Episode #23 From Prisoner to Pastor. Dave Emigh

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From Today's Episode

Dave Emigh, the Pastor of Family and Community, humbly shares his powerful journey of redemption. You’ll hear how a decision to drink and drive 25 years ago tragically resulted in the deaths of three young adults. And then how God powerfully walked with Dave through a very public trial, a felony conviction, through time in prison, to then serving as a pastor. You’re going to be blown away by how God’s love and grace transformed lives, brought beauty out of the ashes of this story, and even went so far as to redeem the date that Dave went to prison.

Key Takeaways:

My prayer today is that through Dave’s story, we would discover three key gospel truths: 1) Our choices do not put us beyond the reach of God’s love.  2) Our past does not disqualify us from ministry. 3) Our traumas do not stand in the way of God’s purposes being fulfilled in our lives.

Dave’s Dad: “Dave, I tried to fix everything. I tried to control everything. I did everything I could to protect you, but I forgot that you were God’s first. The moment I released you to Him, everything changed. It became more peaceful.”

Dave after time in prison: “We all have an opportunity as ambassadors of the gospel to be Hope Dealers. That was a really impactful moment for me.  I think I’ll carry that with me all the days of my life”

Today's Verses
  • Psalm 119:130
Additional Resources

From Prisoner to Pastor. Dave Emigh

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Unshakable Hope Podcast, where real life intersects redeeming love. I’m Kelly Hall, and this is where we wrestle through faith questions, such as, How do I trust God’s heart when His ways and delays are breaking mine? How can I believe God is good when life doesn’t seem good? My prayer is that God would renew our hope in these conversations and that each of us would experience the very real power of His presence and love.

Hey, friends. I am so glad you’ve chosen to join me today for what I feel will be a really important podcast. You’re going to hear a redemption story you won’t soon forget. My guest is Dave Emigh. He is the Pastor of Family and Community at Red Mountain Community Church where we attend.

Dave is deeply passionate about seeing the restorative power of the gospel transform the lives of others. Today, you’re going to hear Dave humbly and gratefully walk us through his personal [00:01:00] story of redemption. You’ll hear how a decision to drink and drive 25 years ago tragically resulted in the deaths of three young adults. And then how God powerfully walked with Dave from a felony conviction, to time in prison, to then serving as a pastor.

You’re going to be blown away by how God brought beauty out of the ashes of this story and even went so far as to redeem the date that Dave went to prison.

There is something I sense also that the Lord wants me to share with you. On the day I was scheduled to begin editing this podcast, I was praying and I just sensed the presence of the Lord powerfully fill my heart. And the only way I can describe it, is it felt like rivers of compassion were flowing through me for the families and friends of those who lost loved ones the day of this accident.

I grieved the things that these families would never experience. And the Lord led me to pray for fresh outpourings [00:02:00] of comfort and that in new ways, they would see God’s beauty and love in their own stories. I just don’t want anything we say today to diminish or dismiss the profound losses these families have experienced.

My prayer today is that through Dave’s story, we would discover three gospel truths. First, our choices do not put us beyond the reach of God’s love. Second, our past does not disqualify us from ministry. And third, our traumas do not stand in the way of God’s purposes being fulfilled in our lives.

So let’s dive in.

Dave, welcome to the podcast. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?​

Dave: Sure. Yeah. I am happily married to my bride, Christina for over 17 years now, which is amazing to even think about that.

She is such a gift from the Lord and we have 4 amazing [00:03:00] kids yeah, in our family, we’re a blended family. So we’ve got two older and two younger, although they’re all getting older, which is crazy. We just had a wedding and we have another one in two weeks. And so that’s pretty exciting. But Josh is our oldest and then Mandy and then Ethan and Bella.

And we got boy, girl, boy, girl. And they’re just such a tremendous gift to us. And it’s such a blessing that they are following the Lord. And so are the two older spouses. And so we just feel very blessed that the Lord has provided that space for us.

Blended families can be very complex to say the least. And yet the Lord continues to work in mighty ways through us, growing all of us closer to him and one another. And so that’s been amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to be a pastor here in Arizona for, at Red Mountain Community Church for about almost seven years now.

It’s been amazing how the Lord brought us out of the cold tundra of Chicagoland. My wife was tired of being cold. And we started [00:04:00] asking the Lord to provide another opportunity for us. And he did, which was amazing. And we do miss the seasons, but we don’t like. We don’t miss the cold. That’s been a blessing as well. And it was amazing how quickly the Lord provided just an amazing church family for us here.

Christina and I both being from the Chicagoland area and most of our family being there. It was a big move to leave the church that I grew up in to come here. And so we weren’t sure how that would all work out, and yet the Lord provided in amazing ways. And really this feels like home now, which is just incredible.

And I know you had asked one of the questions about what’s a passage that’s been speaking to you lately. Our head teaching pastor Kyle had brought up a passage from Psalm 119, verse 130. And it’s just been a great passage to think about and process through.

