Chapter I: Trauma (Part III)


When Sherilyn gave birth to our fourth child, Sahara, I felt alive.  Everything seemed better when I held and took care of our newborn girl.  Since I felt more attached to Sahara, I offered to to do her late night and early morning feedings.  However, the nightmares—-which rehearsed many of the traumatic events that I experienced throughout the fifteen years as an urban missionary—-were becoming more frequent and more vivid until it culminated into a time where I put my wife and our newborn in danger.  

After one of the late night feedings, I fell asleep with Sahara in my arms.  But one of my reoccurring nightmares blended reality with fiction.  Yes, the drug-dealer seemed to point the gun with its laser scope at at my head.  But my hallucination also included him hurling threats to kill me and the precious infant that I held in my arms.  As my nightmare reached its traumatic climax, Sherilyn sauntered down the stairs to relieve me and bring Sahara to her crib.  However, I perceived Sherilyn in my dream as the gunman.  With Sahara in one arm and my other arm cocked back to strike a blow to her face to protect my infant daughter, I charged after my wife.  Only the frantic shouting of Sherilyn pleading me to stop awoke me out of my hellish dream.  

I finally came to the realization that I needed professional help. Now that I was open to counseling, I connected to one of our supporting churches, Calvary Church of Grand Rapids.  With multiple staff members overseeing their thriving missions program, Calvary church retained a professional counselor that specifically zeroed in on care for its supported missionaries. Realizing that my problem seemed bigger than the one traumatic episode with the gun and suspecting that I was dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he assigned me to write down every traumatic event that I experienced throughout my urban missionary career.  I even visited several of the sites where these traumatic episodes took place, By recalling every incident, it would compel me to seek God and confront my fears and my wrong thinking about what had taken place.   As I went through this exercise, I realized something profound. Over the past fifteen years as an urban youth worker and missionary, I reveled in my stories about violence in the ‘hood.  I loved sharing about gun-battles, hiding from drug-dealers that threatened to kill me, breaking up gang-fights, pursuing after my students that were now involved in the streets as gang members. Moreover, whenever a crisis relating to violence actually took place, I felt an immediate rush of adrenaline flow through me—-and it felt good!  In short, my identity was more in the adventures as an urban missionary than being in Jesus Christ.  I made living and telling these glory stories of urban missions my primary identity and eventually they became my idol.  Yet now these glory stories repulsed me and I wanted nothing to do with them.   

As I visited the site where the gunman pointed his laser-scoped piece at me, I prayed.  Praying that my attitude towards him would be forgiveness.  Praying that I would harbor no bitterness or grudge.  As I prayed, my thoughts began an unsuspected move towards redeeming the trauma. What if we could reach and disciple gang-members and drug-dealers with the gospel and then equip them to become entrepreneur-evangelists? Entrepreneurs that loved Christ and their neighborhood so much that they would return to the street corners as evangelists and proclaim the good news of Jesus to urban youth and young adults that trafficked drugs on the streets.  Yet at the same time, also equip them to provide employment alternatives to the illegal drug activity.  These entrepreneur-evangelists would serve as a vital link between the hustle of the streets and legitimate living-wage jobs for these so called “thugs.”  And several of the young men that I was pouring my life into—Davien, DD, Percy, Peazy, Marquis, Nick, and Mike, were potential candidates for this mission. Maybe God would regenerate and redeem some of them to become entrepreneur-evangelists.


8 Comments On “Chapter I: Trauma (Part III)”

  1. A very good read. A book worth you writing and others reading. I was particularly challenged by your insight that the horrors and experiences in your ministry (and the glory in re telling them) became an idol. Looking forward to the book and will be praying for you to have discernment and freedom as you write. Jan

    • Thank you for your feedback and prayers, Jan. As we share about our lives and ministry, as well as about the lives of others within UTM, we definitely will need discernment and freedom……

  2. What a powerful story. Will be praying for both of you as you continue.

  3. Joel; what an amazing testimony as you go through your journey. I appreciate your willingness to be transparent and honest and to cry out to God to heal you. So many times we don’t want to share and let people know our struggles. What a blessing to your ministry and family you are.

  4. Barb,

    Its much easier for us to be transparent now that we are 7 years or so removed from these situations! Our desire is to write about the good, the bad, and the ugly within our life and ministry, not just the good. Thank you so much for your input and encouragement!

  5. Joel,

    Thanks for the courage to share your fears and struggles with us. I love the part about “adrenalin idolatry”. So many missionaries, youth pastors, counsolors, and Christian revolutionaries love to tell their stories about beatin back the gates of hell with one hand tied behind their back, and proving to the pew sitting wimps of the church how “dangerously faithful and on the edge they are,” when the truth is “Jesus and his gospel is what is important.” I think that is why Paul would call himself a fool in Corinthisns for sharing his exploits and adventures. He knows the power of Christ isn’t revealed in our stories of adventure, or how we won the world by sheer strength of will power and courage, but in our weakness.

    Great job!

    • Chris,

      Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way. Thanks for coining the phrase, “adrenalin idolatry.” I may use that in the future.

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