Shawn was the priest of a warlike religion, Asatru, for 15 years, committing acts of violence in the name of the Norse gods.
But what happens when a priest of Odin and Thor has an encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
In a word? Transformation.
Ever since he was little, Shawn’s life has been ruled by violence.
“My stepfather used to beat me up a lot,” says Shawn. “Then I found out he was hurting my sister. At fourteen, I attacked him.”
It was an act that got Shawn sent to juvenile prison. But instead of rehabilitation, the years he spent there only confirmed violence was the answer to life’s problems. That belief sent Shawn back to prison time and time again. As an adult, he found a religion to justify his worldview — one that not only accepted violence, but actively encouraged it.
“Prisons are run by gangs. I cliqued up with the Aryan Brotherhood, the Skinheads, basically the white supremacists, most of whom are Asatru. I became a priest of a religion that shouldn’t even be called a religion, really. It’s more of a license to hurt people. It teaches that everyone else is the enemy, the only people who matter are your own and to take what you want through violence. It’s horribly self-serving.”
That all came to an end when an encounter with God brought this priest to his knees.
“I have a daughter and when I got out of prison the last time, in 2017, I found out she was pregnant. Being a grandfather made me want to change but, instead, I went back to drugs. That sent me to Valley Hospital where they gave me a list of the halfway houses and recovery programs in Phoenix.”
Scanning the list, one in particular caught his eye.
“It was Phoenix Rescue Mission. My mother is Christian. When I read that they offered a year-long, Christian-based recovery program, I thought that would be the best way to reconnect with my family.”
He never imagined what would happen next.
“I was here maybe two weeks. We were in the chapel and they were playing Christian videos. The song Oceans came on and I flashed back to the last time I had heard it. It was in the car with my mom."
"Suddenly I had this epiphany of how my mom has always prayed for me and what it means to be Christian, and I started bawling. I hadn’t cried in twenty years!”
But God wasn’t done.
"All of a sudden, everything made sense. I hit my knees. Through the tears I saw a picture of Jesus up on the wall. In my head I told Him, 'Okay God, you got me.'
Then this was crazy. Right after that, a voice in my head responded with, 'I've always had you.'" He laughs.
In an instant, God was able to reach into Shawn’s life and shatter the worldview that had held him captive for decades.
“From that moment on, I got baptized and I started taking recovery seriously. Ever since then, my resolve has become stronger and stronger. All I’ve done most of my adult life is hurt people. I want to spend the rest of the time God gives me helping people.”
Your support not only made that transformational moment possible, it’s giving Shawn the tools he needs to follow his new direction.
“I applied for the Ministry Training course because I want to follow a career path that helps people. To that end, Phoenix Rescue Mission also helped me earn my Microsoft certification and enrolled me in the peer support specialist course which I graduated from as well. I’m 46 years old. I never thought I would start out on a new career path, but God has made that possible for me.”
No longer a man of violence, Shawn’s worldview had been turned upside down. Today he’s focused on rebuilding his life, the lives of others, and his relationship with his family.
“My mom and dad live up in Prescott. So do my brother and his kids, and I go up to visit them whenever I can get passes. Every time I talk to my mom she yells, ‘Praise Jesus!’ She’s just so happy. Unfortunately, I influenced my daughter to be pagan and she hasn’t come to Christ yet. But I’m working on that.” He laughs.
“Who knew that there was this oasis of God’s love sitting right next to a jail in Phoenix? It saved my life!”