With a couple of felonies and a troubled history behind him, Wayne Gilliland was not the average Hannibal-LaGrange University applicant when he applied in 2012.
Wayne suffered abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, and as a young child was abandoned on his father’s steps.
Though Wayne’s childhood was filled with the positive influences of his father, aunt and grandmother, he still longed for his drug-addicted mother to want him. As he struggled with attachment issues, Wayne fell into a group of shady friends.
In spite of their influence, he did well in school and signed up for six years in the Navy to train as a nuclear engineer. His life took a turn for the worse when he celebrated his enlistment by smoking marijuana with his friends.
“It made all those attachment issues disappear,” he said.
Wayne fell hard. He had finally found something his mother would do with him. Three years later, he was arrested and sentenced to prison after having broken into several bars searching for drugs and alcohol.
Upon his release, Wayne had amazing plans, but it wasn’t long before he was involved in drugs and alcohol again.
On his way to court to face charges of manufacturing meth, he saw a sign that read, “If you kneel before God, you can stand before anyone.”
“I knew that was a message for me because I was on my way to stand before the judge,” he said, but he didn’t know how to stop going down this destructive path.
One night, he scared his longtime girlfriend, Carmen, bad enough that she called the police. He saw the terror in her face, and that was the last day Wayne ever consumed any drugs or alcohol.
He began to turn his life around while attending drug court, probation for nonviolent users. He became involved at a Baptist church, where he developed his relationship with Christ and married Carmen, vowing to fight for her as she had fought for him. He also applied to HLGU.
“I was so nervous when I started HLGU that I would be too different than everyone else, being an adult student,” said Wayne. “That was so wrong. The students and staff helped me, encouraged me and truly loved me. I felt so at home.”
Today, Wayne is an associate counselor for substance abusers, and though there are days of unbearable pain when clients turn back to their addictions and even die of overdose, Wayne takes solace first in the Lord and second in the success stories he is blessed to witness.
“I love my job,” Wayne said. “I get to watch others find their way to Christ and turn their lives around.
“I learned far more than the classes had to offer at HLGU. The school taught me how to be a strong man and how to walk with the Lord…. I am forever in debt for this skill, and even though I was an older student, these young, proud Christians taught me how to be a Christian man.”
(To read a fuller version of this story, go to http://bit.ly/2ekOm2n.)
Rebecca Sneed is public relations and institutional advancement assistant at Hannibal-LaGrange University. This is one of a seies of ministry impact articles that appeared in Word & Way. The section contains stories from organizations and institutions that were invited to share how they were impacting a life, a group or a community.