“I didn't desire to go to prison. I wasn't eight years old and raised my hand in school and said, 'Hey, I want to go to prison when I get older.' Or, 'Hey, I want to be a drug addict when I get older,'" said Stephen Dees. His drug-addicted parents were unable to care for him, leaving him in orphanages and foster homes.
During this time, he experienced everything from going to church to sexual abuse. “There was a man who sexually assaulted me at the age of 13 and that's when I caught my first felony. I was a very angry, upset young man and I ended up burning the house down,” said Stephen.
He spent the next three years in detention, a psych hospital, and a group home. He was released at age 16 and two years later made a terrible decision.
“Me and this other guy, we went up there to break into this house and steal this money,” said Stephen. “And when we did, there was some people home. We ended up tying the people up and robbing the people. And it was an aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and a kidnapping charge instead of just a B&E or a burglary. I went to Mansfield, Ohio. I was 18 years old. And that was my first introduction to the penal system. I deserved it. I know I did. I pled guilty. I never tried to fight it. Admitted what I had done was wrong. But that was – a hard time in my life.” He survived six miserable years in prison.
When he was released, he hoped for a better life. He went to welding school and his girlfriend at the time had a baby. “I can remember the day she was born,” said Stephen. “That was probably the happiest day of my life. You know, because I'd never had a child before and I never thought I could have children. I didn't really think that that kind of life was for me, you know, but that day in my mind I could see myself being a good father, being a good husband, good provider, and a good protector.”
Stephen was excited about his new life and then tragedy struck. “She was born on March 14th and she passed away on April 21st. She had lived five weeks. She had passed away in our bed. Woke up one morning and she just wasn't breathing,” Stephen says with tears. “I think I developed a resentment and a bitterness towards God at that moment. Not denying Him. You can't see a child be born and deny God. I couldn't, but I was angry at God. And so, I started working a lot of hours to cover up the pain. But then somebody introduced me to methamphetamine and that killed every pain I had physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And that took me down a long road.”
Stephen soon became a full-time drug addict, making, using, and selling meth. On a three-week long binge, he violently assaulted two people, sending them to the hospital. “After they arrested me, they took me to jail and I was talking to my lawyer and she pulled out the pictures and the statements. And I can't believe I became a man that would do something like that to somebody else. And she told me I was looking at 30 years in prison. Aggravated assault with deadly weapons times two. It's an automatic 15 years a piece. I was 40 years old. I had a lot of bitterness, a lot of anger. Just couldn't stand the person I had become. I hated living the lifestyle that I was living,” said Stephen. “I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to go back to prison. I'd rather die. I think those were my thoughts in that cell when it was a man that came in there and said, 'Hey Stephen, why don't you go to church with me tonight?'"
Even though he still had bitterness towards God, Stephen attended chapel in the jail. That night he heard about true hope. “I'm getting ready to face 30 years in prison and they're going to preach to me about a hell? To me, there's no reality in that. What I'm living is hell right now. But this man says that there was a man named Jesus who came down from heaven, who died on the cross, so I no longer have to live in hell,” said Stephen. “I'm like, 'Okay, I don't have to live like this no more? You mean things can change for me?' It just piqued my curiosity. So I gave my life to the Lord that night.”
That night, he prayed and asked God to help the people he hurt to get off drugs and for mercy on his case. “Within a week, man I called my lawyer back and all my charges had been dropped down to misdemeanor charges. To me, that was a divine intervention. From the places I've been, the things that I've done, sitting in the courtrooms before, I've never caught no breaks. I think that's when I started believing that maybe God did love me. Maybe he did care about me. Maybe somehow, someway through all this, He reached down and did something and started stirring something inside of me. I started reading the Bible more and I started talking to Him more.”
Stephen's life radically changed through an 18-month recovery and discipleship program. Today he is now part of their pastoral staff, along with his wife. Stephen smiles and says, “He's the reason I'm alive today. He's the reason that I have a motivation to help others. I want to be who I am today. With Jesus, He went out and He went to go reach that 1 out in 99 of the least of these. I feel like if that's what He did, that's what we should be doing. My evangelist heart is because of the Lord. I want to go out and see that one last one person saved. I want to go into the jails and the prisons and the other places where people don't want to go because I believe that God wants to reach those people. I believe that's what Jesus is to me. That's the heart that's inside of me. It's the heart of Jesus.”
