The tenacity of hope

Mickey Seward

Contributing writer

Point Magazine // May 2019

Jeff Lowery barely escaped with his life. He had been stabbed and deeply cut several times, sliced open by an attacker who later told police he was trying to kill Lowery. The attacker was a troubled teenage boy who had holed up inside a large window well, where he was attempting to cut himself. When Lowery jumped in to stop him, the teen turned the weapon on Lowery.

It wasn’t Lowery’s first rodeo. Today, he rolls up his sleeve and becomes part tour guide, part raconteur, taking you from scar to scar and sharing anecdotes about the brief moments of hand-to-hand combat nearly three decades ago that led to a lifetime of physical, neurological and emotional battles.

Even then, the realities of conflict weren’t new for Lowery, Converge International Ministries mobilization specialist since 2017. It was an inner clash that put him in that position in the first place.

“Nobody will want me anymore”

Lowery had always had a passion for investing in the lives of teens, but for several years he thought working in ministry was out of the question.

“I grew up in a great church, with a wonderful youth group and a phenomenal youth pastor,” Lowery said. “But the church was really focused on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of Christianity and didn’t talk much of grace and forgiveness and hope.”

Becoming the first in his family to attend college, Lowery wasn’t there long. Ill-prepared for college life, he eventually was dismissed for academic reasons. He said the pranks he played on the dean didn’t help his case to stay.

“I went from a strict Christian upbringing to untold freedom,” he said. “I had sex before marriage, and because of my upbringing, having premarital sex created an idea in my mind that nobody would want me anymore. That sent me into a downward spiral.” 

Lowery wanted to work in youth ministry, but after he was kicked out of school, he told himself he was disqualified from doing so. His dream, he thought, was dead. It was time to move on. 

“I decided if I couldn’t work in youth ministry, I’d do the next best thing,” he said. “I figured if the church isn’t going to want me – and nobody from any church actually told me so; it was just what I thought I would be told – then I would work with the people who wouldn’t think I was so bad. So, I began working with broken and hurting teens.”

He joined the staff at a group home that focused on students who were either sexual predators or had been victims of sexual abuse. And though he thought he wouldn’t be able to work in ministry full time, he volunteered with the youth group at his church.

The church’s pastor noticed how well Lowery worked with the teens and encouraged him to consider pursuing youth ministry as a career. Lowery said he couldn’t.

“You have no idea what I’ve done,” he told the pastor. “When I told him, he said, ‘That’s what you did? Haven’t you heard of forgiveness?’ From there, he mentored me, and it changed my life.

“That’s when I realized that there is hope and forgiveness and grace. That’s when I became passionate about people who are broken, who have suffered trauma or are victims of abuse. That’s when I started to understand that sometimes your mistakes can become a platform to minister from.”

“I’m not OK with any of it. But I find reasons to praise him.”  

Today in his Converge work, he helps potential missionaries understand their calling. But memories of the beatings he took in the early 1990s cut deeper than the glass shank that left scars across Lowery’s body.

Torture-based, nonmilitary PTSD caused by the incidents and memories of the things he witnessed and experienced during his time as a behavior analyst in the group home system linger. He says half the people who went through the analyst training with him have committed suicide. At least one other is in prison. None still work in the field.

Counseling, medication and an amazing family help him sort through the emotional baggage. But a brain injury sustained during the scuffle caused severe light sensitivity, which led to total vision loss in his right eye about four years ago. The vision in his left eye has since deteriorated to 20/400 with a corrective lens. He has been declared legally blind.

As visual stimulation fades away, most of what Lowery sees now are images in his head. It’s another battle that he’s facing head-on. He isn’t facing it alone.

“I have hope in something outside the ick and muck that’s in my head,” he said. “So, I say, ‘OK, Lord, we have to battle this now.’ How do you take away the images in your head? I can’t read Scripture, because I can’t see. But I have an incredibly loving wife, Sara, and she reads our devotions.”

Things are changing for everyone, including the couple’s three children. It’s an emotional process. As the family walked through an outdoor shopping area recently, Lowery placed his hand on Sara’s shoulder so she could lead him. The gravity of the situation hit their eldest son.

“This is real, isn’t it, Dad?” he asked.

It is real. For all of them. But to Lowery it’s not just real. It’s big. He admits he’s not thrilled to be in the situation, but he knows he’s been given an opportunity.

If I don’t have Scripture, if I don’t use this to praise God, if I don’t use this as a way to move the gospel forward and let God use this as a ministry point, what do I have?

Jeff Lowery

“I’m not OK with the fact that I will not be able to see my wife’s face,” Lowery said. “I won’t get to see how beautiful my daughter will look when she walks down the aisle, or even how my sons will look when they get married. I’m not OK with any of that.

“But I have to go back to Christ’s example. ‘It’s not my will, Father, but yours.’ I can be an old cuss about it, or I can say, ‘You know what? Your sovereignty is what I’m going to hold onto. You are in control of everything. And, Lord, use this as a blessing for somebody, because I know this is not going to be for void.’ And I find reasons, no matter how big or small, to praise him.

“My whole world is different, and it’s frustrating. I didn’t grow up in the blind world, so I’m not a part of that. And I’m certainly not a part of the visual world now. But if I sit and focus on that stuff, it’s just depressing. I’m fully aware of what is going on, but I see no point in staying there with it.”  

Moving the gospel forward

A medical professional with whom Lowery meets told him he has a tenacity of hope. But the doctor, Lowery said, doesn’t understand where it comes from. She told him he needs to stop focusing on finding reasons to worship God through the situation and concentrate on other things “that are all within the mind,” he said.  

“They (doctors) try to move me toward their view that Scripture is a crutch and you have to focus on yourself and fight this,” Lowery said. “My view is if I don’t have Scripture, if I don’t use this to praise God, if I don’t use this as a way to move the gospel forward and let God use this as a ministry point, what do I have?

And so, that’s what Lowery does. He’s learning to read Braille — “I’m really excited about that; I love to read,” he said — and Florida’s Department of Blind Services and other organizations are helping Lowery as he learns to live and work in new ways. Slowing down is not an option he is willing to consider.

“My calling hasn’t changed,” Lowery said. “My circumstances have changed, but my ministry is still here. I have the same job, but I do it a little differently than before. It’s just that God has broadened my platform.

“I have a lot to learn, but now we’re talking about how we might start supporting people who are losing vision, who are facing it as a married couple. Sara and I are working to make sure we don’t go into two different worlds, and we hope we can eventually help others in that way.”

“In all marriages, you have to constantly make an effort,” Sara said. “Jeff is the spiritual leader of our family. When we are in sync with reading Scripture together and praying, it becomes so apparent what God is doing in our lives, and we are connected in a deeper way. It gives us incentive to keep going. It is strengthening our marriage.”

Jeff Lowery said that the opportunity to personally reach an underserved population with the gospel of Jesus Christ and help them understand where his tenacity of hope comes from is an exciting prospect.

“I have an opportunity to be a part of Converge’s biblical diversity efforts in a more personal way. It’s not just a race issue, but a sincere desire to reach the least-reached peoples of the world. People who can’t see or people who can’t hear need to be reached with the gospel. We’re considering how I can be engaged in that.

“There is a lot more to be done,” he said. “Circumstances have changed, but God hasn’t. So, I’m going to keep worshiping him.”

Mickey Seward, Contributing writer

Mickey Seward is a freelance writer and editor. He served as Converge's director of communications from 2017-23.

Additional articles by Mickey Seward