StoneBridge Church Community

Building Bridges of Grace

God Rowed the Boat

by John Jeppesen

Steve and Missy deSouza have been StoneBridge members since 1997. John Jeppesen, one of the members of our God at Work journalistic team, interviewed Steve to tell the story of God's sovereign hand directing his motorsports career.

Like some at Stonebridge, Steve deSouza is involved in motorsports. He’s a senior executive at Joe Gibbs Racing. It couldn’t be a better place to work for a Christian man given 'Coach’s' public professions of faith. More on that in a bit.

Steve has followed the Lord since childhood. So it’s not surprising that God has been constantly in his life—sometimes imperceptibly, other times very clearly. Here are some of the indelible moments in time in Steve’s life.

The son of a Seattle tugboat businessman was naturally drawn to the water and started powerboat racing at just 15. Steve’s passion for the sport grew and he eventually sold a company he owned to race professionally.

Even though payments from the sale of the company kept Steve’s boat racing team afloat, he still needed sponsors to be a contender and race winner. Everything seemed to be going well until the news every racer dreads came knocking unexpectedly—his primary sponsor was taking a hike. For nearly all racers it’s 'game over.' So it was for Steve. He calls it “one of the darkest times… Everything was going so well up to that point and I didn’t know what I was going to do next.”

“I was leaving the race shop and stopped at a stoplight by a church,” he recalls. “Something drew me to the church. I went in and sat down. I felt I’d had a lot of control over my life but not at this point.” Then he did some business with God; “I need to be open here and for you to direct my path. Let me know what’s next in my life. Where do you want me to go?”

Steve didn’t have to wait long for an answer. He got a call from Interstate Batteries, a company he had been pursuing. They offered him a sponsorship that propelled his racing career to new heights and success. That relationship would eventually play an even bigger role later on.

One challenge down, but others loomed larger. The 90’s were troubling years for the deSouza family. In 1990, Steve’s older sister Jackie was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after giving birth to her second son. She lost her fight in 1992. A year later Steve’s sister Marianne developed life-threatening kidney problems. If that wasn’t enough trouble, Steve’s mom also fell victim to cancer and joined her daughter in heaven in 1995.

Steve’s sister Marianne’s kidney problems worsened; she needed a new kidney to live. When Steve found out he was a nearly perfect match, he didn’t give donating one a second thought. Again, the Lord’s plan came into sharp focus. He recalls, “We were taught about a God who, even though we don’t understand his whys and ways now, has a plan for each of us, and who does seem to bring good out of every bad situation, if we are open enough to look for it, and let him take us there.”

Steve and Missy had young children, and the rigors of racing on water at triple-digit speeds threatened his remaining kidney. Water is rock-hard at those speeds. The doctors had advised against racing any longer. Steve raced one final race, a national championship event, and fittingly won. Steve’s humble sacrifice for his sister and his children got its just reward.

So how did a powerboat racer from Seattle wind up in NASCAR? Let’s back up to 1992. Steve and Missy were at an Interstate Batteries dealer meeting when they were introduced to Joe and Pat Gibbs. They were at the convention because Interstate was also sponsoring Joe Gibbs Racing’s new NASCAR team. It was a prophetic meeting.

There’s little doubt God had the wheel firmly in hand again. He put just the right people in place at just the right time for Steve. The folks at Interstate had also introduced Steve and Missy to Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Ron Pegram, the MRO chaplain for Steve’s boat racing series.

Ron and Steve became friends. Ron also worked in NASCAR leading race shop Bible studies. Ron introduced Steve to another MRO chaplain who knew an owner looking to get started in NASCAR. The owner wanted someone just like Steve to build and run his new Busch Series team. One thing led to another and a job was offered and accepted. Steve began commuting from Augusta, Georgia to Charlotte every week and eventually decided to move to Charlotte because the commute was taking its toll in time and gasoline. So Missy quit a very good job managing a local non-profit and the family settled into their new home in Concord. They were all in.

Unfortunately, as is common in racing, the team owner decided to go in another direction and Steve left the team at the end of the year. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Steve and Missy knew right where to turn in times like these. They signed up for an MRO couples’ retreat. Steve and Missy met two life-changing people in a small group breakout session. One was a team owner looking to start a new Busch team and the other was the new MRO president looking for an assistant with a background in non-profit management and strong racing knowledge to get him up to speed in NASCAR. Hope lost was restored just like that. Both of them left the retreat with new opportunities ahead. “In one short weekend we’d gone from being unemployed and searching for answers, to both having dream job possibilities, made for us.” God was clearly writing the next steps of the story.

