A Tale of Two Heartland Experiences [ARTICLE – Will Berry]

How Heartland Changed My Life

When I first came to Heartland in 2011, I had some rough edges.

I had been born again as a 16-year-old in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, just a couple of years before. As a teenager, I was not the most terrible kid who had ever existed, but I had been surrounded by bad influences my whole life. The Lord must have really gifted my youth pastor with special grace and patience because he had his hands full with me. But after being able to go to youth camp for two years in a row, the Lord really broke my heart about serving Him, and I surrendered to the call to preach.

So, when I came to Heartland, I genuinely loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him but was still working out some rebellion, apparently.

My first year-and-a-half of school, I received close to 60 disciplinary hours. Now, to keep things in perspective, you can officially be dismissed for 30 hours in a single year. None of these hours were for anything like drinking or immorality, instead they were all for stupid stuff like signing the Bible on top of the chapel at 4:00 am, accidentally lighting a shower stall on fire, and organizing a “Royal Rumble,” which involved 16 guys all wrestling in one of the dorm rooms in Brown (the list could go on). I spent a lot of time in Bro. Ben’s office through all of that, and fondly remember Bro. Ben referring to me as his “favorite idiot.”

One particularly fateful night over Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year, another student and I got together a big group of guys and played capture the flag on the campus of Heartland. The only problem was it was 2:00 am, and the game also had a subtitle of “Don’t get caught by security.” After getting caught, I received an invitation to Bro. Ben’s office, and, upon arriving there he told me: “Will, I’ve given you enough hours lately. Go to Bro. Heckle’s office.”

God greatly used the conversation I had with Bro. Heckle to change my course of life. In between calling me a “bonehead” and rhetorically asking me “Why?”, he really explained the concept of biblical maturity to me and how our actions affect others. He pointed out to me that one of the guys that I played capture the flag with was on his way to becoming a resident adviser and would lose that opportunity because of what I convinced him to do. That genuinely broke my heart and changed the way I viewed life.

That story is a good example of a dynamic that has played out numerous times in the six years I have spent at Heartland. Men of God like Bro. Ben, Bro. Heckle, Bro. Rick Williams, Bro. Lande, Bro. Pirkle, Bro. Albert, and more have consistently come up beside me and just helped me grow. Whether it was through them confronting me in their office about something wrong in my life, or just spending time with me being a good example. I have learned so much just from spending time in the homes of all these men, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I learned much about the Bible in the classroom and learned much about how to apply that knowledge from godly examples in my life. Through their example and the process at Heartland shaping and growing me, I had a very different time at Heartland after the first three semesters. The Lord allowed me to have some great opportunities–traveling with GloryBound, interning at Southwest Baptist Church, and attending graduate school.  

That is why I like to say that I had two experiences at Heartland. The first year-and-a-half was a rebellious rollercoaster in which I refused to listen to what God was trying to say to me. The last 3-and-a-half years, though not perfect, have been a wonderful journey filled with good times, growth, and blessing. The first year-and-a-half, I hard-headedly fought for what I wanted and, as a result, spent 58 hours in the cafeteria (enough time to where usually I worked off my hours by training new cafeteria employees). The last 3-and-a-half years, the Lord has blessed me with an amazing wife, wonderful friendships, and personal growth. When I finally learned to submit my life to God, my course of life drastically changed.

That doesn’t mean everything was always easy.  All throughout my time at Heartland, there were difficult times. I got MRSA at one point, an extremely close friend died in a car accident, my wife’s and my house was broken into twice, and so on. But all the time, God was faithful. He was there for me that first year-and-a-half, but the difference since actually reading my Bible and walking with Him these past 3-and-a-half years has been incredible.

All of this brings me to what I love most about Heartland. I could go on for pages and pages about all things I love about Heartland, but I think I could sum it up by saying I am thankful for the process of Heartland.

Heartland is not designed to spit out carbon copies of a certain man, or to make its students the world’s finest academicians. Rather, I believe Heartland is a process in which God trains and equips young people to serve God in great ways. Heartland is more than just classrooms. It is a fabric made up of the members of Southwest Baptist Church, men and women of God that care about every single student in a meaningful way, and teachers that pour their lives into students inside and outside of the classroom. Truly, this place is a greenhouse for spiritual growth.

Some people attend and leave Heartland unchanged because they refused to submit to the process. However, anyone who comes to Heartland Baptist Bible College and allows God to work in his/her life will be meaningfully changed for the better.

I do not think I could be more thankful for what Heartland has meant to me in my life. I will be eternally grateful for all the investment of men and women involved at Heartland have made into my life. I am thankful for all that I have learned in the classroom and the invaluable knowledge I gained from both undergraduate and graduate school. I am thankful for the lifelong friendships that were forged here. Heartland will be a special place to me for all my life, and I look forward to trying to give back as much as I can.


Will Berry is graduating from Graduate School at Heartland Baptist Bible College this May, and is currently a faithful member of Southwest Baptist Church. He and his wife Megan, look forward to serving the Lord wherever He directs.

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  1. I can also attest to the fact that many great men touched my life through the Heartland process. I am forever grateful for the many influences that I had upon my life while at Heartland!

  2. Thank you for sharing your heartland experiences Bro. Berry. I know the Lord definitely worked in my heart while at HBBC as well. God bless.

  3. This mirrors my story of my experience there, right down to the MRSA. So glad you got your goals right and finished strong!

  4. Very nice read Will. Happy for you guys

  5. We wish you two the best in finding the right ministry and real peace in life.
    Lee and Karrie Wallace
    Cleburne TX

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