Police Officer Finds New Purpose After Brush With Death

By   •   June 21, 2022

Officer Sean Houle (middle) with his wife, Ellie, and Franklin Graham at Mystic Lake Lodge, Alaska, in August 2021.

Lying on the ground, Officer Sean Houle closed his eyes. He’d just been shot in the face.

Images of his wife and two young boys ran through his mind. Houle was certain when he opened his eyes again, he would no longer be in Kernersville, North Carolina. He’d be in eternity.

But suddenly, Houle sensed God say, “Sean, this is where I have you; it’s not over yet.”

And it wasn’t.

In a dramatic turn of events, Houle summoned the strength to hoist himself up and fight for the shooter’s gun. But he was shot again—this time in the hand. Locked in the car, his K-9 Jax went ballistic, unable to help.

Officer Sean Houle with his K-9, Jax. Houle became a police officer at age 21.

As Houle sank back to the ground covered in blood, the odds didn’t look good.

Miraculously, a blur of red and blue lights arrived seconds later with seven officers, deterring the shooter from releasing more rounds.

Thanks to skilled medical staff, Houle was given a chance to survive multiple surgeries—repairing his severed carotid artery, building him a missing finger, new jaw and hand. Months of physical therapy followed, partially due to Houle suffering a stroke that forced him to learn to walk again and adjust to left-side deficits.

It was during this recovery process that Houle applied to attend the Marriage Resiliency Retreat at Samaritan’s Lodge, Alaska, part of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s (BG-RRT) Law Enforcement Appreciation Program. Located in the deep wilderness, the weeklong summertime retreat gives officers who have been injured or involved in a shooting a stress-free place to reconnect with their spouses.

For Houle, it sounded like a godsend.

After receiving a phone call, his wife came to him crying with the exciting news—the couple had been selected to go.

After February 21, 2021—the night Houle was shot—he said, “God went to work immediately.” Houle believes the shooting was “God-ordained.”

“That was the start of it,” Houle said. “My whole adult working life [I have] been in public safety between fire, EMS and police. I always felt a pull toward ministry … [but] I never got out of God’s way. I wasn’t paying proper attention to the nudge.”

The retreat was a step in that direction. That’s where Houle encountered Billy Graham chaplains for the first time. He received Biblical teaching from retired police officers, experienced the Lord’s presence in times of worship and was able to enjoy the rugged nature of the Last Frontier.

“There’s something about Alaska,” Houle said. “It’s like God created it yesterday and you’re touching it today.”

But it’s the people he encountered there that meant the most.

“There was not a single person that I met …. that did not clearly have the Holy Spirit in them. They loved on us to no end,” Houle said. “It was incredible how much care they put into sharing God’s love with everyone there. I went to that trip a saved follower of Christ. I left that trip stronger than when I went in.

“[I] got more emotional and spiritual care and healing than I could have ever dreamed of.”

When the time came to leave the spacious region filled with opportunities for hiking and fly fishing, Houle began asking more questions about joining the ministry—and someone recommended he look into chaplaincy.

He was then asked by BG-RRT staff to come to the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove and speak at a retreat for executive law enforcement officers.

Sean Houle with his wife, Ellie, in Alaska. They’ve been through many ups and downs together, starting when Ellie was diagnosed with cancer the week after they returned from their honeymoon. Later, they faced a miscarriage. After that, Sean was dragged by a car while responding to a shooting. “With everything going on around us, God was the calm in the storm, in the chaos,” Sean said. “We always stayed clinging to that faith anchor we had individually and together. It’s been a journey.”

That thought couldn’t get out of his head: God was repurposing his life.

“It was just like an a-ha moment,” Houle said, thinking, “Where has this been my whole life?

That speaking engagement gave him a glimpse into his future. After working in EMS for two years and serving as a police officer for 10 years, Houle retired for medical reasons in January. He now teaches law enforcement classes and has been on two deployments as a Billy Graham chaplain. During his deployment to Memphis, Tennessee, following a destructive ice storm, he had the opportunity to help five people accept Christ.

“Being a part of BG-RRT allows me to serve in a way similar to how I was in law enforcement, but even better, I get to try to lead people to the cross,” Houle said.

He’s heard a preacher say, “When God is breaking, God is blessing.” Houle firmly believes that “God doesn’t allow things to happen just ’cause. There was a rhyme and reason that I got shot. He has allowed me to reach an amount of people I would never have been able to reach as a cop in a lifetime. [And] He’s allowed me to do that in a year’s time.

“I know when God’s on the move, there’s nothing but good things ahead. I love that God took something evil, meant for bad, and just spun it for good. He flipped it on its head.”

This week, more officers and their spouses are attending the retreat at Mystic Lake Lodge, Alaska. Will you take a moment to pray their lives will be changed, too?

Sean and Ellie Houle with their two young children.