God’s work continued. A year later Joe Gibbs was starting a new Busch team with racing phenom Tony Stewart. Stewart was as mercurial as any NFL player and Gibbs needed a strong assistant coach to manage his new team and its rising star.

That was 17 years ago. “Looking back, there have been bumps in the road, but God has truly blessed us. I couldn’t imagine working for a better man, or family. We manage the business based on biblical principles. We meet weekly to pray for wisdom in running the business, our employees and their families. Our goal is to develop people into the best people they can be. If you make people successful, people will make your business successful” – 'Coach' knows how to make people successful!”

Like Steve, the Apostle Paul knew something about boats; Acts 27 describes, in fact, how he was delivered from a storm and shipwreck. And like Paul, Steve deSouza has seen a faithful God at work—because God never left the boat.


Where are You, Jesus?

By Jill Lord

“Hold the plane!” Carlese hollered into her phone to Kyle, the young team member we were supposed to meet at the next gate.
I clearly heard his surprised reaction from the other end of the call. “You want me to what?”
“Hold the plane! We just landed. Don’t let them leave without us!”
Carlese, our Samaritan’s Feet team leader, hung up with Kyle, grabbed her carry­on, and all eight of us tore out of the plane into the corridors of JFK to catch our next flight on our way to India—where the gate was supposed to have closed thirty minutes ago.
We flew around several corners dragging our bags, caught the airport tran, and (according to the tracking on my phone) ran nearly a mile’s worth of corridors to the desk where we obtained new boarding passes and had our bags scrutinized. Then, amazingly, we tumbled into our seats, gasping for breath as the door shut behind the last of us.
Though we thankfully caught our flight, our luggage did not, including the 800 pairs of shoes we were to distribute throughout villages in India. While Carlese worked with Indian officials in the Hyderabad airport to assure we’d receive our bags, a team member’s passport was stolen. Yes, swiped in front of us, with nobody witnessing it. Great. A stolen passport in India.
Four hours later, around 6:15 am, we piled into the vans and headed for Stonebridge School at last... that is, until our van began thumping to the rhythm of a flat tire. As we stood shining our phone flashlights so our driver could change it in the dark, I thought, Where are you, Jesus? This mission trip has been one obstacle after another and we’re not even there yet! To say that we felt under attack is an understatement. Surely the Lord would do great things this week?
Later that night back at the airport, Carlese and Brent Jones fought to retrieve our bags. Distributing shoes to HIV victims and orphans was just plain wrong in the Indian officials eyes, so they would not release our bags. Finally, after four long hours of battling, they won and returned with our bags, only to find a scorpion waiting in Carlese’s room. Did I mention she immediately caught the bacteria we try to avoid in India? Where are you, Jesus?
That week we washed feet of India’s ‘untouchables’—only to discover some adults didn’t like their shoes, wouldn’t wear them, or wanted a different pair. A cat­fight erupted between two women wanting the same pair of shoes. We had the wrong sizes, the wrong styles, not enough. Other members of our team became ill. Where are you, Jesus?
I thought we would change the world in some small way, ignite fires for the Lord, anything! But I wasn’t seeing it. In fact, many nights I felt like a complete failure: that I hadn’t said the right thing, that I hadn’t led anyone to Christ like others had that week, that I wasn’t cut out for ‘mission work’, that I wasn’t making a difference there. A failure, indeed.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12).
Then I heard the whisper, “You were obedient. You came. I showed you My world.”
That’s it? Really?
And then I got it. I remembered that first day that I met my sponsor child, Mahesh. What a powerful event for me. The mother in me, who had longed to wrap my arms around the child I had only known from a distance, finally got to embrace him. Immediately, he took my hand and showed me His world – the school ox, the field of flowers, the school turkey and duck, the place where he plays cricket, his sleeping quarters. He led me into his world and I became a part of it. Now I understood. 

On another scale, the Lord took our hands and invited us to see His world and become part of what He is doing in India. We entered some churches that faithful pastors had planted in this Hindu nation, heard testimonies of the Lord changing hearts, washed the feet of children in an orphanage, placed new shoes on their feet and ran with them as they excitedly tested them out. We played volleyball with them, received henna tattoos, and blew bubbles with them. Oh, how we loved them!

