ARMED FORCES BAPTIST MISSIONS, formerly known as Servicemen for Christ Baptist Missions, got its start in 1964 through the vision of three families residing in the area of Norfolk, Virginia, the largest military complex in the world. Harold Woolston, Joe Tolston and Rev. Charles Robinson had a great burden for spreading the gospel among the military in the Hampton Roads and Tidewater areas. The burden began during a Woolston family vacation to Hampton Roads. God moved their hearts for the military men and women so much that they sold their farm in Iowa and returned to Newport News in 1964. This marked the beginning of their ministry to the military. The major bases included Fort Monroe, Fort Eustis, and Langley Air Force Base. The Woolstons, Tolstons, and Robinsons bathed their vision in prayer. Visits were made to local pastors to generate interest and support by the local churches. Their philosophy was to establish fundamental, independent, evangelistic ministries near these bases under the auspices of the local church. AFBM has continued this original vision, mission, philosophy, and practice since its inception. The vision of its founders became a reality in a short time when a three story building was purchased in Newport News, just one and one-half blocks from the Newport News Naval Shipyard, the construction site of nuclear powered aircraft carriers and submarines. Thousands of young sailors flooded the area while their ships were under construction. This location was also in close proximity to the Norfolk Naval Base, which gave the missionaries access to thousands more Navy personnel. “Pop” and “Mom,” the names given so lovingly and descriptively to the Woolstons by their “buddies,” began winning servicemen to Christ even before the building renovation was completed. Their first convert was a young sailor named Allen. He was from Iowa, the Woolstons’ home state. “Pop” and “Mom” are still household names known and loved by thousands of servicemen and servicewomen whose lives have been impacted by their ministry.
The new Mission was named Servicemen for Christ Baptist Missions, Inc. The building was dedicated on April 17, 1967 and became the first headquarters for a Servicemen’s Center. Rev. Charles Boone, Pastor of Clearview Baptist Church, became one of the mssions most faithful supporters. Each of the servicemen reached by the Woolstons was taken to Clearview Baptist Church where they were baptized and discipled.
Two more servicemen centers were soon opened—one at Camp Lejuene in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and the other at Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Florida. The Tolstons moved to the North Carolina Center and the Woolstons to the Florida Center. Rev. Charles Robinson, the Woolston’s son-in-law, was appointed the first director of Servicemen for Christ Baptist Mission. Rev. Kent Edwards served as Executive Director from 1973 until 1984, when Dr. H. Philip Kissinger, Chaplain Colonel in the US Army, became General Director. He now serves as “Director Emeritus”.
Missionaries Rev. and Mrs. Dave Price were added to the ranks shortly after the Mission began. Brother Price developed an effective follow-up and discipleship program for the new converts. Other ministries followed including a Christian Servicemen’s Center at Fort Meade, Maryland, at Fort Riley, Kansas, at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and several others in Hawaii. Overseas military churches sprang into existence as well in England and Germany. Later, more works in the States were started at Fort Eustis and Fort Lee, Virginia, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Knox, Kentucky. Time and expansion brought trials and hindrances to the Mission, but God’s grace has always sustained this vital ministry that has been responsible for the salvation of thousands of service members.
In 1969, the headquarters were moved to 34 South Sycamore Street in Petersburg, Virginia. “Pop” and “Mom” Woolston moved up from Florida to start a Servicemen’s Center near Petersburg at Fort Lee. The streets were teeming with soldiers from Fort Lee, and the Woolstons led hundreds of them to Christ. Virginia (“Nanny”) Cawood moved from Texas to join the Woolstons at the Petersburg Center. In time the Center in Petersburg became nonproductive, due to a lack of military foot traffic on the streets. During the summer of 1985 the building was sold and the home office moved into Temple Baptist Church in Chester, Virginia, a short distance from Fort Lee. The church was pastored by Dr. Walter Coles, then the Chairman of the Executive Board. The ministry continued at Fort Lee under the direction of John Kreynus. At that time the mission’s name was changed to Armed Forces Baptist Missions, Inc.
An extensive printing ministry was established at the Petersburg location and was operated for many years by Bill and Linda Roberts. After the sale of the Petersburg building, this ministry was housed in Grace Baptist Church in Petersburg. In 1989, Rev. Delbert McGuire came to the States from Germany to take over the printing ministry. Brother Roberts had become very ill and needed to be relieved of this responsibility. Brother McGuire established it as a small business in Colonial Heights, Virginia under the name of “Mac’s Printshop.” In 1991 the printing ministry was discontinued and the equipment sold. All printing is now outsourced with many relationships formed to fulfill our printing needs.
The year 1992 brought some more changes. Dr. Coles resigned the pastorate of Temple Baptist Church and moved to Good News Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Virginia which is where the Executive Board then voted to move the home office. The emphasis is, as it has always been, for our military ministries to work with and through fundamental, independent, local New Testament Baptist churches. Each of the missionaries’ and the staff’s desire is to honor the Word of God by purity, separation, and dedication. The Lord promised in I Samuel 2:30, “them that honor me I will honor.”
God’s grace continues to sustain this vital ministry to those in uniform as we seek to accomplish our mission of worldwide military evangelism. In the 1990’s God allowed us to expand our evangelistic outreach to the military forces in Romania, Russia, and other eastern European nations. Works have also been established in four African nations as well as India and Korea while the Lord continues to open doors into several other nations to labor among both American and foreign troops. Please pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up laborers to enter these open doors as we minister to those in uniform in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
Virginia “Nanny” Cawood remained a faithful missionary with AFBM until she was promoted to glory on September 27, 1996 at age 97. In spite of her failing health during her later years, she went regularly to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Richmond, Virginia to distribute gospel tracts and witness to the patients. She also carried on a ministry in the local jail. She was a faithful soul winner and, thus, one of God’s precious jewels here on earth and one of His glorious possessions in Heaven.
Bill Roberts went home to Heaven at age 53 in November 1996 after an extended illness. Brother Roberts, born with physical problems, experienced an extension of God’s marvelous grace to have lived so many years beyond the medical world’s expectations. He served AFBM faithfully until his illness led him to retire. Harold “Pop” Woolston received his final glorious promotion on June 12, 1998 at the age of 88. He has received a golden crown studded with thousands of jewels for all the service “buddies” he won to Jesus Christ. The citation accompanying his crown will read, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” “Mom” Woolston resides today in the Petersburg area of Virginia enjoying a much deserved retirement.