#188. Listening To God

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in a loving family. We went to church every Sunday morning. I am one of three children, all girls. I went away to attend college and became a nurse. I moved back after 10 years to be closer to my family. Family is so precious to me. I have been working as a nurse for 21 years. 

Jody was really more of an acquaintance than a friend. We grew up in the same county but attended different high schools. I knew of him in high school because he was a great basketball player and was well known for that. Years later when we both had daughters about the same age, I was the coach of a softball team his daughter played on. We had some conversations during that time, but we were still more of acquaintances. We are friends on Facebook, and I noticed that he had made some comments that he was having some decline in his health. The comments were a bit vague, but as a nurse I picked up that he wasn’t doing well health-wise.

I sent a message, telling him that I was praying for him and that I hoped things were getting better. He sent back a nice thank you. Maybe a week or so later he made a comment that a friend or two had tried to be a kidney donor and hadn’t matched. It clicked with me then that he had chronic kidney disease. As a nurse, I have taken care of people on dialysis and have seen the terrible effects of chronic kidney disease.

I remember after reading his Facebook message, I was lying in bed resting from a shift at work. The thought came to me—it was like running into a wall—“Why are you just praying for him? Why can’t you do something more?” I know God put that thought there. “Why stop with praying?” I thought of his three young daughters. I am one of three daughters, and I can’t image having grown up without my dad or having him so ill he couldn’t have participated in my life in a meaningful way. I just kept having the thought, “You can do more than just pray.” I knew that God wanted me to do more than just pray for those girls and his wife. I needed to do what I could to make sure they had their husband and their dad. 

I reached out to Jody and told him I would like to do more and asked him who to contact. He was hesitant. Then a couple of weeks later, I reached out again and again said, “I would really like to do more.” He then gave me the information about contacting the transplant coordinator at the hospital. Interestingly, even though the transplant coordinator works for a big university hospital many miles away, he also grew up in our county. I contacted him and they mailed me a packet of questionnaires, which I filled out and sent back. Later the coordinator called me and let me know that I was ready to move to the next step. After that was the blood work and urine test to make sure I was healthy enough to donate my kidney. There were no maybes or buts. Everything was perfect. The initial bloodwork was done in February to see if I could proceed, and it appeared that I was a perfect match. I believe it was God ordained. During this time, there was a lot of time for me to reflect. I think we all go through a time of wondering what our purpose is. I believe every turn in my life journey led to me to give my kidney. I felt a complete peace about it. I had no hesitation, no worries. I gave up drinking soda and taking ibuprofen to make sure the kidney I was going to donate would be as healthy as possible. I believed at the time that God would take care of me and He has taken care of me. 

In April I had to go to the hospital to meet with a social worker for a mental evaluation and more physical tests like an EKG and chest X-ray and more blood work to make sure I was still that perfect match. I talked to the transplant coordinator. You have to have specific markers in your blood that match. The more markers that match the greater the chance the transplant will be accepted. The whole process was like rolling down a 100-mile highway with no potholes, no red lights, and nobody breaking in front of you. You just go. 

In July, 10 days before our surgery, Jody and I both had appointments with the surgeon. We met with him separately but were in the waiting room at the same time. That was the first time I had seen Jody since he had been on dialysis. It weighed on my heart that he didn’t look well and reconfirmed my decision to give him my kidney. There was a kind Christian woman in the waiting room who had given her kidney three weeks prior to her dad. Remarkably, she was also from our county. It was as if God was providing people all along the way to make us feel more comfortable with the process. The woman was very helpful. She filled me in on what to expect, which was a blessing to me. 

Our surgeries were on a Thursday. There was a wall between our bays in pre-op. They took me back first. When they were getting ready to take me back to the operating room they said, “He is beside of you.” I asked if I could see him, and they rode my stretcher to him. We linked hands (my sister and me and Jody and his wife) and he said a prayer. They offered anxiety medicine before taking me back, but I refused it. At no time did I have anxiety. We had to wait on the surgeon for 15 minutes after I got into the operating room, and even then, I had no nervousness. I was calm. Even when I woke up afterward, I messaged a friend to see if she wanted to go for a run. I walked to Jody’s room and went in to see him. My whole family was so supportive throughout the process. My mom brought two balloons to the hospital. Jody’s balloon said, “It’s a girl!” 

