Posted on : Monday May 23, 2011

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS, Md.—Justin Woods, a North American Mission Board-sponsored director of the Annapolis Baptist Collegiate Ministry, met Vanessa Covarrubias on her first official day at the Naval Academy.

It was Induction Day, better known on campus as “I-Day,” when all the “plebes” or freshmen show up for the first time.

“I-Day is a scary day. You show up, they put you in a uniform for the first time,” said Woods. “At the end of I-Day, you have this first formation. You walk into the big huge steel doors of Bancroft Hall at the Naval Academy. As the last guy walks in, they slam shut, shutting off your connection to the world.”

Woods continued, “It’s just kinda this ominous day. You are no longer a child. It is the day you become an adult. You take the oath and officially become active duty at the Naval Academy. Big Day!”

Though there are family and friends gathered all around the majestic Yard saying their final goodbyes, those who don’t have family also have a designated place to go.

That is where Woods waits.

That’s when the shy, quiet Covarrubias approached Woods. It turns out that she is from Ft. Worth, Texas, the same city where Woods attended seminary. In fact, she lived on Boyce Avenue, about 100 yards from Woods!

Vanessa Covarrubias

Sensing her interest, the collegiate minister invited Covarrubias to come to the Bible study, part of the Chapel religious program, that he teaches on Sunday mornings during Plebe Summer.

The next Sunday, as Woods was teaching about finding God’s will, Covarrubias came in.

“I enjoyed having the company of other people, where I could go and forget about everything else and just focus on God,” Covarrubias shared, noting that the Academy was quite overwhelming at first.

For the next few weeks, the young freshman came, always arriving about 10 minutes late. About the fourth week, Covarrubias hung out after the Bible study, and Woods learned why she consistently came in late.

“I go to the Catholic service, but it doesn’t really make any sense. And then I come to your Bible study, and it just makes sense,” she told him. “I understand the parts we talk about.”

When Woods asked about her faith, Covarrubias explained that even though her family was culturally Catholic, she had previously attended a few Sunday school classes and Backyard Bible Clubs at South Wayside Church in Ft. Worth.

Woods then asked her what she thought about Jesus, to which, she responded, “I think I believe.”

Pressing further, Woods asked if she had ever chosen to follow Him.  Her answer: “No, but I would like to. It just makes sense. I understand what you are saying and what the Bible says.”

After that, Covarrubias faithfully attended the Bible study and then started working with the Naval Academy’s chaplain, Scott Callahan, a Southern Baptist minister sponsored by NAMB. Callahan taught a class on the meaning of baptism. There, Covarrubias learned about the importance of following Christ in baptism after faith.

Covarrubias decided she wanted to be baptized, but at home—at the Baptist church where she first started learning about Jesus. Callahan spoke with the church’s pastor, and Covarrubias was baptized this past Christmas.

“Growing up, I always thought you had to be a special person to be a Christian,” Covarrubias said. “I now understand that it is about trusting God and wanting to follow Him.”

Woods marvels at the collaboration involved in reaching out to Covarrubias.

“It’s just a really cool networking between the NAMB missionary, the NAMB chaplain, and a North American Baptist church. They did the pre-evangelism work with her, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Woods said, explaining that when Covarrubias shared her testimony at a recent retreat, it was the Bible studies over the summer that she pointed to where her life began changing.

“She has clearly grown all year. Her countenance has changed; all kinds of stuff. It’s really exciting,” Wood said.

Covarrubias agrees. “I now have a better understanding that everything happens for a reason, and we can trust Him whatever happens,” she said.

Since its inception in 1969, the Annapolis BCM has strived to meet the spiritual and mentoring needs of hundreds of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. In addition to the weekly Bible studies, Woods hosts other large and small group gatherings to disciple and minister to the student body. To learn ways you can be involved, visit online at or contact Woods at (410) 739-2500 or [email protected].