Aaron Redwine, what a cool name! My new-found friend with a remarkable life story settled in and got comfortable, kicking off his shoes and crossing his legs underneath himself as he sat in the corner chair of my home office for this article’s interview. I had heard enough bits and pieces of his story from mutual friends over the past 6 months since I met Aaron that when the theme of “Super Heroes” was announced for this month’s issue of the magazine, I quickly contacted Aaron and asked if he would be willing to let me write about him. In his typical energetic way he quickly agreed, “Yeah, man! When would you like to meet?”
We settled on a recent Sunday afternoon, and with Aaron sitting in the corner chair next to the fireplace and I seated at the desk with my computer, we talked. The first topic of conversation was about church, which is where I met Aaron when my wife and I began attending the church where he is the Children’s Pastor, Trinity Wesleyan Church in Central, back in late February. He told me about the large group of children he had the opportunity to minister to that morning, since our church had hosted a special “Community Servant’s Recognition Day” that same Sunday. Local police officers, firefighters, and first responders were all invited to be our guests so that we could thank them for their service to our community. The church was packed for the very special service, and a large meal was served afterward in honor of these wonderful men and women and their families who faithfully sacrifice on behalf of our community. Aaron had a full room of youngsters in Children’s Church that morning too, and the smile on his face as he talked about getting to spend that time teaching them about Jesus made me smile also. It’s hard to be around the 23-year-old and not be impacted by his contagious energy and enthusiasm.
When I told Aaron the theme of this month’s issue and asked him who some of his super heroes are, the young man from Denton, NC didn’t have to think for even a moment. “Charlie and Connie Collins are super heroes to me,” he said, with an affection that filled the room. “They took me in during a very difficult time in my life and have been my adopted parents ever since. In fact, I consider their daughter, Bethany, and their son, Andrew, my sister and brother. They are family to me in every sense of the word, with Charlie and Connie being very much spiritual parents to me.”
As Aaron gazed out the window in my office, the Bradford Pear tree beyond the glass dancing in the afternoon breeze, he said, “I can still remember the day my biological father told us he was leaving. He had cheated on my mom with her best friend. I’ll never forget the day we found out. It was September 11, 2002, one year to the day after the terrorist attack in New York. I can still see my dad giving us the news that he was leaving and then smashing my mom’s wedding ring on the concrete.” Almost 15 years to the day have passed since that life-altering memory was forged, but as I typed, I could tell it was still as clear to Aaron as the day it happened.
“My biological dad worked for NASCAR,” Aaron continued, “so we were well off. My mom didn’t work outside of the home when she was married to my dad, so when he left, she had to find employment. It was a hard season!” Aaron shared how his mom, Dawn, was there for him and his two other brothers, and how it took a toll on her. “We lost the house during the divorce and had to move in with other people. We went from being wealthy to not having money. We basically lived from eviction notice to eviction notice.”
Prior to the divorce, Aaron described his family as the portrait of the “perfect family,” including being very active and involved in their church. That all changed as well. For several years after his dad left them, they fell out of church altogether. Dawn struggled trying to raise the kids, work, and maintain the family. She resorted to alcohol to soothe her own personal, emotional trauma, and had a string of relationships with new men. It was a devastating, dark, and long period of rebuilding for all of them.
And then came the Collins family, through the unexpected channel of an 8th grade friendship that blossomed midway through the school year between Aaron and Bethany Collins. They were both in Ms. Griffey’s Social Studies class and became best friends. Sitting in my perch across the office, the affection Aaron has for Bethany as his adopted sister, and for her whole family is so evident. In fact, Aaron admits Bethany was his “first love,” meaning she was the first young lady he came to truly respect and desire to protect. She invited Aaron to church with her, to the church where her dad, Charlie, was the pastor. Denton Wesleyan Church. Not long after Aaron visited church with Bethany and began feeling accepted by her family, he asked Bethany if he could come over and spend the night at her house. “Boys can’t spend the night,” Bethany replied. “Well, how about if I come over and spend the night with your brother Andrew and then we can all just hang out?” And that’s exactly what happened. Aaron vividly recalls spending the night with Bethany’s brother, Andrew, and going with their family to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and stopping at Wal-Mart, and just doing “normal family stuff.” It left an impression on Aaron.
The Collins family quickly opened their hearts and their home to him. He reflected on the sense of belonging he experienced with them, and the vision he caught of what a family with a godly father looked like. “Charlie taught me how to treat a woman, and his wife, Connie, taught me how to respect a woman.” Aaron also shared how Charlie walked with him through the hormonal teenage years of adolescence and temptation. Bethany became his sister and Andrew his brother. Their grandparents became his grandparents. He attended family functions and went on vacations with them.
His attachment to his new family caused tension between his mom and the Collins. “As I’ve grown, I learned this was not the way God designed things to be with my biological dad. I firmly believe if it were not for the grace of God through the Collins’ family, I would not be the man I am today. The Collins’ family are my super-heroes.” Aaron also was quick to add, “I will always have two moms in this world.” Dawn Redwine and Connie Collins. What a blessing to have two women who care so much about him.
