Sons Without Fathers

Idols Aside Ministries


June 21, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

Just over two years ago when Jeff Shills signed up to be a mentor at a Sons Without Fathers retreat, he did not expect to be emotionally and spiritually wrecked. On this particular retreat, there was a 14-year-old boy named John. He was staying in a state-run group home in Winter Haven and was sent to this overnight retreat despite his lack of desire to be there. The retreat was scheduled to be a weekend spent outdoors but John arrived with saggy pants, ear phones, nice shoes and a bad attitude. He made it clear that he didn’t want to be there and that he actually hated the outdoors. “I remember thinking, ‘Okay, God. You have him here for a reason and you have me here for a reason. I am going to need you to help me make the connection,’” Jeff said. John started out the weekend miserable but through the Holy Spirit, the mentors gently and patiently continued to love him and create a safe place for him to just be.

Throughout the weekend his walls began to crumble and his story was exposed. It turns out that John never knew his father and he lived with his mother who was a drug dealer and a prostitute. The only examples of men he had in his life were ones that would come and go to buy his mother’s drugs or use her body. John got involved with a gang a few years back and got into trouble with the law which landed him in the group home at the age of 14. Jeff’s first reaction when hearing this was, “What are you doing running with a gang? You don’t want any part of that (obvious, right?).” John’s response was, “Mr. Jeff, what was I supposed to do? My mom was a drug dealer. Selling drugs is all I know. Those were the guys I was always around (OBVIOUS RIGHT!).” Then the realization that John did not choose this life began to sink into Jeff. “Of course, he joined a gang! Those were the only men to ever take him under their wings. They gave him a job, a place to stay and a sense of belonging that he hadn’t felt before, why wouldn’t he join?” And John’s story is one version of the same story as thousands of fatherless youth in our country and beyond.

Our society struggles with a slew of problems including depression, suicide, rape, runaway teens, high school drop outs, drug trafficking, homelessness, human trafficking and the list goes on. As a society, we often try to attack the problem as a reaction instead of meeting the person where they are before it even becomes a problem. Did you know that…

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. of Health/Census)
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes (US D.H.H.S, Bureau of the Census)
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes (Center for Disease Control)
  • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes (Justice and Behavior, Vol 14, p.402-26)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report)
  • The majority of youth in chemical abuse centers and state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (U.S. Department of Justice)
  • 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)

Are we saying that fatherlessness is the only source to all of these problems? Absolutely not. There are many more outlying factors that influence each individual. However, we are saying that fatherlessness is one of the strongest factors. If fatherlessness is one of our biggest issues, why is it almost never confronted or talked about? John is an intelligent boy with an ample amount of potential but his involuntary circumstances and life influences were leading him to an unwanted lifestyle.  In turn these choices were leading him to homelessness and gang involvement. His instilled choices were leading him down the path to become a statistic.  IAM’s heart is to go straight to the source of the problem. The source is brokenness that can come from many things including fatherlessness, but the cure for all brokenness is the same, and that is a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.

Almost two years later, Jeff Shills is now the Florida director for Idols Aside Ministries whose mission is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Sports and the Outdoors in order to engage the fatherless in his area — Everything from sports camps with professional athletes and all girl worship nights at the lodge to lake days and playing basketball in the park. The focus is to have positive male figures constantly investing and having a presence in these teen’s lives. Idols Aside events are not intended to be onetime events, but the goal instead is to live out the Gospel and build relationships with every fatherless youth that is led into their path.

From September to May, Idols Aside Ministries does 2 to 3 overnight retreats a month at their lodge in Lake Wales, Florida. IAM was blessed with 92 acres and the lodge easily sleeps 12 people. Each retreat consists of 4 or 5 boys with 4 or 5 men or 4 to 5 girls with 4 to 5 women. IAM uses a discipleship focused model at their overnight retreats where they are able to have a more intimate focus with each youth.  “I have been asked before if I thought reaching 12 kids a month was enough when there are thousands in need in our area. But I believe our God is a God of multiplication,” Jeff smiled. “God can take a kid like John and change hundreds of lives (or more) through the power of his testimony.” Most times bad habits and circumstances trickle down from generation to generation. It is a vicious cycle that can consume one’s life just by simply being born into it. “We know that we aren’t just positively influencing John’s life, but we are influencing his kids’ and grandkids’ lives too. God is breaking the chains off of generations and we get to partner with God. THAT is what blows me away!”

On a retreat back in March, the hunting groups were out on IAM property when they encountered an FWC officer while on patrol of the area. After watching the hunt for about an hour in a half, noticing that the youth were accompanied by adults, the FWC officer stopped the hunt to check licenses. As Jeff and the other mentors showed their licenses, God opened up a conversation about Idols Aside. The Officer said, “Yeah, I saw your sign coming in and looked up your ministry as I was waiting for the sun to come up. What an amazing opportunity for these young men.” The conversation progressed and it turns out that the officer had never met his father; his mother left him and he was raised by his grandparents. The Officer shared some trials he was experiencing in his personal life in front of the whole group and Jeff asked if the group could pray for him. Recounting, Jeff said, “It was a really cool experience for two reasons: the young men were able to see that the FWC’s job is to protect the resources that God has ensured into our care and the young men were able to connect with a man who had a fatherless story as well. A lot of times these boys either think that fatherlessness is common and they do not understand the need for an outreach or there are times that they may feel completely alone. The more God puts people like the FWC officer in their lives, the more they are able to see that this is MY story and I can use it to glorify God and help others!’” The men and teenaged boys all laid hands on the Officer to pray for him that day, and they all walked away a little different and the Officer is now a devoted mentor in the program!

There is a single mother who lives in Jeff’s neighborhood. She has a 13-year-old and a 9-year-old and has recently become a refuge for another struggling mother who was living out of her car with her 7-year-old and 1 year old.  “We figured we eat dinner 7 nights a week at our house, why not invite them all over to eat with us one night?  It’s a no brainer,” Jeff said. From that simple action, the families have become friends and those single mothers don’t feel like they are doing life on their own. “I guarantee you that people would be surprised if they just got to know their neighbors a little more. There is so much joy that can come from it,” Jeff said. Statistics can make a problem like fatherlessness feel distant and daunting. Sometimes we feel helpless because we are not sure where to start helping or how to help, but the truth is simple. Just reach out.

The size of a problem can intimidate someone from acting, but when the numbers are broken down it isn’t overwhelming at all. “For example, there are about 135,000 children in the foster care system in the United States and there are is estimated around 350,000 churches. That is crazy! That means that if 1 family out of every 3 churches were to foster/adopt a child that problem could be almost eradicated,” Jeff said. “You can break fatherlessness down in the same way! There are currently between 23 and 24 million fatherless children in the United States. There are about 350,000 churches. The average size of a church is about 185 members. That means that there are roughly (350,000 x 185) 64 million church attenders…There are way more of us then there are of them. It is a big problem but it is possible to solve!” If God is not involved then it is not a God sized prayer!

