My Story of Impact

My Story of Impact

Doug Essenberg

Photo of Doug Essenberg
Photo provided by Doug Essenberg. Transcript from Easter Sunday, March 31, 2024

My Name is Doug Essenberg and I have been coming to Frontline Bible Church on a more regular basis now for three months. I met John Lowder almost 20 years ago and we began getting together almost every Tuesday and Thursday to run or work out together for about 14 years now. He only one of the reasons I am standing up here now telling my story.

I grew up in a very loving Christian home where the seed was originally planted. My dad was a pastor in the Reformed Church and my mom is a retired nurse. We moved around a lot due to my dad’s job changes. We started in Kalamazoo, MI then to Philadelphia, PA, then to Frankfort, IL where my dad was fired from his job as the Camp Director. The assistant director wanted my dad’s job and lied to the board. The new director lasted nine months then was also fired. My dad got out of the active ministry at that point. We moved to Traverse City, MI for three years then we moved to Jenison, MI in 1981. This is where I finished high school in 1984.

From 1981-84 we went to many churches and we finally found a home at a small start up church. We stayed with them for a long time, but as they grew into a mega church the focus shifted. We left there  to find another church. At that point I believe I just stopped going until I got married. My wife grew up Catholic and we tried a variety of churches and settled on a United Methodist Church. We attended there for about 11 years. We volunteered our time to the kids ministry program and tithed on a regular basis. They grew and decided to build a bigger better church. We attended there for a few Sunday’s after and it became more about the building, the large screen TV’s, the bass etc. The energy was gone. We left and searched for a church home for a long time and finally just gave up and stopped going altogether.

Many things happened that reinforced my decision to be angry towards religion and the church since our move to Jenison. This is supposed to be the religious Mecca and I saw a big difference in what people said versus how they lived their lives. I also have had some significant health issues where I most certainly would have died twice if I hadn’t been proactive about the issues I was having. I became angrier toward God. 

However, during the time that I was speaking out against religion and churches several things happened that began clearing the ground to allow the seed to grow. John and I continued together and he just slowly witnessed to me and never put any pressure on me to go to church. We figured we have spent over 1,000 hours together just to get to this point I am at today. But as I said he was only a small part of it.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a PT and see all types of people. One of my patients, who had the biggest impact on me was a 17 year old who gave me a Bob Goff book called Love Does. This patient is the daughter of a friend of mine that I had met in Anatomy class at GVSU. She had torn her ACL and with the first surgery having been botched, she underwent a second one, so we spent a lot of time together talking about a huge variety of topics including religion. She was really on fire for God and a true Christian. I didn’t read the book right away and just let it sit on my shelf for a while. When I began to read it I really enjoyed the stories and decided to read one chapter a night to savor it. That truly changed my life, but I didn’t know what to do with this new attitude. In this book at the end of one of the chapters, Bob Goff challenges the readers just to say “yes” to the next thing someone asks you to do. Lo and behold John Lowder asks me to join an online Bible Study during COVID, so I had to say “yes.” In this study, I met a lot of people who helped water the seed that was growing inside me. One of the being Anthony Beaulieu, we continue to be close friends.

Also during this time, John referred many of his congregation members to me for physical therapy services. They don’t know this, but they were a big part of my return to church. Each one of them was a positive force, excited about church and what was happening at Frontline Bible Church. Most were involved in ministry or leaders in the church. That really spiked my curiosity about FBC. The people who have spoken about their struggles so openly was also an amazing thing. Recently, I was able to spend the weekend at a men’s retreat with Aaron, John, and Jared. Aaron was also a huge watering can for me. Since I have come on a more regular basis I have met many more people who continued to make me want to come. I also have to give credit to Leo and the band as they are the first band in a church I felt were truly worshipping God. Thank you to all of you who have had a their part in my return to church.

As I have returned to this enchanting place, my relationship with God has changed dramatically. My old relationship was one of failure, not reading the Bible enough, not praying enough, not giving enough. For those who know me, I will work really hard to succeed and I do not like to fail. I kept thinking all I had to do was more. That didn’t help so rather than face failure week after week, I gave up. 

Now my relationship with God is one of Grace, forgiveness, understanding and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt salvation is a gift I will always have. When I truly understood what grace and redemption meant the weight was lifted off of me and I finally felt free. For the first time I haven’t felt like a failure walking into a church. I now want to be closer to God and I want to be here at FBC. For me to be up in front here is a testament to how important it is for all of you to understand you can play a role in someone’s spiritual life without knowing it.

The biggest take away I want to leave you with is to not be afraid to give someone a book, write a quick note/email, be there for someone at the drop of a hat, whatever it takes to clear the ground and water the seed that was buried under rubbish.

Thank you,
Doug Essenberg

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