Dustin Sullivan has been nominated as one of those among us who is living a well-crafted life. His nomination card lists him as a leader who is gifted in evangelism and teaching. It also describes him as a loving father, devoted husband, and an honest and humble follower of Jesus. But it has taken time for Dustin to become that humble follower and to make God his center point. Here is his story:
Dustin never doubted that God existed, but for the first 32 years of his life he determined that he was the master of his own destiny and that God was just there when he needed Him. He grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico in a loving, God-fearing home. His parents were very involved in church and the family attended regularly. During his high school years, Dustin continued to stay involved, now attending youth group. In reality, his motivation for going was so that he could chow down the great breakfast they provided. When he went away to college in Colorado, church dropped off his schedule. Since breakfast was no longer associated with attending church, he didn't see the value in going regularly. He would , however, go if he'd experienced a difficult week.
Dustin's young adult years were filled with the world's idea of success, which further perpetuated his belief that he was a self-made man and didn't need God in his everyday life. He was crafting his own life, and things seemed to be going the way he wanted them to. He attended college on a wrestling scholarship. When he graduated, he immediately secured a job in the banking industry. He had a positive experience with his family of origin, so he felt like the next step in life was to start his own family. He found a girl and married, but it was not the kind of relationship he had seen in his parents' marriage. Dustin and his first wife had two children, but the marriage was troubled and eventually ended in divorce.
It was during their marriage, however, that Dustin found himself in Ventura as a result of a work-related transfer. After the divorce, he shut himself off from family and friends. It was humbling to him that he hadn't been able to fix the marriage. From his vantage point, he had always been in control and been able to make things happen - to be a success at whatever he put his mind to. But this time, he lacked the power to make things work out. His dad encouraged him to go back to church, but at the time Dustin didn't believe that was the answer. He still thought he could follow his own template to move forward.
The bright spot during this season was Dustin's two daughters. He loved being a dad and he deeply valued spending time with them. However, it proved extremely difficult to be limited in the time he could be with them. He wanted to them them every day. On Christmas Day 2013, Dustin was scheduled to be with his daughters for the day, but circumstances changed, and he only saw them for a brief hour. Now alone on Christmas, he was feeling the impact of what his life had become. Things were not at all the way he wanted them to be. In the midst of his pain and reflection, a young woman named Nicole, connected with him on Facebook. They found themselves communicating in the hours that followed.
As Dustin and Nicole got to know each other, Nicole threw out a stipulation to them getting together. He would need to go to church. Dustin didn't hesitate agreeing to her request. As a teenager, he had gone to church to get an omelet. Now, he was going so he could get a beautiful girl! Why not?! As Dustin looks back, he sees how God used Nicole to reach him. But not just Nicole, on that first Sunday at Ventura Missionary, the first person he saw was a friend with whom he'd shared a lot of his pain - a friend who had never pushed Jesus, but was Jesus to him. Then the preacher for the day said things like, "Maybe you're divorced..." and proceeded to list a lot of other things that identified Dustin's life. He was convinced that Nicole had shared with the pastor about his life, because God was speaking directly to him. But of course she hadn't.
Nicole and Dustin began dating, but Dustin was experiencing stress in the rest of his life. He was still in the middle of court issues from the divorce and struggling financially. At the end of January 2014, he was one deal short of receiving a significant bonus at work. Losing that bonus was going to be devastating to his finances. He didn't know what to do. The self-made man had no idea how to proceed. It seemed to him that been though he had started going to church again, his life was falling apart, and yet he found himself driving to the cross in the foothills of Ventura. Tears were flowing as he sat in his car in that beautiful setting. He spoke to Nicole and to both of his parents, but he still felt alone. He didn't think they understood. But suddenly, as he looked out over the ocean, he could distinctively feel God's presence and assurance that things would be okay. In the midst of his brokenness, this was the day he was truly saved. He finally knew in his heart that God was more than the source of an omelet, or a beautiful woman. He was the source of peace. It was God design that he need to pattern his life after. And from that night on, everything changed.
Dustin knew he needed to delve into the Bible, God's manual for life. At first he wasn't sure how to approach reading Scripture. It had seemed a little dry in the past. He began by looking up the word divorce to find the verses that addressed that topic. He was blown away by what he learned. From there, Dustin became "enamored" with God's Word. He couldn't get enough. Even though he was new to all this, he thought he was being led to start a Bible study. Affirmed by a leader at the church, he did so. It quickly evolved into a thriving group that got together to hang out and dive into Scripture. Ten guys met weekly in his home after he put his kids to bed at 8:30. They hung out by his fire pit - sometimes until 2 in the morning - learning together what God has to say about how to live life well. Dustin was also baptized at the beach during this season, which was a powerful experience for him.
Eventually, Dustin and Nicole got married, so the Bible study group moved to Pizza Chief on Thursday nights (where they still meet today). They are known as "The Bible Boys" there. Staff at Pizza Chief, though they don't consider themselves Christians yet, find themselves sitting in during their breaks.
Dustin lights up as he talks about Nicole. He obviously appreciates more than her outward beauty. Having a daughter coming into the marriage herself, the Sullivan's were now a family of five. In 2016, Dustin and Nicole participated in the Rooted Discipleship Experience at VMC. During Rooted Dustin was stirred to find a way to get involved in serving at Ventura Missionary, and he also wanted to connect with his step-daughter, so he signed up to help at Youth Group. It's been an awesome experience all the way around.
Dustin says he has learned more in the last four years than he has in his first 32 years. He's addicted to the Bible and his faith, and it spills out on every area of his life. If he's sitting at Starbucks, it's not uncommon for random conversations to turn spiritual. He says, "I want them to know that there's a God that loves them - not because of what they do, but because He made them."
Recently, Dustin was asked if he had any interest in playing a leadership role with our monthly Men's Dinners. He jumped at the chance. He believes there is so much potential for men to gather and learn about God. This first year, he is doing a series on Men of the Bible - men with insane callings, men who finished well, men who were on a quest for wisdom and men who lived out wisdom . November's Men's Dinner is on the 16th at 6:30pm in the Family Room. After chowing down on some tri-tip and chicken, guys will hear a message about Paul and Timothy, men who stepped up to lead. Cost is $10. Sign-up by emailing the Church Office.