WHITEVILLE, N.C. (BP) – For years, pastor Steven Cox of Peace Baptist Church held a deep anger toward his parents, who abandoned him when he was a child. Now, with God’s help, Cox has a good relationship with them both and is in the process of discipling his father.
Cox told Baptist Press some examples of spiritual fruit he has seen in his parents include are his mother’s peaceful and encouraging relationship with him and his dad’s decision to follow Christ. Cox baptized his dad at Peace Baptist in 2021.
“I can now confidently say that both my parents love and care for me dearly and I do have a growing and thriving relationship with them,” Cox said. “All three of us are continuing to learn even more about each other.”
“I’m learning my Dad is actually a loving and caring person. He’s inviting me into his world, and I’m inviting him into my world. When I hang out with him, I see it as a discipleship process. My Mom texts and talks to me almost every week to just check up on me. We haven’t even had an argument in like two years. This wasn’t the case growing up.”
Cox said the restoration process was slow, and it took several years after becoming a Christian to begin the process of forgiveness.
The couple had Cox when they were in their early 20s, but separated when he was a baby. By the time he was 2, it was decided that Cox would go to live with his father while his sister would go to live with their mother.
Cox would soon come to stay with his step-aunt, where he would spend most of his childhood. He would see his parents off and on, but sometimes would go months or years without seeing either or both of them.
Drugs, violence and all types of immorality were the norm at his aunt’s house. Cox would sometimes participate by stealing things and selling drugs for his aunt.
Describing himself as an angry child who always wanted to fight, Cox said the root of bitterness began to grow in his heart.
“I was seeing all this and just wondering why is my life like this?” Cox said.
“I had friends with both parents in their life, so around age 6 to 13 I started forming a deep hatred and bitterness toward both my parents. This hatred kept growing. I didn’t want to be around them.
“I thought there was something wrong with me or weird with me. I would literally shake my fist to the sky and just say, ‘God why do you hate me so much? Why did my life end up like this?’”
During his teenage years, Cox began living with his grandparents who were strong Christians.
His grandmother would often talk to him about Jesus and invite him to church, but he was uninterested and can count on his hands the number of times he went.
That all changed when he graduated high school. The challenges of the real world mixed with an increase in drug use caused Cox to fall into an extremely dark place.
“Something dark was just happening in my life, and I just felt weird and knew something was wrong in my life.,” Cox said.
“I just knew there was always something different about my grandparents. I remember calling my grandmother one Friday and asking, ‘Will you go with me to church on Sunday? I need to be saved.’
“I couldn’t tell you what the preacher said, but I knew when I walked into that church I needed to get saved. After the service, I went down to the altar of that small North Carolina church, and a friend of mine led me to the Lord.”
Since that day, Cox has been sober for 10 years and has served as pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Whiteville since June 2022.
Peace Baptist is not far from the neighborhood where Cox was arrested as a teenager for possession of drugs.
Soon after becoming a Christian, Cox was willing to do anything God wanted. Through various providential circumstances, he began to explore the option of going to Bible school, and God began to provide the way. He encountered an elderly couple and many others who volunteered to assist him financially.
It was at school at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and later Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where Cox would not only be informed, but transformed.
“The doctrine of Christ’s forgiveness rocked my college days,” Cox said. “It really changed and softened my heart to forgive my parents. As I’m meditating on these doctrines, God was working on my heart to apply that doctrine to my human relationships and ultimately with my parents. God saved me and gave me a love and forgiving heart toward them.
“I knew I had to forgive my parents as it was the only biblical answer. I knew God had called me to live a life of action in the context of forgiveness. I would make moves to reach out to my parents and express forgiveness, and that was not an easy process for me.
“It was like God had to drag me to do that, but on this side of the journey I’m so grateful that God’s Word directs us to forgive and restore our relationships with people. Even those that hurt us the most. They needed to know more about God’s love and forgiveness towards them even more than my love and forgiveness toward them.”
Cox led his father to the Lord in 2014 and baptized him seven years later. His mom attends another church in the area but often visits her son in his office to encourage or pray with him.
Cox has counseled many in his congregation, specifically men, through the process of rebuilding relationships and offering forgiveness.
Despite all of the difficulties, Cox said he would do everything all over again to experience God’s forgiveness and love in a deeply personal way.
“My advice to people regarding forgiveness is firstly to rest in the Gospel with your own soul,” Cox said.
“Grow in what Christ has done for you. I would rather someone get deeply rooted in the Gospel, instead of trying to rush a process. I had to walk through my own pain and my own hurt by reading God’s Word and resting in the Gospel.
“Some people told me to just leave my parents alone, but I wanted to go to my grave with forgiveness, not bitterness.”