My name is Aaron George Anthony Buttery. I grew up as the eldest of three siblings in the northern part of San Jose, California. While growing up in the suburbs of the Silicon Valley, I played soccer, became a runner, and learned how to play musical instruments. My mother, a devout woman of Catholic faith, raised me and my two siblings (Michael and Doreen) in the Catholic tradition. She taught us nightly prayers, made us go to Catechism, and took us to church every Sunday. During these childhood years, my father, who did not go to church, unknowingly played a large role in my spiritual formation. As a verbally abusive alcoholic, he created nightly disturbances in our home. Some of the prominent feelings I experienced as a boy in such an environment were those of helplessness and frustration. I remember deeply praying for the problem to go away, but it never did. As I grew older my heart became jaded due to years of unanswered prayers. This created distance between me and God, diminishing the original wonder I had for him to near nonexistence. I never stopped believing in God, but the statement, “I believe there is a God,” was the beginning and end of my faith.
In high school I was confirmed in the Catholic Church, choosing the name of Anthony. However, the rite was more an act of conformation rather than confirmation. Church was something I did out of routine rather than desire. The routine ended when I moved to San Diego to attend the University of California, San Diego, where I would eventually graduate with a B.S. in Astrophysics. While at UCSD I connected to the school’s athletic scene whose party theme was “Go Go Go!” I refer to this time as the “season of sex, drugs, and rock & roll” because all were indulged in heavy doses. In the third year of my prodigal lifestyle one of my seven roommates asked if I would go to church with him. A girl in whom he was interested invited him, but since he did not want to go alone he asked me to join, knowing I grew up in the church. Little did I know how much my casual agreement would affect my spiritual journey.
The church we went to was a Christian church called Flood, whose service rocked my world. Not only was the worship unlike anything I had experienced before, the message was unlike any I had heard. Its relevance gripped my heart and made it feel like the pastor was speaking directly to me. Over the next hour my understanding of God was transformed from an abstract, transcendent entity into an immanent paternal figure with an unfathomable love. During the service God not only became a friend, but also my biggest fan, my largest supporter, my fierce protector, my strength, and my comforter. When the pastor finished his message he closed in a prayer that was so touching and heartfelt…I never knew you could talk to God like that. His prayer was personal and real; yet simple and profound. Every bone in my body screamed, “This is it! This is the real deal!” It was a powerful moment which stood in stark contrast to the regiment I had experienced in the Catholic Church. On that day, a renewed desire to go to church was born. Sadly, although my desire was renewed, several more years of chasing the vanities of this world passed before I viewed the Christian walk as something vital to my livelihood. During this time God habitually found me and gently invited me to change my ways. On November 1, 2009, I accepted his invitation.
In 2013 my call to ministry was discovered when a woman approached me one Sunday and started talking to me about prison ministry. To this day I cannot say what seduced my interest. Whether it was the utter uniqueness of the ministry, the thrill of entering a maximum security prison or some other provocation, God only knows. All I can say is once I stepped inside the chapel at R.J. Donovan State Correctional Facility, my life as I knew it was over. Once the men began filing in, the atmosphere of the modest room started to transform. No longer was I standing in a mere building, but was in the very house of God, instantly immersed in the permeating presence of the Holy Spirit. It was an encounter so powerfully felt that no words can convey nor mind imagine until the soul has experienced. As the fullness of emotion swelled with an enormity difficult to bear, an overwhelming impression cut to the core of my being and hurt, but hurt in a good way.
At the time of this supernatural encounter, I was working for Southern California Edison as a Nuclear Plant Equipment Operator at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. In the weeks following my time in prison, the job I viewed as amazing and engaging morphed into a dull anemic skeleton of its former grandeur. As I was performing my rounds at the plant I thought, “What am I doing here?” When you find something that fills your heart with joy; when it shadows your thoughts, never straying too far; when you see how the events of your past have equipped and prepared you for its pursuit; when the people who know you best affirm your journey; you may have discovered what it is you were intended to do in this life and you would be a fool not to go after it. It was then when I enrolled in Bethel Seminary to pursue my call to ministry.
Since embarking on my pastoral journey, God has met me numerous times in the prison ministry. Being ever faithful, he constantly reminds me he is the God of the impossible by continually making a way where there seems to be none. During the past four years of service I have seen God revive hundreds of men, and have witnessed miracle after miracle. Whether it is an act of administrative grace or a heavy internal barrier which is impossibly removed from a man’s mind or heart, the evidence of God’s handiwork and transforming love is readily seen. Witnessing a man’s face light up with enthusiasm when he discovers the person he is created to be, or playing a role in the best day of a man’s life, are great blessings and a call I cherish.
Never in a million years would I have thought I would become involved with prison ministry, but here I am. To say prison ministry has impacted my life seems to devaluate the immensity of the shift. For to even compare what was to what is…How does one begin to calculate the worth of walking in the purpose God has willed for their life? How does one weigh the value of helping another’s soul win peace or the joy received when partnering with God in his wondrous work or the innumerable blessings one receives when they invest selflessly and genuinely in the lives of others? Thanks to the grace of God, whether it is preaching on Sunday, leading worship, directing a Bible study, interceding in prayer, providing counsel, or participating in fellowship, I am able to grow into the spiritual leader and pastoral shepherd God has created me to be.
All that said, I remain a man under construction.