Because of the school that our church began and continues to support, hundreds of previously Hindu children now sing praises to Jesus each morning in chapel. We were blessed to be able to worship with them, sing with them, play with them, and get to know them in our brief time there. We can only imagine what the Lord is doing in each of these children, and what He will continue to do for many years to come.
The stolen passport was found and returned to the rightful team member. Our lost bags were reunited with us, all team illnesses were healed, the room became free of scorpions, the flat tire was replaced, the shoes were distributed, the love of Jesus was shared and our hearts were broken as we sobbed goodbye at the end of the week to the children we’d grown to love and adore. I believe the Lord held that huge Airbus380 plane for us because he couldn’t wait to show us what He was doing in India, so we could demonstrate love to the children He loves, and become more deeply involved with praying for these children and this country on a more personal level.
Where were you, Jesus? Leading us by His hand the whole way.

Jill, a member of StoneBridge since 2010, is both a nurse anesthetist and an accomplished children's author; you can learn more about her books at She also serves as an editor with our God at Work team.


He is Good and I am Safe

Editor's Note: Vicki Vincent, a long-time member of StoneBridge, ended her extended battle with cancer last Friday in Utah, surrounded by her family. Vicki was gifted in many ways, not the least of which was her expressiveness as a writer, and she shared her journey with cancer in a blog she wrote

But one of the most powerful pieces Vicki wrote was the following letter, which she read several years ago through a translator to a group of women at the Harvest Ministries AIDS clinic in India. This timely message of finding God in suffering spoke to many who are living with a devastating disease that has caused rejection by their families, and forced them to be outcasts in their communities.

By Vicki Vincent

My name is Vicki and I want to share with you the hope and peace that I have that can only come from the One True Living God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

I have a disease in my body that, as of today, has no medical cure. This news was devastating to me. I have known God for a long time and have confidently trusted in the saving work at the cross of my Lord Jesus. I have experienced the love and mercy of my powerful Creator and know personally of His goodness. However, when the doctor delivered the diagnosis to me, I forgot all that I knew of my Lord and became paralyzed with fear and sorrow. I felt completely abandoned by Him and without hope. I know that He is the only hope I have, so I was at a weird place of having to turn to the One whom I was so angry and confused by. Through His Word I was reminded of who He is.

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18)

I was indeed crushed in spirit, but I was never abandoned. God would not let me go. He held me closely as He tenderly reminded me of who He is and of the hope that I have in Him. It is not just that God had not abandoned me; He loves me so much that He pursues me, even as I try to run from Him. He comforted me through His word, as He reminded me of His amazing love and His sovereign power. He loved on me through His body of believers when I could not feel His presence and refused to turn to Him.

“'For the mountains may be removed, and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken', says the Lord who has compassion on you." (Isaiah 54:10)

I am not certain of what each new day brings as I battle this disease.  I am certain, however, that I am not alone as I walk this journey, and neither are any of you. God can destroy this disease with a whisper; He spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. He can work a miracle through the doctors and medicine to cure me, or He could call me to my eternal home with Him. Whatever He chooses to do, He is good and I am safe in his loving and powerful hands.

"I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul." (Psalm 31:7)

Know, dear sisters, that you are loved and prayed for by many whom you have never even met, including me! In the words of Paul, a wonderful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”  (2 Corinthians 13:14)

God at Work in 2014: Staff Sightings Part 2

As an opportunity to reflect on the past year, we asked the StoneBridge staff to answer the question 'Where did you see God at work in 2014?' We shared answers from four other staff last week. This week, Kevin shares a God sighting through a picture of joy and suffering. 

Kevin Burrell:
In 2014 I met, befriended, baptized, celebrated, and said farewell to my brother in the Lord, Greg King. Greg and Anne arrived in Charlotte in November 2013 and in a short stretch we got to see Greg fall in love with Jesus. In March he made a first-time profession of faith, and we scheduled his baptism for an upcoming Sunday service.

That baptism instead occurred three weeks later, in a hospital room, after Greg had suffered a neural stenosis that almost took his life, but that still left him fully paralyzed.

During the emotional time that followed, I saw something humbling and powerful. In my visits to minister to Greg, I instead discovered he was ministering to me. This new believer, despite the harsh reality of his circumstances, exuded the joy of the Lord. Greg wasn’t just friendly with the people who came in and out of his room; he was genuinely invested. He knew all his doctors and medical assistants by name, knew their family stories, knew their spiritual background.

In August I saw God at work in the halls of the Augusta V.A. hospital. Greg was there for the whole summer, in the spinal injury ward with 18 other men, and he saw my visit as an opportunity for a pastor to pray not for him but for these other men.  As I followed Greg’s chair down the halls from room to room, I saw his deep investment in every man’s story. He knew what they needed to hear, where they were on their difficult journey. Once again, he was fully invested. Some of these men had far more range of motion than Greg, and yet it was Greg, from a sip-and-puff-straw-driven wheelchair, who was saying to others, ‘One day at a time’ or ‘Remember, be patient with yourself.’  I felt like I was following the mayor of the town.

