SWAINSBORO, Ga. — Robbie Lane, the starting shortstop on the East Georgia State College baseball team, has hit a grand slam of a different sort in an at bat as an aspiring minister.
The 19-year-old baptized 11 of his teammates last week in a shiny aluminum watering trough set up on the baseball field.
Like so many other kids, Lane, who began playing baseball as a toddler in his hometown of Claxton, had always dreamed of a career in the major leagues, but, he said, the Lord began to shift his aspirations last summer when he sensed a call to ministry.
At first, Lane said he wanted to run from that call, but, after several excruciating months of wrestling with God, he surrendered his life to ministry and began accepting preaching assignments, first in his home church, First Baptist Church of Pembroke, and then at other nearby churches.
But it was when he began leading an on-campus Bible study that he began to see the fruits of ministry. His teammates began showing up to hear him talk about Jesus. He did it with such enthusiasm. The excitement was palpable, and his words compelling.
One after another, those teammates began giving their hearts to Christ, culminating in the mass baptism on Friday.
Pembroke Pastor Tommy Smith has been alongside Lane as he has worked through the call to ministry.
“He came forward on a Sunday morning and was sharing with me what God was doing in his life,” Smith said.
Smith said it was an emotional journey. Initially, Lane thought the call was to quit playing baseball and focus solely on ministry.
Smith’s advice was to postpone a decision about quitting baseball.
“Let’s wait and see what God has in mind,” he advised Lane.
Little did Lane know at the time that God was going to use baseball in such a remarkable way to reach nearly an entire team with the gospel.
Baseball has always been a major part of Lane’s life. His father, Jason, a member at First Baptist Pembroke, has been both his coach and hero, and has offered gentle guidance throughout his son’s spiritual journey.
When Lane arrived on campus at East Georgia State, he was trying to distance himself from the call to ministry. Instead, he grew continually closer to God, even while living in a dorm where he was exposed to the temptations that can come with college life.
“My relationship with Him became stronger every day,” he said. “One Wednesday night at church, I really felt the calling. I really broke down, crying. I felt like the Lord was telling me to stop baseball and follow my calling.”
Looking back, Lane said he came to realize the Lord was testing him, as he had done with so many others throughout Bible history.
“The Lord was asking, ‘Are you willing to give up baseball, this game you have loved and that you have been playing since you were 3 year old?’” Lane said. “I was. I was ready to give it up.”
Since he returned for his second season at East Georgia State, Lane said God has blessed every aspect of his life, including baseball. His hitting and fielding have improved, and he’s getting looks from NCAA Division I coaches.
Lane began investing time in the campus Bible study, which has grown from fewer than a half dozen attendees to some 35 people.
“The Lord reached out and touched that Bible study,” Lane said. “I felt like the Lord was about to something amazing.”
Already, three of his classmates had come into his dorm room seeking salvation. He counseled them and prayed with them to receive Christ as Savior and Lord of their lives.
They also wanted to be baptized.
Sensing a move of God, Lane shared the gospel in the last Bible study before Thanksgiving break and invited others to accept Christ.
“One stood up, then another stood up, and another stood up,” Lane said. “Before you knew it, 11 people had stood up and walked forward.”
At the baptism on Friday, the new believers shared their spiritual journeys, talking about what their lives were like before Christ, how their lives are different now, and what their goals are now that they are His followers.
“We’ve grown so much closer to each other,” Lane said. “They’re not only buddies, not only my teammates, but now they’re my brothers in Christ.”
Other teammates, Lane said, have begun asking spiritual questions. “I know in my heart that there are more on the team who will make this decision soon,” he said.
Lane, who made a profession of faith and was baptized as a 10-year-old, said he’s grateful for the way the Lord is using him since he surrendered to ministry.
“It’s changed my life,” he said. “It’s changed the lives of people around me.”
Smith said Lane’s teammates could see that there was something different about him.
“God’s just really got a finger on this young man,” Smith said.
Two weeks ago, Lane preached at First Baptist Pembroke. “The altar was full of people,” Smith said.
Smith describes lane as personable, humble and charismatic.
“When he speaks, people really connect with him,” Smith said. “All generations of the church are connecting with him. He’s just really one of those guys that you know God is using.”
Smith said Lane is one of about six people in his congregation who are sensing calls to ministry right now, as preachers, missionaries and chaplains.
“God is at work,” Smith said. “We’re just grateful to be a small part of what He’s doing.”
Mark Marshall, assistant executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said Lane's experiences as a young minister are inspiring.
"It’s a great encouragement to see how God continues to call young people to ministry," he said. "It is important for pastors like Pastor Smith to seek out and encourage those like Robbie who are being called."