Discover more about the ministry where Stephen serves at here: www.TruePurposeMinistries.com.
For a long time, Peter and his brother, Emmanuel, searched for a place of refuge. They grew up in a Muslim family, and when their father converted to Christianity, they too put their faith in Christ, but it came at a great cost.
Peter explained, “When my uncles learned my father became a Christian, they killed him. As Christians, we knew Jesus is the only way to heaven. So, we left, because we couldn’t go back to Islam after what happened.”
Emmanuel said, “We want to follow God. We want to know Him better. That’s why we left.”
Peter said, “I prayed that if God is really calling me to follow Him, and if He will protect us and guide us, I will serve Him for the rest of my life. With all the dangers along the way, nothing happened to us.”
In the city, someone told them about Christian Faith Ministries, which is supported in part by CBN’s Orphan’s Promise. Here, they found a place to call home, and have all their needs provided for as they attend school and continue to grow in their faith.
“I really believe God guided us here,” said Peter. “By God’s grace, I’m getting a good education. My brother and I study together, and if he doesn’t understand something, he’ll come to me, so I can help him.”
In their free time, they often play ping pong and other games, and they have the chance to simply be kids.
Emmanuel said, “This is a refuge for me and my brother. Not everyone gets the chance that God has given us. I love it here. I know God better here than I did before. On Sundays and Wednesdays, we attend church. I always pray for my family, so they will become Christians and follow Jesus like we do.”
Peter explained, “The leaders here taught me about forgiveness, and that unforgiveness is no different than carrying a heavy load. In forgiving, I can leave what happened in the past behind me and look forward to the good things ahead. Thank you for helping me and my brother, and for your protection. Without you, we would not be here. May God bless you and provide you with everything you need.”
As an Army Special Forces Green Beret, John was deployed to Afghanistan twice and Iraq once. In 2014, at Fort Hood, he endured severe injuries to his neck and right arm after being shot by a deranged fellow soldier, who killed four people, including himself, and wounded 16 others. Despite these traumatic experiences, John says something much earlier in his life wounded him even more.
John grew up in in Whittier, CA in the 80’s and 90’s. He says it was pretty normal to have only one of his biological parents “steering the ship.” “Sometimes that ship spun in circles, and other times veered off course mainly because the captain was absent,” he says, referring to his dad. John says his dad’s alcoholism brought about the end of many things: his career, marriage, dreams of raising his children, and tragically, his own life when he was age 34 and John was just five. Though he couldn’t grasp what that profound loss meant for years, in time it was clear. “I was lost without him,” he remembers.
SEARCHING FOR IDENTITY
Growing up, John tried a number of things to fill the void his father left, gain affirmation, and create what he lacked – identity. In school, he became the class clown, craving attention. It didn’t heal his heart, but felt good to make the other kids laugh. From age 12 to 18, John joined his older brother in a gang, still searching for identity and approval. “I wasn’t a good gang member, because I loved people,” he says. The gang life kept him on the run from rival gang members and was, of course, a bad influence. He engaged in a lot of fighting, felt hatred from others, and became a teen father in the ninth grade, none of which provided what he hoped.
At 18, John tried a new way to cope – meth amphetamine -- and became hooked. It, too, failed to remove the pain in his heart. At the encouragement of his praying grandmother and his sister, John decided to join the Army when he was 20, thinking that would help him put his life in order, and give him a sense of identity. “I was taught by great leaders to work hard, perform with excellence, be a self-starter, and to never quit.”
Still the longing in his heart persisted. “The orphan heart that craved affirmation remained; this time, it was masked in a camouflage uniform and esprit de corps,” John admits. Though he couldn’t do drugs in the military, he could drink, and did so to excess. In time, he earned his way into the elite fighting group, the Green Berets, with what he calls an unhealthy craving for the affirmation he never received from his father. “I never heard my dad say, 'You are my son in whom I am well pleased. You are my son; I love you,'” he painfully recalls.