And it reads: the unfolding of your words gives light. It imparts understanding to the simple. And I think it’s just a powerful [00:05:00] reminder to us of how engaging with God’s word is a process and it’s almost like opening up a gift a little bit more time we spend in it, the more it impacts our lives and the more we actually hear the voice of God and it brings light in the ministry that I’m in or get to be part of.

I deal with a lot of darkness and messy things. And it’s just a great reminder that God is the one transforming and his word is powerful and brings light into dark places. And it also reminds us that it gives us understanding even to simple minded people like myself. That’s encouraging.

Kelly: Absolutely. I love Psalm 119. Thanks for sharing from there. I can relate to Christina a hundred percent. We’ve loved living in Arizona, but we were usually stationed over our Air Force career in very cold, snowy places. We’ve been enjoying the warmer weather here. Not 110 so much, but.

Dave: Yeah, over 106 it’s toasty but it is nice to be able to wear [00:06:00] flip flops and grill in December. Our friends back home get a little jealous about that.

Kelly: Dave, I love your story. The very first time I heard your story, I was moved to tears. And for me, and my heart, it just highlighted the redemptive heart of God in such a powerful way that I was really excited to have you come on

I wanted to ask you if you could just step back in time before you had the accident, before the unthinkable happened. What was your family life like? And I guess if you wouldn’t mind just including how you came to know Jesus.

Dave: yeah. To be honest I pretty much had from a worldly perspective. What people would call is a good, if not great, perfect life. I grew up in a Christian home. Everybody I knew was Christian for the most part. I had friends in school especially high school and college that weren’t necessarily believers, but I just grew up in a. a Christian saturated, faith saturated environment so at the time [00:07:00] my undeveloped teenage brain, I think, really took that for granted because I didn’t really experience a whole lot of pain or suffering.

It just was that all my needs were met and life was simple and good. And that’s the environment before the accident. I had wonderful people encouraging me, supporting me. I’ve got amazing mom and dad and I’ve got a younger sister and we didn’t even fight as kids, which is weird.

Sometimes we use the word blessed but yeah, I felt very blessed and fortunate to grow up in the home and the environment that I grew up in.

Kelly: So you came to know Jesus at a young age it sounds like.

Dave: yeah, I think my mom, I don’t remember this moment, but I think she told me that I came to know Jesus in our dining room when I was like five. I was in every, we pretty much grew up in the church. Even my grandparents and stuff, we were going to VBS in their hometowns and our hometown, my parents had the Junior high and high school group in our house even before I was [00:08:00] that age. So I always had Christians and Christian mentors around me in some way, shape or form. Every Sunday we’d be going to somebody’s house. The kids would be playing, the parents would be hanging out.

Kelly: Yeah, it sounds like it was really a gift. It doesn’t sound at all like you grew up in a legalistic kind of environment. It sounds like knowing the grace of Jesus in a big way.

Dave: Yeah. The love of Jesus was on display really every, every person that I interacted with and it was really neat just to be part of a church that continued to grow. And you just just got to see what God was doing in and through that.

And yeah, I think my Faith formalized more as I got older in probably more so when I did some mission trips or just some high school youth group type things, I think it became more rooted.

But then at that same time I was more rebellious. So I was double minded in that season of high school and college where. I lived in the world a little bit too [00:09:00] much and I never lost my faith, but it was more of a, “Jesus, I’ll take the wheel” which was a terrible idea.. I never questioned my faith. I never didn’t trust in Jesus. It was more of, I just wasn’t walking with Him.. Which I look back on now and see how those little things probably potentially led to being, part of the accident or the choice I made that night.

Kelly: Yeah, so why don’t you take us to that day then and explain what happened.

Dave: Yeah oh, man, close to over 20 years ago. I was a junior in college. And I was home from summer break and one of my closest friends from church, Amy, had invited me to go down to a wedding with her in St. Louis. And we thought this was, would be a great time to reconnect and because we’re going to different universities now, and we went down a Friday night after work. The Wedding was early Saturday morning and we got down into St. Louis and we had never been there before. And we were both 21 at the time. And unfortunately at that time [00:10:00] both Amy and I enjoyed drinking as a way to have fun. And so we went down to the area in St. Louis where there were lots of bars and nightlife and stuff like that. And just engaged in that type of entertainment. And it was about halfway through the evening where I thought to myself, you know what, this is way before Uber and stuff, which will help make sense of probably why I made the decision I did.

But we parked in an area where you couldn’t leave your car overnight. And so I was thinking to myself we’re going to have to drive Amy’s car back to the hotel or it’s going to get towed. And then if it gets towed, we’re going to miss the wedding, which is the whole reason we’re down here. So I started trying to make rational judgments after I had already had a few drinks.

And that’s the danger, right? Is you should never, ever try to make judgments after you’ve been drinking especially when it comes to driving. And yet, unfortunately in our culture. It’s legal to drink and drive as long as you’re at 0.08 and you don’t hurt anybody which is dangerous.

