Middle Tennessee native Dan Coe is the new Senior Pastor at Alexandria First Baptist Church. While Coe grew up in Lebanon, Tennessee, returning to near his roots was a bit of a culture shock, especially after serving in Israel for the last several years.
“Culturally, it's more different than I thought it would be, and I'm talking about just coming from Lebanon,” Coe said. “Now granted, you need to remember there is still a major part of me that's been formed by my time overseas. And so, there are going to be some significant cultural differences from overseas to here. But even from Lebanon and other parts of the Mid-State, this is just a different pace of life and ministry than what I have been used to.
“[Alexandria] is such a loving community, and I have received such a warm welcome from the church. People are going the extra mile again and again for my family, to help position us well to flourish here. We don't take that for granted, so none of the other things are negatives.”
Coe, his wife, Julia, and four children had taken a break from their ministerial work in late 2021. At that time, they were uprooted from the Middle East when Julia, at that time 32 years old with a new baby, received an alarming diagnosis of breast cancer. The Coes returned to Tennessee within a week of the diagnosis, arriving in late-October 2021. In early 2023, well over a year into the breast cancer battle, the family made the decision not to return overseas.
Growing Up in Middle Tennessee
Coe’s youthful years started on a solid path. He grew up in a loving Christian home with two brothers. His dad, who served on staff at a church in Mt. Juliet in the early '90s, baptized Coe at age 8. But by the time he was 12 years old, he began to rebel.
“I threw myself into the party lifestyle, which ultimately led to addiction,” Coe admits. “At one point all the fun kind of stopped. Then, I was just in bondage to the drugs. But I often tell people it was as much an addiction to a lifestyle as it was to a chemical substance.”
By age 22, he had hit rock bottom. He lost his girlfriend and the good-paying job that supported his addiction.
“I was not even able to enlist in our armed forces, some four million strong. They wouldn't even allow me to come on board because I had some pending misdemeanor offenses at that time. You talk about being down in the dumps at 22, wondering ‘what in the world has happened in my life, what's happened to these past 10 years? What have I done?’”
He voluntarily admitted himself into a drug rehabilitation facility in Dickson, TN, and that’s when he began to seek the Lord.
“I had taken with me a Bible that my mom had given me at my 14th birthday that probably just was caked with dust,” Coe recalls. “I remember going to the reading plan at the back of that NIV Student Bible, and it started off with the Gospel of Luke. And I remember reading about Elizabeth being barren, and about the Lord visiting her and granting her a child. And that whole story just gripped me with hope. Now, I didn't know anything about John the Baptist or his prophetic significance. I didn't know any of that stuff. But I knew that there was hope. As I kept flipping through that reading plan, I encountered Christ himself, and eventually I arrived at the cross. I began to undergo significant change even in those few weeks of inpatient rehab. Regeneration took place and I was born again. Man, he just gave me such a hunger for His Word, and a desire to minister.”
From Coe’s earliest years in the faith, God supplied opportunities for service and leadership in different ministries. Coe’s work has included ministry in halfway houses and jail ministries; college ministry leadership; church planting among unreached people groups; and work as a Family Ministry Coordinator alongside his wife.
“I just fell in love with doing ministry and fell in love with Jesus. I love to serve Him. I always loved to be involved in the ministry of the Word of God in whatever form it took.”
Concern for the Land of Israel
Alexandria First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dan Coe has invested over five years of his adult life and ministry in the land of Israel. So, news of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack that killed over 1,000 in Israel hit him and his family especially hard.
“We have friends all over the country, including areas close to the Gaza Strip and the border with Lebanon, who have had to evacuate. Some of their towns were obliterated. We had close friends who were in the desert camping not far from the music event where dozens were killed and others abducted by Hamas terrorists. Our friends escaped the massacre. But the episode did trigger one friend’s PTSD which she already suffers from as a result of her previous army stints. It is absolutely appalling what is happening. It is saddening, it breaks our hearts.”
“Our most recent community that we lived in is being asked to evacuate. That's close to the Lebanese border. I had just been there in June to pack up our home. I was interacting with these neighbors – with my friends – and now it's almost a ghost town. Today, I learned of a missile hitting the area and injuring a man and his children in our previous hometown.”
Prior to moving to Israel for ministry work, Coe had spent some formative years in the Nashville home of some Messianic Jewish believers – that is, Jews who believe that Jesus is the Promised Messiah. Through this family, Coe began to meet Israeli believers who would visit Nashville and share about their lives and ministries.
“I heard about God's work among Jewish people. I began to understand God's purposes for the Jewish people. I discovered the authentically Jewish nature of Jesus and the gospel message. My heart became burdened for the salvation of the Jewish people. There is only a very small minority of Jews globally – and historically – who believe the gospel, who follow Jesus. But I got to see how powerful it is when Jesus does grip the heart of one of his fellow Jews. Sure, Jesus is the King of All Nations. But if He is not the Messiah to the Jewish people, then He is not the Messiah to anyone!”
