Message from Strangers Changes Man's Life
“Growing up … I used to lay in bed in the other room and hear men come in and have sex with her. I just grew up with a lot of resentment in that,” says Shawn.
Shawn’s mother was a prostitute, and he never knew his real father. “When you’re in that environment and you’re around drugs, there was physical abuse, mental abuse and actually sexual abuse. I think the first time I was raped, I was 8 years old,” he says. “As a kid, you have no idea emotionally what you’re going through. I had no idea what any of that stuff really meant. It’s nothing that any kid should go through.”
Because of his mother’s lifestyle, Shawn was forced to move frequently and grow up fast. “Sometimes I would be with people I don’t even know. My mom would just take me there and drop me off and I’d be there for a few weeks,” he recalls. “So I learned how to survive, and surviving meant hustling. So by the age 10, man, I was already out working.”
After high school, Shawn got married and joined the army. He continued to survive by hustling, working three jobs on the side to provide for his wife and two sons. “I just thought life was about work, making money, bigger house, bigger car. Things just didn’t work out,” Shawn says. “A lot of it had to do with just stuff from my past, and me not even knowing who I was, or not even knowing anything about life.”
After his divorce and discharge from the army, Shawn dove head first into the party scene. “I found a lot of love, man. When you’re buying cocaine and you’re buying drinks at a bar and you’re hanging out, trust me, there are a lot of people who say they love you. But that’s not real love.”
He went back to school to get a degree in business and an MBA. He threw himself into a career with equal intensity. “Work is just as much of a false love as heroin addiction, including going to school your whole life, including working 80 hours a week,” he says.
Shawn continued to work long hours and finally landed his dream job. “I just thought man, I have life by the tail: lived in a 5-bedroom house, had 3 cars, and just thought this is the American dream. One day a new boss came in, and he let me go. It all came crashing down on me,” Shawn says. “I just sat there and I thought about my past. Just thought about how I didn’t want to live life anymore. I thought about my sons, and I thought man, they’d probably be better off if they didn’t have a dad who hurt them like I had been hurt my whole life.”
Shawn planned his suicide, but before he could carry it out, a friend who knew he was struggling invited him to visit. Shawn flew from his home in Kentucky to Florida. While there, he met a homeless man in a park. “We just hung out that day just talking about everything. I mean, you name it: kids, life, you name it. And he said, “Hey Shawn.” And I stopped and turned around and looked at him. And he said, “Hey man, I just want you to know God loves you. And I just thought, ‘What?’ In my mind I was really thinking, ‘Who is this guy to be telling me about God?’”
Over the course of the next 10 days, Shawn had a series of similar encounters, each person offering the same message of god’s love for him. Before Shawn flew back home, his friend gave him a copy of the Big Daddy Weave song, “Redeemed.”…”
“I can just remember thinking, ‘man, this is my life,” he says of the song’s lyrics.
When he returned to Kentucky, he saw an ad for a Christian concert in the area. The headliner was Big Daddy Weave. Shawn bought tickets to the show. “Right after the concert gets over, Jay Weaver, the bass player for Big Daddy Weave, comes offstage and he was like, “God wanted me to come down here and tell you, man, if you’ll let go of all that stuff, He’s going to set you free. He’s going to use your life for big things. And He’s going to do miraculous things and you’re going to touch thousands of people with your life if you’ll just let go of all that stuff from the past.’ And man, I was just bawling. I was so overwhelmed with just love. It just felt like for the first time in my life that I was loved.”
Shawn felt compelled to go to church the following morning. “Every single word the preacher is talking about is about me. I remember him saying, ‘If anybody wants to come up front, and before he could even get that out, I was already in his face, and I said, ‘Let’s do this! I’m going to give myself to Jesus Christ for the rest of my life. That’s what I’m going to do. Wherever He wants to go, whatever He wants to do, wherever He wants me to be, that’s what I’m going to do is I’m going to do Jesus the rest of my life.”
He was later able to forgive his mother and others from his past and leave his drug and work addictions behind. “One weekend I sat at home with a notebook and I just started writing down every person that had ever hurt me, I just prayed and kept saying, “God, please forgive me for holding on to that, and please forgive them, and by the end of Sunday, I felt like I was free.” Today he is married and he and his wife Inga run a community center in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Louisville. Through his ministry “Love City,” Shawn has a vision to redeem his community, one life at a time, just as god has redeemed his.
“Our motto is simple: Just love God, and love people, and let Him figure out the rest, “ Shawn says. “If you ever get a dose of Jesus’ love, man, God’s purest love, and you get it, man there’s no greater high."