I was blessed to discover my God-given writing talent at an early age. I wrote my first full-length novel before I was 16. It was a crime novel, steeped in gang violence, a subject that fascinated me as a boy.
God would later use my writing talents to create skits and productions for children’s ministry. Still, I preferred writing about crime. God brought my passions for Him and crime fiction together the day He brought a 12-time felon by the name of Roger Munchian into my life.
My wife and I participated in the same small-group Bible study that Roger was in. A week rarely went by that Roger did not share some part of his testimony as a former drug lord, living a fast and reckless life.
I was inspired by how God had used a speeding car, a sharp highway curve, and the resulting collision with a barrier wall to get Roger’s attention. It was the kind of swashbuckling intrigue that I loved to write about. Yet, with all the hundreds of thousands of thuggish words I had penned, Roger’s life story was one that I could not make up. (You can read Roger’s story on page 22.)
When our paths crossed, Roger was just beginning his prison ministry, mentoring a few inmates a week at the Maricopa County jails. But then he shared his testimony in a prison magazine, and hundreds of requests for mentorship poured in. During one group meeting, Roger shared his vision of having his story in a book. He could only imagine that an in-depth account would reach even more lives.
The Holy Spirit nudged me to offer my writing services. Roger’s was a powerful testimony that could reach thousands for God’s kingdom. Surprisingly, he did not already have a writer on the project. One woman had started writing his story but had abandoned the project when her marriage came under attack by the enemy. Roger gave me a copy of the unfinished manuscript and asked me to let him know if it was something I’d want to take on.
Unfortunately, it was a turbulent season for my business. The 2009 financial meltdown was threatening to wipe out my executive search business. The pressure was so relentless and dizzying, my wife and I decided to take a vacation to recoup.
I had tucked that half-written manuscript into my suitcase. Finally able to breathe, I found a quiet spot under a palm tree on the beach and pulled the document from its tattered envelope. As I read, it was as if the Holy Spirit whacked me with His holy two-by-four—giving me a powerful vision of what He wanted me to do.
Despite the uncertainties of life facing me—my failing business, the plummeting value of our homes, and the risk of an upside-down investment property, I felt a rush of peace. And I heard God say, “I’ve blessed your family and business all these years. This book is what I want you to do now. Trust Me; I will provide.” My wife, sadly, did not receive the same vision.
I took on the project, unaware that as I was writing Roger’s story, my own story would become a testimony too. As soon as I stepped out in obedience, Satan waged war on my family, buffeting us with several storms at once. We lost both our homes, and my business flat-lined.
But I pressed on, writing Roger’s story. I even became a badged clergy volunteer for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office in Arizona. I had seen the incredible impact Roger’s prison ministry was having, and I wanted to be part of it. God used the inmates there to challenge me in my faith.
Until that point, I had been in children’s ministry. Ministering in jail was uncharted waters, and I quickly discovered the truth of Hebrews 5:12–14. It says, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV).
God revealed to me that, even after 15 years of ministry, I was still drinking the milk of God’s Word like an infant in Christ. He convicted me that if I wanted to reach His children in dark places like the prison system, I needed the solid food of God’s Word. I needed to push myself to know Him and His Word more deeply. So I did.
And then, the storm intensified. My wife decided to leave our marriage. Having already lost our home, everything else I owned, except for what I could fit in a small storage unit and in the back of my pickup, got loaded into a donation truck. I went from owning 5,000 square feet of living space with a complete family to living in a 700-square-foot apartment as a single father with joint custody.
I cracked. Instead of trusting God, I chose to cower down. Instead of taking strength from the Lord, I found comfort in alcohol and a foolhardy lifestyle that I thought I could keep secret.
On the outside, I was a devoted father, a loyal employee, and a dedicated minister. Inside, I was crushed and dying and using alcohol to self-medicate. I caroused around in unhealthy, reckless relationships that I thought would fix my shattered heart and fill the excruciating void that divorce had carved deep into my soul.
I remember leaving the barstool one evening to attend a prison meeting with Roger’s ministry, Rescued Not Arrested. I stuffed my mouth full of breath mints and peppermint candies, thinking I could mask the smell of booze. I was fooling only myself. The next day, Roger called me out on my behavior. I thought he would be furious; instead, he simply said, “I love you, brother, and I’m worried about you.”
I told Roger that I needed to step down from my place in his ministry, but I also told him that I didn’t want to quit writing his story. Something deep inside me—far below the deadness and decay—did not want to give up on the book. I simply could not bear the thought of another author pulling my tattered and unfinished manuscript out of a dusty envelope.
Finishing this book, however, would take an act of God. Between the hangovers and self-pity of the last several months, I’d typed only a few sentences. I had no energy to write this book, nor did I feel worthy. I’d lost my passion for writing. But neither God nor Roger had given up on me.
Peeling open my hungover eyes one morning, I turned on the television. I found Joyce Meyers sharing a message on the pool of Bethesda in John 5. Jesus had looked at the invalid at the pool and told him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” I felt the Holy Spirit say to me: “Get up! You’re acting like this thing has crippled you. Now get up—pick up your troubles and get to work!”
I picked up my mat, but the toxic grip of alcohol did not let me get very far. I eventually showed up at Roger’s home, ready to tell him that I was calling it quits. Before I could get the words out, however, he opened his Bible to Acts 22 and read verses 6–10 to me. This is Paul’s account of his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. From his place in the dirt, Paul asked Jesus, “What shall I do?” Jesus simply answered, “Get up.”
Once again, I sensed the Lord telling me, “Get up, Joe!”
This time I got up and, with God’s help, I’ve stayed up. I told Roger that I wanted to return to prison ministry. I was shocked to learn he’d never canceled my badge. He had faith in me, even though I had given up on myself.
With newfound hope, I forced myself to get up early to write. Each morning, between the insane hours of 4:30 and 6:00 a.m., I kept an appointment with God. I sat before my keyboard, revitalized only by the smell of coffee and a shot of God’s Word. I never knew what I was going to write, but the Holy Spirit never failed to take over the keyboard. Morning after morning, God filled the screen with words of His choosing, not mine.
After several incredible months of feeling God’s workmanship coursing through my fingertips, I wrote the two most cherished words any author can pen: The End. The book was finished.
Since then, God has restored much in my life; every day has been a new day of victory in Jesus Christ. He has renewed my career and revived my desire to write. He’s helped me purchase a home, despite bankruptcy. More importantly, I no longer crave alcohol or reckless relationships.
God led me from a dark and lonely road and directed me to His plans that are far better than anything I could have imagined. He rescued me, and I am grateful.
Perhaps today, your road seems dark and lonely. Like me, you may have lost much. I want to encourage you that life isn’t over. God is telling you too: Get up! This thing has not crippled you. Take hold of God’s hand and walk.
But as we move forward—both you and I—let’s remember to stay grateful, to seek His kingdom first, and to keep our feet firmly set on the path He has ordained for us. As we do, we can be assured that God will do amazing things, both in and through us.