I can talk, that could be a whole nother podcast on [00:11:00] that and yet but because it’s not zero tolerance, I started making judgments and because of those judgments I ended up making a selfish judgment, which was to drink and drive that night. I thought I was okay.

I thought I was actually protecting my friend but I ended up waking up in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the side rails with a sheriff sitting next to me. And his first words were, son, you’ve just killed three people. That became my reality. I went from that semi-charmed perfect Christian kind of like life to all of a sudden looking at three counts of involuntary vehicular manslaughter. Looking at potentially spending the next 21 years of my life in prison because I tried to make a judgment after drinking one night and deciding to get in the car.

And yeah, needless to say, it brought a tsunami into the lives of the four families involved. My good friend Amy died from the crash. And two high school kids, Nick and Erica from St. Louis, who I never had the pleasure to know all died. And I was the sole [00:12:00] survivor from the accident. But again, it just literally brought a tsunami into four families lives. And nobody knew what to do. It was just so devastating.

Kelly: I can imagine that when you first heard the news, you couldn’t even process it. I would imagine at first you’re just completely numb and you’re trying to take it in. And where are your parents at this time? And you’re finding out that one of your very close friends died. It’s just a horrendous moment. I don’t think anybody could really process that.

So maybe you could just take us through how that day unfolded as you started becoming aware of what really happened and the reality of it sunk in and your parents entered the scene.

Dave: Yeah, looking back on it, I don’t know how any 21 year old could process such an event.

Yeah. I think really the first year was pretty much a fog because it’s not like TV where These things get handled by the next commercial it’s a long process, [00:13:00] it’s a long, arduous, scary so you’re processing your own emotions, I’m, dealing with suicidal ideations, I don’t want to be alive.

I don’t think it’s fair that I live like, how could, how can I be responsible for something like this? How can God forgive me for taking the lives of other people? And then you’re dealing with the court system and you’ve got a bunch of strangers who are deciding what your future holds and they don’t care about you or your future.

And so that’s a weird system to get involved in. And then there’s all of these, people making judgments and you’re under a microscope. Everybody’s deciding who you are. Your identity is just shattered into a million pieces and everybody’s trying to decide who, who and what you are and you’re trying to defend yourself.

And it’s just, it’s madness. Honestly. And I think I really was just numb. Really for the first year it was amazing looking back on it. The judge, because he knew it was going to take so long[00:14:00] sent me back to college to finish my degree. I was in an elementary education major which was really weird, but you had a gift because it kept me focused on something else for that year. I think if I just would have been home I don’t know if I’d be alive today. I think the emotions and everything, just the lies of the enemy would have been, I think probably would have overtaken me. I was very fortunate to get hooked up with an amazing biblical counselor right away.

Again, we had this amazing Christian family and support from our church, even though it did cause a little bit of a riff in our church because, people didn’t know how do we support Amy’s family and Dave’s family? And how do we do that? And there isn’t a book and nobody knows how to do it.

So everybody does it. Okay. but also does like really damaging things. So that was fascinating. And then the impact of the other families and they’re going through their own grief and they’re angry some days and then they’re understanding other days. And, we’d get, I’d [00:15:00] get death threats in the middle of the night.

People would call me and, it was just. When I’d have bodyguards, when I’d go down to court appearances, it was just, it was a circus of just madness. I was on TV, and then everybody’s making up their own opinions about what really happened, and it was a disaster, and then the court system you just have to wait until a trial or a judge decides what to do, and everybody’s in limbo, and then there’s the whole other case of with insurance companies about them wanting to give money and how they, I got put in a situation where, they tried to make me look like this monster so the families could get paid out through insurance. And that was, that’s a whole nother story. That was a disaster.

But yeah, you get thrown into this life that you’d never think you’d ever experienced in a million years. And it’s like something you watch on TV, but you’re like, man, I hope and pray that never happens. And yet it just became my [00:16:00] family’s reality overnight. Even the first night I spent when I got out of the hospital in prison, I wasn’t even in my own clothes.

I’m in a cell waiting to be released to go home on bail. I don’t even have my own clothes on and all that’s there is two Bibles. I’d literally taken everything that I had been given and just blew it up. And but it was really in that moment, where I thought about all those Sunday school teachers and all the people that have been praying for me and sharing the gospel with me.

And just, I just found myself just in a very vulnerable spot of Lord, if all of these things that I’ve been taught and believed all my life are really true, you’re going to have to carry me for a long time because I can’t do this. And so it was just an amazing moment of the Lord’s peace amidst a horrific situation of darkness where he just began to just speak to me and said, I’ll carry you until you can walk and then I’ll walk with you.

And it was a really an [00:17:00] amazing journey of 11 years being in the judicial system, spending some time in prison and that has its own slew of stories of God engaging in just the madness of humanity and sinful responses to each other. And yeah, you probably have more questions. I could keep going.

Kelly: I do, but I wanted to just step in for a moment. First of all, the grace of God that gave you a judge who sent you back to school. Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. I’ve never even heard of something like that happening and I’m grateful for you. You can see God’s hand on you in that.

