Youth Pastor Overcomes Adversity to Receive Degree

Rev. Steven Ocasio is an ordained minister currently serving as youth pastor at Lighthouse Church of God in Deltona, Florida under Pastor Jose Gonzalez. On Friday, May 7, 2021, he shared the following testimony with his fellow students prior to receiving his degree from Lee University:

My Lee University journey has been a long and uncertain one. But I believe this moment is only the beginning. I never thought a high school drop-out would stand before you today and give a speech at his own college graduation. But my story has NEVER been traditional.

I married my wife in 1999, and we knew God called us to be pastors. Over the years, I accepted what God wanted us to do, BUT a part of that calling included MORE education. The high school me would have never dreamed of going to college. I constantly fought memories of past failure and fears of future failure. I argued with God, but I silently wondered how God could ever make college a reality for me.

At the Church of God General Assembly in 2016, I stumbled across the Lee University booth. As I talked with the Lee rep, I was gripped with a conviction that Lee was my destiny. In fact, I prepared a powerfully persuasive speech to convince my wife to pack up our life and move to Cleveland. But at the stage of life we were in, that was not possible. Enter Lee University’s Division of Adult Learning, Lee Online. I never dreamed I could do what God called me to do without ever driving one mile away from home.

To my dismay, my first two courses were Math and English. Insecurity of past failure taunted me. To think, twenty-two years out of high school, and I had to go back to be tortured by math and English? But God helped me do well in all my classes. As an added bonus, I had the best math tutor ever: my twelve-year-old daughter at the time! She’s a math genius who aced algebra. God even gave me an individualized math support system for my journey at Lee!

Rev. Steven Ocascio and his wife, Alexa, both received degrees from Lee University online on Friday, May 7. They are joined by Steven’s service dog, Duke (click photo to enlarge)

While the beginning of my Lee story makes the high school me sound like a distant memory, it had some scary steps. My father was diagnosed with cancer and in January of 2017, he finished his race and went with the LORD. I thank God because in our online courses there is a designated space for prayer. Within a few days of writing to my class, I received a phone call from Professor Russell Morris, who personally encouraged me and prayed with me so I could continue!

But the unexpected kept happening. In May of 2017, I was rushed to the hospital. While all the signs pointed to a stroke, what I experienced was called “Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder, or Conversion Disorder.” This is a medical condition where the brain and the body’s nerves can no longer communicate.

In one, horrific moment, I could no longer walk, speak, or even think like a normal person. The challenges of the past suddenly faded in comparison to what I was now facing. When I contacted Lee, the person on the phone started praying. I knew I could no longer continue my classes, but even when I was not enrolled, my Lee family continued to call me and pray for me.
Lee University showed me that I was important to them!

After grueling physical therapy and prayer, I give thanks to God because I have reached the goal God placed in my heart. Does this mean my Lee journey was easy? Does it mean it has been traditional? Certainly not!

Since I came back, I’ve been in the hospital five times, I still struggle with my speech, and I fight through constant pain and numbness. I may not be able to walk right now, I may not be able to speak perfectly, but here I am, standing (I mean, sitting) on this stage ready to receive my diploma.

And I don’t even recognize the high school me who never thought this day could come. God is faithful, and He’s not done with me yet!

Dr. Ron Harvard, his Pastoral Counseling professor, calls Steven “one of the most inspiring young men he’s ever had in class.” He shared that in all the years he has taught for Lee University Online, Steven is one of three that reflects the type of grit required to persevere in the face of adversity.

Professor Cathy Yaun, Director of Online Academic Services for Lee University Online, describes Steven as “a testimony of God’s faithfulness to His promises. Steven refused to allow a tragedy to define him. His accomplishment today is an example to anyone who’s ever dreamed of higher education.”

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