Jim Brian g67 hard at work in his office.
by Stephanie (Cox) Demorest g93, Director
As is true for many of our graduates, Jim Brian’s story reflects God’s call to ministry and leading to Fort Wayne Bible College for training. Jim’s experience also included overcoming many obstacles from dyslexia to leaving an already comfortable life, with great reward for establishing a lifelong ministry to others in need of spiritual support, guidance, and family.
As a child growing up in Northwest Ohio, James Brian was surrounded by loving family, with Christian parents who served in the local Methodist church. In spite of severe dyslexia, he managed to graduate from high school, attend barber college in Toledo, become very involved in his community, and even serve as mayor of Scott, Ohio, his small hometown, for a time. In 1962, Jim opened his own barber shop and then began building a house nearby. He met and married his wife, Sandy, and they settled into their home. All seemed ideal, but Jim felt like something was missing. Through the testimony and example of a godly man at his church, Jim came to know Jesus Christ and surrendered his life to Him.
Soon many people around Jim noticed the changes in his life, and he was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for the Van Wert area Youth for Christ, an opportunity that impacted his future life’s direction. Through Youth for Christ, he came into contact with Ron Hege g66 and Larry Heidelberg g67, who connected him later with others at Fort Wayne Bible College, where God eventually led Jim for ministry training. Jim and Sandy became Campus Life leaders in a local high school around this time, and Jim began to study God’s Word fervently to share it with teens seeking purpose for their lives.
Even though by 1970 Jim and Sandy had three children, a beautiful home and a successful business, as well as a church family and many friends in the area, Jim continued to feel like something was missing. As he pursued taking a class at Fort Wayne Bible College, he sensed God’s call to full-time ministry. His first class at the college was Personal Evangelism, taught by Glenn McHatton g49, in the auditorium of Founders Hall. Without a thought of full-time studies at this point, he began to inquire about additional courses to eventually work toward a degree. After speaking with the registrar, Herald Welty g40, accepting a night job at Wood Youth Center with the help of Larry Heidelberg g67, and purchasing a home on Wells Street shown to him by Bill Shady g73, Jim was set to move his family to Fort Wayne and enroll in 12 credit hours of coursework to begin his degree. He had given up his barbering business in Ohio, where for 9 years he continued to build his reading skills while working the business and ministering to area youth.
In a recent interview, Jim shared about his favorite memories from his time at FWBC. Youth Conference in 1974 with Larry DeWitt as speaker was particularly significant when Jim first came to Fort Wayne and had the chance to host several high school students in his home for that weekend. Messiah performances on campus set the pattern for the Christmas season every year. Faculty and staff who created a “family atmosphere” and left a lasting imprint on Jim’s life included Dr. Forest Weddle g53, Dr. Wes Gerig g51, Rev. Ron Scharfe, Dr. Tim Warner g50 (whose hair Jim cut before the National Prayer breakfast one year!), Coach Steve Morley g65, Joan Mayers, and Cyril Eicher g32, as well as so many others!
Jim especially remembers a time when his daughter was in the hospital, and Dr. Wes said, “There is a tremendous amount of need for prayer in our world. God lays people on our hearts specifically to pray for. It is our burden to bear. And when I say that I will pray for her, I truly mean just that.” This kind of dedication was characteristic of the people at FWBC.
When he graduated in 1976 with a degree in Elementary Education, Jim had little idea how God would use his training to mold the lives of young people through a boys’ home called “Operation Rebirth.” By August 1976, Jim and Sandy had moved their family to Dayton, Ohio, to reopen an old home established in the early 1970s by a godly woman who was taking in boys from the Montgomery County Juvenile Court System. Many obstacles to this reopening stood in the way: unpaid bills that had mounted over the closure time, lack of staff to begin this venture again, zoning laws that kept the property from being approved as a group home, and pressure from the court system for the home to come under state licensure that would require exclusion of Biblical teaching from their program.
Jim Brian (Bottom Row, 2nd from Right) with Operation Rebirth
From the start, Jim would follow God’s call to open Operation Rebirth as a family ministry with the purpose of restoring family relationships based in Biblical teaching and as a place for boys to learn about the love of Jesus in relationship with others. And God provided the right people to help with incorporation, development, and direction for this ministry to succeed. He also brought key people for ministry fundraising and a new location for the ministry to be housed in St. Paris, Ohio, 35 miles north of Dayton. For 33 years, the Lord worked through Jim Brian as Founder and Director of the Operation Rebirth ministry. And when Jim retired at the age of 66, he gave all glory to God for the work that had been done.
Jim has recorded more details regarding the miraculous working of God to sustain this ministry in his memoirs, entitled “Mighty is the Unlikely in God’s Hands.” If you would like to read more about Operation Rebirth and the particular instances of God working to ensure the success of this ministry, please e-mail Jim Brian directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy of these memoirs. You will be encouraged to trust the Lord in the small details of your life and ministry through this example of child-like faith.