Feature by Edwin Manuel Garcia / Photos by Crissy Musick
Chris Trent truly understands church members who are struggling with issues, big and small.
“My childhood was rough. ... My sister was abused, so I guess she passed some of that abuse to me,” says the pastor of Mountain View Conference’s aptly named Grace Outreach church in Logan, W.Va., and the Grace Community church in Williamson, W.Va. “I was taken to church quite often when I was a kid, so I thought there was a God, but, at the time, I didn’t have a need for God.”
Trent is a former Marine who owned a tattoo business for 13 years. “And in between,” he adds, “I was married and had three kids by a woman who was kind of wild. We were into drugs a little bit.”
Eventually his wife walked out on him, leaving him with three diaper-aged kids. However, this, in turn, set him on a new path. He got into a new relationship, found Jesus and remarried.
Even though his life stabilized, he struggled to feel accepted at the Pentecostal church his family attended. Trent was eager to serve, especially in children’s programming, and felt his calling when the pastor requested volunteers for Vacation Bible School.
Trent offered to help. The pastor’s response: “No thank you, we are all full.”
Later that day, Trent’s wife, Rebecca (pictured, above), was invited to be a volunteer.
Trent was crushed. He suspected he got rejected because of his body ink and the tattoo business he had restarted in order to provide for his family.
Trent walked away from the church, but his wife stayed. During that time, she also studied on her own and discovered the biblical Sabbath, sharing her newfound insight with Trent.
Where Is That in the Bible?
“[My wife and I] thought we had figured out some world, and we had to go sell it,” says Trent, who returned to church and asked his pastor why they kept Sunday. The pastor replied that it was because Christ’s resurrection happened on Sunday, changing the Sabbath. Trent pushed further, asking “Where is that in the Bible?”
The pastor promised to get back to him with an answer, but never did. Meanwhile, his wife kept asking him to come back to church.
“I kept telling her, ‘I can’t go to a church that tells lies from the pulpit,’” said Trent, referring to the Sunday/Sabbath issue, and still hurting from the rejection he felt from his church. “Besides, they don’t even like me, they don’t welcome me in, they don’t want to hear from me. There’s no reason to go.”
Trent continued searching for more answers about the biblical Sabbath on YouTube and found sermons from Amazing Facts about the so-called secret rapture and the Sabbath. Over the next year, he watched many more sermons from that ministry.
The couple concluded it was time to find a church that worshipped on Saturdays, but still hadn’t heard of Seventh-day Adventists. His wife pushed even harder to find one.
Trent eventually visited the Amazing Facts website and found information about the Seventh-day Adventist church in California where Doug Batchelor, the Amazing Facts president and speaker, pastored.
Google searches led them to a Seventh-day Adventist church about an hour away in Huntington, W.Va. They visited, and Pastor Justin Howard befriended the couple. At this point, Trent had become excited about his relationship with the Lord and had given up the tattoo shop again, even though it meant struggling to earn money. “I want to share this message,” Trent declared. Encouraged by the pastor, he turned his life testimony into sermons and decided to become a minister.
Through a series of financial miracles, Trent enrolled in the Emanuel Institute of Evangelism (Mich.), and later the online undergraduate program at Liberty University (Va.), all while working as a Bible worker and pastor in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Trent says one of his biggest assets as a pastor is being able to fit in with his largely blue-collar congregations and truly understand his members’ struggles.
“My sermons are not the biggest theological ser-mons you’re going to hear; you’re not going to hear all the big words, and I’m probably going to mispronounce some of them,” he says.
Through the Eyes of Jesus
If a visitor walks into Pastor Trent’s churches in West Virginia covered in tattoos, he’ll give them a warm welcome and his members won’t judge. “We want to be able to have a safe place,” he says, noting that he tries to be down to earth when speaking to new members. “I’ve come from a lower class of people I guess. ... I fit in with the general public. ... It’s easier to get people to work with you when they trust you and you have a solid relationship with them.”
Trent says he tries to see the potential in every-body. “I realize where I was at and where God brought me, so I try to look at everybody through the eyes of Jesus,” he says. “If they’re covered in tattoos, I’ll say, ‘I’m glad you’re here.’”