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Bitter memories surround Josh D. Lee’s childhood in Texarkana, Texas. Fueled by alcohol, his adoptive father frequently beat him with fists, extension cords, beer bottles, pieces of wood, and leather belts with heavy metal buckles.
“As broken as I was, God gave me a mandate to forgive the father who adopted me,” says Lee, senior pastor of the First Assembly of God-Lighthouse Ministries in Texarkana.
Raised in a dysfunctional home, Lee was still a baby when his biological father disappeared without marrying his mother. Adopted at age 2 by another man his mother married, the beatings that followed almost doomed the boy’s future. He chose drugs, alcohol and crime to deal with the pain.
“I sought acceptance and validation in street life,” says Lee, now 43.
Lee, now a chapter priest in the North Texas District of GA, has steeped himself in hip hop music culture. He gained a violent reputation, resulting in arrests for assault, selling illegal drugs, and breaking and entering.
After being kicked out of high school at 16, he bounced back for a few years, spending most of his days using marijuana and alcohol.
Unexpectedly, FBI agents and county sheriff’s deputies confronted him. They questioned his criminal ties and threatened with prison. As a solution, he accepted a very unusual offer: clear his criminal record and join the US Marines.
Leaving Texarkana in 1997 at the age of 18, Lee went to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. Skeptics predicted failure. Instead, he excelled as a role model rookie.
He graduated from boot camp with honors and within two years was promoted to sergeant. He stopped using drugs, but continued to abuse alcohol.
In 1998, Lee faced crucial event training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. While waiting for friends in his barracks to party, a Lance Corporal he had never met appeared, proclaiming, “Josh, I just got saved. Come see me baptized in water.
Perplexed and curious how the stranger knew his name, Lee agreed to follow him and persuaded his leather pals to go with him. Surprisingly, they ended up at the Brownsville Assembly of God, site of the long “Pensacola outpouring” of the Holy Spirit that occurred in the mid and late 1990s.
Worship, preaching, and baptisms baffled Lee. He considered leaving, until he noticed a pretty young woman, Shauna Schroeder – visiting a church in Pennsylvania – on the pew behind him. They exchanged addresses; within 10 months they were married.
Lee deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1999, serving on an aircraft carrier. In the Middle East, his wife gave birth to their first daughter, Tristen. As a new father, he decided not to recommit and returned home to Texarkana in 2001. However, the transition disrupted his identity. He missed the close bond of army camaraderie. And without a job, his alcohol consumption increased.
Shauna started attending the First Assembly of God. In response, suspect Josh concocted the idea that his wife had become romantically involved with a devotee. He followed her one Sunday, drunk and intent on attacking her imaginary boyfriend. Finding her alone on a bench troubled Josh, but he sat down next to her.
The sharp sermon preached by Hal Haltom rocked Lee. He turned to his wife, exclaiming, “Why did you tell the pastor about me?
He answered an altar call, crying hot tears for the first time in his life.
“I gave my life to Jesus immediately,” Lee says. “I was gloriously saved in an instant.”
Lee’s swearing and addictions to nicotine and alcohol disappeared. He found employment as an engineer at the nearby Red River Army Depot and joined his wife at the first assembly.
Global university courses followed, leading to AG Ministerial accreditation. In 2004, he left his government post to become a youth pastor, a position he held for 5½ years.
He became pastor of the Cornerstone Assembly of God in Atlanta, Texas in 2009. Lee returned home to lead the first assembly in 2019.
First Assembly member Robby Radford attended high school with Lee and witnessed some of the punishments he suffered.
“I saw Josh get knocked off his porch once because he didn’t run fast enough to get his dad a beer from the cooler,” Radford, 43, recalled. “I was surprised when Josh came to faith and how devout he was.”
Although COVID-19 shut down First Assembly for four months and Lee contracted the virus, the church is thriving again. Donations to missions reached more than $100,000 in 2021. First Assembly also supports a ministry on the Rose Bud Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and helps build a new church there through the ministry of American Missionaries Johnny and Heidi Wade.
In addition to Tristen, the Lees have two biological sons, Jacob and Jeremiah, and two adopted daughters, Hollie and Hayley. Lee is grateful that his mother also found salvation in Jesus and that God gave him the power to forgive his foster father face to face in 2002 before his death in 2009.