Coaching college football offered Desmond Gant the opportunity to recruit, mold and minister to young men.

Those experiences also helped prepare Gant for his role as a minister and the pastor of Prince of Peace Ministries in Baton Rouge.

“When I first got into coaching, I just wanted to change young mens’ lives,” said Gant, a native of Orange, Texas. “I knew coaching was going to be a great avenue to do that. Before I got into coaching, my whole desire was I wanted to give them Jesus … I enjoyed coaching, but the thing I enjoyed most about coaching was the relationships that was being established, seeing some of those guys get saved and God really changing lives.”

Gant, 39, was a defensive backs coach for six years at his alma mater, Abilene Christian University, in Abilene, Texas, before walking away to answer his call to the ministry in 2008.

He said he shared a similar background with many of the 18- to 25-year-old young men with whom he worked.

“I was able to experience a lot of things that those guys were going through. I was able to encourage them,” said Gant, who earned a sociology degree from Abilene in 2004.

Gant’s heart for God and people was evident to his head coach, Chris Thomsen, who allowed Gant to lead Bible studies and counsel the players.

Some of the bonding activities Gant used with former players he still uses with his congregation.

“In a certain degree, it was a pretty easy transition somewhat,” he said. “That kind of prepared me in a lot of ways.”

After leaving coaching, Gant made his way to Baton Rouge to attend World Evangelism Bible College in 2010.

After graduating from seminary in two years, Gant helped a former classmate at Victory Tabernacle Church of God in Lafayette for about 1½ years before becoming pastor of Prince of Peace in March 2013.

The nondenominational church started at Gant’s home before moving to a local hotel for about two months. Prince of Peace moved to 606 Colonial Drive, Suite B, about a year ago.

“We’ve just been trying to establish and build a ministry and God’s just been blessing us tremendously,” he said. “We’re just trying to encourage people just in their relationship in Jesus Christ. We’re just trying to really get them to see themselves as God sees them. That’s where people really start to grow in God.”

Gant said he stresses to his members to apply the Scriptures in their daily lives.

“I don’t want to be some good Bible quoter and can’t live it,” he said. “One thing I try to tell my people is it doesn’t matter what you say. You can say Christ all day long, but if you’re not living it, what people are going to do is cancel out what you’re saying.”

Gant didn’t always live for Christ.

He earned a scholarship to Abilene Christian after being a standout football player at a junior college. But his initial stint at the “strict” Church of Christ-affiliated school only lasted about a semester and a half; he was suspended.

“I was just a knucklehead at that time, getting in trouble, wanting to party and do all that stuff. But it caught up with me,” he said.

He moved to Houston in 1997 and continued his troubling lifestyle. But then his life changed in September 1998 when he was invited to a revival.

“I ended up getting saved. I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I just saw God do a miraculous thing, and I just got on fire for him.”

Gant stayed in touch with Thomsen, his former coach at Abilene and also a man of strong faith. Thomsen offered Gant a chance to get back into school.

“He ended up working it out where God used him to get me back into school there,” he said.

This time, Gant had to pay his own way to school and took out loans. He eventually earned his degree and started coaching for Thomsen.

“Through it all, God has been my rock,” he said. “Through all the things that I’ve been going through, I’ve sort of been clinging to him, trying to grow closer to him. I want people to experience what I’ve experienced and not have to go through some of the things that I’ve gone through.”

For information on Prince of Peace Ministries, call (225) 231-1482, email pastorbr@popmin.org or go to princeofpeaceofla.com.

A Night of Hope

One of the country’s most prominent preachers and best-selling authors is bringing his “message of hope” to Louisiana.

Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston, will lead A Night of Hope set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

“More than ever, there is a need for hope across our nation. People need to know that whatever challenges they are facing in life, there is a God who cares for them, who is on their side, and who has a future and a hope for them,” Osteen said through his ministry. “This Night of Hope at Smoothie King Center will bring together people of all different backgrounds from across the region for an exciting time of praise and worship where lives are changed and hope is restored.”

Joel and Victoria Osteen have held more than 140 Night of Hope events throughout the country and the world since 2004. The events have hosted full houses at Madison Square Garden seven times, New York’s Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. For ticket ($15) information, call 1-800-745-3000 to go joelosteen.com.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or by email to trobinson@theadvocate.com.