By John Mizerak –
Neal Grogan & Matt Statler didn’t grow up together and lived very different lives, but their paths led them together to be used for God’s Kingdom!
Neal’s teenage years were marked with rebellion as he walked away from the church at an early age and became a very angry individual looking for a place to release his rage. Matt, on the other hand, grew up in West Africa as the son of missionary parents. Even though they had different reasons, they both found themselves running off to find their purpose in battle. Matt first joined the US Army in 2003 and was deployed in 2004 to Iraq. At that time, Neal raged his way through his teenage years, and a few years later was happy to “prepare himself to die,” (as he was warned by his commanding officer) before deploying to Afghanistan. Both Neal and Matt lost many friends and witnessed many horrors of war. They stuffed what they witnessed and began the process of building walls around their emotions that would take years to break down. Their souls were wrecked as the inner-anger grew with no relief in sight. Sadly, for both men, relief came through a constant consumption of alcohol.
The combination of inner rage and alcohol took its’ toll on their personal lives.
By the grace of God, Neal’s wife, Britney, hung in there and went through the trial with her husband. Their marriage was deteriorating rapidly though, because Neal had escalated his alcohol consumption to a bottle of whiskey each day. There was no peace, but they had made a commitment NOT to separate. Britney’s tenacity to keep their marriage together was tested to the limit when Neal, after binge-drinking, threw a computer at her (as she was 9-months pregnant). This was the last straw. For her own safety and to trigger the process for Neal’s healing, she gave Neal an ultimatum, get help or she was gone. Because of the attack, Neal’s career was on the line and he was forced to a mental health center and promptly pointed to rehab. Two weeks later, his son was born and soon after, Neal asked his wife and son to move back to Texas so he could focus on getting the help he needed. Neal then was transferred to the Wounded Warrior
Battalion West. This eventually led to the end of his career, and, at the time, he thought, the end of his life. When Neal was at the end of his rope and contemplated suicide, he heard his father’s voice telling him to “get back into God’s Word.” Neal hadn’t looked at a Bible in a very long time, but he couldn’t shake his dad’s voice, so he decided to do the “church thing” just to get that voice out of his head. In what seemed like a moment, Neal’s heart was blown wide open as he experienced the love of God, his Heavenly Father! Things were never going to be the same again!
At the same time, Matt, who was also a raging alcoholic and suffered from severe anxiety, panic attacks and depression that spiraled out of control as he tried to deal with his diagnosis of PTSd. Matt drifted away from God after seeing the horrors of war. This led him to try to put the pieces of his life back together in his own power, with no help from God. He had time on his hands and keeping busy was a better option than allowing PTSd to destroy his life, so he decided to go back to school and get a degree in exercise science. At that point, as he strived to find “self-help” techniques to overcome PTSd, he was pointed to a book by Tim Keller on Prayer. Before he knew it, he was back in the Bible and had an entirely different perspective of the great warriors
in the Book. He related to King David and his psalms and saw the connection between the Bible and his own life. Matt got so immersed in the Word that he found himself called to change his college major to Christian studies.
This is where Neal and Matt’s stories collide. After Neal’s “God moment,” he went to Texas and reunited with his wife and son and began to love Britney “as Christ loves the church.” (Ephesians 5:25) Neal began to search the Bible for answers for PTSd and that search led him to gain enough Biblical knowledge to begin teaching the youth at his church. Even though Neal still felt unworthy to be a Bible teacher, one thing led to another and he found himself in his first ministry job as a BSM director. This eventually lead him to Bible school where he met Matt, and they were the “old” guys. They immediately connected, as they were the only “grizzled-combat-veterans” in their classes. They began to share stories with each other of God’s goodness and realized that God had ordained their connection. God began to use them together to minister to veterans that struggled with the same challenges that they faced. They had both been exposed to Mighty Oaks Foundation and over time, learned that much of what they needed to help the hurting warriors that they worked with was available through Mighty Oaks resources.
Both Neal and Matt decided to attend Mighty Oaks Legacy Program together in October 2017 in Texas and are now on track to attend leadership training this March. Besides their ministry work, they are both enrolled in classes to attain Masters of Divinity. It’s exciting to see how God can take broken vessels and make them into powerful tools for His Kingdom!