It has been a little over two years out now. I am wonderful and have had no problems. I continue to donate blood on a regular basis and keep an eye on my blood pressure which has been fine. I have had no ill effects from it and I don’t intend to have any ill effects.  

In September, Jody preached a sermon in a church in our county. I attended the service and Jody looked so healthy. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I try to encourage people to be organs donors while they are still alive, and they will actually see the benefit that the recipient gets from it. I get to see that now. People knew Jody for his basketball, but he is so much more than that. He means so much to so many people. I get to see that joy is restored in his household and with his friends and in his church. He is back to doing the things he loves like golfing, things that the disease had taken away from him. I get to relish in his joy, and this a great gift. His youngest daughter turned six today, and she has her daddy here for her birthday. 

I try to encourage people to not doubt what God puts on their hearts and to be willing to listen. We can ask God to speak to us, but we have to listen to God and not doubt that He will take care of us. If I never receive another blessing from Him, I couldn’t ask for any better earthly life than what He has provided for me. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#187 Operation Making A Change

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois, near Chicago. My mother divorced my father but later got involved in a relationship with a man who I would call my stepfather. He was a very violent man. He drank a lot and there was a lot of drug use. My mom didn’t drink or do drugs. She suffered a lot of physical, mental, and financial abuse from him. He abused me as well. I didn’t look at education as important and I didn’t think I was as smart as the other kids. I was disruptive and disrespectful. I was taught not to trust people and that hindered me from letting anyone get to know the real me. I was afraid that if I told what was going on at home that social services would come in and take us away from my mother. Between eight and nine years old, I experimented with marijuana for the first time. I had watched my stepfather use it over and over, and curiosity got the best of me. I didn’t know that going down that path was going to create a whole different chapter in my life. In my community there was gang activity and a lot of crime. A lot of the kids I hung with were drug dealers and users. I became criminal-minded at a very early age. I was trying to survive by doing whatever it took to get money and food. 

My grandmother was a positive person who spoke hope into my life. She was the backbone of my family. She took us to church periodically. My grandmother was someone I loved very deeply. She had a good home where I got a chance to see healthy relationships. I had other people in my life who were positive influences. I made a friend named Louie at around second or third grade. His life was much more normal than mine. He witnessed what my stepfather would do to me and tried to protect me. He taught me to play baseball and I taught him how to steal. 

A woman named Holly, who was a mentor, picked up a group of us a couple times a week. She took us to a church and we would play basketball, study Bible scriptures, and eat food. She said the school gave her my information because they were concerned about me. She gained my trust so fast. Looking back now, I know she was God-sent. Eventually she took us to her home, where we would cook meals and talk about God and pray. When she came and got us, there were no more worries in my life. But when she dropped us off, we were back to darkness. One night she cooked a special dinner and told us she was getting married and moving away. That was one of the worst days of my childhood. I was about 14 at the time. When she moved, my life became much darker.

In high school I decided I wanted to join the military, so I enrolled in the ROTC program. For the first time in my life I was able to be a part of something positive other than a sports team. Unfortunately, that was short-lived because while at school one day my grandmother called and requested that I come home immediately. When I got home there was a moving truck sitting in our front yard. My stepfather was gone doing an odd job and my grandmother said, “Get your things. We are moving you out.” We went to a shelter and then moved to the state of Wisconsin, which was not too far from Illinois. The school that I attended did not have the ROTC program, so I got involved in criminal activity even more (drugs, gangs). My drug addiction was getting significantly worse. By the time I was 17, I had dropped out of high school. On my 18th birthday I became a teenage father to a daughter. A year later my son was born. Two years later, the mother of my children and I broke up, but she was pregnant with our third child. At the time I didn’t have a job, I was doing drugs, I was a full-fledged gang member, in and out of jail, creating an unsafe environment for my family. I didn’t know anything about being a parent. I had forgotten about God and I wasn’t attending church regularly like I used to. The only time I called on God was when I was drunk and high and wanted to sober up, or when I was about to get caught by law enforcement for doing something wrong. But I always remembered what my grandmother and my mentor, Holly, had taught me . . . pray and God would answer my prayers. I knew scriptures from the Bible and I knew who God was, but I thought God didn’t hear me because I was a criminal, a drug dealer, a deadbeat father, etc. I thought God only listened to people who were perfect. I didn’t think I was good enough for God to do something in my life. 