COMING TO FAITH
In 2003, John married Angel, and their lives spiraled steadily downward with alcohol and anger until Angel came to the place where she didn’t want to live anymore. In 2009, they went to a church, heard the gospel presented clearly for the first time, and came to faith in Christ. John says he began to change as he poured himself into church activities, surrounded himself with other Christian men, and set boundaries to curb his drinking. While their new faith and church involvement certainly made life better, John says he was like Lazarus – alive, but still wearing the grave clothes of past hurts. “Inviting Jesus into my heart was only the beginning of restoring my spirit, soul, and body. I lived with unhealthy fears and beliefs that became part of my everyday life without ever considering I could be free of them.”
The well-known Bible story of David, his best friend, Jonathan, and his son, Mephibosheth, is one John says illustrated every believer’s true identity. When King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were both killed in battle, the news came to Mephibosheth’s nurse, who picked up the five-year-old and fled, fearing the new king would put everyone in Saul’s family to death. She dropped him along the way, causing him to be lame. He lived in exile in the wilderness for many years until King David asked Ziba, Saul’s former servant, if anyone from Saul’s family remains, so that he might show kindness to him and fulfill his promise to Jonathan.
Ziba brought Mephibosheth, now a young man, to the King, who assumes he will be killed, considering himself but “a dead dog.” David not only spares him, but assigns Ziba and all his family to serve him, and elevates him to eat at the King’s table every day. John applies that to believers today who don’t know (or believe) their true identity: “Do you see yourself as a dead dog? Do you live in your own emotional Lo-debar (the wilderness where Mephibosheth lived)? Did you grow up without a dad or a mom? You might not have …heard those endearing words, ‘I love you. I am proud of you.’ The truth is, you have always had a Father that loves and adores you. His name is God, and He sent His Son, Jesus, to earth for the greatest hostage rescue mission ever executed.”
THE JOURNEY TO HEALING
When John met his co-author, Peggy Corvin, he also met his future “freedom counselor.” Peggy has helped him work through the hurts remaining in his heart through a variety of therapy methods. The issues they’ve processed, and he says most of us need to as well are:
• Beliefs. “Beliefs are the content of our hearts and have dominion over our thoughts,” John says. “An ungodly belief will appear to be true based on the facts of a person’s experience, yet is absolutely false based on God’s Word.”
• Unforgiveness and bitterness. They act as a poison to us if not rooted out and healed, John believes.
• Anger. “Was Jesus angry? Absolutely. Did he react in rage? No. He acted to make sure His point was made, and He did it appropriately.”
• Spiritual warfare. John says we need to be aware of how our enemy, the devil, works and be prepared with tactics to fend of his attacks. Some of methods they’ve used are the breaking of strongholds, practicing forgiveness, finding freedom from fears, and overcoming family hurts and sins.
Adonis Lattimore is a distinguished wrestler! Virginia’s Class Six-A, 106 pound State Champ! A distinction, from not only the success he had on high school mats across Virginia, but achieving it with what he doesn’t have! Adonis was born without a right leg, a full left leg, and four digits on his right hand. Adonis and his parents, Jerrold and Demetra, have long known how to wrestle - from struggle – since embracing the unexpected at Adonis’ birth in 2004.
Demetra Lattimore: “We were not aware of his condition until he was actually delivered. The umbilical cord wrapped around a limb and the limb wasn’t able to develop. You could tell that something was wrong.”
Jerrold Lattimore: “It was multiple emotions, I mean, it was the excitement of life but then it was also the grief of lost limbs."
Demetra Lattimore: “I was sitting there, and a nurse said, ‘Things happen for a reason and I was chosen to be his parent!'"
Jerrold Lattimore: “The first question I think people always want to ask is: ‘what happened and then, why?’ I had to accept the fact that there wasn’t going to be a ‘why’ – and this is what God has given us. And so, we accept that. God makes no mistakes!”
Question: “Adonis, what is the greatest challenge?”
Adonis Lattimore: “There are some things I want to do myself but often times I can’t do them. I don’t want to rely on other people, become a burden to them. So, that’s always been my biggest weakness but it’s also strength, because I’m not totally defenseless! I can’t worry about what I don’t have. I just need to focus on what I do have. One of the seven deadly sins is envy, the desire to want something that someone else has. I want to figure out a way to do it myself and make it my own.”
