Northside and being told you can’t get into the Training Center because it is a Federal facility, God opened the door. One of our deacons is an employee over there and we gathered a few other employees of the facility and put a plan together to ask permission to have a Bible study. The request went through the chain of command and our request was granted.”

Dennis Bernal, right, visits with Pastor Craig Hartzog before the morning worship service at Northside Baptist Church in Brunswick. CRAIG HARTZOG/Special

Hartzog reported that there are several who are involved as a part of the teaching team, that the messages are generally 10-15 minutes and a time of discussion follows the teaching of God’s Word.

The Northside pastor added, “The students who attend our Bible study are sent all over this country depending on their agency identification and their duty assignment. We have even had some chaplains attend. Hopefully they go out to serve as heralds of the lessons they have learned from God’s Word.

“The Bible study at the FLETC has also benefited our church, because we have had a number of students that have attended our church on a regular basis. Many of them are here for up to six months of training, and several of them are faithful to attend the entire time.

“We send our church bus around the dorms on Sunday morning to pick up students that may want to attend church. We typically have up to 15 students attending every Sunday.’

Because many of the students leave the Training Center to take positions that place them in harm’s way, Hartzog indicated that a sobering sign is placed throughout the FLETC giving the running total of former students killed in the line of duty each year. This reality makes this strategic ministry all the more important.

The alligator hunter

Max Nichols, left, stands with Northside Pastor Craig Hartzog, illustrating the size of the trophy alligator they removed from his/her home in the Altamaha River. CRAIG HARTZOG/Special

The next few paragraphs should earn Hartzog another story, but the Index staff didn’t think this story should be delayed another day.

Every pastor needs some diversion to relieve the pressures of ministry, but few pastors would choose a break from the tensions of ministry by engaging in something as risky as Hartzog.

The Newberry, Fla. native loves to hunt and fish; and he is not particular about what he hunts. He even dares to launch out in daring hunts for prehistoric monsters – alligators.

He recently ventured into the murky waters of the Altamaha River and bagged, caught, shot, and harvested an 11 foot, 3 inch gator that would make Swamp People’s Troy Landry envious.

Hearing Hartzog recount the story of how he hooked the enormous reptile, shot it, and wrestled it into the boat is hair-raising and worthy of a television episode all by itself.

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