116 Life X Benjamin Wills

Posted on December 18, 2014 / by Katie
  Bio Benjamin is a native of Dallas, TX, he, his wife of 8 plus years, and 4 year old daughter moved to Atlanta in the summer of 2011 for the second time. They currently live in English Avenue. He completed his Bachelor's degree at Liberty University and Masters at Central Michigan University. He is the Founding Principal of Peace Preparatory Academy, a community school and resource center opening in the fall of 2015 in English Avenue, one of Atlanta's most under-resourced communities. The school's mission is to educate the whole child, support the whole family, and provide growth and change opportunities for the whole community in a high-quality Christ-centered learning environment. Interview Tell us a little bit about the path to where you are today. My story really begins where I tried to end it. At 17, after years of battling some heavy depression and insomnia I tried unsuccessfully to take my own life. The next Sunday I walked into a local church where the pastor was a young guy with a young family and he put his arm around me to show me around the church and said, "Jesus loves you, and so do we." This was the first time I had ever really heard someone say those words to me. Mind you I grew up in church, but I carried the scars of "church" into that place. Yet through my time there, my interactions with the people, and the study of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, I became convinced in the power of the cross and the purpose God had for my life and everything sort of clicked. Not long after I graduated high school I enrolled in Bible College hungry to learn more about God and also began working in youth ministry. Fast forward a bit, I married my wife and felt called to step out in urban missions. We committed the first year of our marriage to missions through a program called Mission Year which placed us in Atlanta, and in English Avenue. That year rocked our world and changed everything I thought about who Jesus was and how he wanted to use me in this world. After that year we went back to our home in Dallas and tried to just live as good people, socially aware, and on fire for Christ, but God wanted more. He wanted it all and called us back to Atlanta in 2010. Since that time I really have just been going through the process daily of laying everything on the table and asking God to reorder, reprioritize, and use me to bring glory and honor to His name. What does a typical work day look like for you? Typical for me has a whole new meaning in this season. Since I am really functioning in two major capacities, trying to get everything ready to open a school and fundraise for that school to be operational and sustainable, every day brings a new challenge. I spend a heavy amount of time in prayer and meditation, whether in my office or driving/walking the streets of English Avenue. I also spend a good deal of time meeting with people and sharing the story of my life and of Peace Prep. Lastly, a good deal of time is spent reading, learning is something I am always eager to do so I am spending lots of time studying for the days ahead. Did you have a specific moment when you realized that you wanted to be a part of something like Peace Prep? From the time I initially committed 40 days to prayer, visioning, and dreaming when the vision of Peace was born, to the season we are in now, God has really shown me how he uniquely created and gifted me for this purpose. In the early days just dreaming about Peace and sharing it with close friends and my wife, I was honestly very insecure and doubted whether God would really want to use me in this way. Since that time, there have been so many people and interactions that have helped me to really see the full potential God has for me. What risks or hard decisions have you had to make to live unashamed? The initial decision to move back to Atlanta was an extremely tough decision. My wife was pregnant, I had a very well-paying job and was working my way up the corporate ladder, yet I knew we weren't living the life God called us to those years before. We had to give it all up. When we first arrived we had housing that was only available for about 3 weeks, I was starting a new job, and all of our earthly possessions were in the garage of our pastor with the exception of our mattress and a few suitcases of clothing. Fast forward to last year around this time when I made the decision to stop teaching and work for Peace Prep full time. I've never been a fundraiser before and we had virtually no money in the bank for the school, yet we made a decision as a family to really let everything go in light of God's faithfulness to us to this point. What does the unashamed life look like in your neighborhood, English Avenue? The unashamed life in English Avenue is one of bold faith and reliance on the Holy Spirit. This neighborhood is statistically the worst in Atlanta, and quite possibly one of the worst in America. Number one in violent crime in Atlanta, known as the largest open-air heroin market in the southeastern United States, no schools, no grocery stores, no public parks or green spaces exist. We try to walk as often as we can to church or friends' homes, we try to meet real and present needs whether that be making a sandwich for a homeless friend or turning on the water hose so someone can wash their hair. We also try to do things just to be reflective of how we feel about our neighbors and the neighborhood like keeping the yard up and hanging out with kids. It's also very important for us to be connected to a community of other believers here in English Avenue who have chosen to live here for similar reasons. When so much darkness exists, it's not complicated to be a light, but it is costly. How have you worked through success? Failure? Both success and failure bring me to the same place, Christ as King and bringing glory and honor to His name. When I have felt successful the inclination is to try and take credit for being smart or talented, I have to wrestle against that and realize that God in His grace and mercy has invited us to see Him at work and it is truly a privilege and not a right. When I have failed, which has been many times, I have to remember the same thing and in addition remember that He wouldn't have called us if He did not intend to equip us. Lecrae touring English Ave with Benjamin.  Photo: Billboard Have you had any mentors along the way? In those early days of really walking the walk, Jeff Francis was instrumental in pouring in to me and just affirming all the unique ways God made me. Books and sermons have always spoken to me and brought me along and matured me in a sense. Lately, there are a number of people in my life who are really helping me to see more clearly and have a more appropriate perspective, too many to name individually. Do you have any favorite books? I have a lot of "favorites", The Perfect Loss by Chip Dodd, Jesus is Better Than You Imagined by Jonathan Merritt, anything by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis to name a few. What verses or passages in Scripture have sustained or encouraged you? This one reminds me that our whole lives are on the table to be shared, and it is only through relationships that we get to this point. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 - So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. Can you offer some encouragement to other unashamed believers out there? The greatest encouragement I can offer to unashamed believers is to rest in the undisputed truths of who God is and live the life He created you to live. There is a constant battle within to listen to the lies of the enemy, to doubt, to second guess, to compare ourselves to others. All we need is found in Scripture, and not individual verses for our pleasure, rather the totality of the work which gives us such a clear picture of who God is and how he operates. Those truths will sustain you and encourage you in any season, because God unlike us, never changes. Follow Benjamin on Twitter Follow Benjamin on Instagram Follow Peace Prep on Twitter Like Peace Prep on Facebook  Visit Peace Prep's Website

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