In 2008, Coe had the opportunity to do an internship in Israel where he met his future wife, Julia, who had come from Germany.
“That increased my heart not just for the Jewish people but for Arabs as well, and for the nations. We were in a melting pot of an international ministry on top of Mount Carmel. It was close to where the prophet Elijah traditionally called down the fire with the false prophets of Baal. That affinity that Julia and I shared for the nations, and in particular for Israel and the peoples of the Middle East, brought us together.”
The two wed in Germany in 2011 and began their family back in Tennessee. But in 2017, Coe says, God opened the door for them to return overseas to serve with the Baptist Convention in Israel. The first couple of years they focused on learning the language and culture before linking up as a teaching elder for an Israeli church plant. Coe invested the latter part of his ministry in Israel with post-military Israelis in their early to mid-20s who were either new converts or seekers of the Messianic faith (i.e., of Christianity).
“The bulk of my ministry, especially during the last stretch of it, was focused on these young men. A few years ago, we launched a college ministry outreach. I would take the young men to local campuses. I tried to give them opportunities to cut their teeth in evangelism, to try their hand in leadership, and ultimately to help them to identify their gifts and to develop them. But my focus was really on discipling these young men and giving them a heart, and giving them some tools, to reach their own people.”
Back in the States
While his family was living there, Coe says he and his family rarely felt unsafe.
“Flare-ups would happen, but life just moved on. But this [recent Hamas attack] is different. There may be some little spots within Israel where the locals are living under some level of normalcy right now. At this point, anyway, there are some areas that have not been terribly impacted. I pray that will remain the case, and that the conflict will not continue to escalate. But whether directly impacted or not, this attack has absolutely disrupted life for everyone in Israel. I think even those places where there's relative quiet right now, it's an eerie quiet, right?”
Coe says he’s attempted to explain the effect the news has had on his family.
“I tried to describe it to people here in this community, the kind of duress that my wife and I have been under because of this,” Coe said. “Imagine this is where your roots are. You spent time here, you have relationships you are invested in; this is your home that you love, and you leave and move hundreds of miles, or even thousands of miles away. And then you wake up one morning, and you begin to hear stories of children being abducted, women being tortured, and hundreds being killed. Babies are being beheaded in your community and missiles coming incessantly.”
“We’re not just watching news reports. I still get numerous notifications from my home village from the security team there. These are reports on the latest border flareups and security protocols. ‘Do we need to take cover at this moment? What do we need to do? What are the evacuation plans, the contingency plans?’ And so this is, for us, not just watching the news. It's around-the-clock updates to the point where I have to just shut my phone down and turn off notifications because it's non-stop.”
One major concern for Coe and his family is the women and children who have to say goodbye to husbands and dads.
“Some of the most heartbreaking pictures to see are some of my friends who are squeezing their children so tightly as they're leaving their homes with their M16s strapped on and heading off because they've been called up [to fight in the conflict].”
People in DeKalb County and across the nation are interested in helping Israelis. While there are some organizations like the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief that are gathering donated items, Coe says prayer is needed.
“If you're a Christian, pray that God would use this as an opportunity to work supernaturally. Pray that the gospel would go forward. Ask that God would strengthen the believers in The Land who are involved in this, whether they're Arabs or Jews, and that they would be a bright and shining witness – in word and in deed – and that they would show the love of the Messiah. Pray that God would reveal himself.”
“Let's realize that there has always been a Satanic agenda to wipe out these people, and there's a reason for that. The spirit of Haman in the book of Esther is still very much alive and operative today. Satan has always wanted to wipe out these [Jewish] people. Before the Messiah came, he wanted to annihilate them because the Messiah was going to come through this [Jewish] line. The Scriptures, I’m convinced, speak of a day when there's going to be a great ingathering of the children of Israel. They’re going to return to their God – to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and they’re going to trust in and worship His Son, Jesus. And so, the enemy hates these people; this is an ancient hatred. Remember that. Remember that our war is not against flesh and blood; it is against spiritual forces of darkness, and they're definitely at work here.
Now, that being said, Jesus also commands us to pray for our enemies. And so we want to pray that God would take would-be murderers (or those who are already murderers) and turn them into emissaries of His Kingdom. That's what God did with Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. the Apostle Paul), and he can still do that. He can take Hamas terrorists and Hezbollah terrorists, and he can turn them into men of God. But if they continue in unrepentance, then we pray, “Come Lord Jesus; let your kingdom come and execute justice.”
Coe also encourages people to be wary of the news reports concerning the Middle East troubles.
“Don't believe everything the media is selling. My wife and I watch the news, and it is night and day from one report to another. I mean, some of the mainstream media, including major outlets like the New York Times, had to pull back their reports after the hospital incident in Gaza where hundreds died. Mainstream media outlets immediately jumped on the story, and most of them claimed, ‘Israel is guilty’ and ‘What an atrocity!’ But if you looked closely at it, it was very clear: the people who were contributing to this report were one-sided sympathizers. This was not objective reporting. So, pay attention to what you're listening to and compare the news reports.”