But the thing that stood out to me as well is you mentioned the division, how people didn’t know how to walk through it when they knew you and they knew Amy. And I’ve seen that all the time too, even with divorces. We’re friends with him, we’re friends with her and how do you walk through something like that and be loving to both parties? My husband and I have friends who went through divorce, [00:18:00] but we refused to choose sides. We said, we’re going to love you and we’re going to continue to be friends to both of you. We’re not going to choose sides. We’re not going to talk bad about anybody. We’re just going to love you as you are in this heartache. And so I can just imagine the fallout that happened in that space

Dave: yeah, it was pretty intense. I think it was probably harder. My family tried to keep me pretty insulated as much as they could. And yet I think they took a lot of hits for me, which I’m eternally grateful for. And yet again, everybody was just trying to figure it out and it’s hard because you just don’t know what to do, but kudos to you guys for just trying your best to offer grace and love to everybody and saying, Hey, we’re not going to make this event, the thing, right? And that’s what we do.

A lot of times is we choose to take an event and make it like the thing or someone’s identity. And it’s no, it’s an event that causes, can cause great pain or great [00:19:00] blessing, depending on the situation. But especially when it causes pain, the enemy can really have us focus on the wrong stuff and we can actually do a lot more damage and not even realize it. So it’s just really unfortunate.

Kelly: And then y’all are dealing with the actual death of loved ones. And so that’s just a whole different story, but you mentioned your parents and I’d really like to just step into that conversation. I’m sure your parents have talked to you later about what it was like for them, what they held on to maybe what scriptures anchored them to God’s heart of love. Can you describe any of that?

Dave: Yeah, it was really amazing. I know my parents really they just leaned heavily on, on God and the church because they didn’t know what else to do. It was like, where else do we go? There isn’t a fixing of this. I know I talked to my dad even years later actually recently we were talking about it because, I just wanted to understand how did he, handle it from from a father’s point of view.

And he was just like, [00:20:00] Dave, I tried to fix everything. I tried to control anything. I did everything I could to protect you, but I forgot that you were God’s first. And he said the moment I released you to him, he said, everything changed. It became more peaceful. And then it was like, no, it’s better that God has them. And so that was an amazing revelation for me to hear, decades later from my dad as I parent and as I see our children go through different kinds of struggles and because that’s what we do as parents.

We want to protect them. Because they’re so precious to us. And and yet sometimes we just forget that they’re God’s first and and he’s sovereign over all things. And the best place for them to be is in his hands. And God wants us to trust them with him. And the amazing thing too, I think, because my parents chose to do that and their faith was on display was pretty amazing because it just showed other people what it meant to walk with God when things [00:21:00] weren’t fancy and good.

And so that was pretty incredible to hear the impact that they had or their faith had on other people. Especially at my mom’s funeral, which was weird to see people that came and have them speak about how they came to know the Lord just by watching the way my mom processed pain and struggle and rejection and all the complexities of that. So it was pretty powerful.

Kelly: You’re saying that at your mom’s funeral, you heard stories of how people came to know Jesus by watching how she walked through this.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Which was incredible. There was a guy that I knew that was wild and was living currently in California and he flew all the way from California and I didn’t even know he was a believer because the way I knew him when he was younger, he was a bit of a hot mess like many of us are, right? There’s no judgment there, but just to set a context, But my home [00:22:00] was always a place where it just was open. Myparents never even locked their door. And so if someone rang that doorbell, it was like some strangers there. So it was always a place for people to come and just be loved and seen.

And my mom was always…..I was doing good till then…. She just was a wonderful example of the gospel of loving people like Jesus. And yeah, that was, it was amazing to see that impact even after she was gone. Was really encouraging, incredible the legacy that he’s left through us amidst trials and pain. And , even her, seven plus year battle with cancer and how many people she brought to the Lord through that suffering. So yeah, pretty incredible.

Kelly: That’s just amazing. Really beautiful. We hear that all the time that it matters how we walk through something. Honestly, there have been times in our life when I would think. Is there a way I can run away from home? No, I don’t think there [00:23:00] is. And I would try to search my mind for a way out and God would just impress upon my heart. He really just said to me, the way you live right now matters. And I had a sense, I had a sense of what you’re describing, “that there are people watching you and you have no idea who they are. The way you live right now matters. Just trust me.”

Dave: And I think it’s fair to express those feelings. We all have them. And yet it’s amazing how gracious our Lord is to care for us. Even in, I don’t like this. There’s gotta be another way. And yet, it’s amazing how often God brings us through things. It seems like that’s his plan because there’s so much transformation and strengthening and connection with him that we can’t learn any other way. And it’s good, but it’s hard.

Kelly: just want to mention this before we move on to the next part is what your dad said about surrendering you into God’s hands. That was so [00:24:00] powerful. That’s something we all need to remember every single day. As parents and no matter what we’re dealing with that everybody we love is safest in God’s hands and we can’t control it. We can’t control them.

