April 9, 2022

When God Called Three Police Officers into His Service

Three Seventh-day Adventist pastors recall their previous life in law enforcement.

Paola Mora Zepeda, Southern Tidings

Before receiving his call to ministry, Mike Hewitt, Kentucky-Tennessee Conference vice president for administration, worked as a police officer from 1994 to 2003. In 2000, he was assigned as a traffic officer and a fatality investigator in the Roanoke County Police Department in Roanoke, Virginia, United States. 

One evening, Hewitt was called to investigate a car accident involving two teenagers. Nothing could have prepared him for the scene he witnessed.

The car was hanging from a telephone pole. The headlights had been knocked out, but the taillights were still flickering. The two victims, a teenage boy and girl, had been killed almost instantly. As Hewitt approached the scene, his heart broke and a question entered his mind: Were they ready to meet Jesus?

Though Hewitt had been raised a Seventh-day Adventist, he had strayed away from God and the faith and was no longer attending church. While he was reporting on the accident, a new question started to bother him.

“My mind kind of went from, ‘Were those kids ready?’ to me having to ask myself, ‘Am I ready?’ I knew the answer was no. I was not,” Hewitt says.

God Calls Hewitt

Shortly after the incident, Hewitt began studying the Bible and watched videos of evangelistic seminars. With the guidance of his mother and grandmother, Hewitt made the decision to come back to God. At the same time, he started to feel a call to ministry.

“I got pretty excited about it,” Hewitt says. “I started to tell my coworkers, and they thought I’d lost my mind. They would say, ‘Mike, you’re going to be a detective,’ … but once I sensed the call to become a pastor, law enforcement just wasn’t good enough anymore.”

Hewitt’s story does not stand alone. Though it happened in different places and at different times, God was also working in the lives of two other police officers. Steve Haley, Kentucky-Tennessee Conference president, and Brian Milano, pastor at Tullahoma and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Seventh-day Adventist churches, also felt their call to ministry while serving in law enforcement.

God Calls Haley

Haley served as a patrol and traffic officer from 1978 to 1981 in Rockville, Maryland.

“I was always interested in law enforcement,” Haley says. He joined law enforcement as soon as he turned 21. “I think I liked the perception of excitement and flashing lights and sirens and catching bad people.”

During his last year as a police officer, Haley was assigned to work in a hospital on the weekends. His responsibility included handling the release of dead bodies from the morgue, some of which had been murder victims. Haley recalls the experience as sobering.

“I would come home to my apartment, and I just started thinking about deeper issues, like, ‘What’s life all about?’ and ‘What do I want to do my whole life?’ ” Haley says. “Behind the scenes, I think the Holy Spirit was talking to me.”

After a few months, Haley decided to take his life in a different direction. He resigned from his police job and accepted God’s call to ministry.

God Calls Milano

Brian Milano worked as a part-time officer for a few years before starting what he thought was his lifelong career in law enforcement. He became a full-time police officer in 1990 and served until he retired in 2012. He held various positions, including patrol officer, police chief, and detective.

Milano carried a Bible in his police car that he had taken from a hotel, but he had never opened the book. One night as he was patrolling the streets, he felt the urge to read this Bible.

“I had a very skewed understanding of how God worked and how a person obtained eternal life,” Milano says. “In my mind, if your good deeds outweighed your bad deeds, then you’ll be in heaven. As I read the Scriptures that night, I realized that wasn’t true. And so, the Holy Spirit impressed me to go into the police station and make a phone call.”

Milano took the phone book and searched the number for a Seventh-day Adventist church — the church his twin siblings and aunt attended. After speaking with a pastor and later receiving Bible studies, Milano was baptized in 2003.

The Transition

Hewitt, Haley, and Milano all had different journeys in their transition from law enforcement to ministry, but God was guiding each of their stories.

Hewitt, who obtained an associate’s degree in criminal justice, recalls wrestling with his call to ministry when he recognized it meant a lot of change.

“I realized that I would have to give up my steady income to go to school,” Hewitt says. “At one point, I was talking to one of my professors who told me, ‘God has called you,’ and I replied, ‘Well, let Him call somebody else, because I’m not sure that I’m up for this.’ ”

Hewitt could not shake away that call, however, and instead accepted it with joy. He began working as a pastor in 2005 and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University.

Haley took a different route. While a student, he worked as a religion teacher at Georgia-Cumberland Academy first. Then, in 1985, the Georgia-Cumberland Conference decided to sponsor him to pursue his master’s degree from Andrews University.

“All I knew is that I wanted to do something for the Lord,” Haley says. “I wanted to do something where my life mattered for ministry and for people.”

Milano became actively involved in his church as soon as he got baptized. While he was still in law enforcement, he received a call from the New England Conference to be the pastor of the Adventist church in Rutland, Vermont.

“So, I did that bi-vocationally,” Milano says. “I worked full-time as a detective, finishing my time for retirement, and then on the weekends I would go to Vermont with my wife and kids. I would preach on Sabbath and visit church members on Sunday.”

When Milano retired from the police force in 2012, he made the decision to become a full-time minister. On May 15, 2021, Milano was ordained at the Murfreesboro, Tennessee church.

“I actually never got to experience retirement because I never stopped working,” Milano says. “I didn’t go looking for it, but the Lord opened the doors and made it very clear that that’s what He wanted me to do.”

The Blessing

Hewitt, Haley, and Milano all agree that their time in law enforcement helped them prepare for ministry. According to Hewitt, his time in the police force taught him about working with people and having compassion. Haley emphasized how law enforcement showed him the importance of partnering with God. Milano adds that as a police chief he learned about budgeting and strategizing to meet goals, both skills which he says are useful for working with a church.

Though the trio had different experiences, they recognize that God had a plan all along.

“I really enjoyed and was blessed in my years in law enforcement,” Milano said. “I would not change my career choice. I learned an awful lot about a lot of things … and when the time was right, the Lord used those skills and opened the door for pastoral ministry.”

The original version of this story was posted by Southern Tidings.

Paola Mora Zepeda, Southern Tidings
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