In 1994, there was a sweep of my neighborhood, arresting people for dealing drugs and gang activity. Law enforcement were looking for me as well. So, I went on the run, but eventually I was arrested and charged. I had three counts of delivery of crack cocaine on three different occasions. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 36 years. When I went to jail, I felt so alone but still remembered what my grandmother and Holly had taught me about prayer. I believe God had been trying to get my attention because I had been running from a relationship with Him for so many years. After the court negotiations, two charges were dropped, which exposed me to one charge and a possible 10 years. Of that the judge sentenced me to four years in the state prison. I got classified for a medium minimum, which made it possible for me to go to boot camp. This program showed me so many things that I didn’t know about myself. It was ugly and I believe God set that up for me to take a look at myself. I ended up doing about 13–14 months total. When I got out, I got a job and started spending time with my kids. I was clean and sober. But my mistake was to go back and visit the old crowd. I started using and selling again, and I ended up going back to prison for two and half years for violation of parole. I wasn’t really locked in with God’s plan yet. I didn’t see it. I was going through the motions being in prison, so I wasn’t focused on change. I walked out of prison for the second time. The day I got out was the same day I relapsed. What a nightmare. I had a $300 or $400 drug habit a day. The drugs had such a stronghold on me. I couldn’t escape the urges until I fed it. It was much worse than before. 

By that time my children had moved to Missouri with their mother. I ended up going back to prison, this time for three years. I was mad and blaming others for my situation and not taking a deep look at myself until December 31, 1999. While sitting in prison I was scared because they said the world was going to end. So, I started taking a much deeper look at who I really was as a person, deadbeat dad, convict, drug addict, gang member, drug dealer, etc. I thought, “Wow, this is how I am going to die, a nobody. I have not accomplished anything but a life of crime.” That is when I decided it was time to reevaluate my life (again). People around me were dying from drug overdoses, getting life prison sentences, yet God still allowed me to live through it all.

I got on my knees and prayed to God wholeheartedly, “I don’t know if You hear me, but I am ready to be a new person. I just want You to take charge. I keep messing everything up. My way isn’t the way. I just need Your help.” I was ready to surrender. I knew I wasn’t ready to face the outside world when I got out of prison. God gave me the idea to develop a program called Operation Making A Change (OMAC) while I was in prison. This program helped me get ready for my release from prison. God gave me a vision that someday I would use OMAC to help many other people. I walked out of prison almost 18 years ago. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what or how. I just knew my mind was made up and I wanted to do better. Instead of running from people who wanted to help me, I sat down, listened and learned. I started picking up different ways and habits. I was terrified of change because I didn’t know what to expect. I had made so many mistakes and didn’t know if I could really change. I had asked God to forgive me but many people didn’t forgive me. I had to realize it’s not about people. It’s about what God wants me to do. I surrounded myself with ministers, law enforcement officers, educators, and community activists, and I started to become like them. 

After being out of prison for about three years not knowing where my life was headed, a miracle happened. I was on my way back to prison because I was about $40,000 in arrears in child support. I had $30 to put toward the child support. They laughed at me in court. I realized I had nothing and couldn’t take care of my responsibilities. I was embarrassed. Just as they were about to put the cuffs on me, the judge said, “Wait a minute. Sit down. I don’t know why I’m doing this.” She gave me 30 days to get a job and start making payments. I had been praying before I met with the judge, asking God to be my lawyer, to help me. I had only 30 days and I knew how to get the money from drugs, but I also knew that came with another challenge. If I got caught, I would go back to prison, and if I start using, I would probably die. I got a call from some people I knew from a church in Racine, Wisconsin. They told me they had been praying for me. They got me a job interview at a school. I was saying to myself these people have to have the wrong person (I’m a convicted felon). I was sitting across from a woman at the interview, and I was just about to tell her I had been to prison. She said, “We know who you used to be. But my question is: What are you going to do if we give you a chance?” They hired me as a lunch monitor and to take the kids out to recess. Within two months, I became the gym teacher of the school. Every kid knew my name and I knew every kid’s name in that school. I was actually making a name for myself in a positive way. 

