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By Carolyn Hittenberger
Las Vegas, a city famous for its night life, casinos, clubs and golf courses, boasts the motto, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” While celebrities work there and tourists vacation there, in the middle of the glitz and neon, many people there live every-day lives.
Donnie Grinnell calls Las Vegas home. He sees the city’s needs and is investing his life to make it a better place, to be part of the solution. This wasn’t always the case. Not many years ago, Donnie was one of Vegas’ bad boys, part of the problem. Though he had attended a parochial school through sixth grade and he’d heard Bible stories, he chose to believe the karma concept. “If my good works outweigh my bad, I’ll be okay.” But, he was not okay.
His mother worked hard raising Donnie and his brother alone after their father left when Donnie was only 2 years old. At age 12 Donnie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was hospitalized near where his father was living. The fact that he never even came to see Donnie left a painful scar.
He was a good kid through high school, involved in athletics and bucking horses. Unfortunately alcohol seemed to go along with the activities. With an absentee father and the lack of a strong moral compass, Donnie made a series of bad choices.
He married into an extremely RELIGIOUS family, requiring him to embrace their beliefs. Though he was not yet in a saving relationship with Jesus, Donnie renounced their inconsistencies and non-Biblical religious practices. The marriage ended in heartbreak and bitterness. People close to him bombarded him with predictions of failure and hopelessness. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “You’ll be just like your father.” Donnie began to believe them.
His success in the construction business did little to fill the painful emptiness. He started running with the wrong crowd. In July 2009, an incident on the wrong side of the law landed him in jail. He faced a potential sentence of up to 15 years. He soon learned that his cell-mate had brutally murdered his wife because she was unfaithful to him. Donnie was scared because he recognized the mental imbalance of his cell-mate and his potential for violence. He remembers, “My mother used to say ‘If it looks like a duck and if it talks like a duck, it is a duck.’” Looking at himself and those around him he feared that living with them over a period of time, he could become like them, just another duck. His mother had been saved in 2000 and had faithfully witnessed to him. In desperation he cried out to God, “Man, I’m lost!” God heard his cry. That night Donnie accepted Jesus and Jesus accepted Donnie!
The part of the prison where Donnie was held allowed no face to face visits. Still, during his nine months there Pastor Kleg Seth, Pastor of Senior Care and Jail Ministry at Trinity Life Center, the church Donnie’s mother attends, came at least twice a month to talk with him via a two-way camera. After awaiting court dates and sentencing, Donnie’s sentence was reduced from a potential of 15 years to 6 months in jail and parole. The reason given for his reduced sentence was that this was his first conviction and he had a solid work record prior to arrest. Donnie says, “We know the real reason was that many people were praying and God had a bigger plan.”
He points out, “I accepted Jesus as Savior but it didn’t really take root until a year later.” Upon release from prison, Donnie went right back to work and intended to start a new life. However, good intentions were not enough. He began to drift. He attended church occasionally but could not resist the temptations so prevalent all around him. Pastor Kleg recommended that he enroll in the Centrum Center just north of Las Vegas. Centrum, founded by Pastor Kleg, ministers to the abused, addicted and those needing to find direction for their lives. Donnie recognized his need for that support and followed Pastor Kleg’s advice. He began to grow in spiritual understanding and learn to serve. He became active in the church.
Shortly before completing a year at Centrum, Donnie had to make some important decisions about his future. He longed to be in ministry, to win the lost, but didn’t know where or how. He knew he could not make these choices on his own. One morning while taking a walk before working in community service, he prayed, “Lord, I’m not moving until I hear your voice.” God still answers prayer! He spoke to the deepest place in Donnie’s spirit, “I need you at the City Impact Center. Go after the people the church doesn’t want.”
When Donnie graduated from Centrum, Pastor Randy Greer, lead pastor at Trinity, took him out for lunch where Donnie explained what he felt God was calling him to do. Pastor Greer asked if he had ever considered seeking ministerial credentials. He was 31 years old, had three sons, a divorce and a criminal record. Although in God’s eyes he was a new man, Donnie thought that to actually be a credentialed minister would be impossible. He says, “I’m excited that there is something for guys who get into it a little later in life.”
Pastor Greer introduced Donnie to the Berean School of the Bible, part of Global University. He could study at his own pace, did not need to attend a resident campus, the price was far less than other Bible colleges and completion of the courses would qualify him to be considered for ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God. Unfortunately, he did not have enough income for the cost of tuition and textbooks. He began to pray earnestly for God to provide the finances. God spoke to several people in the church to help.
According to Donnie, when he began his studies, “Many people said ‘It ain’t gonna happen.’” God gave Donnie a desire to show others that it can be done. He says, “If He can equip me to do it, He can do it for everyone.” He completed the required courses in just a year and a half, and received his Ministerial License at this year’s District Council. He longed to take the next step and start classes for Ministerial Ordination, but he knew that once again the biggest hurdle would be the cost. God is not a God with limitations. Already He has spoken to someone and Donnie’s expenses will be paid.
Donnie currently serves as Pastor for Youth and Young Adults at Trinity AG and as Event Director and After School Coordinator at City Impact Center. He is also facilitating the first Berean School of the Bible class in his church. His motivation is, “…to proclaim His Story in my life.” Donnie was born in Vegas and reborn in Vegas. But what has happened to him there will not stay there. His witness and ministry are reaching much farther than the city limits of Las Vegas.
Donnie shares some words of encouragement for those considering study and those currently studying with Global University. “Global University caters to you where you are. The staff is helpful. The doctrine is sound. These studies have brought maturity, knowledge, and a greater hunger to understand. GU has provided the ammo to fulfill the call God has put on my life. God has called us to do mighty things through Jesus. Global University gives you the tools and takes out ALL the excuses. No matter what the world says, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. “(Philippians 4:13 ).