Jim Van Leeuwen grew up in several highly structured Catholic schools that placed strong emphases on personal behavior and Biblical knowledge, but rarely spoke of grace or forgiveness. Jim explains, “I felt like I had always heard what I need to DO. While it may have been said, I rarely heard that God loves you regardless of who you are. I never had any desire to read the Bible, despite attending religion classes every day. It all got into my head, but not my heart.” The next few years of Jim’s life would take a toll on him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Soon after his graduation from college, Jim struggled with addiction to prescription pain medications. After several years, he sought treatment, and began to see victory in his battle against addiction. But soon after he finished treatment, he suddenly and unexplainedly began to have trouble walking. Jim says, “In the course of two months, I became unable to walk. I was diagnosed with a herniated disc and a degenerative disc disease. I had surgery and was told I would never walk again. I went from being employed full time to being confined to a nursing home in under two weeks. I spent 4 years in a wheelchair. It was a lonely and sad time.” But through it all, God remained faithful to Jim. He met his future wife, Lori, in his stay at the nursing home. Even further, despite the doctor’s bleak prognosis, Jim started to walk again! He says “It just sort of… happened. It was nothing short of a miracle.” Yet in the midst of all the blessings, Jim still felt scarred from his past experiences with religion and wanted nothing to do with God.
In 2012, Lori was diagnosed with kidney disease, and her health gradually began to decline. Within a year, they discovered she was battling end stage renal disease. The situation caused them to move from Ohio to Fort Worth where they could continue to seek medical treatment in close proximity to family. Jim says, “Everything was centered on Lori’s health. From August of 2012-2014, we were in the middle of nonstop hospital stays and doctor visits. We felt lost, in upheaval, and all we could focus on was what we needed to do for Lori’s health. We knew we had our basic needs met, but we were very alone.” In the Fall of 2014, Lori’s father invited them to McKinney Church to attend the Paul Tripp marriage conference. They accepted. Jim says, “At that conference we saw something that was bigger than ourselves. We felt isolated, and we were looking for something to help us not feel lonely. We came to McKinney and saw how warm people were, how they cared for us, and that they didn’t pretend to be perfect.” Slowly God began to draw Jim and Lori back to Himself. Jim recalls, “I got so much out of the messages on Sunday mornings. It felt like Chris [Freeland] was talking to me every single Sunday. I kept wondering, ‘how did he know I was thinking about that?’” In addition, the McKinney family quickly rallied around Jim and Lori as they struggled through Lori’s health issues. One person, upon hearing of her battle with Kidney disease, reached out with his own battle with Kidney disease, and offered to take them out for coffee to help them work through it. Jim says, “A friend reached out to us and explained that he had already had 2 kidney transplants. He heard that Lori was on the waiting list and asked us out for coffee. I was dumbfounded. We had been having a hard time seeing what could be on the other side of her health concerns, and to hear someone who had gone through what we were going through was extremely encouraging.” Jim and Lori soon became regulars in Bob and Dale Johnson and Mark and Cynthia Givan’s community group. “I look forward to that time every Sunday. The group has loved us, supported us, been there through hard times, and prayed for us” Jim says. God used their time at McKinney and in their community group to shape and mold Jim and Lori’s hearts to begin to grasp the heart of the gospel. Jim says, “I finally heard that all you have to do is believe that Jesus died for your sins, not because of what I’ve done, but because of grace. That’s how we’re saved. We don’t have to earn our way towards Him.”
Jim’s experiences with the McKinney family created a desire within him to pour out his time and energy into the community around him through serving on the Online Service Team. On Sunday mornings, if you visit our live stream page and join in the chat, you’re probably talking to Jim. “Sunday mornings fill up my tank. Serving in the online team puts meaning into what I do. In the online chat, we pray for people, let them ask questions, and allow our viewers to interact with each other. My hope is that everyone who visits us online would come to know the joy that I feel. I want them to feel like a part of the McKinney community and I want them to feel supported- even if they cannot physically be present at our service. I believe that this is the right thing for me to be doing.” Jim says, “After all this time, I feel like I’m finally running with God instead of running away from Him.”