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Grounded in faith, soaring in spirit

January 22, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- Danny Bledsoe was an Army Blackhawk pilot in 2006 when a visit to the doctor permanently changed the course of his life.

During that visit, he learned a spinal injury caused by his years of flying would ground him from that point forward.

"The impact of taking what you thought you wanted for your whole life— I wanted to fly helicopters for the Army— losing that was very difficult, but I couldn't ask to be led in a better direction than God is leading me now," said Bledsoe on Tuesday.

That direction includes a new appointment as associate pastor at Seymour Lake United Methodist Church, in which he will oversee youth and children's ministries. The position is a new one at the church located at 3050 Sashabaw Road and fits well with the church's primary goal of being a place where families from all over the area can feel welcome. Bledsoe said in the position he will support specific programs for families and youth and bring a unique perspective from nearly a decade of military service.

Bledsoe enlisted in the Army in 1998 as a helicopter electrician and in January 2001, went to warrant officer candidate school, followed by helicopter flight school, where he trained to become a Blackhawk pilot. Involved with church from an early age, he felt a call to pastoral ministry in 2004, but was made full-time by his Army National Guard unit and in July 2005, activated for deployment to Kosovo. During that 22-month deployment, he traveled with a group of soldiers to Greece, where he visited Philippi and the Gangites River, where the Bible tells of Lydia being baptized by the Apostle Paul, making her what is believed to be the first European Christian convert.

"Something about the trip made my own faith journey very real for me," said Bledsoe. "To visualize the people of the Bible in the context of where they walked brings them alive out of the pages. The lengths people went to share the Gospel—the miles they walked, the persecution they faced— remind me that my own sacrifices pale in comparison and that strapping on my sandals and setting out on faith is what I am called to do."

Just two weeks before his deployment to Kosovo, Bledsoe was introduced to his wife Sara at the wedding of mutual friends. They had only two dates before he left for deployment training and saw each other one more time in Texas before she left for Ghana, Africa for a student teaching stint. The next time they saw each other was in April 2006 when she flew to Germany to spend a week with Bledsoe. The following month, she flew to Scotland to see him again and the pair also spent a couple days in London. In August 2006, for their eighth date, Sara flew to Germany again and the couple jumped a night train to Prague with nothing but their backpacks. What Sara didn't know was that Danny had a ring in his pocket. They were engaged Aug. 4. Three weeks later was his doctor appointment when he learned his career as a pilot was over. His biggest fear was that she had agreed to marry the pilot and not the man, but that fear was soon laid to rest. On Aug. 4, 2007, one year after their engagement, they married. They now have two children, a daughter, Ruari, 3, and son, Ronan, 10-months-old. The Gainesville residents are expecting their third child in September.

After being diagnosed with his spinal injury, Bledsoe took a desk job. In April 2007, he was discharged from the Army, with his final rank as a chief warrant officer 2.

He and Sara owned an ice cream store and picture framing business, both of which they sold before their first child was born.

Bledsoe, 33, expects to graduate in early May with a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Michigan-Flint, is interning with Resource Genesee's One Stop Housing Project (homeless outreach), and is the senior pastor at Juddville United Methodist Church, northeast of Owosso. He plans to start seminary school classes online this fall.

"Many people would be surprised to hear there are experiences in ministry as equaling challenging as some of the experiences in military can be," said Bledsoe. "In both, you can have times of loneliness and experience times of uncertainty, but in both experiences, you really draw on the power God brings into your life. The saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole rings true and even at times when you feel isolated, there is that comforting presence that God is always with you. More importantly, the experiences I've had allow me to encourage others. Every tough time I've had in my life, there has been an even better time to follow. I hope to bring that kind of encouragement and experience to share with SLUMC youth in this and surrounding communities."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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