 Jeff would be fine if in 5 or 10 years from now that he is out of a job because every Church is reaching fatherless youth and IAM is no longer needed. Idols Aside wants to educate, encourage, and empower the church to reach out to the single mothers/grandmothers and fatherless children in their congregations and community by stepping up for them where a father has failed. If you are reading this and do not go to church, do not be fooled into thinking that you cannot make a lasting impact, because you most certainly can! This problem is going to take all of us to solve. “I often get asked, ‘Where are single mothers?’ They are at sporting events, school plays and award ceremonies. Where are they at? They are your waitresses at Denny’s and your cashiers at the grocery store. Where are they at? They are the lady selling you food at the Lakeland Magic game. Where are they? They are everywhere, you just have to open your eyes to see them,” Jeff said nearly coming out of his seat. “Trust me, if you ask God to open your eyes. He Will!”

This nation has problems like any other. They are overwhelming and heart breaking but they are not impossible to overcome. Through God’s strength we get to be the answer. We can invest in a ministry like Idols Aside, or we can reach out and invest in a fatherless child that is right down the street. We may not always have money but we do have time. Do you play golf or work on cars? Do you like movies or grilling and watching sports? Could you invite a fatherless kid to tag along with you every so often? Do you know a single mother? Could you invite her and the kids over for Sunday night dinner? We can’t help 24 million youth on our own but we can help break the chains off of ONE that will change generations to come. These youth are our future and they matter. They were made to be so much more than the cards they have been dealt. What would this society look like if EVERY Church stepped up, reached out, and showed them that? Where would the fatherless be then?

How you can help…

Pray – For the leaders and the youth that come through Idols Aside Ministries to have life changing conversations and for them to be able to build lifelong relationships. Pray for the fatherless epidemic as a whole and for opportunities that you may be able to help make a difference.

Donate – There are always financial needs to keep all of Idols Aside Ministries’ programs up and running. Every youth is given a scholarship to IAM events at no cost to their single mother. We will see 350+ youth this year alone in Central FL and it will cost IAM $360/youth for multiple retreats and post event follow up. Every dollar counts and is appreciated.

Volunteer – Volunteer your time to be a mentor and go on a retreat or to serve at any of their other events!

Step Up, Reach Out – Look for single parents and fatherless youth in your life and be a blessing to them!

If you would like to donate, volunteer or learn more about this ministry you may either email Jeff himself at or go to their website at!

Let’s keep spreading goodness together!

EA Team

Dreaming Under a Mango Tree

Love Haiti Partnership


May 24, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

After church one afternoon, sweat bubbled on her brow as Bristol Wells tried to keep up with a Haitian man who was speedily hiking up the side of a mountain. His name was Michel and his 70 years of age did not stop him from being the fastest and most energetic of the group. They came up to a small river and Michel naturally skipped across the surface from stone to stone with the ease of doing it thousands of times before. The lay of the land was familiar to him but completely foreign to Bristol. Her church shoes had no grip and when she attempted to hop from stone to stone the same way Michel did, her feet slipped and landed in sludge. Michael had nearly made his way to the top but when he turned around and saw Bristol struggling, he ran full force towards her. He didn’t run up and ask if she was okay, instead he dropped to his knees and immediately began washing the muck off of her feet. “That is when I knew this place was different,” Bristol said. “This is a perfect example of the character in the village of Marmont and out of all the places in Haiti that we visited, this one felt like home.” The Marmont community didn’t come to them asking what they could receive, instead they welcomed them in as part of the community. Bristol and a few others from her family and church knew they felt a call to help Haiti, but people like Michel are why they chose to set roots in Marmont.

As a child, Bristol always had a wild and adventurous spirit. While most young girls wanted to dress up in something sparkly, she wanted to be a NASCAR pit crew chief and spent her time dirt biking with her father. All of her rough play came to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of eleven. “There is something about being told that you may not live to see your 18th birthday that makes you grow up a little faster than normal,” she said with a reminiscent smile. When she was diagnosed her father passed out cold. When he came back to his senses he looked at his daughter and said, “You aren’t mine.” Eleven-year-old Bristol was slightly concerned when she heard him say that “…but he meant that I belonged to God and not him.” After an operation and some painful radiation, her cancer went into remission. Bristol’s whole perspective shifted and she began to see that there was a purpose for her life and a reason for her survival. “I stopped asking ‘why me’ when I realized I had been chosen to be used for the greater good. I would do it over and over again if one person could come to Christ through it.” She knew she was alive for a reason and was thankful to be alive to discover it.

Bristol remembers having a strong desire to go to Haiti from a young age. She told her mother that she wanted to go shortly after battling cancer, and she in turn would laugh it off like Bristol was crazy. Why would she want to risk her life when she just got it back? After seven years of praying, Bristol was on her first flight to Haiti…on her 18th birthday no less!

“Everything that could have gone wrong on our first trip to Haiti, went wrong…or so we thought,” Bristol smiled. Every plan the group had for that trip was disrupted. “It felt like a super natural force did not want us to be there,” Bristol said. “Which was confirmation that we were in the right place.” When they arrived in Haiti the person who was supposed to pick the group up was nowhere to be found. “We were the only Americans in that hectic and hot airport. Everyone except us spoke Creole and we began to wonder what the heck we had gotten ourselves into,” she said. Angry eyes watched every move they made and panic began to set in their stomachs as the sun continued to drop.  A few minutes later a young Haitian man approached the group. In broken English he told them that if they rode with him in his van he would take them to a place to sleep. The group looked at each other with wide eyes and thought, ‘This is crazy! There is no way we are getting in a vehicle with an absolute stranger in one of the most dangerous countries on this planet.’ Then they turned back to the man in desperation and said, “Okay!” That man was their only hope and he ended up staying with the group for 2 days until they safely found the people that they were supposed to be with in the first place.

Another day on that same trip the group had to ride up a mountain in a van. They were in an unpopulated area with no people in sight. Suddenly, the back tire lost traction and the van began to slide off the side of the mountain. “It was terrifying. I remember thinking, ‘we are going to die,’ but all of a sudden countless people ran to the van from out of the woods and they held it up long enough for all of us to get out. I think they were Haitian angels!” She laughed. “They came out of NO WHERE.”

When they finally settled in Marmont, they decided that they were going to surrender their plans and just be fully there with open minds and hearts. They were no longer going to try to force things to happen but instead they took time to listen to the people of Marmont. They allowed the village leaders to share their dreams and for the majority of them, dreaming was a luxury that they were experiencing for the first time.“The last thing we wanted to do was ‘Americanize’ the way they do things,” Bristol said. “Just because we do things differently doesn’t mean that is the right way for them.” The Americans and the Haitians sat under a mango tree with a translator and dreamed together about what the village of Marmont could become. The leaders talked about bettering their community and their change inspiring the villages around them to do the same. This was the birth of Love Haiti Partnership (LHP) and if you fast-forward five years to now, they are doing just that.

As of now Love Haiti Partnership, with the help of the leaders of Marmont, built a new building that doubles as a school and a church. They currently have about 100 students in grades Kindergarten through Third and their goal is to add a grade every year. Bristol said, “Several people in my church sponsor children in the village. It is amazing to see the physical, mental and spiritual growth that takes place. When you visit, it is the most beautiful thing to be able to see and touch the change you have been praying for in a child before you ever met them.” The color of their hair changes due to proper nutrition and their smiles change due to the value that is placed in their lives. They have already come far but their dreams have much farther to go.