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it was it was a good reminder. We always need to be reminded of who the savior is and actually where the strength comes from.

Kelly: Absolutely. So I wonder if you can take us back into your story. I don’t know how much you want to share, but just something about the trial, the sentencing and if you could include the time frame, I just think it would be good to get a handle on how much time was passing

Dave: yeah. Again the legal system is a fascinating again, that could be another podcast in and of itself. But the reality of it is nothing happens fast. It’s very slow slow moving. And so when it came time, it took about a year. I had two options. I could have a trial or I could have the judge pronounce a sentence for me. And [00:25:00] so the, my lawyers put that before me and what they said was we could go to trial, we’re not so sure how this is going to turn out, but it’s going to be very messy. We’re going to have to tackle, Amy, Nick and Erica and the choices they made that night and stack up all this stuff about their character.

And I was like no. That’s absolutely ridiculous. We’re not doing that. So I said, these families are already hurting too much. I said, I was responsible. So that, that doesn’t make sense to me. What’s the other option? They said, or we can just go before the judge and you plead, not guilty. And then the judge decides what your punishment is.

And I said let’s just do that. And they were like, okay. And we made that decision or I made that decision and then we went to court soon after that. I don’t remember the exact time frame, but it was fairly soon, probably months. And then I stood before the judge and pled not guilty.

And that was an interesting day. Again, they had to. All the TV cameras were there and they had to sneak me in like a back way. It was on [00:26:00] like the top news thing. It was really absolutely ridiculous. Totally unnecessary for the situation. And it just heightened everybody’s emotions and created chaos where chaos didn’t need to be heightened. And so we’re in there.

And what the judge did is he allowed each family to speak their mind about what they thought should happen to me. I’ll never forget Amy’s grandma got up and spoke on behalf of her family and just said, you know what, judge. All these kids made horrific decisions that night. Dave is a good kid and he’s always been a good kid and he’s gonna do wonderful things. Throwing him in a box for the next 20 years isn’t gonna, isn’t gonna bring anybody back to life or fix this. And and then the other families. Some of them were pretty upset emotionally, which is totally understandable and wanted me to do the maximum time.

Some had mixed emotions. I don’t know if this is like sending him to jail for a long time is going to fix anything or make it [00:27:00] better. Is there something we can do in between that? Or what are our options? A lot of it’s just: You’re taking people that are filled with grief, and you’ve heightened it and then you’re trying to ask them to make a logical decision when the only choice they want is to have their kids back, which isn’t an option.

So it’s no matter what you do, there’s no justice. So it’s just, it’s a weird spot and yet you have to do something. And then it came time for me to talk and I just. Got up there. I don’t totally remember everything I said. I think probably just because either the Holy Spirit was speaking through me or I just was so emotionally just paralyzed by the moment.

But I just said, this is my fault. I would do anything to bring Amy, Nick or Erica back if I could, but we all know that’s not possible. Whatever you guys decide to do whatever judgment is given to me, then that’s what we do. And I’m sorry, I can never say that enough. It’ll never be enough. And I’m just really at your [00:28:00] mercy.

And the judge took some time and had some thoughts. And then he said, all right I think this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to put Dave on probation for five years and the courtroom went ballistic because I didn’t even know that was an option because I thought I was going to jail at least for, at least seven years or more cause especially with the charges that were against me.

The bailiffs and stuff had to control people. It was like right out of the movie. It was a bit of a circus for a minute. And then he went and started. Explaining what my probation would be. And it was really set up for me to fail in all of these restrictions I have and stuff. It was a gift and yet it was a gift with a lot of conditions that really were not meant for me to do well.

And if I broke any of those rules over the five years, then I’d go to prison for quite some time. That’s what happened. And then, so then I went home and started my probation and , that was my full time job. I had all these restrictions and all these hoops.

And one of the [00:29:00] major things that the judge wanted me to do was speak to people about the dangers of drinking and driving. And I was terrified of public speaking. And so the Lord really did a work in that. And I didn’t know who to speak for. You just can’t walk into a high school and be like, Hey, I’ve got the story. Can I tell it?

You have to go through organizations and it’s a whole thing. But fortunately, my sister. I had a good friend who had been in a drunk driving crash where she had gotten hurt real bad and she was speaking for an organization. And so she said, Hey, Dave, why don’t you come speak for with us?

And so the Lord used that in powerful ways over the next 11 years where there’s a blessing side of it and a detriment side of it. Psychologically, what it was doing to me was very toxic. My counselors tried to get them to stop it because it was destroying me from the inside because I basically was saying, don’t be this guy. And I wasn’t able to share my faith a lot. So it was, and even all my speech just were canned because they wanted me to come across as like this evil person. And so that was fascinating [00:30:00] to, to navigate all of that, those complexities and yet I was given a gracious gift where I didn’t have to go to prison for 21 years.