I can think of lots of places where God showed up in 2014. But for me, God showed me through Greg what it really looks like to live for others, and to endure suffering with joy. How could you complain about your own woes in the presence of a man who could cling to God without the use of hands and follow God without the use of feet? 

Even as I stood in his driveway with a ‘Welcome Home’ sign in late August when Anne drove him to their new wheelchair-accessible home, I couldn’t anticipate that God was already calling him so quickly to a better, eternal home. Three weeks later we were back in the hospital, singing hymns over his last hours. And then he was home, renewed, whole. When I see him again, I won’t take his hug for granted.

God at Work in 2014: Staff Sightings Part 1

As an opportunity to reflect on the past year, we asked the StoneBridge staff to answer the question 'Where did you see God at work in 2014?' We're sharing their answers this week and next, as we close out the year. 

In John 17 Jesus prays that the church would experience unity so that "the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:22-23) It's no surprise, then, that four of our staff, in answering the question 'Where did you see God in 2014?' referred to his presence in the unity and growth of our church family.

Ruthanne Burch: 
I’ve been at StoneBridge for only ten weeks, and yet I’ve seen God at work here in huge ways.  God has gifted StoneBridge with incredible folks who love the Lord, love this church and love to serve Him. I’ve been so encouraged by the people here at StoneBridge and their willingness to jump in and serve wherever needed or asked. You serve with joy and delight because you know who you are serving! What a pleasure it is to serve along side all of you; I’m thanking Him for His gracious work in all of your hearts!

Michele Stocker:
God allowed us about a month and a half ago to welcome a new staff member, Ruthanne, during our weekly staff meeting. We were asked by Pastor Rick to introduce ourselves, say how long we had been on staff, and tell something that we wanted Ruthanne to know about the staff members to our immediate left and right. At the time I was only a 10-month employee so I think I listened as intently as Ruthanne. During these introductions of one another there were many deep emotions, love-centered compliments and a true sense of what it means to be a working member of the family of God. God's characteristics were listed one by one as each member was described. He was on display through the relationships and working together that we do. God’s presence was bold that day. He was the true honorary guest because the depth of each experience was tied together by His love. I am humbled that God has allowed me to call this staff my coworkers and friends.

Dave Zeltner:

Looking over the past year I have seen God at work in many ways, but if I had to pick one it would be the many new folks both in our congregation and on staff that God has led to StoneBridge. As a long-time member of the staff, it’s always difficult to see brothers and sisters leave over the years, but we are so blessed by how God has brought so many wonderful new folks here to serve in the ministry.  Within the music ministry I have the privilege of leading, God has brought many new faces and talents to both the choir and band.  For this I am so grateful to our Lord for his faithfulness and love for His church.

Matt Harris:
One of the main ways I have seen God at work here at StoneBridge is through his provision, specifically his provision of people to help lead the ministry to our high school students. I have noticed that when I go out in my own wisdom to actively recruit leaders to work with our high school ministry, it doesn’t go so well. Usually, I get a lot of 'no' or 'not right now' responses. If, by chance, I get a 'yes' it typically doesn’t play out long term. So overall, such efforts tend to fall flat. I tend to think God does this to me on purpose, then says something along the lines of, 'Didn’t go so well, huh? Well, stand back, and watch what I will do.'

It's God, not me, who has assembled this incredible team of leaders I get to work with on a weekly basis—adults who love Jesus and have a passion for pointing our students towards Him, who are committed to our students, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, and who genuinely love each other and get along well together. It is abundantly clear to me that He has put this team together, because my involvement in bringing them together is, in reality, quite minimal. We have some leaders who were in place when I arrived, others who came on board when they got engaged to current leaders, still others who were simply available for a trip one summer and got hooked. We have leaders who came to me out of the blue and asked if there might be a need, leaders who came on staff for some other role but still desired to be involved with us, and even leaders who I’m not entirely sure how they got started with us.

Honestly, I recognize I couldn’t possibly do better. I am often amazed at how the wisdom and life experience of one leader or another is just what the ministry as a whole needed or is exactly what would be able to minister to a particular student. God did that. God is in the midst of interweaving the stories of over 18 folks in a fascinating and exciting way. I couldn’t put this together, and God often reminds me of that truth. So, I celebrate and am thankful to God for doing what I am unable to do: assembling exactly the right team for exactly the right need. I love our youth volunteers and consider it an amazing honor and joy to work and minister with them.  