Love Haiti Partnership has certain goals they want to reach in different phases. Every day the women who feed the 100 children in the school go on an unsafe trek to town and purchase food that they then cook in an outdoor make shift kitchen under a few plastic tarps. This process is labor intensive and these women are incredibly tough but LHP wishes to find ways to ease some of the mental and physical stress that comes from this immense responsibility. Love Haiti Partnership has the connections to have food delivered in bulk but there is no kitchen much less a place to store any extra food away from people and animals. For phase one they want to build the first level of what will be a three-story structure to be a kitchen and pantry to cover those needs.

Phase two, will be the second story of that three story structure designated to be a studio sized living quarters for a man named Jude. He is a middle-aged single man who has dedicated his whole life to be the principle of the school during the week and the pastor of the church (in the same building) on the weekends.  He currently lives and sleeps on the floor of that building. For this phase they will be honoring his sacrifice by building him a place to live.

The third and final phase of that three-story building will be beds for visiting groups. As of right now, visitors have to stay in a heavily guarded hotel that is located far away from the school. Groups spend precious time traveling back and forth instead of being productive in the village they came to help.

In Haiti, the government is corrupt and the economy makes it nearly impossible to survive, much less thrive. Being able to give these children an education is an honor but it is useless if we do not equip them with practical trades that can help them support their families. “Something we have really been praying about is having a trade school for them. We are currently doing our research for what trades will work best there but we know that we want to include carpentry and farming,” Bristol said.

If you go to Google Earth and look at an aerial view of Haiti you will notice that it shares the same island as the Dominican Republic (DR). On the DR side, the vegetation is lush and it looks something like a tropical paradise. On the Haitian side it looks like waste and ruin. It has the potential to be much more than their government has busted it down to be. Bristol and the rest of the Love Haiti Partnership are planning to gather a group of experts to help come up with creative ways for their village to become more self-sustainable.

The crops that are grown in and near Marmont are nearly all corn and sorghum, which are not dense in nutrition. The diets of the locals lack diversity and if they want to have different food they must have means to travel and money to purchase. “Their land has so much potential. My dream and prayer is to incorporate new crops for them to grow, eat and sell,” Bristol said. They could come up with new ways to irrigate, contour farm and whatever else their minds dream up. With a little help, the right products, ingenuity and training this dream is no longer so far fetch.             On one of the nights of that trip the church had a revival worship night. There is no electricity or running water so they were singing and dancing in the dark for hours. “These people have nothing but they are some of the richest people I know. These people don’t stop praising and they have nothing,” Bristol said and in that moment she soaked in the realization that every day of her life was a gift that she wanted to live by giving it to others the same way the Haitians do. What would happen if we who have much had the same appreciative and generous attitude? How many people could be empowered and dreams come to be? All night long they sang and danced under the brilliant stars that twinkled through the trees. They thanked God for what he had already done for them and for the hope they now had in their dreams of becoming more.

How you can help!

A bustling, educated and self-sustainable community swirled around in all of their minds that afternoon under the mango tree. The first steps have been made but there is a long way to go. Love Haiti Partnership is made up of 100% volunteers and donations. If you would like to volunteer, donate or give in your own unique way go to their website

Or email

List of  needs:

  • Prayer – Rooting for them!
  • Connections – Do you know of anyone who would like to volunteer to help with any of these projects?
  • Donations – money to go towards these projects

Mission Field America


May 1, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

When someone says the word “missionary” it is easy for our minds to flood with images of stereotypical strappy sandals, cargo pants, oversized backpacks and hungry children. Regardless of religion, the majority of people view missions as an international activity. A mission is typically something you plan and save money for; it’s something that takes you out of your normal life and drops you into a foreign place outside of your comfort zone to wage peace instead of war. Mission trips are usually goal oriented and purpose filled. The individuals who participate in them often have a “spiritual high” from living a completely selfless life for a certain amount of time. Then they come home changed and inspired but often fall back into the rut of normalcy in their comfortable home lives. What if we were meant to live our entire lives selflessly and not just when we are away from home? What if we woke up every day mission-minded about serving and loving others around us? What if we were meant to live our entire lives on a “spiritual high?”

In 2012, Arsenio was a new student on the University of South Florida campus in Tampa. While Arsenio was still fresh on campus, a young man named Christian approached him. He casually opened up a conversation about faith and asked Arsenio about his walk with God. This led to one-on-one Bible studies and conversations that created a safe place to question faith, solidify what Arsenio believed and allowed him to decide why he believed it. Arsenio felt the void in his heart that all humans sense at one point or another, and he slowly began to understand that void was there by design. He learned that religion wasn’t filling it but an ongoing loving relationship with his God was what he was craving. That void was placed in Arsenio’s heart by his creator who hoped that he would come back to Him to fill that yearning with a life-giving relationship.

He began to understand that God didn’t care about what he did “right” as much as He cared about being in constant communication with him. Arsenio believes that being a Christian isn’t about being perfect. It is about once being dead and now being alive. It is about being transformed over time. It is about denying yourself and trusting that there is something more for your life. It is waking up every morning to live a life with purpose. Arsenio gave his life to Christ and has been in pursuit of his God-given purpose ever since.

“The most important part of this whole process was the discipleship and accountability,” Arsenio said. After meeting one-on-one for a while, Christian introduced Arsenio to a few other college students who were on the same journey he was on and they began encouraging one another as they walked through life together. “Christian and the guys challenged me to respond to the word of God. They didn’t say, ‘Here is what the word of God says now go keep doing what you have always done,’ no. They held me accountable to start making changes in my life and that fired me up and made me want to do things right!”

Ironically enough, one cannot have true freedom with out discipline. We often think of discipline as a punishment but that is not the kind of discipline we are describing. True discipline is the ability to conquer our thoughts and desires. Feelings are fleeting, but we are truly free when we are no longer slaves to them. When we are no longer slaves to our negative thoughts or self-destructive behaviors that we both love and simultaneously hate. This is not an over night transformation, it is a journey of a lifetime. Arsenio believes that God’s love isn’t something that you have to earn or “be good enough” for. His love is a gift, always walking with us and bringing us unexplainable peace, especially on the tough days that mold us the most. God wants to show us that He will always take care of us in every aspect of our lives. He can give you that kind of discipline and freedom if you let Him. That is the discipline and faith that Arsenio was introduced to in 2012, and now he is more on fire with passion about his God than ever before and has dedicated his life to sharing that freedom.

Arsenio and his fiancé Hannah are now missionaries in America. Instead of packing up and leaving the country, they decided to make their home their mission field. “So often we get caught up in physical needs that we forget to pay attention to mental and spiritual needs. We may be a first world country, but we are impoverished when it comes to mental and spiritual health,” Arsenio said in a bustling bagel shop on University of South Florida’s campus. Through Cornerstone Ministries, Arsenio and Hannah now share the gospel the same way that Christian did with Arsenio in 2012. They, along with a team of leaders meet a couple of mornings a week to pray for the students they are mentoring. Afterward, their day is filled with one-on-one time with different students. Arsenio said, “We could do bigger groups, but we like to keep it intimate. Deep things come out in conversation, especially when the word of God stirs someone’s heart. We want to set up an atmosphere where they feel free to share those things without feeling ashamed or guilty.”

