By Marilyn Tinnin
A Story of Redemption
Tony Haines, 56, lives an intentional and purpose-driven life these days. As CEO of the Andrew Jackson Council of the Boy Scouts, he is leading this Mississippi-based branch in a most challenging era of social change. He is a husband, a father, and the president of a non-profit that assists citizens of Haiti with healthy food, clean drinking water, home construction, and more.
He is a courageous and compassionate man who earned his personal badge of bravery in the most horrific of circumstances. He is also one joyful picture of God’s promise to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up their wounds.
As the middle son among five boys, Tony attended elementary school at a small Catholic school in Chickasaw, Alabama. For two years, from age six to age eight, the priest who served as Head of School sexually assaulted him on a weekly basis. Threatening harm to him and his brothers if he dared to speak about it, Tony endured the humiliation and remained quiet. It did not help that his father was an abusive alcoholic. There was no one he could turn to.
When he received his first Boy Scout manual, The Cub Scout Wolf Handbook, he began to read about courage. He read that book cover to cover and took to heart every word. He wanted to develop the kind of character traits described there in words that an eight-year-old boy believed were true. There was never a doubt in his mind that what was happening to him at school was terribly wrong, but as a child, he had no idea how to defend himself until he read what his wolf book said about being brave. He read, “A scout is brave. A scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He stands for what is right even if others laugh at him.”
He was afraid, but he was going to become brave. He stood up to the priest. The assaults ended, but Tony was far from whole and healed. He would have nightmares for decades to come, and he did not share his story with anyone. There was too much pain and too much shame.
Scouting became his safe place. It also provided a foundation of good and solid principles by which to live. Tony sees God’s grace all over his love affair with Scouting. The psychological wounds he had suffered could have taken him down a very self-destructive path during his teenage years. He stayed in the Scouting program taking advantage of all it had to offer. It did indeed keep him safe.
When he joined the Navy at 23, the core values in the Naval Creed simply strengthened his commitment to live by that same high moral code. He was good at what he did because he put a high priority on compassion and service to others. He cared deeply about giving his all to any task, but at the same time, he did not seek a relationship with God. On the surface, he was the consummate recruit, but he was still broken inside.
Following his discharge from the Navy at the age of 30, he went back to the Boy Scouts leading area councils in Hattiesburg, Jackson, Tennessee, and finally Jackson, Mississippi, where God took all the broken pieces of his life and redeemed them.
In 2011, almost 25 years after the appalling abuse he had suffered as a little boy, he finally told his wife his story. With strong support from Leslie, he entered counseling and made peace with the demons of his past. He was free for the first time in a long time.
And it was still later that he discovered a brand new life in Christ. He and Leslie, at Leslie’s insistence, began attending Parkway Hills United Methodist Church in Madison. Tony found many opportunities to serve.
But it was actually a medical mission trip to Haiti in 2013 that ignited his overwhelming desire to help the hurting and to do everything within his power to alleviate the suffering he saw. That particular mission trip was led by a friend he had made through his wife Leslie, a nurse who was part of the team. Tony was the only non-medical staff person on the trip. He became the “go-for” member of the entourage.
God was so in the details. He and a Haitian friend he made on that trip decided to form a non-profit and to raise funds and awareness of the dire straits in which these dear Haitian brothers and sisters lived. They did not know what a non-profit entailed, but they knew God was calling them to it, and they jumped in. His servant heart just continued to grow and to fill him with a certain amount of “others-centeredness” that everyone around him began to notice—God was at work in Tony’s life.
His pastor told him about a year ago, “Everybody knows God is calling you to ministry. You’re the only one who doesn’t see it.” Could it be? Could God really use him despite the baggage he carried? It was very likely the baggage that most qualified him for service in this broken world.
He discovered in all his fervent searching of the last few years that God does his best ministry in this crazy world through broken—but redeemed—folks. And Tony Haines qualified.
Tony entered seminary in January 2018, to become a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.
A summation of his theology? Nothing happens by chance. Nothing is beyond the Lord’s ability to redeem. Love God and serve others. Hands and feet of Christ in this world? Yes. He is on board.
Please visit godspromiseinhaiti.com and for more info email Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org.