I started playing semi-pro football for the Racine Raiders. I became a personal trainer and got involved with the YMCA Young Leaders Academy. I became a case manager for Safe Haven and Safe Passage runaway shelter. For years I was building up my integrity and credibility. But I still felt like I had a dark cloud over me in Wisconsin, so I moved to Kentucky in 2010. In the beginning, I wasn’t able to find a job working with kids, so I got a job at a gas station. After six months, a police officer walked into the gas station. I said, “Sir, I am looking to work with young people.” I told him my story and he wrote everything down. He said he would get back with me in a week. I didn’t believe him because I was used to being let down. But he actually called me. He asked me to come to a meeting at the police department. I thought they were trying to set me up or I had an old warrant. But I went and he introduced me to a retired police captain who was working with the county attorney as a gang specialist. He said, “I’m getting ready to retire, but I believe I’m not supposed to retire because of you.” It was like God was joining us together at the hip. You have an ex-con, ex-gang member joining with a 40-year veteran of the police force. The captain took me under his wing for a long time. I still worked at the gas station all night; then went to work with the captain as a volunteer during the day. He treated me like a son. He introduced me to his boss, the county attorney, and tried to convince him to hire me but he said no. I didn’t get mad or discouraged. I just kept doing what I was doing, going with the police captain into schools, doing outreach work to prevent violence. 

In 2014, I won a Golden Apple award and the county attorney showed up. We met in his office again but he still wasn’t convinced about hiring me. The captain said he would put his name and career on the line for me because he believed in me. We had prayed a lot together and were spiritually connected. He wholeheartedly wanted to help me with no strings attached. The county attorney told the police captain that he was responsible for me and gave me 99 hours of work per month. God kept His promise to make me new if I would just trust in Him. Months later the county attorney hired me full-time and gave me an office with benefits. That was the first time in my life I had ever had benefits. They were the first ones to adopt the OMAC program I had developed in prison. The purpose of the program is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. OMAC is implemented in the county jail and the public schools and more. A few months later, a part-time position opened up as a substance abuse violence intervention specialist, and the captain encouraged me to apply. I doubted myself and the captain told me to have faith. God had taken me so far. How could I not apply? There were people with high credentials applying for this position as well. But God says He will put the last first, and I got the job. Four years ago, I got a call from the chief of the police department. He said they had someone retiring in the community service part of the police department and they would like me to fill that position. I hesitated because, where I come from, the police have a stigma attached. I said, “If I take the job the kids won’t trust me anymore.” But if I didn’t take the job, I felt I would be going against God. I decided to take the job and of course I did get push back but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to carry out the mission and the vision that God has given me. 

My faith in God is very powerful. I am an example of what God can do. There is no way I should even be telling this story right now. I should either be dead or locked up for the rest of my life. There had to be a Higher Power to get me out of my situation. My platform to help kids has just gotten bigger. God placed all these things around me for a reason. I used to think I was supposed to die violently in the street, now I just want to live and be a light for others, to witness to others. God motivates me every day to want to keep going. OMAC went from a small piece of paper in a prison cell to helping so many people stay away from crime, drugs, and gangs. This is God’s program not mine.

God is real. God loves us and doesn’t want to hurt us. God has ways of getting our attention. I believe the times I spent in prison, drug houses and gang activity — all of that allowed me to have firsthand experience so that now I can minister to other people about it. If you are going through life and trying to do it on your own, give God a try. What do you have to lose? I knew there were things that were better than what I was doing but I didn’t want to learn. You have to open up your mind and heart. God can help you with that. God will elevate whatever you are doing if you stay obedient. God protected me and covered me. He gave me the vision and He has opened every door along the way to make that vision come to life, even more than I ever imagined. I have learned that God can take pain and turn it into something good. I have learned to never give up, to never doubt that God is good — amazingly good. 