Every minute of their days on campus are spent pouring truth and encouragement into the lives of others. Even as we spoke with Arsenio and Hannah, a few students approached us and took the time to explain how Arsenio and Cornerstone Ministries have positively impacted their lives. Their intimate bond was evident and their smiles generated an authentic glow.

Hannah has been ministering to women through Cornerstone Ministries the same way Arsenio has to men. In 2012, their paths crossed and they are now engaged with a dream of being a missionary team. “I think that when you welcome someone into your home you are able to create a bond and friendship with others that allows you to speak into their lives and love them on a deeper, and more meaningful level,” Hannah said with a smile. She and Arsenio dream of having a home that acts as a safe haven for anyone who walks through its doors.

Many people do not view Hannah and Arsenio’s mission as urgent as some missions outside of the United States. It is easier to give money to causes we can see such as a bad water supply or starving villages. It is more difficult to give towards causes that we can’t see like anxiety, depression, mental illnesses, loneliness, silent addictions, suicidal thoughts and many other plagues on the hearts and minds of America’s young adults. Both types are both equally detrimental.

They shared story after story of how different students were breaking free from the strongholds that these sicknesses had on their lives, and after meeting a few of those students it wasn’t hard to believe that America needs just as much help and healing as any other country. “The Bible says, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ and we are really blessed to have all the nations come to us on this huge international campus,” Hannah said. Arsenio added to that by saying, “We have students graduating and going out to be lights in the work force all over our country as well as the world!”

They shared a testimony of a young woman with us. She traveled from Trinidad to become a student at the University of South Florida. She gave her life to Jesus through Cornerstone Ministries and the one-on-one Bible studies. Once she was saved and laid her foundation in faith, she began to walk with Christ on campus. She became an RA and began doing intentional things to bless the lives of those around her.  She was known for placing a sign on her door that said, “If you want to want to be prayed for put your prayer requests here.” She was always excited about meeting people and inviting them to church. She was on fire for Christ and can now take that passion back to Trinidad to reach whoever God wants to reach there. This American mission spreads beyond our borders in ways that we are not even aware of. “There are several girls that I am close with at our church that say she is the reason they went to church and now know the Lord. You just never know what can happen when you obey God,” Hannah said.

We asked Arsenio and Hannah where they needed the most help and they both responded by saying finances and prayer. They are the ‘boots on the ground’ so to speak, so in order to be sent out they need financial partners to come along side them to help reach students with the gospel. With financial support, they can spend their time and energy on the mission field instead of worrying about how they are going to pay their bills. “I have had weeks where I knew there was no way I could have reached this many people without a team of people praying for me and really believing for people to change. So, financial partners doesn’t only mean dollars, it means I want you to be a prayer warrior. I want to build a relationship with my partners and let them be a part of what is happening here” Arsenio said.

They may be missionaries in our home country but one by one they are changing the world…and so can you!

If you would like to be a part of their mission, here is how…

If you would like to contact Arsenio you can by emailing him at

Spread Goodness and Be Epic,
EA Team

Ignorance Isn’t Always Bliss


April 19, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

Growing up I never realized that education was one of the greatest gifts my country had ever given me. Here in the United States, education is a right and all children are not only able to attend school but are required to go. In my mind, when you turned five you went to school and that was just the way it was, but the more I see the more I learn just how much I unknowingly took this gift for granted.

Megan Maxwell and Vicky Chan

A few years ago I went with a group of students on a study abroad trip to conduct psychological research in China. One afternoon I was able to shadow a Beijing University student who went by the name of Vicky Chan. We were the same age and she was studying Engineering and English. As she showed me around her campus she began to ask me questions that I wasn’t prepared for. She started by asking me, “Do you get excited to vote?” At first I thought the question was random, but then I began to think about why she would ask me that in the first place. Once I realized that voting was a much different experience for her than it was for me I said, “You know, I should be more excited.” And she said, “Yes! You are so lucky to have a voice. Always use it!”

On the train ride to Beijing, my professor was looking up a book on her IPad about different religions and prayer. A few minutes later, someone was on our train cart confiscating her IPad. The internet was monitored heavily and I thought it was odd that I couldn’t access Google or my social media accounts. When I was in my hotel room I noticed that the MTV was airing music and shows from a decade ago, and when I called home I could hear some static and voices in the background. China was a beautiful country full of tradition, history, food and fun but I couldn’t help but have an eerie feeling. As we continued to walk around campus Vicky mentioned that she was studying to become an engineer but really wanted to be a veterinarian. She told me that when they are required to do “research” they are usually given the materials to read. Instead of being able to choose what she wanted to do she was being told what she was going to do, and everything she was allowed to see was monitored. I remember asking her what her dream was and she told me that she would do anything to study at an American university. “Why?” I asked. “Don’t you get it? You can study whatever you want!”

Before my conversation with Vicky I always assumed that schools were much better in China due to the stereotype of the Chinese being so smart. The truth is that they thrive in American schools because they understand the precious value of knowledge. That day, I learned that the Chinese were ignorant by force, but and I was ignorant by choice…I vowed to never complain about an assignment or take my education for granted again.

I was able to take a different trip to Honduras and volunteer in an elementary school. There was no air conditioning or running water but the kids were respectful and eager to learn. As I was standing in the courtyard watching children run around in their navy blue and white uniforms, I glanced over to the gate. I saw about a dozen children with tear-filled eyes and tattered clothes watching from a distance. I asked the teacher why they were not in school and he informed me that if you can’t pay, you don’t go. Those children couldn’t afford a uniform, therefore they were unable to go to school even though they desperately wanted to. As I looked at their little faces, I thought back to all the times that I complained about waking up to go to school and quickly felt my perspective shift.

The last question that Vicky Chan whirled at my 19-year-old self was, “What is it like to be free?” I thought about my country and appreciated things about it that I hadn’t before. I thought about the dreams that I was always encouraged to pursue and the education that I had been gifted with. I thought about my freedom to vote and my voice that mattered. I attempted to imagine what it would be like to not have any of these freedoms, but when I realized how blessed I was, I smiled and said, “Being free is amazing. It is all I have ever known.”

We here at Epic Affect believe that to much is given, much is required. This means that we should never feel guilty for being blessed, but instead take full advantage of what we have been given. We strive to stay curious, learn all we can and then pass along the gifts to others who haven’t been so fortunate. We are blessed in order to bless others. We do not take that responsibility lightly and vow to never take that precious gift for granted.

Come to the Table


April 2, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

When a need arises for others around us, way too often we paralyze ourselves from helping. We tell ourselves things like, “That isn’t for me” or “I do not have the money to give right now” or “I would just get in the way if I tried to help.” The truth is that we all have something to bring to the table. What an incredibly boring meal it would be if we all brought the same dish. If everyone only gave money, no physical work would actually be done. If we all had the same gifts and talents, our possibilities would be so limited. Epic Affect wants to challenge you to ask yourself what you would like to see change in this world, and then think about how you can specifically and uniquely help it change. Those desires were placed in your heart on purpose and those gifts were placed in your hands for a reason. When we start focusing on what we can do instead of what we can’t, is when change begins to happen.

