A man who struggled to understand a God of grace finally finds peace through the gospel.
Ryan Wolfe, pastor at Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., looked at his cell phone on the Saturday of Easter weekend in 2018 to find a voicemail from an unknown number.
In the midst of Easter egg hunts and preparations for Sunday’s service, he listened to the message. It was from a man who mentioned he was seeking a church to attend and wanted to learn more about Redeemer Lutheran.
Wolfe recalls, “I was so busy, but I needed to call him back. Someone needed the comfort of Christ this much, and it was important to respond quickly.”
The person needing that comfort was Shawn Jacobs, and he attended the Easter service that next day. Wolfe didn’t know it at the time, but this invitation was the very thing that Shawn needed in his life. Attending Redeemer has brought him a peace unlike anything he’s ever known.
Lessons in fear
Shawn came from a Catholic background, but his church life took a lot of turns early in his life. Shawn’s parents divorced when he was four years old, leaving him with two different spiritual experiences. His father took him to church out of obligation to his paternal grandmother, and his mom remarried a man who went to a Lutheran church.
“I remember the pastor at that church was really just going through the motions and wasn’t passionate about what he was doing,” he notes.
At church and Sunday school, Shawn encountered a series of teachers who also lacked passion and understanding. The stories they taught left him feeling scared and confused.
One example that sticks out for Shawn was the story of Abraham and Isaac. As an eight-year-old, Shawn could not understand why God would ask Abraham to kill his only son. Unfortunately, his teachers couldn’t explain it to him either.
The last formative religious memory for young Shawn was attending a summer camp that used fear tactics to impart lessons. One day, the camp counselors told the kids that the Russian government was coming to use the camp and the kids needed to hide their Bibles. Shawn remembers wanting to run away immediately. After seeing the panicked reactions of all the children, the counselors eventually told them this was a test to see how strong their faith was.
At ten years old, Shawn decided that he wasn’t interested in Christianity. His experiences so far had, for the most part, left him afraid of the God he learned about in his lessons.
Heavy metal and Texas
While Shawn was attending high school in the 1980s, heavy metal music began to surge in popularity. Shawn and his friends saw it as a badge of approval if the records they picked up had labels that warned of mature content. There was something thrilling about consuming music that they knew their parents were so adamantly against.
Although Shawn didn’t believe in the satanic practices that many in the heavy metal music culture did, he remembers peering into some of the movements online and feeling the effects of it. “Just looking at those kinds of things can get into your soul,” he says. “If you go down the right rabbit hole, you can get trapped in there.”
Shawn moved to Austin, Texas, after high school in hopes of further pursuing his passion for heavy metal music. He tried to get into a few different bands but in the end didn’t find success. His aspirations to become a musician faded away.
Shawn did discover one great thing while in Texas: his wife. One day, while on a bus, Shawn met Vicki, who originated from West Texas and had two young daughters. Shawn and Vicki both were attending the same medical trade school. They eventually married and moved back to where Shawn grew up in North Dakota.
Years passed and different pastors in their community tried to come and speak to Shawn about Christianity. He says he often argued with them or sent them away. It wasn’t until 2016 that he began to think more about Christianity and explore the possibility that there is a God of grace after all.
Hospital visits and a voicemail
It began with a diagnosis. A series of tests revealed that Vicki had stomach cancer. To receive the best care and range of options, the couple drove to the Masonic Health Center at the University of Minnesota. This six-hour drive and subsequent stay in Minneapolis would cost them about $1,000 each trip. It became an increasingly stressful time with the uncertainty of Vicki’s health, as well as their finances.
On the drives to Minnesota, Shawn began listening to bluegrass music to relax. The music was filled with influences of Southern gospel, and he found himself thinking more about Christianity. He even began praying to God on those long drives. “When you go through a medical situation like that, it makes you rethink everything,” Shawn says.
Shawn then started watching different sermons online and began opening the Bible more and more. He looked around at different Lutheran churches and discovered that he liked what WELS stood for and how its doctrine stayed true to the Scriptures.
As Easter of 2018 approached, Shawn wanted to find a church to call home. That’s when he left the voicemail on Pastor Wolfe’s phone. He simply asked if he could tour the church, but it turned into more than that.
Shawn attended church at Redeemer that Easter Sunday and has been going to church there ever since. Vicki was also excited to attend church, as she was hoping to return to religion for a long time. “Shawn is one of those rare people where someone comes to church through no effort of your own,” Wolfe notes.
Shawn and Vicki both went through Bible information class with Wolfe and began to feel a deep sense of peace, even in the trials of Vicki’s ongoing battle with cancer.
“When you get into the Word, it provides you a lot more comfort,” Shawn explains. “It’s not that life is necessarily easy for me now, but I know I’m going in the right direction.”
Wolfe echoes the sentiment. He noticed Shawn’s growing faith in every Bible class, “You get a sense that what he is hearing from God is the peace he was looking for. It was missing for a long time. He really appreciates so much of what we can often take for granted.”
Growth and outreach
During one Bible class Shawn attended, a guest speaker made a unique impact on his life. Dave Malnes, founder of Praise and Proclaim Ministries, came to Redeemer to speak about evangelism in the community.
Shawn decided to join the group in its outreach efforts to the local community. Members of Redeemer and Amazing Grace, Dickinson, N.D., carried out a grocery outreach initiative delivering free bags of goods to nearby mobile home parks. Shawn estimates that about 80 different families were approached through their efforts.
Throughout the day, Dave was struck by Shawn’s unique approach to evangelism and how he connected with each person he met. “He can look people in the eye and tell them he understands what’s going on and provide them with something they need to know,” Dave describes. “He has the ability to reach people on that level. He can talk to anybody because there’s a softness to him. The hardness that you might see on the outside just dissolves when he talks to someone.”
Today, Shawn is a part of Redeemer’s outreach board and excited to share the gospel with others. Wolfe says he knows that Shawn will impact the lives of many.
Shawn himself sees exciting opportunities for continued growth. “I want to continue growing in the Word myself and reaching as many people as I can,” he says. “And I think we’ll keep growing as a church because we are constantly in the Word. That is the most solid ground you can have.”
Author: Gabriella Blauert
Volume 109, Number 02
Issue: February 2022