A Grumble-Free Zone

"Can there be joy and gratitude in difficult, sometimes gut wrenching times? I’d say yes."

By John Jeppesen

This Thursday is Thanksgiving and the official kickoff of the holiday season. And every retailer in the land will be doing its level best to divert us from the peace, joy and gratitude this time of year should bring. Instead, the exact opposite happens. We grumble over what we don’t have, the Black Friday sale item we didn’t get, the card we expected but didn’t receive, the Christmas gift that wasn’t under the tree. To fight that discontent, I hereby declare the rest of the year to be a “Grumble Free Zone.”

I think back to a point in my life where I thought I had a legitimate reason to be bummed out. It was late November/early December 2003. Everybody at my company was at the last NASCAR race of the season. I was lucky in that respect because I didn’t have to endure the grind of going to 36 races. So the phone rings. It’s the agency president. He wants to see me, so I go to the office. He shuts the door, and tells me Pfizer cut the 2004 budget, making my job one of the casualties. My lifelong dream ended just like that. I was crushed.

I left the office immediately and made the long drive home from Clemmons to Mooresville. I didn’t really want to listen to NPR. Some mellow jazz would be nice, so I started fishing around in the console for a tape. I didn’t even look at the label, I just jammed it in the slot. Instead of soothing music, I got a sermon from Dave Johnson, my favorite Minnesota pastor.

God must have had something else in mind.

His message was on gratitude. I almost hit “eject” but thought I would hear what Dave had to say. He talked about the things he was grateful for. He specifically talked about his dad, also a pastor. Dave called him the most grateful person he had ever met, and said that he was sometimes quite embarrassing about it. Once, he went on for what seemed like an eternity over a cup of coffee in a restaurant; the server couldn’t believe a cup of coffee deserved such praise. When he retired to a seniors’ village in Florida, he couldn’t say enough to one of his neighbors about the modest condo he owned. The guy listened in disbelief as Dave’s dad went on and on about the carpet, the windows and kitchen. The listener had the very same condo and it didn’t see quite so wonderful to him.

Fast-forward to 2009. I flew home to be with my sister Barb who was dying of cancer, thanks to the generosity of my Stonebridge friends. It was a time I will cherish forever. We had Thanksgiving dinner at Barb’s house. Before we ate, each of us had to tell the others something we were grateful for. Mine was obvious. Not surprisingly Barb was grateful that all eight of her brothers and sisters were at the table. Later, we watched a Hallmark movie, “A Dog Named Christmas.” I sat with Barb on a loveseat and just held her hand for the whole movie. I kissed her when I left, whispering “I’ll love you forever.” That was the last time I saw her alive.

Two days later my sister Mary Jo and I went to Dave Johnson’s church. I couldn’t believe he retold the same message I had listened to in my car five years earlier. In addition to being a communion service, the congregation was invited to the edge of the stage covered in big sheets of paper. Dave asked us to write something we were grateful for on the paper. Hmmm, I mused, how can I be grateful for a dying sister? I asked Mary Jo. She poked me and said: “Write it.” I did as I was told. I flew back to Charlotte that afternoon.

Six days later I was on another jet to Minneapolis, this time to mourn Barb’s passing. I brought a checkered flag that was waved at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Someone in the Minneapolis airport noticed the furled flag and asked: “Did someone win a race?”

With a lump in my throat I said yes.

I had the great honor of being one of just three speakers at the memorial service and I used it for a very special purpose. Barb was a huge Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan so a eulogy based on the Number 3 was fitting. Before I began I asked all Barb’s friends to cheer Barb’s victory in the Race of Life as I waved the flag. The church exploded in applause and cheers. The pastor of the normally subdued Lutheran church was quite surprised, especially at such a somber gathering. Everyone at the reception signed the squares of the flag which was then given to Barb’s husband Tim.

I pray that Barb smiled as she looked down at the proceedings. I look forward to the day when I’ll get to ask her that question face to face.

So I ask: Can there be joy and gratitude in difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching times? I’d say yes. I leave you with this from a recent John Piper daily devotional: "When I am anxious about dying, I battle unbelief with the promise that “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." (Romans 14:7-9)

So live it up, not just in this season, but always. Keep a thankful focus, and vow to make this season a grumble-free zone.


Exercising Faith

"As sometimes happens in our lives, we assume God is doing one thing while He’s really doing something else. So, while I exercise my body, I am exercised spiritually by what outwardly seems an unlikely source."

