Each summer, BGEA’s National Law Enforcement Ministry brings several groups of law enforcement officers and their spouses to Alaska for weeklong marriage resiliency retreats. Couples participate in Biblically based seminars that help strengthen their relationships with God and others as they enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through outdoor activities. God moved in many lives through the retreats this year, and one couple, Robert and Heather Reynolds, shared an incredible account of how God has worked in their lives. Robert, a lieutenant with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office in Sumter, South Carolina, tells the story here.
At 12:21 p.m. on Sept. 26, 2022, I was involved in a shooting. Six minutes earlier, I had stopped by my home for a break and to let my dogs out. But a call came over the radio about a situation where a man was beating a woman. The caller said that blood was pouring down the woman’s face, and she had gone back into the house. A strange feeling came over me, and I sensed a small voice that I believe was God, telling me, “Bob, you need to go there now.”
When I arrived, deputies were in the yard, and the subject was talking to them over the phone. That same small voice said, “You need to take over. Do not let them handle this.”
After a few minutes, I convinced the subject to meet me at the door. As I walked to the house, the voice told me to look around. There was blood, evidence of a struggle, and bullets all over the place. The man and I went inside and sat at a table. Again, the same voice alerted me: “Watch his hands. He is hiding a gun.”
As I tried to calm him down, he kept saying, “If you leave and give me 10 minutes, you can come back and I’ll talk to you.”
But he was holding the woman there against her will; it was a kidnapping situation. And in my head, I could hear: Don’t leave this house. She needs you. She needs you. Suddenly I knew the man was about to shoot, and the voice said: “Stand up! Stand up now!” I was only three quarters of the way up when I saw his gun coming across his lap. I drew mine, and the shooting happened.
The next few minutes were a blur. I got to my feet and reloaded as my senses came back. The deputies arrived, and the reality hit me—and it hit hard—that I had just taken a life. I yelled and cursed at the dead man: “Why did you make me do this?”
I told the deputies I needed a minute, and I walked into an open field. For the first time in many years, I asked God to help me. I was afraid—not of what could happen with my job or the courts, but afraid of myself and what this could do to my family again.
I say “again” because almost 20 years earlier, I’d had problems with PTSD after coming home from serving in Iraq with the Army National Guard. I didn’t want my wife, Heather, to have to go through that again. In Iraq, I had seen a friend of mine killed, and there was also a little Iraqi boy who spent so much time with me that Heather and I talked about adopting him. I loved that little guy. But one day, as he played soccer, he was killed by a shell casing Saddam’s forces had dumped in the desert.
As a result, I had a lot of hate and anger in my heart, and I took it out on God. I cursed Him and told Him some bad things because I felt like He allowed this to happen. And after we returned home, 19 people from my brigade committed suicide. I started drinking and became a very dark person. One night I almost took my own life.
But while I was praying in that field after the shooting, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was embracing me. I felt peace and knew I was going to be OK.
Following the shooting, my major contacted the Law Enforcement Ministry of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT). A few days later, chaplains Bob and Ruthie Cooper came to the sheriff’s office to talk with those of us who had been involved, and our spouses were invited as well. Bob looked at me and asked me where I was with God. I hesitated because, aside from my prayer right after the shooting, I had not prayed or had anything to do with church in almost 20 years.
“I’m not where I need to be,” I said.
With a big smile, Bob said, “Why don’t we take care of that right now?” So right there, we prayed. I gave my life to Jesus and asked Him to be my Savior.
Another chaplain came over and told us about two different retreats we could attend that have helped people who have been through experiences like ours. He mentioned Alaska, and that got my attention because that is the one place my father and I had talked about visiting before he died. We always talked about learning to fly fish together.
But when I was filling out the paperwork for the trip, and I came to the question, “What do you want to get out of the trip?” all I could think of was that I needed to know God better. I needed Him in my life.
When we got the news that we were accepted to go, I was overjoyed to have such an opportunity. Still, I was unsure if we deserved this and wondered if we were really supposed to be there, since I had walked away from God all those years ago.
As we flew over the mountain range and saw the landscape, I was overwhelmed by the beauty. It was as if God said, “You are home.” The plane landed, and as we walked to the lodge, I was in awe. We met the mentors and staff, and a few minutes later Franklin Graham walked in the door to greet us. With him was a man who looked familiar to me. His name was Steve, and he had flown to our lodge with Franklin from the Operation Heal Our Patriots retreat at Samaritan Lodge. Steve only came because one of the chaplains for our retreat had been injured the previous day.
“I feel like I know you from somewhere,” I said. “Did you serve in the Army?”
“No, I served in the Air Force,” Steve said.
Heather and I live fairly close to Shaw Air Force Base, so I asked if he was based there, but no, he wasn’t.
“I served in Iraq in 2003-2004,” I said.
“I did too,” Steve replied.
“And there was a chaplain there who actually prayed with me once,” I said.
That was it—Steve was that same chaplain! He had prayed for me just two months after I yelled and cursed at God. Now he was here in Alaska to help me find my way back to God! Heather and I knew then that we were supposed to be there.
We felt such warmth and love from every member of the staff. I bonded with Matt, the lodge host, because he is the kind of man I want to be, due to his love for his wife and for God.
One of the guides, Liz, took time to teach me how to tie a fly, like my father and I had always wanted to learn. Ed, another guide, took me fly fishing. And I will always remember chaplains Terry and Melanie Bratton as the people who entered 40-degree water to baptize me that week.
By the end of the week, I realized God had brought me here to heal me. I climbed the mountain looking over the land and felt God’s presence so strongly. I asked Him for forgiveness and said I want Jesus in my life. I thanked Him for always loving and protecting me.
One thing we did during the retreat was to write on a rock the things God was telling us to get rid of, and then to throw the rock into the lake as a symbol of leaving those things behind. When I arrived, I was full of pride, fear and anger, so I wrote those feelings on my rock and threw them into the lake. Heather wrote fear on her rock. Together, we adopted a new motto for our life together: Humbly moving forward.
While we were there, I realized that the other couples were going through some of the same issues and insecurities Heather and I have gone through over the past 35 years. I was able to talk with them and help them on their paths because I’ve spent 22 years in the military and 25 years in law enforcement.
Since giving my life to Christ, almost every person I know has seen the change in me. My older brother said, “I finally got my brother back from the war after 21 years.” My mother cried and told me her baby boy is back. Friends and fellow officers have made comments like, “there is just a calm to you.”
I’m sure God has a plan for us. Heather and I would love for Him to use us to help others like us. What happened during that week in Alaska has changed me. It is a great testimony to God’s love and how He uses others to do His work. ©2023 BGEA
Photo: ©2023 BGEA