Stefanie Keeler Photography

Have you ever wanted to help or make a difference but didn’t know how? When we took a tour of Bridges of Hope in Homerville, GA, we quickly realized that all areas of the recovery facility were in great shape except for the kitchen. As we walked through the doors you could tell that this little kitchen had fed countless men for many years. The ceiling was caving in, the drywall was disintegrating, the air conditioner was not flowing properly, most of the appliances were broken and the drains were flooding. This kitchen needed some serious love. We asked the manager Robby, if they planned on remodeling their kitchen anytime soon and he informed us that the quotes they were receiving for the projects were unreasonably out of their budget. All of the quotes lingered around $70,000 due to a boom in construction projects in the area paired with the out-of-the-way location. Contractors threw out high prices because they did not see the value in the project over others and did not want to see it through unless they were paid a substantial amount. We told Robby that we were unable to give that much money, but we were dedicated to keeping our eyes open for another way to build a new kitchen for the Bridges of Hope.

Stefanie Keeler Photography

In the middle of September 2018, Epic Affect planned on having a lunch for the Highland Ag Solutions’ farmers in their community of Homerville, GA. We had raised some money to go towards the Bridges of Hope kitchen project and anxiously awaited to give it to them. Everything was lined up and ready to go when a hurricane brewed up out of nowhere and hit another farming community in North Carolina. Naturally we had to cancel the lunch in order to do what we could to help with disaster relief. Our plans were changed and we could not help but feel a little discouraged, not only about the circumstance but also about missing the lunch in Homerville too.

On the day that we were supposed to be in Homerville, one of our Highland friends Frankie “Bubbers” Hall was in the office. Anyone who has the honor of meeting Bubbers, quickly discovers that they will never meet another human like him. He is contagiously positive and runs on a level of energy that most people dream of having. He radiates joy and leaves a lasting impression everywhere he goes. We over heard him talking about a trip to Maine from which he had just returned. He said that he and a group of retired gentlemen adopt a construction project once a year or so and then volunteer their time and energy to complete it. We began to ask Bubbers questions and brought up the idea of working on the kitchen at Bridges of Hope. It did not take long for us to figure out why the lunch was cancelled.

Stefanie Keeler Photography

A couple of weeks later, a church van from Fayetteville, GA pulled into the Bridges of Hope driveway. When the silver haired men filed out one by one the last words that came to mind were “construction crew.” The group was made up of retired men from several different walks of life,  from engineering and the postal service to the military. However, as I spoke to each one none of them mentioned that they were contractors or architects. They simply showed up and focused on what they could each bring to the table.

Robby shook their hands and led them to the kitchen, where they spent a couple of hours earnestly measuring, visualizing and taking notes on the project. Once they had weighed out the cost and the time it would take to pull this project off they gladly said, “We will do it!”

Stefanie Keeler Photography

A couple of months later, the supplies were bought, the men at Bridges of Hope had demolished the kitchen down to its studs, and the Fayettville kitchen crew hit the ground running! The kitchen crew quickly became friends with the men at Bridges and it was not long before they were all working and joking around together. “It is amazing! These men here at Bridges have helped us so much. There are men who lay tile, there are electricians, there are AC guys, there is so much talent here and it is just so fun to see them use it,” said Bubbers covered with sawdust. The community of Homerville pitched in to help by cooking every meal they missed. The kitchen crew stayed in a local hotel and worked from dawn til dusk completely free of charge and in a matter of three days Bridges of Hope had a brand new gorgeous kitchen. They turned what was supposed to be an impossible $70,000 remodel into a $24,000 remodel including new appliances! That is the power of spreading goodness!

There was no magic to this accomplishment. Just a bunch of amazing men from all walks of life bringing what they had to the table. Not only does Bridges have a new kitchen, but the lives of all of the men involved have been changed for the better. The next time you are invited to the table to do something good, simply bring what you have to give. Whether it be a side dish here or a paint job there. A dessert or an encouraging word. We promise that as long as you show up, it will always be enough.

Bridges of Hope

A Fighting Chance


March 6, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

Addiction began to sink its teeth into Robby Horsley at the tender age of 16. The first time he drank led to several days of suffering through alcohol poisoning and shortly after that he found his way into an exhausting double life. He was a sharp young man: he was athletic, respectful, and known all over the southeast for his golfing abilities. With that kind of a profile, it was understandable that shock rippled through his town when he was arrested in the 10th grade for possession of cocaine. “I was selling cocaine and I was using cocaine. It grew to be a $1000.00 a week habit…and nobody knew,” Robby said. When the cops interviewed him they noticed his calm demeanor and asked why he seem to be unbothered by the situation and Robby responded by saying, “Because I know you are probably saving my life.”

Stefanie Keeler Photography

For nearly two decades after his arrest, Robby found himself seemingly stuck in the cycle of addiction. He would receive help from a rehab facility, halfway house, probation or a set goal in his mind. Once he had reached his short-term goal and was reintroduced to the real world, he would crumble under the stronghold addiction held over his life. He desired to change but falsely assumed that he could do it alone. His lifestyle was tiresome and poisoning not only him but to everyone he loved as well.  “There is not enough motivation in this world to break an addiction, I know now that just wanting to change isn’t enough. It requires more than that.” Robby calmly said.

When Robby was 23 years old, he fell in love with a woman who had three children and soon after became a father to a son of his own. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is it! I have to take care of a family now. Surely I will not live this way when I have children to be responsible for.’” He thought that being responsible for a family would be enough motivation to save him from his impulsive addictions and toxic lifestyle and it was, at least for a time.

“Sometime around 24 or 25 years old I became addicted to oxycodone,” Robby exhaled in exhaustion as the memory of the pain-killing drug crossed his mind. All of the other drugs he had experienced paled in comparison to this narcotic. “I would want to do cocaine but I was not physically dependent on it like I was opioids. I was at a point where I was desperate to stop but there was seemingly no end to the nightmare.”

After trudging through life numbly for a few years, his heart was jolted back to reality by a house fire that consumed almost everything he owned. One of the four children had placed a Barbie in the space heater which burst into flames. The space heater was thrown onto the porch and met by whicker furniture and a 5-gallon can of gasoline. In a matter of minutes his life was in ashes. His partner loaded up the kids and moved back to her parents’ house while Robby moved back to Charleston, found a job and saved enough money to get an apartment for his family to start over together again. “I did great when I had a goal, but once the goal was accomplished I went back to what was comfortable. In a matter of only two months I had lost every bit of what I worked for,” Robby said.

He moved to Atlanta and began to treat his opioid addiction with the alternative drug of methadone. Once he had exhausted that method, he took a job in a glass plant where his starting pay was $9.00 an hour. By the end of that year, he was making $50,000 annually. However, just like any other falsified solution, methadone was a Band-Aid instead of a cure for the deeply rooted problem and Robby eventually caved again. After about three months of abusing drugs, life punched him in the gut and he lost everything…again. Except this time it included his family and son.

Robby was mentally, physically and emotionally at the bottom again. After moving back to Charleston to work for a few months he received an unexpected call about his son. It was a truancy case, and it turns out that the mother was in trouble and his son had missed an unreasonable amount of school. “I had him out of wedlock and my name was not even on the birth certificate. I was asked to take a drug test and by the grace of God I passed and received custody of my son.”

Robby had something to live and fight for again, so he moved back in with his mother where she held his hand through the painful process of getting off of methadone. “For 3 years I had no pain receptors and then everything just hit me all at once,” he said.  It took him days to simply be able to walk outside of the house. It took him about 6 weeks to feel well enough to go through a day without having severe withdrawal symptoms. But once again, Robby resiliently fought his way back. He had another chance at life, but after a little while he began to dabble in drinking again.