Demetra Lattimore: “It’s been hard as far as raising someone with a uniqueness like him. We have three other kids, navigating through how to do things differently then what people take for granted. The little teeny things. You know, the door width, the entry on the sidewalk that’s safe. Let him know that even though its not the traditional way that things are done – that you can still do it!”
Question: “You have a lower sight line, what do you see that some of us may never see?
Adonis Lattimore: “Just like the foundation of everything. I see lower to the ground than most people so I notice how things are structured, how things are built up and what’s keeping them up, that people take for granted that I tend to notice a lot more.”
Question: “How does the likeness of God look different when you look at your son?”
Demetra Lattimore: “We’re made into the image of God. When I look at Adonis, everybody has something unique people are drawn to. Embrace it! Ask God to show you the way to deal with it. And give you those tools to carry on! No matter how different we are, we all are loved.”
Question: “You elected the name, Adonis. Why?”
Jerrold Lattimore: “The meaning of Adonis’ name is ‘God’s Blessing.’ Comes from an African proverb. We embraced the name! He’s embodied that I would say. I’ve always felt each person has their own identity, that we wanted him to be who he was and what God has in store for him.”
Question: “What was it about the sport of wrestling?”
Jerrold Lattimore: “I competed in sports all throughout my childhood and I just wanted him to know what it felt like to be able to compete. To allow his abilities to make the determination of how well he did or didn’t do. When he decided that was something he wanted, I just wanted to be there, just make sure that if he loves it, then it’s a love that I have.”
Question: “To become a wrestler, where did that come from?”
Adonis Lattimore: “That ability to win on my own instead of with other team sports where I’m sort of relying on teammates just as well!”
Question: “Because of your unique composition, what gives you an advantage?”
Adonis Lattimore: “The mental fortitude! Since I’ve been tested in life a lot more than the average person would be just in daily life, then, when I come to the mat there’s not much that can rattle me.”
Question: “Virginia State Wrestling Champion. That was a goal for a while?”
Adonis Lattimore: “Ah, just a childhood dream. One of the higher accomplishments you could do in wrestling. The name sort of sounded appealing to me and that’s want I wanted to do and as I grew older, to fulfill that dream sort of became stronger.”
Question: “Putting together faith and determination?”
Adonis Lattimore: “You need to have a strong faith even when you can’t see something coming. And to tie that to your determination is just as an important aspect as having that faith. There was a point in wrestling where I felt like giving up and the pressure to fulfill my goal had gotten too much for me to handle. I saw God working. I had faith that He was going to help me revive my dream!”
Question: “In the title match, what for you was the turning point?”
Adonis Lattimore: “There was about a minute left. A thought popped in my head that, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ Just turned off my brain and then I started wrestling freely. It was almost like I was being guided. But I eventually scored the final points to win the match.”
Question: “That Championship win, what was going through your mind in that moment?”
Jerrold Lattimore: “Just a rush of excitement and just joy! That’s something he said he wanted to do, the journey that come to fruition. (Emotional pause) Priceless! Him to have his moment. To be recognized! After the match, when they take the podium and they’re getting their medals and man, it’s the moment that goes back to when he was born, that grief, but also that happiness. ”
Question: “Lets go back to that picture, of you embracing Adonis. You’re carrying his full weight. How does love shoulder more than we realize we can carry?”
Jerrold Lattimore: “It symbolizes what God does for us on a day in and day out basis. The weight that God has carried. That He carries for us! He’s always there. He’s always got us. I don’t know what I would do or what I would be if it wasn’t for what God continuously does in my life.”
Question: “Out comes dad, carrying your full weight. How does love shoulder more?”
Adonis Lattimore: “I think love carries with it, doubt, sadness, fears, anxiety. It carries both the positive and the negative things with it. And that’s what makes unconditional love, loving you no matter what and always pulling you back up. Jesus’ love, even when it seems something random like happens, even my birth can sort of be like that. Sometimes the greatest blessing can be born when you’re at your lowest moment.”
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