No weapon formed against me shall prosper. (based on the scripture from Isaiah 54:17)

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#186 Called to Haiti

Photo by Pam VanArsdall

I grew up in a Lutheran church in Illinois. When I was around 12 years old, I was confirmed, and during the confirmation process I felt Jesus come into my heart. But it didn’t take long for me to turn my back on God and start doing things I shouldn’t be doing. Even though I felt Jesus in my heart, the world had control of me. I have been a farmer for over 40 years. I bought 300 acres of farmland when I was 20 years old. My business and the struggle to make payments had control of my life. That was the most important thing to me. I also had a problem with handling anger. I have a history of anger in my family, and when that DNA is inside of you, it is hard to control. 

I got married when I was 23. We had three children. I was not a good husband and didn’t treat my wife well. I don’t even remember much about my children growing up. I was abusive with my tongue. In 1998, my wife got tired of the hatefulness and we divorced. Now that I look back, I don’t blame her for leaving me. I rented out my farm because I wasn’t making enough money to support my kids the way I wanted. I went to work on the road as a millwright, putting together conveyors and machinery. I continued to farm when I could, putting crops out between work on the road. I worked as a millwright for eight years and met my second wife during this time. She has been with me ever since. After my kids were raised, I took my farm back. I have continued to farm since then. Last year we put out 2,000 acres of row crops of corn and soybeans. I also have a herd of beef cattle. 

Around 2014, some family circumstances created a lot of tension between me and my wife. We got to the point where she lived upstairs and I lived in the basement. I could see my second marriage drifting away like my first marriage. I was still of the world and my business was the most important thing to me, not God. I regret this immensely, but I was unfaithful. She found out through a text on my phone. She climbed up in my lap and said, “I love you and I don’t want to lose you.” She said that even after she knew what I had done. My whole world caved in. I was speechless. I said, “There is no way you are going to lose me if you want me.” 

A couple of months later, my wife said she wanted to go to church and asked me to go with her. I said, “Absolutely.” God called us to that particular church for a reason but we didn’t find out until three years later. The church was planning a mission trip to India. I had felt compelled to go on a mission trip at some point in my life, and my wife agreed that we should go. We went to a missions meeting and were prepared to sign up, although it was more than we could really spend. I was telling a Christian friend about that, and he invited me to go to Nicaragua with him in February which would have been easy to do because we didn’t have crops to tend to. Then our church canceled the trip to India because of unrest and they decided to go to Haiti. The mission trip to Haiti was to leave on May 26, my busiest time of the year. This is where my life turned from the world to the Spirit of God. I felt God was telling me that I was to go to Haiti with my church. But this was a terrible time of year for me to go. I would be finishing up corn planting, beginning our soybean planting, and making hay for our cow herd. I have not been away during this time of year since I first began farming. It is a big job and has to be done right or I won’t make a profit. It was imperative for me to be on the farm to see everything got done. 

But I kept hearing it. It was not an audible voice. It was in my heart. It was an overwhelming feeling that God was urging me to go to Haiti. We were just about to send the money to the Nicaragua trip. I told my wife, “I have this feeling that I can’t shake that God wants me to go to Haiti, and I want you to go with me.” She said, “You can’t go to Haiti in May!” But we talked more and she agreed to go with me. We knew we could be putting the farm in jeopardy, but we trusted the Lord and went anyway. For 50 years I have had the Lord in my heart and I could feel Him speaking to me, but I always turned a deaf ear. This time I listened and obeyed. It rained the whole week back home while we were in Haiti, and no one could do any farming. Had I been home, we would have done nothing on the farm. 

An older Christian friend told me his similar story. He said he was called to go on a mission trip but didn’t go. The day they left for the mission trip he was working on a piece of machinery and hurt his back. He laid on the couch the whole week unable to do any work, and about the time the plane brought the mission group back, the pain went away. 