By Karen Renzo

Back in January, I knew I needed to begin an exercise program. Our company had relocated to a new building with free access to the gym for the first year. It was so long since I had been in a formal exercise program that I wasn’t sure what this body could do safely. So, I decided to hire a trainer.

I wanted a trainer who understood what I needed; therefore, I desired a middle-aged female who would be able to empathize with my physical limitations. I made my specific needs clear when I called the YMCA, which had an agreement with our gym. However, no female trainers of any age were available to help me. A male trainer was my only option. He was a young ex-Marine. I envisioned a boot camp style program that would probably kill me—very painfully—or produce masculine-looking muscles that would probably make me look very odd in a dress.

I reluctantly scheduled a preliminary meeting with the trainer. About three minutes into the interview, we realized we were both Christians. By the time the conversation finished, I felt better about how things might proceed. When we began the first session, we found ourselves sharing what God had been doing, and how we were saved. While I walked on the treadmill and lifted weights we conversed enthusiastically about our lives, the Bible, what we learned in church, and reminded each other of Bible verses that applied to certain situations under discussion. Each week we continue where we left off the week before, while people nearby seem to listen in on these conversations.

We had a Jehovah’s Witness approach us once. “It seems like you two are Christians,” he said. We agreed that we were. He paused as we waited expectantly for him to continue the conversation. “Well, have a nice day,” he finally said after apparently weighing whether it was worth it to share his beliefs with us or leave before we shared ours with him.

I have to laugh as I look back on what God has done. As sometimes happens in our lives, we assume God is doing one thing while He’s really doing something else. So, while I exercise my body, I am exercised spiritually by what outwardly seems an unlikely source. But there is unity in the Spirit, and whether an older, rather wimpy sort of woman who has been a Christian for decades, or a young male believer, saved less than 5 years, with a no-nonsense military background, there is a rich friendship in Christ that closes all the gaps and encourages me most of all to exercise my faith!

Karen visited our church for the first time almost exactly a year ago. Since then, she's connected in multiple ways in the life of StoneBridge, and recently told the story of her move to Charlotte in another God at Work post entitled 'Getting to Yes.'


The Train That Derailed Me

"I sincerely believed the creed that India was for Hindus only... we used to destroy the Bibles distributed by the Gideons on the campus of our university... but ironically, the Lord used a Gideon Bible to get my attention."

By Jonathan 'Ravi' Mandadi

Ravi in his home city of Vizag.
Many people live as enemies of Christ, and I was one of them until the Lord revealed Himself to me.

I was born and raised in India in an orthodox upper-caste Hindu family, with a very strict and controlling father. I was a serious devotee of Hindu Goddess Kali; I read most of the Hindu religious books, and with the utmost dedication I sincerely followed all the caste and religious rituals. I also associated with a few radical Hindu organizations and sincerely believed the creed that India was for Hindus only.

I was very successful in studies and had been accepted to the engineering program at one of India’s best universities in the city, Vizag. But I always felt lonely, depressed, and lacking any inner peace. I was so mean to others, never enjoying any true friendship and always suspicious of people.

I had a lot of hatred for the Lord, his word and his people. While studying engineering, along with some radical Hindu friends, we used to destroy the Bibles distributed by Gideons on the campus of our university. We used to tease and abuse some juniors in the University, in the name of caste and their Christian faith. I strongly believed and stated many times, “We have 30 million gods, but there is no place for Christ in India.”

By the third year of my engineering studies, I had become very depressed because of too much study, stress, loneliness and a lack of love. I still remember the place I was sitting on campus when I made the decision to kill myself. Because I did not want to bring shame on my family or have them read about my death in the papers, I determined to travel to a distant location to carry out my plan. I chose the city of Goa, far away on the west coast of India (my city of Vizag is on the Southeastern coast). Getting there involved a two-day train ride.

On the train the Lord provided a stranger to sit alongside me for a short section of the journey. This man was a Christian, and he explained the gospel to me. He presented me with his personal Gideon Bible and read John 3:16 to me. He also told me prophetically that I would meet some unknown people when I arrived in Goa, and that it was the Lord’s plan for me to follow them.

When I arrived in Goa, true to the exhortation I had received, I met some people who spoke the language of my home state (Telugu) and were believers. They were very poor, the lowest of the caste spectrum but very humble, loving, and rich in Christian faith. I spent three weeks with them. They treated me with utmost care and love. Through them, the Lord taught me humility, true love, real beauty and joy, and the real purpose of life.

