His mom was a nominal Christian, but it was dad’s way–hustler, gambler, street guy–that drew Stacey. He worked at the restaurant but it was the pool hall a few doors down, a place teeming with drug dealers and prostitutes, that fascinated him. By age 13 he was battling drugs and alcohol, and by 15 was a dealer and dropout. He joined Job Corps, a one year program, to break free but drug use and petty loan sharking led to him being asked to leave. Back home, back on the streets, the partying ramped up. It was a dangerous lifestyle that left him lucky to be alive and facing jail time. He tried to escape again, this time joining the military and for a few months he stayed clean. But as he moved through training, it was anything-goes and he took his drinking to alcoholic status. After a vicious assault left him with 52 stitches and filled with anger and depression, he was introduced to crack cocaine.
Over the next year he actively invested in the drug life, not only selling, but speedballing (shooting up coke and heroin) as well. The investment paid the worst kind of dividends. After failing a random drug test and being busted to the lowest rank, he didn’t reenlist and returned to Florida to pursue his ‘dream’ of becoming the best dealer in town. Instead he ended up his own best crack customer, leaving him homicidal and suicidal. He could not stop, he was spiraling out of control. That was when Stacey cried out, “Oh God, if you are real and not some fictitious character, save me!”
God answered. Loving Hands ministry took him in, and he connected with a guy who had served 35 years in Jackson Prison and knew Rev. Cal Bonzelaar (then-director of Life Challenge). Two weeks later, Stacey was on a plane bound for Detroit. As he puts it, ‘When I hit rock bottom, God rescued me from myself.”
And there he was, feeling old and lived-out at 24, walking through the doors of a ministry he had never heard of in a city where he had never been. He didn’t know the first thing about Detroit. He couldn’t know that Detroit would be where his soul would be planted. Didn’t know that he would have this city written on his heart. Would cry out to God and give himself for this place and its people. Would still be doing that 28 years later. His former life? That was the shadows, the nightmare. This was the new dream, the God-dream.
But that vision came later. In the beginning of his 14-month stay at Life Challenge, Stacey resisted the demands of the program. He gave the staff (especially a staff member named Jeff Bonzelaar who had just come on board) a hard time. And true to pattern, he longed to escape. Since LC is a voluntary program, he walked away, seeking out the most disreputable places. Cass Corridor. Crack houses. After a harrowing, heartbreaking foray back to the dark side, Stacey knew he had to return to Life Challenge and was, by God’s grace, given another chance. It was then his new life truly began. When he gave his heart to Jesus Christ and cried in repentance for forgiveness, he knew it was granted. He realized that while his spirit had been made new, there was still a metamorphosis that had to take place, a physical, emotional, and mental renewal. Life Challenge provided the means for that ongoing Spirit-work, and Stacey began to invest in the Jesus life. The investment paid the most wonderful kind of dividends.
Reflecting on the most valuable part of his experience at LC, he states without equivocation, “The Word of God! The daily classes, taught by deeply knowledgeable, spiritual men and women, as well as the chapel services, gave me a strong foundation in the Scriptures. I was rooted and anchored in the living Word.”
He went on to say that the Bible, which had always seemed spooky, unreadable and mystical, became real, relevant and life-giving in Life Challenge. “I felt like I went through an accelerated Bible college and came out with a degree.”
After graduating, he planned to pursue a career as an occupational therapist, not even considering ministry. Until a trusted pastor from Detroit told Stacey: God has called you. Stacey’s response: well He hasn’t told me. Still, he promised to pray about it. His prayer: if you want me to go to Bible college and go into ministry, then have North Central Bible College send me a letter. In other words, the most unlikely scenario. A safe prayer. Two days later, a letter arrived from NC, sent out before that prayer was ever prayed. Followed by another prayer: God if you want me to go to William Tyndale Bible College, then have the military pay for it. Separation of church and state policies made this impossible. Until God said otherwise. So the U.S. military underwrote the Urban Studies certificate Stacey earned, including a Bible and set of commentaries. And the best gift God gave during that time? When a college roommate introduced his cousin Dottie to Stacey. A beautiful, bright, strong and newly-minted woman of God going through the Life Challenge program. After Dottie graduated, they dated, fell in love, married, raised two amazing kids and are still serving and ministering side-by-side. Because of the brokenness in their backgrounds, they wisely sought post-marital, godly counseling which set the right trajectory for their marriage early on and they are still going strong 25 years later.
After working with the urban branch of Youth For Christ, Stacey and Dottie planted a church in Detroit, Life Changers International Ministries, which has grown to a vibrant congregation of about 250 with a mission of changing hearts, healing hurts, imparting truth, and impacting a generation. They have intentionally stayed in the city, rather than moving out, to be an oasis in a barren place. “God has not forsaken this city,” Stacey declares and they labor gladly to bring resurrection life to that which is dead.
One LCIM ministry close to his heart is the B.O.M.B. Squad (Bring Our Men Back), a quest-for-manhood program through which at least 200 men have come so far. Men of all ages and backgrounds learn to apply the principles that a real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously and invests eternally (Dr. Robert Lewis). As the men advance through three 18-week modules, they first earn the Sword of Valor (awarded in a knighting ceremony), symbolizing truth, discipline, honor and love. Next the Staff is granted, indicating integrity and authority, and finally the Ring is bestowed as a tangible reminder of covenant with God and commitment to reach other men. The ring is deliberately designed like a championship ring to spark interest and open dialogue. And this important ministry to men is expanding to Highland Park and the east side of Detroit.
Life Changers is actively engaged in the community, currently preparing for their Kingdom Fest outreach, essentially a giant block party with live music, 3-on-3 tourney, VBS, Power Team and more. Kairos is a ministry arm that provides after-school mentoring and tutoring, job interviewing skills, entrepreneurship training, and partnerships with local businesses–a full repertoire of practical demonstrations of the love of Christ.
From going across the bridge of Life Challenge to being one himself, Pastor Stacey has served for 16 years as a chaplain for the Detroit Police Department, the last two years as Chief Chaplain. “Our primary responsibility as chaplains is to minister to the officers of the force and also to be a bridge between the community and the police. We are the gatekeepers,” he explains. As Chief Chaplain, he not only leads 63 chaplains in 12 precincts, including the academy, but also selects and trains them on how to minister to officers. His early life was one of utter defiance of the law and its officers, and now he is a sworn-in officer and chaplain, bringing the good news to the ranks. Only our God can do that!
Additionally, Pastor Stacey is working toward his Master’s degree in Spiritual Formation & Discipleship with Moody Theological Seminary. Asked how he keeps balance with his many responsibilities, he referenced a time when he felt overwhelmed. In the midst, the Spirit reminded him of the pitfalls of busyness. He heard it said if the enemy can’t slow you down, he will speed you up. Now, by continually endeavoring to practice the art of delegation and leading the leaders, he notes that he doesn’t have to be a part of everything, just do his part by leading well.
From street life to street light, Pastor Stacey’s transformation epitomizes the heart and vision of Life Challenge to bring hope, help, and healing through Christ. We are here–have been here in Detroit for more than 50 years–being used by God in the rescue, redemption and restoration of men and women who struggle with addiction. Our prayer, our goal is to see many more ‘Staceys’ and ‘Dotties’ come out of Life Challenge Ministries…mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well and spiritually alive…going into their communities, driving back the darkness from families, homes and hearts, brightly blazing street lights for Jesus.