When I began serving as the new Executive Director of the Greater Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce (Geneva, Alabama) last week, I had not anticipated the commotion that my past would cause. After concerns were brought on Facebook by certain residents of Geneva, I sat in deep contemplation and prayed to God for an answer on how to handle this. It was put on my heart that if I was to be able to move past these rough waters of discord and prevent it from become a full-blown storm of agitation, that I must be honest about who I was and share my testimony of transformation with the people. To that end, after first creating an official Facebook page for the Geneva Chamber, I posted the following long post describing the sins of my past, how I found God in jail, what brought my wife and I to Geneva, and my plans for making Geneva great again.
This post, bearing my soul, has gotten so much positive feedback and others have commented on how helpful it was for them to read it, and how it has helped people to look inward and reconsider their own lives and examine how they judge others, that I’ve decided to post it on my blog here for the public, that they may have the opportunity to obtain similar benefit. And if anyone wants to dig up dirt on me, they can just read this post and it will tell them everything they need to know. But, I am not worried as I have learned — as did Nehemiah when he sought to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem — that when you surrender to God’s will, and if you are doing God’s work — though criticism and attacks may come from all directions — you will always have the full armor of God upon you.
1. Now when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and was filled with indignation. He ridiculed the Jews 2. before his associates and the army of Samaria, saying, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Can they restore the wall by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?”
— Nehemiah 4:1-2
Bear in mind that this is long, but I think you will find it a quicker read than expected. Please leave a comment if this touched you in any way. Do you have a powerful testimony of how God changed your life? Share it below, we want to hear about it!
Open Letter from Our New Executive Director – Eric Hepperle:
For many of you, this is my first opportunity to reach out to you and introduce myself.
My name is Eric Hepperle, and it’s an honor to introduce myself to you as the new Executive Director of the Greater Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce. I’m humbled and excited to lead this important organization into its next chapter. However, before I can do that, I need to get something off my chest that I think could possibly hinder our new relationship and greatly affect how you see me:
I’m a Horrible Sinner!
That’s right. I have sinned and still continue to do so every day. Now, I haven’t ever killed or raped anyone — nothing violent like that, but I’ve done some pretty bad stuff that I’m not proud of.
God’s word tells us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, and I’m no exception. And until I found God my life was a total mess. Every time I tried to make something happen on my own it would fail. All good lasting relationships are based on honesty and integrity, so I’m going to to do something most never will: I’m going to confess my sins to you in order for you to truly understand who I am and who you will be dealing with — Somebody who has made mistakes. Here we go:
- I’ve lied — a lot, when I was younger.
- I’ve cheated — not individuals, but I used to take pride in cheating the government and business in my youth.
- I’ve uttered a few curse words and I’ve wished ill on others.
- I’ve loved women, younger and older, and though each new relationship helped me to grow, I was always restless and never fulfilled.
- I played guitar in a mildly-popular midwest rock band
- I have posted videos and blogs that no longer represent who I am today
AN UGLY MUGSHOT
Now, most people who know me and have known me for a long time will tell you that I’m an honest, hardworking, dependable, and generous guy. And that is true, but again, until I found the Lord I was lost and my life was filled with personal pain and sorrow despite my kindness and compassion. I had a college degree but never could keep a job for long. I had money but ended up spending it all. I had relationships and friendships, but there wasn’t much I could do to help prosper those I cared for. I had chronic medical conditions that never would heal.
In fact, in 2015 my situation was very desperate. I was living in a rusty old Winnebago with a woman who didn’t love me. I was broke and unhappy and needed a change. Oregon had legalized marijuana and I smuggled four (4) pounds of hash oil to Iowa on a train for $700 because I really needed the money. I was arrested soon after entering Iowa, betrayed by an old friend. I spent three days in jail during which time I did some serious soul-searching and considering why I was there and what I wanted out of life. Now, I believed then — and still do — that there is nothing inherently wrong with marijuana and cannabis. Alabama is sure to follow the example of other states that have in the last 10 years legalized cannabis use after realizing the truly miraculous medicinal and healing benefits. To deny this, with everything I know, would be silly. However, I also realized something else: for my medical issues, cannabis is not the cure.
A PROMISE TO GOD
On day three in the holding cell, I was reading a book wondering if I was ever going to get out. When all of a sudden, I heard a voice that I instantly knew was God. He assured me that I would be released that day. I fell on my knees in that cell and resolved to follow God and to live a life of service to others from that day forward. I knew that God was indeed great and worthy when an hour later I was released on bail! I was allowed to serve my probation in Oregon (where I lived) instead of Iowa.
