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Carrying stories of silent heroes

Some people tell stories. Ben Peterson ’12 carries them.

The 29-year-old founder of Engage Your Destiny is committed to help people discover their purpose. And recently, he’s started to help veterans tell their stories.

A world-wide journey

Peterson entered the U.S. Army right out of high school with plans to serve his country through Special Forces. A vision test indicating severe color-blindness ruled-out that option and he was told the only job they had for him was as a chaplain’s assistant. Looking back, Peterson sees this as one of his own “engage your destiny” moments. Although he had only become a Christian a few months prior, at that moment, he “just knew,” and said to God, “I think you have a plan for my life.”

Called into active combat in Iraq at age 20, Peterson experienced things that are difficult to talk about, including seeing seven of his fellow soldiers killed in a helicopter crash.

After his tour of duty was over he returned to civilian life, but floundered as he processed his experience. Struggles with PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) led him back to alcohol—something he thought he had previously conquered—and he found his way out by his faith and choosing to associate with friends from church and mentors who encouraged him.

Two great years of education

A stop at a large university where he “felt uncomfortable all the time,” left him still looking for a place to fit in. He eventually found out about North Central, got in, and spent the next two years studying music, Bible, and ministry.

“Two of the greatest years,” Peterson said of his time at NCU. “So many of God’s promises were fulfilled there…it was probably one of the most special periods of my life.”

As a worship leading major, Peterson was active in music and after graduation toured with Jeff Grennell as a lead guitarist. “I was determined to be a rock-and-roller revivalist,” Peterson said. Instead, after the tour ended he ended up at a job refinishing hardwood floors.

A friend’s invitation to be sales manager for a start-up creative agency led to three years of pavement pounding, perseverance, and great success in landing significant accounts for the company. “I won a lot of business,” Peterson said. “It just took building relationships and it was a lot of fun.”

God said “Go”

In the back of his mind was always a sense of purpose to a different calling and it got to point where he knew he was wrestling with God. “Nine months ago, I woke up and knew I was done,” Peterson said. “I called out to God and asked, ‘Father what do you want me to do?’ and I heard [the answer] loud and clear: ‘Go.’”

Peterson left a high-paying, high-influence job to start something out of nothing.

Compelled by a dream

One night a vivid dream set Peterson on a course to serve military veterans: “I was sitting on a bus asking veterans to tell me their stories. I had a bag at my feet filled with thousands of stories.” And then the dream ended.

Galatians 6:2 came immediately to his heart: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

What he needed to do next was as clear as his dream. Peterson created a video inviting veterans to share their stories with him. Once he receives their stories, he prints them and puts them in a duffel bag, and he carries the duffel bag everywhere he goes.

Breaking the silence for veterans

Peterson’s work is giving people who have long lived in silence a safe place to tell their difficult stories of war. “The majority of stories are coming from Vietnam,” Peterson observed. “We’re seeing a pattern.” He explained how people have shared about the Tet Offensive, extreme combat, special forces—stories they were told to keep to themselves when they came home from Vietnam.Alumni Ben Peterson carries stories of veterans

Peterson is moved to compassion as he reads these stories, noting the brokenness can be overwhelming. “I saw tough things and the worst doesn’t even compare to what they went through,” Peterson said. “To see what they are going through breaks my heart.”

He started a Facebook page where Veterans are responding and connecting with one another. Many admit, when they send him their stories, it is the first time they have ever told anyone about their experience.

As he carries the stories on his back, Peterson prays for the men and women writing to him, and will tell anyone who asks why he is carrying this load. He is taking this initiative to six cities with high concentrations of veterans, ready to obey in this endeavor because it’s what God has called him to do.

“I’m on the wildest adventure of my life,” Peterson said, “and it’s all because I have pursued a relationship with God. I have seen the greatest increase since I just started sitting with the Lord every morning. It is the key to life.”

Follow Peterson’s blog to stay up to date on his work and ministry.