And then about almost through my first five years of probation. It looked like everything was going great. I was checking all the boxes, I was doing all the things. I was still trying to be an elementary teacher because I thought that’s where God was leading me. And so I’d gotten a position in Colorado to become a teacher.

And so we were trying to get my probation ended like six months early. And we thought that would be a good idea. But it turned out to be a disaster. We went to court and it was supposed to be like a review hearing and the judge turned it into a trial, which is illegal. And that’s a whole nother thing.

But he was the judge and this is what happened. And so he told the families he was going to update them and all the things I was doing, and he never did that. And so they came in, they were frustrated with the judge. And instead of the judge taking onus, he put all the onus on me. And so he goes, Hey, what do you want to do with Dave?

You want to put him in jail for some time? Or what do you guys want to do? And my attorney. Hey you can’t do that.[00:31:00] That’s illegal. You have to recuse yourself from being the judge in this moment. And he refused to do that. And instead he listened to the families. They were really mad at him. They weren’t really mad at me. They were mad at him.

But he gave them this choice in their emotive moment. And they’re like let’s put them in jail for a little bit. And then we’ll start his probation all over again. And I was you have got to be kidding me. But at the same time, Kelly, it was this amazing moment where I’ve never felt so much peace where it was like, God was like, Dave, I have you. No matter what happens here, I’ve got you. And I felt like this amazing sense of peace. And so I just sat there. And so I was like, this is a disaster, but here we are like, I wouldn’t be here if I wouldn’t have made the choice. Okay. And I’ve been gifted all of this for the last five years. So let’s see what happens.

So the judge says, all right, we’re going to put Dave in jail for four months. And if he makes it through that, there was like the specific program then we’re going to start his probation all over again, if he violates it at any time in the next[00:32:00] five years, we’re going to make it harder, then we’ll send him to jail for 21 years straight without any early parole.

Kelly: I need to stop for a minute. That’s really overwhelming. I didn’t even know this part of your story. This judge comes in and he’s acting illegally, but he just has all this power. So he just continues what he’s doing. Even more stunning is you have this overwhelming peace from God where he’s saying, don’t freak out, Dave. I’ve got you. And I’ve got this.

Dave: Absolutely. It was a pretty wild ride. And yet I would say yes, the Lord was with me through all of it. My four months in prison, the opportunities he gave me to grow in my faith and to be a light in a dark place I can’t even imagine ever having that experience any other way.

And yet it was terrifying. And crazy at times. And yet again, the Lord continued to show up and I would say he was with me in every single step. And again, their stories from prison that would probably be other podcasts, but, and yet, and then he brought me through that. And even one of the, one of the neatest moments is when I was [00:33:00] leaving prison to go and start my probation.

There was a guy in my cell block who didn’t like me. I think he thought I was just I was the archetype of like people who get what he thought got away with things because they were of a certain skin color and from a certain economic demographic. And that just triggered him. So he wanted to make my life very miserable.

And then I had received all through prison. I had received hymn songs and devotionals from my pastor, one of my pastors and friends and family members and stuff. And one of the devotionals was on praying for your enemies. And I was like, Oh, you gotta be kidding me. Like here I am in prison where all of your choices are stripped from you and yet you still have choice which is a fascinating conundrum to be in.

So here I am. And I’m like, I believe this to be true, but I don’t want to do it. And the Lord’s do you trust me? And he’s like if you trust me, you’ll do it. And he’s asking, is your situation getting better? And I’m like, no. So I started praying for this guy and I was like, [00:34:00] Lord, I don’t even want to pray for him, but I know I’m supposed to, and I know because I trust you and so I’m, so I just started praying blessings over this guy.

And I kid you not, Kelly, the next day, not even 24 hours, the man totally transformed. All of a sudden, he starts telling me about his goals for life in the future. He shared, started just sharing like these intimate things with me about his life. And he was asking me advice and we actually became friends in a way.

You don’t really make friends in prison, but you have to have acquaintances cause it’s just safer. And so here I am, because I listened to submitted to the Lord’s truth. And did what he told me to do. He transformed this man’s heart and mind overnight. And so I just, we developed this relationship of, I just had opportunities to speak into his life and encourage him and give him hope for the future.

And then as I was leaving prison, I was standing next to him and I’ll never forget this moment. He looked down at me and it’s like a weird thing in this [00:35:00] prison that I was in because you stand in a line and you’re this big open cell block and you kind of cheer for the guys as they get to leave prison, which is just, it’s just a weird moment.

There’s no other way to describe it. He looks down at me and he guys in prison usually have nicknames. And one of my nicknames was shy town because I was from Chicago. And so he looked down at me and he goes, Hey, shy town. When you get out there, you have to make it and I was, what do you mean? I’m not coming back here. Like there, there’s no way I’m ever coming to this again. And he goes, no, seriously. And I said, what do you mean? And he goes, because if guys like you can’t make it, what hope do I have?