He was given a few more chances and addiction ripped each one out from underneath him. At this point he was 35, alone and tired of fighting. He was unable to take care of himself, much less his son. Those who loved him were just as hurt and tired as he was. He did not want to hang on anymore and often times thought of how easy it would be to just let go. In the midst of Robby wrestling with guilt, feelings of unworthiness and lack of self-esteem, he had an unlikely friend commit suicide. He said, “She had a great life! I thought, if the result of what she was going through ended there, what was going to happen to me?” Something inside of him snapped. He was tired of fighting not only addiction but also himself.

Stefanie Keeler Photography

“Most people do not get help until they don’t have any other option,” Robby said. One night while intoxicated, with all his resources tapped, he broke down and called his mom to tell her he was ready to get help. Up to that point he held the false belief that he would become “struck sober.” He thought he could give it to God and He would take the problem away from him without having to fully surrender and put in the work. “God had to take absolutely everything away from me so all I had left to reach for was Him. I count it as a blessing because that is what it has taken to save my life.”

Robby was a resident of the Bridges of Hope Recovery Center in Homerville, Georgia twice before but this time was different. The letters and calls from family stopped. There were no job offers and no cop-outs, just Robby facing himself. “I remember wondering if God loved me at all,” he said. In hindsight, he sees that God actually loved him enough to allow life to break him down so He could be his strength at his weakest. Jesus was his friend when he was completely alone and the healer of his heart when he could not fight anymore. Robby slowly began doing the spiritual and behavioral work through the twelve steps program. He woke up every day, shaved his face, did his chores and for the first time ever, surrendered his heart for a complete life change. “Before this point in my life, I always saw God as some sort of Santa Clause God. Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad…my perspective on that has changed a bit,” he grinned. Robby finally found the courage to lay his brokenness on the table before God and accept that he would never be strong enough to change on his own. And God met him in his brokenness.

Homerville is one of Highland Ag Solutions customer communities and in the pursuit of finding ways to give back, Epic Affect stumbled upon Bridges of Hope. We did not know what to expect when we arrived at this secret oasis of tough love and second chances. We went simply to learn more about the program.

As we walked through the screen door that slapped shut behind us, a blue-eyed, sharply dressed young man met us. He welcomed us by shaking our hands and saying, “Hi, I’m Robby Horsley and I am the manager here at Bridges of Hope!”


It is easy for one to look at an addict and think things like, “They did this to themselves” or “They just need self discipline” or “They are just being selfish.” While there is some truth to all of those statements, there is a large portion of the story we are missing. Did Robby fight back every time because he wanted to fall again? Do we know that addiction is a neurological reaction and not just a desire that can be quashed over night? Would we treat others differently if we realized that all humans are addicts in some shape or form? We have all found ourselves in a self-induced cycle of destruction. Our addictions may look like negative thoughts about ourselves, a toxic relationship we keep going back to, a mental or physical disorder that consumes our lives, the impulse to gossip, having judgmental tendencies, frequently lying to the point that we aren’t sure why we are even lying, obsessing over our image or morphing into whatever we think will make others happy. The list goes on, but the bottom line is that we are all addicts. We are all slaves to ourselves in some way. Our organization’s hope is that we grow to see addicts as sick and not selfish, enslaved and not irresponsible. When we see them in that way, it is a natural reaction to be compassionate. If you are struggling with an addiction, big or small, there is good news: you are not broken, you are human, and there is hope for you. Do not give up on yourself because this world is in desperate need of you.

Stefanie Keeler Photography

Robby is a perfect example of God not wasting a hurt. Experiences that most would view as negative or degrading are now cornerstones in his life. He is able to walk alongside hundreds of men who are fighting battles in the same war because he has the scars to show that survival is a possibility. He views every bit of his past as a gift. His life lessons and failures are no longer weapons used against him, they are his ammunition to help others.

Robby recently went on vacation to Florida with his teenage son. They went to a tiki-bar restaurant by the beach where a live band was playing and people were having fun. “It’s still not easy. God has restored so much but it is still a fight and I sometimes struggle with the guilt of missing so much. I remember I was listening to the band and watching people laughing and drinking and I was starting to feel sorry for myself. Then out of nowhere they began playing the worship song ‘Chain Breaker’ and I started crying right there in the restaurant,” he said. Temptation will always come in waves, but with hard work, complete surrender and drawing strength from something that is bigger than us…there is no chain that cannot be broken.

Ways you can help Bridges of Hope…

Stefanie Keeler Photography

Bridges of Hope is a residential recovery facility that has changed hundreds of lives since a few men had a vision 1986. Now, there are four male campuses and 1 female campus. Like Robby, nearly all of the administration has been through the program and are living examples of success stories. The Bridges of Hope team wants to start a fund that will be used to aid addicts who want help but do not have the money to receive any. Robby’s dream would be to not have to turn anyone away due to lack of funds. If you would like to be a part of helping young men like Robby get the help they so desperately need, please mail your tax-deductible donations to:

Bridges of Hope Charitable Trust
1326 Antioch Church Road
Homerville, GA 31634

You may also call their office at: 912-487-2576

If you would like to read more about the details of their program or about the history of Bridges of Hope visit their website at

Keep Spreading Goodness

With Love,
EA Team

Power in a Peanut Butter Sandwich


February 21, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

A few years ago Lajuanta Mattox went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico that left her feeling discouraged. After seeing the overwhelming conditions in some of the impoverished neighborhoods, she wondered if she was even making an impact. Her presence there helped for a moment but she knew that as soon as she returned to her comfortable life in America, everything in Puerto Rico would backslide into the place it was before. Lajuanta said, “I remember asking why I was there and then I heard the Lord whisper to my heart, ‘Remember what you saw? Your community can be the same.’”

Stefanie Keeler Photography

Lajuanta eagerly went home to love on her community with new eyes to truly see them. She and a few others gathered to make some meals and went door to door passing them out to whoever was hungry. They spent a beautiful afternoon loving on strangers in their own homes but Lajuanta still felt a tug on her heart. “It was all great but it was just a one time event. The one thing I have learned more than anything is to be consistent in your love. Be present. So many of these children have people in and out of their lives every day making and breaking promises. The only way we will truly impact a community is by continuing to show up for them,” she said.

When you walk through the doors of Jesus and Jam now, all social norms dissipate. Every Saturday morning the doors are open to anyone who wants to help and all are immediately welcomed regardless of where they came from. The air is filled with the life giving sound of laughter and chatter between all ages, races, social statuses and walks of life. “Division is everywhere… The haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor, the black and the white…all kinds of different divisions…but here we are one. Love unites us and I believe in my heart that this is what God intended the church to look like. There is nothing here to divide us and it is the most beautiful thing,” Lajuanta said with joyful tears filling her eyes.

Each person, young and old, worked together like a well oiled, mission minded, fun having machine. A couple of older women dumped peanut butter into bowls and began spreading it on the bread while a few middle aged men set up brown paper bags to be filled. Children skipped around with juices in their hands and cheerfully plopped them in the brown paper bags as someone followed behind to make sure none were missed. In a matter of minutes about 900 bags were filled with a sandwiches, a few snacks donated from the food pantry and juice boxes. The bags were then loaded up into vans patiently waiting to be handed out to hungry bellies.

