Transparent with Tragedies
For more than three decades, U.S. Missions Assemblies of God Intercultural Ministries missionaries John and Doris Knoles have ministered to Native Americans, many of whom have experienced heartbreaks, ranging from alcoholism to chronic unemployment.
In the past couple of years, John Knoles, 67, also has served as a contingency chaplain at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona. In addition, Knoles is an AG health care chaplain, which allows him to connect with military personnel through the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Phoenix, where he distributes free Bibles and crisis line information every week. Knoles believes distributing God’s Word is vital to provide hope to veterans, who kill themselves at a disproportionate rate compared to the overall population.
In such contexts, the Knoles endeavor to offer hope to those they encounter, be it a Native American worried about a pending divorce or unemployment, or a veteran dealing with chronic pain from a war injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or survivor guilt.
Yet tragedy isn’t merely a theory for the Knoles. They’ve experienced it firsthand with the deaths of their only grandchild and, 12 years later, their only daughter.
In 2003, Naomi, their then-unmarried 26-year-old daughter, felt overwhelmed by daily living and purposely shut herself off from friends and family. Feeling worthless, helpless, and paranoid, Naomi decided to end her life. She took nearly 100 sleeping pills and acetaminophen capsules. But when she woke up in the morning, her thoughts turned to sparing her 9-month-old baby, Anna Marie, from life’s despair.
Still under the influence of the massive overdose — plus postpartum psychosis — she smothered her daughter with a pillow.
In 2009, Naomi told her story to the Pentecostal Evangel while incarcerated.
Naomi served the minimum 10-year sentence after a second-degree murder conviction. Upon release, she anticipated helping other women who struggled with postpartum depression. She wed a fine Christian man and they seemed happy.
However, a miscarriage renewed internalized postpartum depression. And because of her criminal record, Naomi — who earlier had been a bank assistant vice president — couldn’t even gain employment at a fast-food restaurant.
In August 2015, Naomi took her own life, just after her 38th birthday.
As with the death of their grandchild, John and Doris didn’t see Naomi’s suicide coming.
Naomi is featured in When the Bough Breaks, a documentary about postpartum depression set for release in early 2017.
According to the film’s research, one in five new mothers suffers from postpartum depression or a prenatal mood disorder. One in 1,000, including Naomi, develops psychosis.
The confidential counsel John and Doris offer Air Force personnel is well received because the couple share from their own devastation.
“Part of the healing process is to help others to heal,” Doris says.
John, who served in the Air Force himself from 1976-81, says the majority of those returning from deployment experience some form of PSTD. Yet they are reluctant to talk about it lest they jeopardize their career. They bottle up their feelings out of fear of not making rank.
“The loss of our precious Naomi has increased my sensitivity and burden for all who suffer with any form of depression,” John says. “Giving veterans the hope found in God’s Word is vital.”
John and Doris, who have been married for 43 years, founded Native American Marriage Enhancement (NAME) in 2003. As a certified care couple with NAME, they provide free collegiate-level Pentecostal biblical and marital studies to First Nations people for spiritual growth and familial enrichment.
John graduated from a Teen Challenge program after being delivered from drugs and accepting Jesus as Savior at the age of 21. He is a graduate of Trinity Bible College and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he earned his first master’s degree and his doctorate. He completed a second master’s at Fuller Seminary. John has been on the faculty of the Arizona School of Ministry since 2011.
The couple are longtime attendees of Phoenix Dream Center Church.