God sent me to Haiti for a reason. A bus took us to town and we gave away goats and evangelized and painted houses. But one day, our bus stopped in a place we hadn’t been before. When we got off the bus, we found out the village champion needed to go buy goats for us to give away. While we waited, our translators led us up a hill to an orphanage. There was close to 20 kids there from infant to 12 years old. The first thing they did was sing the Christian song “10,000 Reasons.” “Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul. Worship his holy name.” They sang in English but they did not speak English. They also recited Psalms from memory in Creole. We knew that because the translators were interpreting as they spoke. 

A Christian Haitian couple started and ran this orphanage with no help from an outside church. God had called the woman to take care of children. They had basically nothing there. Their church was a tin roof supported by two by fours. They had a block building and a couple of rooms with cots for the children to sleep on. There was a little boy that had HIV who was in a wheelchair. When I saw him and the way he looked at me, all I could do was kneel down beside him and pray. The little fella just smiled all the time. The children were clean and well taken care of. We stayed at the orphanage about two hours. Before we left, the man who ran the orphanage asked if we could help them. He said they needed a water tank and lights for their house because they wanted to apply for a permit to become a licensed orphanage.  I told them I would see what I could do. That was a Tuesday. The next few days we did our usual mission activities. On Saturday morning we went back to the orphanages and that’s when it got overwhelming for me. I found myself kneeling beside the same little boy with HIV. He looked weak and sickly. He was 10 years old. I asked everybody to lay hands on him and we prayed over him. Then they told us that the children hadn’t eaten in a day and a half because the couple really doesn’t have any regular income. We asked how they got money for food and they said that family and friends give them money but sometimes the money doesn’t come and they go without food. The average wage in Haiti is $2 per day and unemployment is 80 percent. We collected $186 amongst ourselves, bought food, and took it back to the orphanage. When we left, the children were eating again. 

When we got back home, I asked the associate pastor who had been on the trip, “Are we going to be able to feed those kids? Is that why God sent us to Haiti instead of India?” His response was, “We can feed them for one to two months, but we need to find someone else to help.” I asked the interpreter how much was needed for a month’s worth of food and he said $450. Our church sent $400 by Western Union. I contacted the mission organization that we went through to go to Haiti. They feed 91,000 children per day in Haiti but they do this in the schools not in orphanages because some orphanages are not legitimate and are abusing and trafficking their children.  

It’s been a little over a year and half since our trip, and I think about the orphanage every day. I believe the Lord is calling me to help the orphanage. The church sent money one time. God told me that the kids had to be fed. I told the proprietors I would personally send the orphanage money each month to buy food. As I did this, I investigated the orphanage to make sure it was legitimate and spoke numerous times with the proprietors. I have come to know this orphanage is legitimate as I have made multiple trips there. The couple who runs the orphanage are obeying God in a very corrupt nation. They are evangelists to the children, devout Christians, teaching the children about loving and serving God. They have a 30-minute devotion each morning and evening. They have worship and sermons on Sundays. Everything about their lives is to serve God. They are pure in their motivation.

A friend went with me back to the orphanage in January 2019. We stayed at the orphanage. We shared one small mattress under the church tin roof, sleeping back to back. We stayed eight to nine days. My friend is a plumber and we installed a 500-gallon water tank and ran gutters on the church roof to carry water into the water tank. Before we installed the tank, they had been dipping water out of a murky, contaminated stream, carrying five gallons of water a quarter of a mile sometime four to five times a day. Our church had held a benefit to fund the water tank project before we left. The church agreed to send money over for the water in the tank every month. The church felt like they should get involved with the orphanage, so we planned a trip to go back in April 2019. There were four of us from the church going. But five days before we were to leave, everyone decided not to go and I ended up going to Haiti by myself. I bought solar panels with money our church had raised and installed them for the orphanage, which means they now have lights. While I was there, the male proprietor asked me to go with him to take the little boy with HIV to see the social worker. The social worker told me that before this boy was taken into the care of the orphanage, he was malnourished and very weak, basically starving to death. His mother could not afford to pay for the medicine he needed. The social worker said the child was now at the high end of the health chart and was as healthy as he could be because of the care he receives in the orphanage. 