Stefanie Keeler Photography

Lajuanta sat in the back of the van with the doors open and her feet dangling as it slowly rolled its way through the usual route. As the neon yellow van pulled up to the first neighborhood, about a dozen expectantly waiting children came running as fast as they could towards it. When they arrived panting and giggling, Mrs. Lajuanta was sure to take the time to speak to each one. As they conversed there was a light in their eyes that made it evident that they shared a mutual love for one another.

A little girl around seven years old asked for 8 bags. When she was asked why she needed that many she said, “Well, it’s me and my three brothers. That will be enough for us to have food for lunch and dinner until we go back to school.” And just like that, childhood hunger had big brown eyes and could no longer be just a statistic.

Each child, elder and individual with special needs that were handed a meal that day were also given a nice helping of love. A puffy eyed toddler in her pull-up waddled up to the van without a word. A bag of food was extended out to her, but she looked past it and held up her little hands. Lajuanta stopped everything she was doing to pick her up and hold her while silently rubbing her back. Time seemed to stop as they embraced each other for as long as that little girl needed. After a few minutes of hugging, the toddler was ready to reach out for the bag. Lajuanta set her down and watched her softly smile and toddle home. “Jesus and Jam has nothing to do with a sandwich,” Lajuanta said as she hit the van to signal the driver to start moving again.

Jesus and Jam is constantly looking for ways to expand their love. They have recently built their own building, purchased a new delivery van, and are completely debt free! “This place is a miracle! We had no money and people came out of seemingly nowhere to donate. Here we are now, in a brand new building that is completely paid for. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not in awe of God. You can just feel the love in this place,” she smiled.

Over the last five years, Jesus and Jam has grown into something immeasurably more than anyone could have thought, and this is just the beginning. They are currently working on a community garden to grow fresh produce for families who can’t always afford it. They are in the process of handing out food boxes for the elderly shut-ins who are unable to leave their homes to go grocery shopping. They are also planning to launch an after school program which is something Lajuanta is especially passionate about. “If we want gangs, drugs, human trafficking and several other similar problems to stop, we have to go to the source,” she says. “I wont say that these problems will all go away, but the issues wouldn’t be as prevalent. I just want these kids to have a chance at life and we will do whatever we can to give them that. We have to give them the love they need. They deserve that.”

Stefanie Keeler Photography

Lajuanta’s vision for Jesus and Jam is for it to become a refuge for anyone who needs to be fed, both spiritually and physically. Whether it be through volunteering or receiving, she wants the doors to be open to ALL people. “When you tell me that someone has to qualify for a program it is not for us. You can be the richest kid in this town and still be lonely and hurt and devastated…money has nothing to do with that…they just need somebody to love them. They need to know someone cares. They are just as starving as anyone else,” she said. She also sees Jesus and Jam expanding to be bigger than just Homerville, Georgia. “I would have never dreamt that Jesus and Jam would grow this big this fast and there is no limit to where it could go. If I am called to expand farther I will not hesitate,” she said.

At the end of the day, Jesus and Jam is the simple yet powerful act of loving people. “I have no other purpose in this life than to love God and love people. If you love them, they will come. If you keep showing up to love them, they will change.”

Jesus and Jam is proof that anyone can make a difference even with something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich. They aren’t only changing the lives of the hungry but they are bringing healing to every person volunteering their time to help.

Ways you can be involved!

Thank you for epically affecting our world!

With Love,
EA Team

The Grind of Success


February 1, 2019

By Megan Maxwell

One of the common threads that weave every generation, race and gender together is the desire to “be somebody.” Everyone wants to “make it.” We desire to be admirable, worth knowing, and to succeed.  The majority of us live our lives believing the lie that we will be happy when… “when”, as if the life we want is not the one we are currently living.

“I will be confident when I lose weight.”

“I will be happy when I find a spouse.”

 “I won’t be stressed when I make more money.”

We love watching successful people, don’t we? They are inspiring. We read books and listen to podcasts about how to become successful. We scroll through our favorite social media pages and flip through our favorite TV shows to see edited highlight reels of other lives while we miss the beauty of our own. We compare ourselves to others that we believe are “successful” and we strive to be them rather than the best version of ourselves.

Instead of watching from the sidelines, we have decided to ask the successful Steve Maxwell about the unseen grind behind his success. We are all trying to fill a void and reach a joy that we often times believe already belongs to someone else. We want the end result but are not always aware of the process it takes to get there. What if we could be happy in the season of life we are in? What if the struggle of our current situation has a purpose? What if success has absolutely nothing to do with our statuses or paychecks? How would our lives be different if we changed our definition of success?

Those that are familiar with Steve Maxwell recognize him as a prototype of self-made success. Multitudes of people know that he has done well in business, but few know what he has had to risk along the way. Some are proud of his achievements and champion him onward. Others automatically assume what he has was handed down to him. However, almost everyone is curious to know his secret to success. The ones who truly know him and have been there for his journey know that his secret for success is not a secret at all.

We asked Steve what his first impression of success was and without hesitation he said, “Hank Varnum.” Hank was a family friend of the Maxwell family when Steve was growing up. Hank started a little company in his garage called Central Maintenance and Welding and over the years it grew to employ hundreds of people. Hank was known for his giving heart. He helped support countless church ministries and build up the local little league. Seeing firsthand the purpose behind Hank’s hard work and how his success was able to bless an entire community was eye opening to Steve. “Hank showed me at a young age that you can be successful and share it too,” Steve said. “Looking back now, being successful is not about how much you make, it’s about how hard you chase after your purpose and how much you give back along the way.”

Steve spent most of his childhood living in a public park. In exchange for living there, his family was responsible for keeping the grounds clean. “My first job was cleaning public bathrooms. Talk about a humbling experience,” Steve joked.

One Christmas, Steve and his brother were given a mini bike. There were roughly 700 acres in the park, which felt like the whole world to young Steve. “I put about 100,000 thousand miles on that thing. I still have callouses on my thumbs from riding it,” he said as he rubbed the inside of his thumbs. It is said that who we pretend to be as children is usually who we are destined to be as adults. “I would ride from one end of the park to the other pretending someone was in distress and I would rush to help them. Once I finished rescuing one person, I would get another call and have to go help somewhere else.” From the time he was a boy, Steve dreamed of helping others.

That same spirit of wide-open mini bike freedom is what made Steve decide to join the Navy. He did not have the money to go to college but he did have the desire to get out of his town and help others. The Navy made that possible for him. “I went into the Navy to see the world and they sent me to Beesville, Texas,” Steve laughed. Little did he know at the time that this dusty little town is exactly where he needed to be. Steve married his high school sweetheart Beverly “Bev” Purvis and they loaded everything they owned in a U-haul to move to Texas with only $500.00 to their name. Their neighbors, John and Nancy Durham, were also newlyweds and the couples quickly became friends. John and Steve grew to be like brothers. There were several times that Steve and Bev had to help John and Nancy with bills or groceries and vise versa. Neither of the families had much to give, but they never hesitated to give what they had. Steve and John would often work out together with rusted weights in a leaning shed behind their houses. They would constantly dream and let their minds wander to dreams of having a business together one day. At the tender age of 23 years old, they did not know when or how, but Lord willing, they knew they would see this dream become reality.