Through the traveler on the train (whom I have never seen again) and the people I met in Goa (with whom I am still in touch), the Lord was powerfully revealing himself to me. After a whole night of fasting and prayer, on Aug 5, 1999 in a church in Goa, I surrendered my life to Him. Ironically, the Lord used a Gideon Bible to 'destroy' my suicide plans and get my attention. He spoke to me through Isaiah 41:10 and assured me that he would help me, lead me, strengthen me and take care of me the rest of my life:

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
                        do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
            I will strengthen you and help you;
                        I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I came back to Vizag and my studies, filled with newfound hope, joy and assurance. But my family, relatives and friends did not accept my new faith. My parents were so worried that my sister would never get married because of my Christian faith. My people pleaded with me, tried to convince me, threatened me and abused me to stop following the Lord Jesus Christ. Many times, I will admit, I thought of leaving the cross and running back to the Hindu practices because it would alleviate the isolation and persecutions. I had many sleepless and tearful nights, but every time the Lord comforted me and made me more joyful, and stronger with his steadfast love.

Two years later God used another verse to give me enough courage to proclaim publically that Jesus Christ is the only true God and that only He can assure the eternal life. That verse was Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I have faced and am willing to face with joy any persecutions for his kingdom. I love to be a living testimony of Christ and to tell of him among Non-Christians, especially Hindus and Muslims.

Jesus Christ is my friend, companion, purpose and the ultimate meaning of my life. I was living in darkness as an enemy of Christ and never tried to seek him, but he was kind and merciful enough to pursue me as one of his beloved children. Though I was his enemy, he was quick to forgive all of my trespasses, to save me from both physical and spiritual death, and to accept me unconditionally into his fold. He removed the guilt, fear, and sadness and filled me with his eternal love and joy.

And this is a picture of how God transforms a life: as an active member of the Gideons, I now distribute the same Bibles I once destroyed.

Ravi, known to many of his friends as Jonathan, has been attending StoneBridge with his wife and son since 2011, and became a member in December 2012. He serves in many areas of our church including International Campus Connections and the India Task Force, and has been a great provision of language and cultural training for our India short-term missions teams.

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Taxi Story

"When I look back, I can see that this was the beginning of God tearing down my pride. The only good part of the job was that I was driving a Checker Marathon cab."

By Marty DiGiacomo

My zeal for the Lord really took off when he took my truck and gave me a taxi.

It started in Connecticut around the winter of 1981 when I left a truck-driving position with a trucking company in Bloomfield due to their lack of proper maintenance on the equipment. Shortly thereafter, my van developed a problem, which I tried to fix myself, but I just ended up spending more money than I had. The problem wasn’t rectified, which left me with no way to get to another good paying truck-driving job. I finally found a low-paying job at a feed mill co-op in Manchester. It was about a 45 minute walk from the house my buddy and I rented, and I began delivering feed to farms.  

It was a bit of a hit on my pride, since I was going from an owner-operator style truck with a nice paint job to an old faded green R Model Mack straight truck (not a tractor trailer) that never got washed. The springs were pretty well shot in this truck too, which made it scary to drive since the high top-heavy tank, when filled with grain, would easily tip during turns. About two weeks into the job, on a bitterly cold day after a big snowstorm, I got stuck in the woods on the way to a remote farm during a delivery; another driver had mistakenly given me wrong directions that sent me down a logging road instead of the farm entrance. I was stuck so far back in the woods that my company was forced to hire a wrecker service that had to use an army tank retriever to haul me out. It ended up costing the company $1200—and me my job.

This hurt my pride in a big way. Trucking was my identity. It was who I was. My life was all wrapped up in it. It was what I wanted to do ever since I was a kid. I now had to find a job that was close enough to walk to. I eventually got a job driving a taxi in town. To me, it was a big blow to my image. I was really stepping down—way down. When I look back, I can see that this was the beginning of God tearing down my pride. The only good part of the job was that I was driving a Checker Marathon cab. The best of the best. What a car!

During my taxi driving days, I used all my spare time in the cab reading the Bible and other books about the Bible. I was still not attending church since I had stopped going shortly after entering the Navy back in ’74, so I had little foundation to go on. As I read, I began to be so filled with the word of God and with zeal for the Lord that I just had to share God's love with others. I witnessed to as many people as I could. It became a daily thing and was very exciting to be filled with joy and love for all people.

Late one night, during a very heavy snowstorm, I was traveling down a main road in East Hartford on my way back to Manchester after dropping off a fare. I noticed a guy hitchhiking on the other side of the road and thought, “I may as well turn around and offer him a ride,” and so I made a U-turn and drove up to him. He climbed into the front seat and said he was just going a little ways down the road.  

