I had the opportunity and pleasure of getting Pastor Dana to take a few minutes out of his busy, busy, busy 24/7 daily schedule to answer a few questions I'd put together for this interview post. I thought it would be of interest to pose some questions that address not only what the 'heart' of the SLM ministry is, but also what's in the core heart of the man who founded and leads it, and ... how do the two 'hearts' entwine with each other? The resulting interchange is what took place.
Marvin: Your message of “Seeing all people through the eyes of Jesus”—what was the original inspiration for coming up with that particular teaching? It seems to be a trademark of, and a hallmark admonition to, the entire Shiloh congregation.
Pastor Dana: I had never really adopted a theme message until around Easter of 2009 when someone who had come back to the church asked me, “What is our message, who do I tell people we are?”
I thought about it and came up with the “Seeing all people through the eyes of Jesus” statement to sum up the core message of this ministry. When we see people through His eyes, we are free to love and accept them for who they are created to be. I don’t look at people and judge them based on their current circumstances. All of the “hot button” topics that religious folks use to judge people—don’t fly at Shiloh’s Lighthouse. My job is to love people through God’s love, to help them learn how to have an intimate, living relationship with Him. If they have issues they are dealing with, things going on in their life that God does not want, the natural growth in their spiritual walk and relationship with Him will help them make whatever changes He wants—they don’t need me trying to judge them and manipulate them.
Most people know John 3:16, but far less can quote verse 17 ... “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” The eyes of Jesus are filled with love; we need to be the same way!
Marvin: Why did you choose—of all places—a dirty, depressed, rag-tag of a crime-infested little town like Saginaw, Michigan, to start and build a church?
Pastor Dana: God chose Saginaw for me. I grew up in Cadillac, Michigan ... a small, safe town of ten thousand people where there was no appreciable crime to deal with and no racism ... the city was overwhelmingly Caucasian, so there was little opportunity to interact with people from different ethnic backgrounds. There was not a single murder in my hometown during my years growing up there. We didn’t lock our doors and people even left their keys in their cars. I came to Saginaw in 1983 and was confronted with social dynamics unlike anything I had ever experienced, yet the multiculturalism I experienced here just “fit” me. I was warned to not ‘cross the bridge’—Saginaw is divided into two main and distinct regions, west and east, and a river is the dividing line. The east side, I was forewarned, was the ‘bad side’ of town.
Well, that was all I needed to hear! As soon as I was able to find one of the bridges, I crossed it. I wanted to see for myself what the big deal was. What I have learned in the 28 years since I first came to Saginaw is a love for the people of the area. Geographically I don’t like Saginaw at all. It’s flat, dirty and, for its size, has been ranked for many years running now as the most violent city per capita by the FBI. And the people, in general, are not friendly. Yet this is where God called me to build a ministry. The view isn’t very ascetically pleasing, but my “retirement home” in heaven has a great view, so it’s worth the wait.
Marvin: Shiloh’s Lighthouse Ministry (SLM) has a boxing ring—a full-blown, well equipped gym—set up in what used to be a fellowship meeting hall inside the church, and sponsors a competitive boxing club. What’s the story behind this—the Shiloh Boxing Club?
Pastor Dana: The heart of my ministry has always had a soft spot for at-risk youth. Any church that wants to grow needs children and youth involved or it is a dying church. While I grew up in a classic ‘Leave it to Beaver’ kind of home, with both parents present and involved in the child-rearing, and a solid feeling of love between all the family members, there are a significant amount of young people in the Saginaw area who are not experiencing such fortuitous upbringings. Sporting programs are positive ways to minister to youth when taking the “whole-person” approach to ministry (Mental, Emotional, Social, Economical, Physical and Spiritual). One of the strongest families in our church was, back in the 70s and 80s, very involved with Golden Gloves boxing programs. Bob Colpean, head of that household, (he co-owns and operates Colpean Brothers Painting and Restoration) and I, had talked for a few years about starting a boxing club. We believed it would draw in young people and their families as well. In September of 2009 the vision came together as we transformed an underused fellowship hall into a fully equipped boxing gym—totally through donations. We now have the only boxing gym in Saginaw!
The boxing program is beneficial in multiple ways. One, it provides a disciplined sport for young people to learn and grow in; two, it creates mentoring opportunities—we have some great adults working with these kids on all levels and aspects of their lives and, three—it builds strong bodies and minds, showing the young people the heart of God as they are unconditionally loved on when they come to the gym. The motto for Shiloh Boxing is “We’ll beat the hell out of you.” One way or another—we’re going to kick the devil’s influence out of these awesome young people’s lives!
Marvin: As a pastor, and right now the only acting pastor, of the church, you are called upon 24/7 to respond and see to the needs of so many people. You wear the myriad hats of marital counsellor, youth pastor, abuse counsellor, spiritual mentor, visitor of the sick, young adult mentor, all that and much, much more ... what does Dana Wilson, the man, do to keep himself revitalized—mentally, emotionally and spiritually filled and healthy—while at the same time having to constantly ‘give out’ to others?
