Assemblies of God SearchSite GuideStoreContact Us

Daily Boost

  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Holding on to Hope

By John W. Kennedy
May 15, 2011

As he grew up, Gene and Carol Kent’s only child, Jason Paul, turned out to be the blessing every parent desires. J.P. had a strong Christian faith and never got into trouble. He didn’t abuse alcohol or illegal drugs. He earned good grades, lettered in sports and became president of the National Honor Society at his high school. He went on missions trips with his church youth group and helped build Habitat for Humanity homes.

J.P. went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997 with an exemplary record. In Orlando, Fla., where the young ensign pursued nuclear engineering training, he met his future wife, April, at a church singles group.

In September 1998, J.P. married April, a divorced mother of two daughters.

But soon, in April’s child custody case with the girls’ biological father, allegations surfaced about abuse. J.P. feared a judge would grant unsupervised visitation to the father and thoughts of protecting his stepdaughters — who were 7 and 4 years old at the time — consumed him.

As he began to unravel emotionally and spiritually, J.P. didn’t share his inner turmoil with his parents. Instead, he compartmentalized his life, transferring militaristic passion to protect the freedom of Americans to obsession over the safety of his stepdaughters.

In October 1999, police arrested 25-year-old J.P. Kent and charged him with the first-degree murder of his wife’s first husband, 35-year-old Douglas Miller Jr. Rather than allow God to handle his anxiety, J.P. took it upon himself to be the protector of his stepdaughters, shooting Miller four times in a restaurant parking lot.

In disbelief, Gene and Carol wondered not only why God had allowed their son to commit murder, but also where they went wrong as parents. Gene and Carol found themselves vulnerable to thoughts planted by Satan:

• If we had been better parents, this would not have happened.

• If we had not been so busy, we could have fixed the situation before it became a problem.

• If we had prayed more intensely, we would have prevented this.

“When we get into that cycle, the enemy can make us feel like we are such bad Christians that we have nothing productive that we could ever offer anybody else,” Carol says. “We begin to think life will never be the same, and we almost make an idol out of nurturing the sadness in our lives.”

Carol grew up as a preacher’s kid. When she accepted Jesus as her Savior at age 5 at her mother’s knee, she vowed to serve the Lord however she could.

Before J.P.’s arrest, Carol had been involved in 15 years of full-time ministry, speaking at evangelistic outreach events, conferences and retreats, plus writing books — primarily about women’s felt needs. (See CarolKent.org.)

As David did in the Book of Psalms, the Kents poured out their angst and anger to the Lord, questioning why He allowed the tragedy to take place. Over and over, they questioned how their son could commit such a horrible crime. Gene and Carol, for the first time in their marriage, turned their frustrations into verbal outbursts toward each other. Tears of forgiveness followed as they began to learn how to grieve.

“I am so grateful that God allows us to vent without cutting us off,” Carol says. “At the same time we are mad, God knows we are longing for an answer, that we still love Him and that we will come to a place where we cannot resist leaning into His embrace.”

In the early days after the arrest, Carol continued her speaking engagements out of economic necessity. A year earlier, Gene had left his insurance industry job and joined Carol, taking care of the business end of the ministry.

Carol found God supplying a supernatural dimension of empowerment as she clung to the biblical truths she had known for decades.

“When I began to share out of my brokenness, I discovered the whole world identifies with pain,” she says. “By being authentic, God opened more doors for ministry than I ever could imagine.”

After 2½ years and seven trial postponements, a jury in April 2002 convicted J.P. of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In addition to spending their savings on J.P.’s defense, Gene and Carol moved to Lakeland, Fla., from Michigan in 2005 to be near their son.

Carol found solace in reading the Bible, journaling, praying and writing more books, including When I Lay My Isaac Down and A New Kind of Normal. Yet what has brought her the most joy is helping others — those who are in even more desperate shape than she. On a Facebook site she encourages other mothers who have incarcerated children.

Beyond that, she tries to be a comforter through phone calls, e-mail or texting to anyone struggling with life. Carol has encountered many other troubled Christians: a woman with a parent in the final stages of dementia; a family facing the loss of their home because of unemployment; a single mom who needs a bag of groceries in order to eat; parents whose soldier son has been killed in Afghanistan; a mom whose daughter has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer; a couple coping with years of infertility.

“There are times when God chooses to be glorified through miracles of physical healing, or making the shackles of imprisonment fall off, or finally setting someone free of addictions,” Carol says. “But sometimes God chooses a different way, by allowing us productive ministry in the middle of a journey of sorrow and sadness.”

Carol knows she is more compassionate toward those in prison because, when not traveling, she and Gene spend every holiday and weekend there.

Because she expresses her vulnerability in talks at church events, Carol has people confide in her all the time. Rather than withdraw, she believes the way to overcome her own doldrums is to do tangible acts of kindness for others in Jesus’ name. She exhorts Christians to meet the needs of those around them, such as becoming involved in a church prison visitation program.

In 2004, the Kents launched the nonprofit Speak Up for Hope (see sidebar), which allows those on the outside the opportunity to help inmates in substantive ways.

Meanwhile, Carol is speaking at various Assemblies of God Women’s Ministries district retreats this year. The AG National Women’s Department is using her Becoming a Woman of Influence book as its annual theme Bible study.

She continues to write books about how the traumatic life-changing experience has shaped her, including last year’s Between a Rock and a Grace Place.

J.P. now realizes the futility of trying to resolve matters by himself.

“The reason I am in prison today for killing a man is that I trusted in myself and doubted God,” J.P. wrote to his parents. “Only in retrospect can I recognize how arrogant, self-righteous and self-reliant I became in the weeks leading up to the murder as my fears and worries consumed me.”

The Kents, married 41 years, refuse to get caught up in pity parties of what they have missed in life because their only child relinquished his freedom.

“Everybody eventually goes through something difficult in life,” Gene says. “We are thankful for what we have in the midst of it all.”

It’s been 11½ years since the fateful day. All state and federal appeals have been exhausted. Carol’s hopes that her son would gain an early release have been dashed repeatedly. She still prays for a miraculous clemency. At times, she has wondered whether her prayers are futile. But when sorrow lifts, she understands that God isn’t ignoring her pleas.

“In my lifetime, I may never see the answer to my prayer in the form of my son’s freedom on the outside,” Carol says. “But God’s answer is a kind of freedom for Jason on the inside. I still know God is trustworthy, and He can use what has happened as a platform upon which we can give hope to others.”

J.P., who is still married but estranged from his wife, has become a missionary in an unlikely place: a maximum-security prison in Bowling Green, Fla. The lifer is a respected biblical counselor who mentors men about marriage. He prays and fasts with other inmates. He also has led eight groups of men through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course.

“My prayer is that these men, if they are eventually released, will never return here,” J.P. wrote to his mother. “I’m praying they will be good husbands and fathers, and productive members of society when they leave this place.”

J.P., now 36, refuses to see his life in prison as a waste. His parents agree.

“My son will have a purposeful and productive life for the glory of God, even if he does not live outside those prison walls,” Carol says. “I encourage every mother to never quit praying for her child who has made wrong choices or walked away from God, and to love that child unconditionally.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Email your comments to pe@ag.org.