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that gift that the Lord gave me through his words of just how we have an opportunity as ambassadors of the gospel to be hope dealers. And I, that was a really impactful moment for me. I think I’ll carry that with me all the days of my life. Again, not as like this pressure of Oh, if I don’t make it, I’m letting down people, but more of just [00:36:00] we don’t realize what a gift we have in Jesus , and what an opportunity we have to share that hope with so many people who have no hope. And so that was a, one of many cool stories

Kelly: Yeah. That’s just beautiful. Hope dealers. I love that phrase. I would love to hear more prison stories and you’re right, we should probably save that for another podcast because I’m sure you saw God manifesting his presence and his love. All over the place.

Dave: Absolutely.

Kelly: I’m wondering though, if we could just conclude our time with you talking about how you became a pastor, because some people would say that your past, that being in prison, that having been responsible for killing people that would disqualify you from ministry, but that’s not our God. So tell me about that.

Dave: that’s probably multiple podcasts in itself to it’s funny how God continues to write his story through us as we trust and follow him. But I’ve done all kinds of [00:37:00] different things that the dream of becoming an elementary teacher got squashed just because of my felony charges and stuff.

It seemed like God was closing those doors. And so I’ve done a slew of different jobs. I was in a home building industry for a while. Cause that’s what my dad did. And that gave me a lot of flexibility to do the things that I needed to do. And God worked in amazing ways through that. And that’s actually where I met Christina.

And we were in that industry for a while until the housing market crashed. And then it was like, all right, what do we do now? It was amazing. And then it was like nothing. So we had to figure out what we were gonna do next. And as I was doing other types of jobs, I was always involved in our church and in children’s ministry ’cause I’ve always had a heart for kids and the director of Children’s Ministry, who was a dear friend of mine, kinda like a second mom to me, was like, Hey Dave, at some point in time I’m gonna retire. Like, why don’t you go back to school and then you can take over my job, get some ministry training.

And I was like Hey, I love kids and I love teaching [00:38:00] and I love the Bible. Oh, that sounds amazing. So I said I should do that. I started in that trajectory of okay, I’m going to become a kid’s pastor I’d done it forever. So I thought that was the pathway.

And then my wife met some friends online and they were starting this church in Ohio. And Christina’s saying maybe we’re supposed to go do that. And I’m like, babe I’m enrolled for seminary and become a children’s pastor. Why are we going to Ohio? The plan is here.

And you know what if I don’t go, my wife will be like, if we went to Ohio, we would know what we’re supposed to do. There was submission to the Lord, He was speaking through my wife in that moment. And I didn’t realize it. And so I was grateful that the Lord was like just go to Ohio. So we went to Ohio. The kids were little. We drove through like a snowstorm. It was in February. It was like, what are we doing?

So we go there. We meet these people. There was like this amazing. Connection. And then they’re having this whole launch thing and they’re encouraging each other about this church they’re planting. And they’re about to launch in six months. And we’re just like the [00:39:00] newbies. I don’t even know why we’re there. And then they’re like, Hey, Dave, it’d be amazing as if you share your testimony and I was like, what? What does this have to do with so I was like, okay, I’ve done it a million times.

I don’t know if you guys think this will bless your time together. It doesn’t really fit with church planting, but okay. So I get up and it was this, there’s like this overwhelming sense of the Holy spirit. He’s just started speaking through me differently. And took my story and just totally, it just, he just morphed it into this encouragement of what God was doing through this community and how he was building his church and I was just like, What? like, where did that come from? My story doesn’t even, it doesn’t do that. And but it’s not my story. It’s his story. So he can do he does with it what he wants because it’s good.

And so then I sit down after I’m done and I’m like that was weird. And then I felt like this voice say, “Okay. [00:40:00] I don’t want you to be a kid’s pastor. I’ve got something greater for you. You need to trust me. You’re going to be part of building something like this someday.”

And I was like, what? I’ve never even been part of a church plant before. Our church doesn’t even do that. Oh man , great. This is why we came to Ohio. So I can’t sleep all night. I don’t talk to Christina about it at all. We get in the car and we’re driving back to Chicago. And she’s, what’d you think? And I said, the Lord spoke to me last night and said that I’m not supposed to be a kid’s pastor and that I’m supposed to go to seminary. And he’s going to reveal to me what I’m supposed to do. And he wants me to be part of building something else. And she’s really? And I was like, yeah. And she said: He said the same thing to me last night and so then I call my pastor mentor. I explained everything to him He’s telling me I need to go to seminary, but I’m already enrolled here. I don’t know what to do.

What do you think I should do? And he just says, Dave, it’s about time you realize what God had planned for your life. And so I was like that’s three [00:41:00] people. I said, so what do I do? And so then he helped me get connected to there’s tons of seminaries in Chicagoland. And even that was amazing how God orchestrated all that because I could, I was working for a Christian publisher at the time, and I was able to take all my classes at night. And then I ended up doing ministry care ministry for the church that I grew up in, which was a ministry I’d never done before all through my mentor.