He was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees when he asked how I was doing. I said “fine” and asked how he was doing. He stared straight ahead and began nodding his head.  He eventually said very slowly, “Okay.”  

He put a bag between us on the seat and said, “You know what’s in this bag?”  

I thought, though with inexplicable calm, “Oh well, he’s got a gun and he’s going to rob me,” but what I said out loud was, “Can’t say that I do.”

He replied, “A box of shotgun shells.”  

I was silent and he continued, “I went to a friend’s house earlier today and asked him if I could borrow his shotgun. I told him I was going to go hunting. I hid the shotgun in a ravine down there [he pointed down the road ahead of us] and drove to K-Mart to buy some shotgun shells. I was walking back to the gun to kill myself in that ravine, when I decided to give God one last chance. I told God that if he didn’t want me to kill myself I’d walk back to the ravine and stick out my thumb. If someone stopped to pick me up before I got there, I would know that He didn’t want me to do it.”

Wow, I thought! God sure had me in the right place at the right time.  

I asked my passenger why he was going to kill himself and he said, “You know, I have everything. I have my own landscaping business, my father is the principal of the high school, and I had a nice girlfriend—but she just broke up with me.” I soon realized that this was the problem. He was obviously so torn up by the breakup that he wanted to commit suicide.

I told him I knew right where he was coming from because I had thought about committing suicide when I was in the Navy. I got on the radio and told my dispatcher I was going to be unavailable for a while, but I would get back to him later. I shut off the radio and drove to a parking lot where I shared the gospel with him in great detail. I told him my own story. I shared with him the same truths that were shared with me when I was in the Navy. Those truths were the beginning of how God rescued me from the devil’s grip.

I told him that God created man in His own image and wants all men to know Him. But conversely, the devil wants to turn all men against God by putting thoughts and lies into our minds. The devil was the one who put the thoughts of suicide into his mind. He comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus Christ died on the cross that we might have eternal life.  Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil and to rescue us from his control. He paid the price for our sins by taking our place on the cross so that we, who are all sinners, don’t have to pay the penalty for our sins and go to hell. I also told him that all who believe in Jesus Christ are adopted as sons and daughters, and the Holy Spirit will guide us in our walk with the Lord. The Word of God sets us free and gives us a light for our path and a lamp unto our feet. I also cleared things up about man-made religion versus a true relationship with Jesus Christ and explained that prayer is simply talking with God, not just reciting memorized words.

After an hour and a half with him, I led him in a prayer to receive Jesus as his Savior. I offered to take him to my place so he could get himself together since there were some problems at home. He accepted, and I dropped him off while I went back to work. I continued to pray for him all night while marveling at God’s ability to use me. When I got home off my shift in the morning, he was gone. 

This awe-inspiring experience taught me that what I had thought I had needed to hold onto (my standing and position as a trucker) was just what God knew I needed to let go of so that he could humble my proud heart and show me how my status has nothing to do with my usefulness to the Lord. 

Marty and his wife Janice have been attending StoneBridge since the summer of 2012, and joined as members last December. You'll see them regularly serving on our First Impressions team.

Of Clouds and Close Calls

"It was for me a definite response from God that said, "I love you, too" and "I've got this" all at the same time."

By Peggy Barnell

I love my convertible.  I drive with the top open, even at times when others would not.  One of the reasons I do this is because I'm such a lover of nature.  I never tire of looking at the stars in the sky, the clouds overhead, the sun, and the countless shades of natural green along the way.  And I really enjoy the wind in my face, blowing and undoing my hair.  I pray and marvel at God's majesty during my many "regular drives."  

I should add that I'm a safe driver.  I'm not one to take risks while I'm appreciating God and his creation.  But a couple of months ago, I had a little bit of a close call with a big truck; enough to shake me up and make my heart beat really fast for a couple of minutes.  As my sudden burst of anxiety resolved, I uttered to God from my heart,  "You know, God, I'm not in any kind of hurry, but there is a part of me that longs for heaven".  As I breathed this prayer, my eyes were drawn upward, and there in the clouds was a perfectly formed heart.  The billowy white clouds had formed a blue-sky heart that was unmistakable.  It was for me a definite response from God that said, "I love you, too" and "I've got this" all at the same time.  God speaks in so many ways. I'm glad that day I was listening.

Peggy and her husband Alan began attending StoneBridge in the summer of 2012 and became members in May 2013. Peggy has a heart for sharing her faith through the dramatic arts.