When Aaron graduated from high school, he was accepted to college at Southern Wesleyan University. He also says he felt the call to ministry at “Crave ’08 at SWU,” a ministry conference. “I saw my father figure Charlie’s calling as one I wanted to emulate. I believed following in his footsteps would be a very honorable thing. I did an internship at Denton Wesleyan and accepted Charlie’s invitation to attempt children’s ministry. I led a pre-teen mission trip that had an enormous impact on my spiritual life and walk with Christ.” Aaron recalls Charlie admonishing, “Everyone is called to a ministry. God puts you in a place where you’re going to bring God the most glory.” With humility in his voice, Aaron added, “Charlie’s investment and belief in me was a tool God used to affirm His calling on my life.”
During his freshman year at school, just after finishing a youth group service, Aaron got a call that his mother had attempted to take her own life. He knew she had taken it hard when he left for college, and she felt like he had abandoned her. He was her baby boy and the only member of the family to go to college. He wrestled with what to do…stay at college or return home to help his mom. It was not unusual for him to get phone calls from his mother during this time saying, “If you don’t come back home, I’m going to attempt to kill myself again.” The internal tug of war wreaked havoc on him, and compelled to help his mom, he returned home and subsequently flunked out of college his freshman year.
For several years I felt such heavy responsibility for my mom. It affected all my relationships. I remember sitting at the table at home with the Collins one evening, and it was Andrew’s turn to choose what we’d have for dinner. Each of the kids got to choose the meal on occasion. Andrew chose pork chops and lima beans. I remember being done with dinner and not really knowing what my future held. I went back to the bedroom after dinner and heard Connie call me back out, “Aaron, can you come out here?” I remember sitting there and seeing Charlie’s face. On it was an expression of parental love and concern. Connie said, “We know that you can do better and apply yourself. We understand what you’ve been through, but we don’t need to dwell on the past and let it control us.” Charlie wrote to SWU and asked for leniency on my behalf. It was a powerful night of love and encouragement and motivation, filled with both sadness and exhortation. I will tell my children about that night, because those people loved me and challenged me.”
“I returned to Southern Wesleyan and did not make anything lower than a B for the rest of my college career. Charlie and Connie helped with finances and teaching me about faithful stewardship at church. They remained calm through all the storms. Connie is an endearing kind of crazy! She loves to hear people laugh and will fake laugh trying to get other people to laugh. And when others begin to really laugh, Connie’s fake laughing turns to real laughter.”
Aaron reflects, “Out of all God has done, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of seeing how He has worked and redeemed this situation. It totally affected my prayer life. Rather than asking God to remove me from the situation, I asked Him to show me His purpose in the midst of it. He makes ALL things good and new.” A remarkable perspective.
“God took the ashes of my life and made something so broken into something of great value and worth. Charlie and Connie were actually God’s vessels to usher in the new beginning of my life.” The Collins helped with Aaron’s first car, and when he graduated from SWU in December of 2016, they were there to celebrate with him!
Aaron began serving bi-vocationally as the Children’s Pastor at Trinity in Central on Dec. 1st. He also works full-time at Magnolia’s Assisted Living of Easley. I literally do everything for the patients, personal hygiene, feed them, help clothe them, you name it.
“When I began working with the children’s ministry, there were 5 children. Then, when the church implemented a second service, I began serving as Children’s Pastor for that as well. We now average 20-25 children in children’s church.
Interestingly, this summer’s Vacation Bible School theme at Trinity was “Super Heroes.” Aaron is in charge of VBS and they averaged about 55 kids per night. 27 of those kids accepted Jesus into their hearts on the last night. Aaron was also quick to point out that Lexi Darling, one of the church’s interns, was also very heavily involved in the planning and implementation of the major event. The church’s Awana program for children on Wednesday evenings launches again on August 30th, which Aaron will also be in charge of.
As our time together came to a close, and I asked Aaron if there was anything else he wanted to share about his super heroes, he said, “Yes, Joshua Tolan, my roommate, is also one of my current super heroes. He has been faithful to me through the crazy years of college and now in the early years of ministry after graduation. He is my accountability partner, and my best friend. I can always look to him and count on him. Even when I don’t realize I have a need, he is there to help meet it. He is God’s mouthpiece of wisdom to me and regularly is used of God to teach me.”
As Aaron reached for his shoes, I marveled at the journey this young man has experienced, and thanked God for the opportunity to walk the sacred ground of his story with him, as well as to call him my friend and brother. I would say he’s likely a super hero to the people he serves every day at the assisted living center, as well as to all the children he influences at church. God has done great things in his life, and Aaron is allowing God to continue to touch other lives as well. I’d say that’s better than being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, for sure!
If you’d like to reach Aaron for anything, he asked me to include his e-mail address.
Lee Millspaugh, INSPIRE
After getting my degree from Southern Wesleyan University, I eventually became a pastor at The Mount Church in Clemson where I’ve had the privilege of serving for the past 19 years, doing what I believe I was created to do.