When I came back home, I found out that we could no longer send our money to the orphanage through the church. We began going to another church, a little Baptist church way out in the country. I wasn’t going to tell anyone about the Haiti project at the new church, but the preacher brought up Haiti in a conversation and we ended up sharing with him. Our preacher ended up going to Haiti with me in August 2019. We put a concrete roof on a hurricane shelter that I had begun on a previous trip. We were thinking about going to the government to apply for a license, but I prayed and prayed and really felt that the orphanage was not ready for that yet. The proprietors are not concerned about getting the license. They are only concerned about doing God’s will and what He has called them to do. They believe that God will provide for them. I’ve never seen such faith in people. It’s all in God’s hands to them. But they do want to get approved if they can. 

The orphanage still needs a lot of improvements, like a wall around it and suitable beds. We had half of the money to finance building a kitchen, so we started building it. I had been there nine days and extended my stay another nine days. I needed another $1,000 to finish the kitchen. A man I buy fertilize from called me while I was in Haiti and I asked if his company donates to charities. He said, “The company won’t give you anything but I will send a check for $250.” Right after that my banker called me to ask about our credit line. I asked him about a donation. He sent me an email back saying to come by the bank to pick up a $500 check and another friend donated $100. My wife went and picked up the money and wired it to me. It was enough to finish the kitchen. That was another miracle of God. The kitchen has running water and lights and light switches. We have also put in a 1,000-gallon cistern in the ground. The toilets are a hole in the ground and smell horrible. The shower was over the same hole. We put running water all over the house, so now they have an indoor shower and they don’t have to take a shower over the pit toilet. 

We have submitted the paperwork to set up a non-profit 501c-3. I know that God will provide. I am an old, redneck farmer—I’m not a preacher—but God gives me the words to speak in churches to tell people about the children in Haiti.

The tragedy in our marriage in 2014 put us on a path to go to Haiti to serve that orphanage. I believe that with all my heart. I think back to the times I would be sitting in my easy chair, drinking a beer, watching a commercial asking for a donation for the children with flies on their faces. I would think, “Somebody should do something for them.” The Lord woke me up and showed me that it’s time for ME to do something. Once I received the Spirit wholeheartedly in 2014, I got down on my knees and put my face to the floor and told God that He could take everything if that’s what it takes to serve Him. I am not afraid of what might happen. My devotion now is to the Lord.

If God knows there is goodness in your heart and sees potential in your heart to serve Him, He will call you, even if it is the latter days of your life. He will call and call loudly. This is what God did with me. God is now using the skills I have learned working on the farm and as a millwright and the relationships and trust I have built as a businessman in my community over the last 40 years, to help children in an orphanage in Haiti. I am so grateful to God for straightening me out the way He did. He called me to serve Him and He fills my heart with joy while I am serving Him.  

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#185 Praise and Purpose in Pain, Part 2

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Does every girl grow up dreaming of reaching the stars? I sure did. From the tender age of two or three, I remember craning my head back, marveling at the night sky, and being awed by the beauty of God’s creation. As I grew I wondered about seeing His works from a new perspective, what it might be like to escape Earth’s atmosphere and explore all that vast space. Growing up I thought my path to the stars would be through NASA. As a freshman in high school, my parents took me to visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration campus where we met with people who gave us information about the steps of pursuing a career with them. My path and passion for space seemed to have a straight trajectory at that point, but what I didn’t know was that passion would be a shooting star, shining brightly, and falling quickly into darkness at the age of 15.

On June 7, 2017, Jacob, my 23-year-old brother, was in a car accident and tragically passed away. I was 15 years old at the time. The moment my brother died every desire to go to NASA dissipated. I was overcome with a deep need to fall into worship and into praise of the LORD who had created the heavens, who had given so lavishly to me, and who now had taken away. I felt myself drawn to my piano… 

So that you might fully understand the magnitude of this change, let me backup for a moment. 

Starting at age six, upon the prompting of my parents, I had unenthusiastically taken piano lessons. Learning to play was born out of duty and obligation simply because my parents wanted me to, not because of my own desire. I never sang and had no real interest in music.

