Bitter memories surround Josh D. Lee’s childhood in Texarkana, Texas. Fueled by alcohol, his adoptive father beat him frequently with fists, extension cords, beer bottles, pieces of wood, and leather belts with heavy metal buckles.
“As broken as I was, God mandated me to forgive the father who adopted me,” says Lee, senior pastor of First Assembly of God-Lighthouse Ministries in Texarkana.
Raised in a dysfunctional home, Lee was still an infant when his biological father disappeared without marrying his mother. Adopted at 2 by another man his mother married, subsequent beatings almost doomed the boy’s future. He chose drugs, alcohol, and crime to cope with the pain.
“I searched for acceptance and validation in the street life,” says Lee, now 43.
Lee, today a sectional presbyter in the AG’s North Texas District, embedded himself in hip hop music culture. He earned a violent reputation, resulting in arrests for assaults, selling illegal drugs, and breaking and entering.
After getting kicked out of high school at 16, he bounced around for a couple of years, spending most days wasted on marijuana and alcohol.
Unexpectedly, agents from the FBI and county sheriff’s deputies confronted him. They questioned his criminal ties and threatened prison. As a solution, he accepted a highly unusual offer: expunging his police record and joining the U.S. Marines.
Leaving Texarkana in 1997 at age 18, Lee reported to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. Skeptics predicted failure. Instead, he excelled as a model recruit.
He graduated boot camp with honors and within two years had been promoted to sergeant. He quit using drugs, but continued abusing alcohol.
In 1998, Lee faced a pivotal event training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. While waiting for friends in his barracks to go partying, a lance corporal whom he had never met appeared, proclaiming, “Josh, I just got saved. Come see me baptized in water.”
Nonplussed and curious how the stranger knew his name, Lee agreed to follow him and persuaded his leatherneck buddies to come along. Surprisingly, they ended up at Brownsville Assembly of God, site of the lengthy “Pensacola Outpouring” of the Holy Spirit that occurred in the mid- and late-1990s.
The worship, preaching, and baptisms baffled Lee. He considered leaving, until noticing an attractive young woman, Shauna Schroeder — visiting from a church in Pennsylvania — in the pew behind him. They exchanged addresses; within 10 months they wed.
Lee deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1999, serving on an aircraft carrier. While in the Middle East, his wife delivered their first daughter, Tristen. As a new father, he decided against reenlisting and returned home to Texarkana in 2001. However, the transition messed with his identity. He missed the tight bond of comaraderie from the military. And without a job, his drinking increased.
Shauna began attending First Assembly of God. In response, the suspicious Josh concocted the idea that his wife had become romantically involved with a congregant. He followed her one Sunday, drunk and intending to attack her imaginary boyfriend. Finding her alone in a pew confused Josh, but he sat beside her.
The pointed sermon Hal Haltom preached rocked Lee. He turned to his wife exclaiming, “Why did you tell the pastor about me?”
He responded to 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 a moment.”
Lee’s cursing and addictions to nicotine and alcohol vanished. He found an engineering job at the nearby Red River Army Depot and joined his wife attending First Assembly.
Global University courses followed, leading to AG ministerial credentialing. In 2004, he left his government job to become youth pastor, a position he held for 5½ years.
He became pastor of Cornerstone Assembly of God in Atlanta, Texas, in 2009. Lee returned home to lead First Assembly in 2019.
First Assembly adherent Robby Radford attended high school with Lee and witnessed some of the punishment he took.
“I watched Josh getting knocked off his porch once because he did not run fast enough to give his dad a beer from the ice chest,” Radford, 43, recalls. “I was surprised when Josh came to faith and how fervent he was.”
Despite COVID-19 shutting down First Assembly for four months and Lee contracting the virus, the church is growing again. Missions giving rose to more than $100,000 in 2021. First Assembly also supports a ministry at the Rose Bud Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and is helping build a new church there through the ministry of U.S. missionaries Johnny and Heidi Wade.
In addition to Tristen, the Lees have two biological sons, Jacob and Jeremiah, and two adopted girls, Hollie and Hayley. Lee is grateful that his mother also found salvation in Jesus and that God empowered him to forgive his adoptive father face-to-face in 2002 before he died in 2009.