As 30-year-old Josh Bray of Monroe, Louisiana, broke loose from his captors, he found freedom from a lot more than the gag and zip ties that bound him.
During his first year at Delta Community College, Bray met Curtis Wilson and his wife, Tabitha, at Evangel Assembly, where the Wilsons served as youth pastors. Touched by their authentic ministry and unique way of helping students develop personal relationships with the Lord, Bray became close to the Wilsons, who mentored him and even allowed him to move into a cabin on their rural property.
“Josh came to our home at a time when his walk with Christ was very nominal,” says Wilson, 49. “Despite Josh going through some pretty tough circumstances, he stayed focused on God’s transformation process.”
“One of my favorite things that Curtis taught me was how to hear from the Lord on my own,” says Bray. He recalls asking Wilson’s advice on several issues and instead of giving him a direct answer, Wilson encouraged Bray to pray, and to wait for the Lord’s reply.
One personal way in which Bray needed to hear from the Lord regarded his immobilizing fear of death. Born with a severe heart condition that required three surgeries during infancy, Bray needed to take certain precautions to ensure his physical health and safety. This, Bray says, spawned the development of an intense fear that plagued him on a daily basis. But Bray says the Lord assured him he would be cured of such dread.
“I didn’t know what that would look like, but I trusted that God would be faithful to His promise,” Bray says.
Wilson’s mentoring advice didn’t always go down so smoothly, however. One night Wilson, who is a U.S. Missions missionary associate with Missionary Church Planters & Developers working with Rural Compassion, told Bray that laziness prevented him from accomplishing more for the Lord. Although Bray didn’t initially welcome the advice, he says God used the message to instill a work ethic in him he didn’t even know he needed.
One year after moving in with the Wilsons, Bray found an entry-level job at Walmart. Bray’s work ethic included picking up the occasional piece of discarded trash in aisles, a discipline Wilson instilled in him while walking on the property.
Management quickly noticed Bray’s attitude and work ethic, which distinguished him from many co-workers. The store soon promoted Bray to support manager, and then assistant manager.
One evening after returning home from work, three armed men confronted Bray outside his home. Immediately, Bray found himself facing the very fear from which God said he would be delivered.
After binding his hands and feet with zip ties, the ruffians began to ask Bray questions about the store. After the trio placed a gag around his mouth, he concluded they planned to rob the store that night.
Two of the men left to commit the crime, while one man stayed to guard Bray. Bray knew that he needed to alert police — and to find a way to ensure the safety of his employees. As he pulled on the zip ties that bound his feet, they miraculously snapped.
“In that exact moment, I felt the fear of death leave my body,” Bray says. As his captor stayed in the living room, Bray escaped undetected through a window in his bedroom, and alerted local police, who foiled the robbery.
Bray, commended for his bravery, has since received several promotions within the company.
“I owe my success to the things that Curtis taught me,” says Bray. “By owning our relationship with God and making it a personal responsibility, the fruit of that is then confidence and increased faith in Him.”
“I could not be more proud of the man of God Josh has become!” Wilson says.