Pastor Dana: A significant step I took to take care of myself began in April of 2010. The stresses of ministry that are literally 24/7, combined with a lifestyle of emotional eating, had resulted in my physical body coming close to breaking down. I was pushing 300 lbs (for my height and bone structure I should be in the 160s). My heart was in bad shape and I was in constant pain and discomfort.
Thanks to dear friends in the church who sponsored me to start Weight Watchers, I began a path toward physical health. In the ten months since I have lost 72 lbs, dropped 11 points off of my BMI (from 44 to 33) and am on track to hit my weight loss goal this year. I had to take care of my physical self which has helped me in every other area of my life. I work out at the YMCA four to five days per week and, in warmer weather, take advantage of the local Rail Trail for bike rides.
To take care of one’s body, I have learned, is paramount for emotional and even spiritual health as well. Spiritually I have the blessing of living in the Parsonage some 50’ away from the church. My office is my sanctuary during the week where I study the Word, listen to worship music, read good books and pray. Most days my Pastoral duties come into full force in the afternoons and continue well into the evenings, so I take advantage of early mornings for “me & God time.”
Marvin: If you could not—for whatever unthinkable as of right now reason—be a pastor, what other life calling and/or career would you pursue?
Pastor Dana: I would probably be running a smoothie stand on a tropical beach in the Caribbean someplace. Most likely, though, knowing me, I would encounter people in need, start to minister to them, and ... wind up building a church there as well!
Marvin: What is the most satisfying aspect of being pastor and leading SLM?
Pastor Dana: Changed lives. There is nothing more satisfying than the privilege of seeing a life transformed for eternity—it’s priceless.
Marvin: What is the worst aspect of the position?
Pastor Dana: The lack of “down time” or a social life is a challenge. There are times that Smoothie Stand looks really enticing...
Marvin: For those reading this interview and who may be considering a first visit to SLM—what can you tell them to expect if they come to worship with us?
Pastor Dana: You will find a warm welcoming atmosphere. The people are relaxed, not dressed up much (I’m the only one wearing a tie) and usually found hugging and sharing stories from the week. Praise and Worship music service is intimate non-traditional. We have a live band composed of professional quality musicians that plays everything from modern arragements of traditional hymns, to songs you hear on your favourite contemporary Christian station, to original music ... covering a wide variety of musical genres. You will see all kinds of expressions of worship—from hands lifted high, to people kneeling at the altar, some people dance and express themselves with physical motion, while others will stand or sit or do both during the course of worship. There is—we feel at SLM—no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to worship. It’s all about people just being themselves as they celebrate their love relationship with God.
Following the Praise and Worship service comes the Word for the day, given by yours truly. People open their Bibles or cellular devices (to get to their Bible Apps) and read the selected passage(s) along with me, then settle in for a message that relates to their current circumstances. I am not a great theologian; I am a down-to-earth practical preacher who tells it like it is ... which sometimes leads to moments when I feel led to say things with such real-world candor and undiluted veracity, that ... I'm glad we aren't on live TV!
Marvin: What is your vision for SLM? Where do you see this ministry in, say, five years from now?
Pastor Dana: I don’t believe our current facility is large enough to house all of the ministry vision God has given, so I believe in five years we will be in a new facility that is able to facilitate even more outreach programs. I don’t want to move farther away from the city proper, I actually want to move further in. My desire (and calling) is to find a ‘difficult’ area and establish a beach-head of hope and love to continue growing the ministry where it is needed most ... right in the midst of trouble and challenge.
Marvin: You are (affectionately) referred to by all the SLM members as “PD”—a short acronym for Pastor Dana. In a society that typically lauds their pastors as “Bishop”(full name) and “Apostle” (full name), it seems to be a rather unusually casual and pedestrian moniker for a pastor to be hailed as—would you care to comment on this topic, “PD”?
PD: While I believe the office of Pastor deserves honour and recognition, I do not believe that it—the honorific—has to be some indication that I am “above” anyone else. The One I want to see lifted up is Jesus. One of my first spiritual mentors was my Campus Life Leader. When I was eighteen we were sitting in an arcade, talking over a Coke about life in general, when I asked him how ‘knew’ if he had a good ministry.
He immediately responded, “If I can leave and the church is able to continue on, then the ministry is all about Jesus ... and not about me.”
Marvin: PD, thanks for taking the time to share with our readers today. Any parting words you would care to leave us with?
PD: We need people to get involved in their communities and to love each other into whole-person balance. I pray the readers of this interview are doing such work. If you live in the Saginaw area, and would like to be part of a relationship-based ministry rather than a religion-bogged-down program, I invite you to come fellowship with us!
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