“One of the biggest things that I was scared of were the lies that I kept telling myself that I’m too far gone, that people are going to act or treat me this way, people are going to look at me this way…but brothers and sisters in Christ came around us, rolling up their sleeves, and fought with us and pointed us to Christ every step of the way,” shared Anthony Clement in a recent conversation with him and his wife Kimberlee over Zoom.
Anthony and Kimberlee are a Marine Corps family who has been a part of three Pillar churches over the course of four years, starting with Pillar Okinawa when they were stationed in Japan. Kimberlee explained that as they started raising children, they felt compelled to be a part of a church. After they were introduced to Jon Ransom and found Pillar Okinawa, they embraced the loving church community they found and God began to work in their lives in a new way.
Though they grew up in church, they had a hard time understanding the gospel. “Jonathan Ransom was the first preacher who preached a sermon and I had a connection and understood what he was saying, that I could live out what he was saying. This was life-changing for me,” Kimberlee recalled.
But for Anthony, there was difficulty being fully honest and transparent in their new church community. Sin and secrets had surrounded his life and kept him in a kind of bondage that caused him to put on a mask and just play church. Growing up, he had felt like he couldn’t measure up to expectations, and he turned to many outlets seeking acceptance from others. Joining the Marine Corps gave him an opportunity to focus on his own self-made achievements and desires instead of dealing with the brokenness inside.
Deployment after deployment, Anthony and Kimberlee’s marriage began to degrade under the weight of sin and selfishness. Anthony’s sin struggles caused him to feel a deep divide not only between himself and his wife, but also between him and God. He started to pray for deliverance from sin as his life spun out of control.
Anthony shared, “I was like ‘OK God if you just let me get through this, I promise I’ll turn my life around. I’ll never do that again.’ Over and over again, and each time the downward swing was lower and lower…I wasn’t truly following Christ, I wasn’t truly repenting, I still had dark secrets I was holding onto. I was living a double life. ”
Nine months after finding Pillar Okinawa, they moved to San Diego, California, and joined up with Pillar Oceanside. While spending a couple of years growing in the community there, Anthony was confronted by pastor Trace Martinez as he began to notice the couple struggling in their marriage.
“I remember him asking me, ‘Hey what’s going on? Is there any unrepentant sin you need to confess?’ I felt my face go pale. I knew there was, but I didn’t know how to hold onto everything I had and still trust and just give my life to God. And I didn’t even understand the gospel at all!” said Anthony.
Meeting with Daniel Carter, another pastor at Pillar Oceanside at the time, Anthony started to open up about his struggles. He took advice on books to read and steps to take as he was preparing to leave for another deployment. But sin still held him in its grip, and things felt hopeless.
Then Anthony came across Colossians 1:21-22 and it hit him like a ton of bricks: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”
Anthony recalled, “I saw the word alienated and I thought, ‘That’s me…I feel completely lost and I have no relationship [with God].’ I felt there were a lot of things I needed to confess.” He shared this with Daniel, who then supported Anthony in finding a couple of Christian counselors to help him sort through his past and present circumstances, and assured him that his church family was there for him and his family no matter what.
He told the marriage counselor everything and left nothing out. His counselor said, “This is very important: Jesus died for you…so that you could be reconciled.” For the first time, the gospel started to soften Anthony’s heart.
He also found a safe space to work through his sin struggles with others at a ministry called Mighty Oaks. This ministry is set up to help military members and veterans work through serious spiritual and mental difficulties and help restore them to wholeness. They shared the gospel with him again and for the first time it really made sense; now he understood it!
“I said before that I was a Christian since I was a kid, but then and only then was it that I experienced the start of transformation. And He completely changed my heart right there and I wanted everybody to know!” shared Anthony. He continued to confess and repent until there wasn’t anything left to hide and his marriage began to heal. He got baptized to publicly proclaim his death to sin and new life in Christ.
Anthony and Kimberlee at this point were also starting to get involved in the core team to help plant a new Pillar Church in San Diego alongside Daniel Carter. They expressed that there had been a serious change that they can’t explain other than God, and how Jesus’ love and redeeming power has rescued Anthony even when he felt like he was too far gone. Now they wanted to live for Jesus.
As they started serving more on the core team and Anthony continued to trust and obey Jesus, he said, “I started growing and growing, and instead of it being about fear, I was doing this out of sheer love. I wanted to serve in any way that I could.
“All these churches within the Praetorian Project…I wish I could say I heard [and understood] the gospel the first time at the first church, but I think God used all these different pastors within this collection of church plants to penetrate my heart and show me that He loves me and there is no sin that’s too far gone that He can’t redeem and restore.”
What Anthony described that he saw and experienced at each of the Pillar Churches he attended was, in a word, grace. He and Kimberlee both constantly felt the love and care of God reaching out to them through the hands of the Pillar pastors and church members who weren’t going to give up on them in the middle of the mess. They also have recognized the importance of the gospel-centeredness of the churches’ teaching and values.
“I know that if I go to any Pillar Church, they’re going to be preaching the same gospel. We know that it’s good, it’s grounded, it’s truth. That’s a comfort. So we’re super grateful for this community and how God has impacted our hearts. And how this community in general can impact more people…It’s all to glorify God and it’s beautiful,” said Anthony.
Kimberlee gives all thanks and praise to God as she reflects on the power of the gospel in their lives and the importance of God’s use of ministries like the Praetorian Project and Mighty Oaks. “We wouldn’t be sitting next to each other right now without God using the Pillar community when you look back at how it was all orchestrated,” she said with awe.
The Clements know they are not alone. Countless military and civilians struggle in darkness, hiding in shame because of their sin, at the brink of falling apart. But the gospel light is shining through the Church, and it is the Praetorian Project’s mission to continue to multiply healthy churches near military installations worldwide.
Anthony and Kimberlee’s hearts now are drawn to help more families find the hope and restoration in Jesus that they have experienced. “There’s got to be many more couples like us. If we can help serve in a way that the pastors at Pillar are equipped to help more couples like us, then we’ve won in the sense of glorifying God through that and helping them reach other people,” Kimberlee explained.
Now living in freedom from the guilt and shame of sin and in restoration to the God that made them and loved them, the Clements look to the future with bright and hopeful hearts filled with His Spirit, knowing that wherever they find a Pillar Church, they will find grace–they will find family.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
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