When asked what he considers success to be, Steve smiled and said, “It is all a matter of what your definition of success is. I count my first failure as my greatest success.” When Steve left the Navy he was given the opportunity to take a huge risk and start his own business with A.L. Williams. In the beginning it went well, but after a while he ended up losing everything. He lost his business. He lost his home and had to move in with friends. He had to send his wife Beverly and their baby Mallory back home to move in with his in-laws while he tried to find a way to pick up the pieces and support his family again. For about 7 months he worked a midnight shift in an oil refinery in Louisiana with a prison crew. He was tired, he was broken, he felt like a failure, but deep in his exhausted heart he still had a dream. “It was then that my relationship with God became real,” Steve said. “My ego was completely stripped away and I knew I could do nothing without Him.”

There were days that Steve did not know how he was going to pay for a tank of gas or make his next car payment but at the last minute the money or an opportunity to work would pop up. This is when he decided to begin journaling his prayers and the ways they were always answered. “God gets really close to you when you’re really down. He wants to help. He wants to provide for you…every time He would pull through, it was like a little voice saying ‘That’s me. I won’t let you fall.’” Steve counts that failure as his greatest success because through that pain he learned to trust in something greater than himself. He still journals every morning and is able to look back and see God answering his prayers on the pages. “Sometimes he has to bust you down so you can learn to trust Him with the small things, before He can trust you with bigger things,” Steve said.

To truly understand success we must truly understand failure as well. “God closes more doors than He opens and looking back now, I thank God for each closed door,” he said. Steve changed his perception of failure from being rejection and disappointment to protection and redirection. Failures teach valuable lessons and reroute our paths to lead us where we need to go. When you look at failure through that lens, there is no such thing as failure at all. Therefore, there is no need to fear it.

After those 7 months, Steve moved back to Florida and worked in a packing shed for potatoes. He was determined to get back on his feet. Cleaning toilets, working the midnight shift, and packing potatoes do not necessarily scream “success”; however, Steve viewed that season as an opportunity to better himself in preparation to handle his dream one day. Steve said, “If your job is to clean toilets, your toilet better be the cleanest in the world. If you can not clean a toilet well and with a good attitude, how do you expect to run a business or do anything else well?”

About a decade after his fall, with all the jobs, lessons and friendships that became a part of him along the way, Steve Maxwell sat as the Vice President of Ben Hill Griffin’s produce packinghouse. In a sense, he was successful. He had fought his way back and found his footing, but he still knew that he had a calling to reach his full potential. “Most people get punched in the mouth by life and they lose hope in their dreams. They settle,” Steve said. At this time he was 40 years old. He had three children to educate, a newly built home to pay for, and a comfortable job. It was not the ideal time to risk everything all over again. He could have had a simple and happy life there, but he knew that he was being called to do more. “If I had to mark the greatest act of faith in my life, it would be when I left the best job I ever had at Ben Hill Griffin,” Steve said. He had already gone after the dream of having a business once and it failed miserably. There he was, 10 years later, finally in a good place and God was asking him to trust Him and walk away from it all. “It was the loneliest call I have ever had to make,” he exhaled. “Even Bev was not thrilled about it, and honestly I didn’t blame her… But at the end of the day it was about being obedient to the call. I knew the same God that helped me at my lowest is the same God that was with me in that moment. He had already taught me how to trust Him with the small things, so He could trust me with bigger things…and so I leapt.”

Steve started working for Highland in 2003 to learn the ropes of the business in hopes of buying it one day. In 2005 the offer was made to Steve, but he needed help with money. He made a phone call to his old buddy John Durham who Steve would never have met if his parents could have afforded college. John was the one who took him in when he lost it all. While Steve was on his journey for those two decades, John was on his own similar path. Without having an idea of how well John had done for himself, Steve made a five-minute business pitch to Durham who replied, “Okay, I’m in.” A few hours later John flew in, the papers were signed, and a 20-year-old dream had come to life.

Steve and John, two dreamers with nothing but high school diplomas, hard work ethics, and life experience were now partners in business. The name of the company was Highland. Its first office was in a broken down, rat, termite, and snake infested gas station. It was just a distribution center for plastic produce containers, but unlike most Steve, being the visionary that he is, saw this as an opportunity. He was able to take a little company and grow it into a private corporation. Now, not only does Highland distribute the plastic containers to farmers but it also extrudes the plastic from recycled and raw materials, manufactures the containers, and creates the labels to go on them. By taking Highland from a distributor to a manufacturer, the small company grew in worth from 4 million to 150 million in 10 years!

We asked Steve what he would say to his younger self if he had the chance. With tear filled eyes he responded, “I would just encourage him. I would say don’t quit dreaming. You’ve got what it takes. You’ve got God and you’ve got your purpose. There is nothing that will keep you from reaching your destiny. God will move this and He will move that, you’ve just got to do all you can do and God will do what you can’t. It’s all about finding your purpose, and when you do that He will move the mountains for you. You just have to take it one step at a time.”

Steve and John were placed in a position where Highland had the potential to grow but they could not take it to the next level alone. Steve had to make the decision to either hang on to the company, his baby, his dream come true or let it go so it could become something more. He swallowed his pride and recently sold the company. “When you are not growing you are dying,” Steve said. “It would have been the most selfish thing I could have ever done to hang on.”

Most of corporate America views money and possessions as a source of joy, power, or success. With that viewpoint, being generous and letting go can be difficult. Steve holds the same intimate relationship with God today that he did at his lowest point and he knows his identity is in Him and nothing else. His possessions and status do not determine his worth. He finds this peace by viewing everything in his life as a gift. “It is impossible to be greedy when nothing really belongs to me. My family, my businesses, my health, my money… it is all a gift from Him.”

Since the sale, Steve has been able to start up several new businesses and Epic Affect, this non-profit foundation. He has lost it all before and is well aware that he could lose it all again, but he finds comfort in living a life with open hands. “You can’t out give God,” Steve says. Steve and Beverly were generous when they were broke and they are generous now. Hoarding money, time, talents and possessions is just a lack of faith in the Steve’s opinion. They feel that when one does so, they are putting their security in materialistic things instead of trusting that God has it covered. Steve believes that one day his life will be accounted for and he will be asked what he did with what he was given. He wants his answer to promptly be, “I gave it all away.”

Steve Maxwell has failed and succeeded in all aspects of his life… relationally, financially, morally and spiritually. However, his achievements and accolades are not what define his success. “This is my definition of success. It is a mindset. It is a walk. It is walking with the Lord, screwing up, getting back up, screwing up, getting back up… but by doing that, you let God use life to refine you until one day you reach your full potential.” Success is not the final destination. Success is how we handle each painful, frustrating, and confusing step along the way. Success is choosing to be positive in a negative situation. Do we see an obstacle or an opportunity? Is this going to make us bitter or better? Are we willing to be the best we can be where we are right now? Just as Steve concluded, “Success is finding your specific purpose, pursuing that purpose, and seeing it come to fruition. Whatever it is. It doesn’t involve money, it is getting a call in your life, and pursuing that call with nothing but a dream.”