And then he was dying from cancer in the midst of that. And then he actually died when I was in seminary and it left this huge hole with, our church was massive, multiple campuses. And nobody could replace Roger and because I grew up, everybody in the church knew me and they had seen the ways the Lord was just using me as in an amazing way as a care pastor.

They’re like Dave should be the new Roger. And so I went in and talked to the head pastor at the time, because I’d known him for, since I was a kid and I said, Hey, nobody can replace Roger, I’ve been [00:42:00] working with Roger and doing a lot of his job. Can I just do it until you guys fill the spot or whatever you decide to do? And Brian was like yeah, let’s do that. And so I stepped into that role and then everybody was thinking, oh, Dave’s gonna. Take over. But then there was a transition and they brought another guy in that they wanted to work with me.

And it turned into this whole thing, but really showed us that this wasn’t really the space or I wasn’t part of that vision. And then we started looking at different opportunities with other churches and different church plants.

Kelly: I know there’s so many crazy God orchestrated transitions that took place as you were getting through seminary, and then looking for a job as a pastor, and then how God eventually led you to red mountain. But I want to get to the story about your prison ID.  You told a story about why you kept your prison ID on you. And I’d love for you to share how your ID brought hope to [00:43:00] people over the years, people who felt like maybe they were outside the reach of God because of the things that they had done in their life.

Dave: Yeah, it’s amazing how many people the Lord has allowed me to have conversations with and meet that a lot of times when they sit with a pastor, they think you’re holier than thou.

And, you don’t really understand hard times and sometimes. People bring a lot of shame into that space. And the Lord has just allowed me to use that as just a visual. And many times over the years, it’s not like my go to Hey, guess what, you’re not as hot as mess as I am. But it is something that the Lord has used in amazing ways just to help people realize that everybody’s on a journey with the Lord and that nobody’s beyond redemption.

If a church will hire a pastor that’s been in prison, which I really give Bob Fox and and the elders a lot of credit for taking it and Preston for taking a chance on me because it was a risk. Because like you said, a felon isn’t necessarily [00:44:00] somebody that rises to the top of most church leadership lists.

And the Lord the Holy Spirit was working in them and me in an amazing way. The Lord orchestrated all of that. And Bob Fox even took me out to lunch about a year after I had been here. And he said, Dave, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve hired a lot of guys like in your position over the years with lots of Christian pedigrees and really smart guys and all that.

And he said, I never thought I’d have to hire a felon to have the right guy in the job. But. It’s just, it’s allowed me to break down some barriers with people just as saying, Hey, Romans reminds us that, we’re all sinners, right?

And that Christ died for us while we were sinners. And so he’s not looking for perfection, but he’s looking for people who will trust him and believe that he’s good and that he’s love and mercy and grace. And that idea has allowed me to open up doors with people that would have seen me maybe differently or just seen themselves differently, where they believe the lie [00:45:00] that they are the thing and that is a lie.

You aren’t a thing or you aren’t an event. You’re the beloved child. of God. And that’s what we need to be reminded of. We need to understand that we’re heirs of the king and that there’s nothing that can separate us from God’s love. Using that idea has allowed me to break some of those barriers.

And another funny thing about the ID; the date of my going into prison date on that ID I never realized, I never looked at it because who cares? But years after I was doing a speech and Christina was looking at it, she’s have you ever looked at the idea, your idea and what the date is on it?

And I was like, no. So I looked at it and I was like, huh, February 25th. February 25th. It’s Christina’s and my first date that we went on and it’s actually the date we got married a year later on that date. And so even God is so amazing that he will redeem a date for you.[00:46:00] And one of the worst days of my life became one of the most beautiful days of my life, obviously outside of the kid’s birth and stuff like that. But yeah, so even that is fascinating how awesome our God is that he would care enough to say, Hey, Dave, I remember how bad that day was for you. But I want to give you a gift. I’m going to give you somebody to redeem that day. And you’re going to celebrate that day differently

Kelly: yes. You’ll celebrate differently for the rest of your life. Oh, how I love that. There’s so many more questions I have for you, but I know we need to wrap up this time. Any closing thoughts

Dave: like you said earlier, this is God’s story. The blessing , to be an ambassador of it. And get to walk with him. And I continually am amazed at the things he still does to this day. The way he’s even healing my heart. Over the last couple of weeks , healing trauma that had happened 20 years ago in releasing me from that and things I thought I had already healed from. God’s [00:47:00] always at work. He’s always active in our lives.

It’s just a matter of, are we realizing how great his love is for us. And are we willing to walk with Him? Cause He’ll never force us. And I think that’s an important thing to be reminded of that love is a choice but love is God and he’s a great choice, I’m so grateful for the opportunity that he gives me to be a pastor and to bring light into dark places

Kelly: Thanks, Dave, for allowing us the privilege of walking through this story with you. What a blessing.

Kelly: Thanks for listening to the Unshakable Hope Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please subscribe and leave a review. To continue the conversation and for free resources, be sure to visit me at kellyhall. org. Thanks so much.

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