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In group therapy sessions, he heard other people describe the exact symptoms he had experienced—and realized that almost everyone in the group had been in trouble with the law because of uncontrolled symptoms.

After his diagnosis, Hoefs's wife, Donna, who had lost her mother to suicide as a result of bipolar disorder, confronted him: "I love you. This is not who you are. I know that. But I can't live with you if you don't do everything you can to get better. You don't have to be perfect. I will stick with you as long as you're working on your illness, but I can't do it if you won't do what you need to do." Hoefs took this seriously and dedicated himself to treatment.

As he began to stabilize, his psychiatrist talked with denominational leaders. She encouraged them to allow Hoefs to come back to King of Kings, not as a pastor but as a part of the church. This would provide an opportunity for others to understand mental illness, she said. It would allow healing and closure.

But not all the church leaders agreed with this plan, and Hoefs was not allowed to return. That's where grace took an unexpected turn.

More to the story

"God told me I had to stand with him and not leave him by the side of the road." Karen Reynolds speaks with tremendous conviction about her part in the story that came next. She was the worship leader at King of Kings, and as she watched events unfold, she knew there was more to the story than a moral failure.

"I had known Brad longer than anyone else in the church. His family was family to me. I knew something was really wrong. He had been escalating in behavior; he was in dire need." She resigned her position, and she and her husband decided to follow the Holy Spirit.

They weren't alone. A group of about 20 people, all part of King of Kings, felt the same conviction: There is more to this story, and we must do something to help. They all had something else in common: "All of us had some family member with a mental health issue or had struggled with a mental health issue ourselves or, because of professional training, were more open to believing this was not a make-believe thing," says Ruth Belmont, one of the original members of this group. "My husband and I weren't looking to get involved," she says, "but God wouldn't leave it alone for us. We had to obey."

This group gathered in a home each week to pray for Pastor Brad and his family. They prayed for wisdom and direction. They began to worship together. Their numbers doubled to 40. Then grew to 50.

Eventually this group decided to quietly leave King of Kings and form a new church—the best way, they believed, to minimize the damage of potential conflict. They discovered that God had brought together a disparate, oddly connected group of people who had all the variety of gifts they might need: a pianist, worship leaders, and a missionary who was a gifted preacher and could serve as interim pastor.

But the new church wanted a permanent pastor, and they specifically wanted Brad Hoefs.

As the church began to form, they found friendship in Ambassadors Worship Center, a multi-racial interdenominational church pastored by Martin Williams, who invited the fledgling Lutheran congregation to worship with them on Sundays in the school cafeteria they were renting.

"They told us we didn't have to contribute tithes or anything; they just wanted to love us. They wanted to stand with Pastor Brad," Belmont says.

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