Joe and Elyice have been podrishioners since 2007, following along with the Woodland Hills podcast through moves they’ve made across the United States and overseas. This year they finally made it to Woodland in-person for the Summer Get-Together!
Joe grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, and was confirmed at age 17. “I was told that this ceremony would root the Holy Spirit in my heart. While there was lots of ceremony (and incense) it wasn’t as ‘magical’ as it was talked up to be.” Still, Joe figured that the Holy Spirit would come eventually and went on with life.
After high school, Joe enlisted in the army and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was in his freshman year there when he heard a plane had hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
“I remember walking to my room and processing the whole thing and something told me it wasn’t an accident,” Joe said, “and when I was right outside the barracks I stopped and went cold because I knew what might happen next.” When he got upstairs and turned on the TV it was just in time to see the second plane hit the north tower. Joe called his mother right away. “She was hysterically crying and obviously panicked so I told her to check on my dad, stay indoors, pray and I would call later.” Joe tried to call his father but the phone lines were jammed after that. “I figured it was a miracle I at least got my mom before the lines went down. By late afternoon we were at war and most of us would be in Afghanistan or Iraq by the time we graduated.” Then personal tragedy sent Joe’s life into a tailspin.
A month after 9/11, his parents came for a visit. After touring the campus, Joe and his family rode a bus back to the cadet barracks. Joe noticed his father was moving slowly , but his dad said he was just tired. As they left the bus stop, though, Joe’s father slowed down even more, then collapsed and hit his head on the sidewalk. Joe’s mother, a nurse, immediately gave him CPR while Joe called for help. But despite the best efforts of the medics, nurses, doctors, and his mother, he could not be revived and was pronounced dead a few hours before midnight.
Two weeks after the funeral, Joe returned to school, and while he appreciated the support of friends, classmates and teachers, he was shaken to his core, and he kept wondering “when that Holy Spirit power would kick in.”
As time went on Joe became more depressed, bitter and angry. By the end of his second year at the Academy he was close to being kicked out of school. Then, at the lowest point of his life, God showed up. “God revealed himself and told me it was going to be okay and to trust him no matter what.” At that moment, Joe felt the Holy Spirit firmly take root and he re-pledged his life to Jesus. While things didn’t get immediately better, Joe bounced back and eventually graduated with the West Point class of 2005.
Joe deployed to Iraq for a period of time, and then returned to the States. In 2007, Joe watched a CNN series called God’s Warriors about religious activism in the Abrahamic religions. It was here that Joe first heard about the “heretic” Minnesota pastor and his sermon series “The Cross and The Sword.” Joe said, “Listening to it put a fire in me. It showed me we should not be so focused on heaven that we are no earthly good (or vice versa).”
By that time, Joe and Elyice had been together for about a year. When he first introduced her to “The Cross and The Sword” series he says, “I didn’t think she’d like it but she did! So much so she’s been listening to Woodland Hills podcasts with me from the US and all over the world.”
Elyice’s story starts in Michigan. “Growing up in the inner city of Detroit, and coming of age in Grand Rapids allowed me to observe horrific evils of income inequality.” This exposure fueled her passion for social justice from an early age.
While Elyice came from a religious background, she said that, “I spiritually drowned in old forms of religious expression that only worked for my parents and not for me as an adult. Sunday is a very segregated day of the week, but Christianity requires us to heal wounds of racial inequality.”
Elyice identifies as Negro, African American and Joe identifies as both Filipino and African-American. They have wrestled with responding to the racism that they have experienced over the years as a couple. “Living in a world designed for whiteness is not easy, but together we practice agape love and do the work not to become angry and wounded. We make a concerted effort to choose love, although this took years of reconciliation and forgiveness. The teachings at Woodland inspire hope in dark times, and listening to the Woodland Hills podcast is spiritual vitamin C!”
This “spiritual vitamin C” led Elyice to apply to graduate school for a second time to major in advanced social work (specializing in organizational leadership and policy). She said, “Joining Woodland Hills as an active listener led to a desire to partner with change agents and difference makers. We must fight the good fight to stand for kingdom-minded behavior and to seek systemic accountability.”
She and Joe both believe strongly in using their education and spirituality to touch the world around them. Elyice’s earlier education at Capella University in Minneapolis and later at the University of Massachusetts helped form these values. “It empowered me to understand the difference between church and state, and to work to redevelop bonds of social trust. Woodland’s podcast also heavily influenced my choice of program.”
Joe and Elyice made their first in-person visit to Woodland for the 2022 Summer Get-Together, and they said, “It was a deep blessing to meet staff in-person and people from all over the country. We finally got to meet the people we’ve been emailing with and listening to for over ten years.”
But Joe and Elyice have long felt a sense of community through Woodland. As Joe said, “My experience with Woodland Hills most of all let me know I was not alone in my religious convictions. I feel like I’m part of the ecclesia, or community, through “Zoom church” and podcasts. That is perhaps the biggest contribution that Woodland Hills has given us: community without bounds.”
Joe and Elyice, we’re so glad you belong to our community and we are delighted that after years of podrishion-ing, we got to meet you in person!
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