In February 2017, a few months before Jacob’s death, I was in a youth group and they needed someone to play the keyboard. Because I was trained, I agreed to help. Shortly thereafter, the worship leader had an evening when she couldn’t sing and asked if I could fill in for her. I sang for the first time that evening, but again it was an act of service, not of passion. My worship was dutiful, not driven from the deep wells of my soul.

When Jacob died in June, all of that shifted. An intense need to call out to the LORD through song burst into life. Every moment of solitude after my brother’s death drew me to my piano. Worshipping God was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t play out of anger or frustration. No, I was never angry with God about losing my brother. I truly trusted Him with it. Yet, I was overcome with my need to talk to the LORD and nothing expressed it the way music did. The song that carried me away in praise during this painful time was “What a Beautiful Name” by

Hillsong. Since it was such a balm to my soul, my parents asked if I would be willing to sing it at Jacob’s funeral.

Until that point, my worship was a sacred space between only the LORD and myself. Agreeing to this request was letting those closest to me, and to Jacob, join in with the pain and the hope I was feeling. I had never sung for my extended family before, but when I sat down at the piano the day of the funeral, the Lord took all nervousness from me. He filled me with His melody and with new purpose. At that moment, I felt God’s call into a career in music. Just as my parents invited me to sing for Jacob, God was now extending His hand and inviting me to sing for Him.

Four months after Jacob’s death, with “What a Beautiful Name” still on my lips, I made a video of the song dedicated to my brother. The video reached many people, including a talent scout in Nashville who asked me to meet with him to share my story. Although unexpected, this turned out to be the first confirmation of my calling from the Lord. I went to Nashville in January of 2018 and met with a recording artist manager. I was overwhelmed with peace the day we met with him and I knew God was going to do something special, but I was only 16 years old and my family wanted to proceed cautiously.

Over the next year God gently guided me in this calling. He planted a seed in my heart the day Jacob died, and now I saw it growing slowly, delicately, and with such beauty. I was (and am) in awe of His guidance. As my family and I trusted him during this time, He faithfully showed us each step. I began working with the manager, took voice lessons, and even went to Nashville to put my thoughts and prayers to music. What an honor it was to work and praise alongside such talented Christian song writers! After that first big writing session, the LORD sent another

confirmation. Three Christian music labels contacted my manager to request meetings with me.

I met with them throughout the summer of 2019, in May, June, and July. Each time I was given the opportunity to talk with other believers, to meet with record label executives, and to explore the depths of my grief and the heights of my eternal hope through the songwriting process. In August, all three labels asked me to join their teams. After much prayer, I decided to accept the offer from Capitol records. I will be moving to Nashville in June 2020 and with their help will be releasing the songs that I have written. I look forward to the days ahead, to inviting others into that sacred space of worship. I can’t believe that the LORD has opened a way for me to lead others into praise. He is so worthy! I want God to get all of the glory in my story, in the hard parts and in the redemption.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered

a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10

After he died, we found this verse in Jacob’s apartment, written in his own handwriting. We felt like he was talking directly to us and we have clung to this verse. Jacob was my best friend and I will always be heartbroken by his loss. But somehow in the midst of all of the pain, God has taken the deep crevices of my grief and let them run over with golden praise. I find myself wanting to be like the woman with the expensive alabaster jar, breaking it over Jesus and

anointing him with the most expensive thing I own, my own heart. God has given me a purpose, and that has been a great gift to me in this sorrow. I have learned about His faithfulness. I have learned that when God promises you something, He fulfills His promise. He does not let you down. When you choose to trust God, blessings come.

Thinking back to those childhood days when I had my life all planned, I can see that my desire to explore space and reach the stars was really a deep desire to grow close to the Father and to worship Him in a new way. He has provided that to me, just not on the path I expected. God took my longing for the stars and said–Look higher, child.

Look to the Creator of the stars.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

not one of them is missing.

27

Why do you complain, Jacob?

Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

29

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:26-29

This is what I have found in this journey– my God is faithful. In my own weakness, He is strong. May my lips forever praise the name of the LORD!

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.