From that day, I was faithful to my promise to God and everything in my life began to change for the better. I found myself feeling honored and humbled to pick up cigarette butts outside the probation office, weed whacking overgrown municipal parks, digging ditches, and mulching trees public recreation areas. All of a sudden, I was happy and counted it a joy to do hard work for others. What a blessing! I was also required to go through a drug rehab program called MRT. The very first lesson I learned in that program is something that has stuck with me ever since:
I learned to take responsibility for ALL my choices. And most importantly, I learned to listen and obey when God speaks.
WHAT’S IN GENEVA?
In 2015, I met an incredible woman at work named Katherine, just a few months after my arrest and instantly — unexplainably fell in love. It was literally LOVE AND FIRST SIGHT. Though we couldn’t explain it, we just knew that we needed to be together. Having just come out of a bad relationship, I decided I was done with romance for a while and I was going to focus on my career and what God wanted. Unbeknownst to us, God had bigger plans in store for both of us. The following year, we married — my first, having planned to be a bachelor forever — and God has just continued to shower us with miracles.
The Holy Spirit spoke to us one night and told us it was time to move. We originally considered moving to Savannah, but that didn’t work out. Then we were guided to flip a coin (actually a guitar pick) on a map. It kept landing on a tiny little community without a visible name and flipping into the Gulf of Mexico. After puzzling over why God would tell us to move into the ocean, we took a closer look. Eventually, realized that we were to go to a tiny little town we had never heard of — never even considered — called Geneva. Kat and I had some doubts at first, but each time we prayed, we got the same message: move to Geneva. So, we took a huge leap of faith, packed all our belongings, our four cats, and drove cross-country to a place where we knew no one and bought an old house in disrepair as we were guided to do.
Since arriving in Geneva, I’ve just been myself. But who I am now is quite a bit different from who I used to be. Having grown up godless with a single mom on welfare trying her best and doing whatever she could to raise three kids with no father in the home, I learned to resent and fear the government. Now, after spending time with mayor Frankie and other officials in town, I have a better understanding of the crucial role that government plays in keeping a community safe, free, and prosperous. I used to think all cops were corrupt and racist, but since meeting Police Chief Tony Clemmons and Sheriff Tony Helms, I realize that I was unfairly judging a whole group of people based on the actions of some; those two are some of the kindest, most good-hearted folks I know! Along with Mayor Lindsey, I am proud to call them friends.
GOOD THINGS COMING FOR GENEVA
Since moving to Geneva, our blessings have been greatly multiplied and we have been honored to find a constant stream of opportunities to serve. I have had the privilege to volunteer in many local causes and have developed a true love for this amazing town, that not even a year ago was but a stranger to me. I’ve become a member of a St. Elizabeth, a great church where I play guitar and am discovering the Word in a powerful way. And I’ve even been recognized with the Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation recently. Now humans are always going to judge — that’s in our nature — and there will be those who are just going to be ‘haters’, as they say. Others, with good intentions, will let fear and doubt cloud their good judgment. I recognize that is just the way things go. Am I going to let that keep me from doing what I can and moving forward to make Geneva a better place? Absolutely not.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO MAKE GENEVA BETTER FOR BUSINESS
While Chambers of Commerce are not government organizations, by partnering with local and state government, Chambers across Alabama have had powerful effects on the impact on local businesses. I will work with the City of Geneva and the county, as well as other Chambers throughout the state, to do what is best for Geneva. When things seem impossible, with God’s guidance, I will find a way. The Devil knows when God’s work is being done — that is when he pushes hardest on good folk to overcome them with doubt and fear. Until God shows me that my time here is over, I plan to do my absolute best to be of great service to all and any businesses — small, large, and in between — in the Greater Geneva Area. In the days ahead, there are a few key changes I’m hoping to implement right away:
- Create a Web and Social media presence for the Chamber
- Find out from community and business leaders what they would like to see from the Chamber
- Have regular, quarterly board meetings
- Brainstorm ideas for publicizing new and old businesses
- Become a hub for information on the town and local recreation and tourism opportunities
- Holding regular, consistent weekly hours
My door is always open, and if I’m not in on a particular day, you will be able to reach me via email, the Chamber office phone, and my personal cell phone. If someone has a concern or suggestion on how to help grown and bring in more business to Geneva, I want to know about it.
Now I’ve never claimed to be perfect, and I’m not going to start now. However, I do try to follow the example that Christ set for us all on how to live a righteous life. He said the most important thing in the world was to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. So for those small few doubters, haters, and gossip mongers out there who have seen fit to drag up my past in an attempt to sew doubt about my fitness for this role with the Greater Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce in the minds of others, I will follow Jesus’ admonition in Matthew to turn the other cheek and not contend. I admit my past and own my choices, for they have helped shaped me into who I am today.
I look forward to serving you in the days ahead,
Eric L. Hepperle, Executive Director Greater Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce
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