Hi, my name is Troy Wallace and I currently serve as a pastor at the Crosspoint Adventist Church in Hillsboro, Oregon. Reflecting on my life narrative, it’s hard to imagine being in this place of full-time vocational ministry. If you saw my life 6 years ago, I’d be the last person you’d suspect had any interest in church. Prior to this newfound calling, I was a professional poker player living in Daytona Beach Florida. I had built a career for nearly 10 years playing medium to high stakes poker and living an exceptionally “free” lifestyle. My days consisted of eating, sleeping, poker, and entertainment. I managed my own schedule and was the king of my own life. I made and spent money like a madman on all kinds of things, like motorcycles, expensive nights out at clubs in VIP, parties, travelling, etc. But somewhere in my soul, there was deep discontent and a growing emptiness about life itself.
I started this career of playing poker straight out of high school. Something happened in high school that, looking back, drove me to the sensational career of high stakes gambling and the lifestyle that went with it. I remember having a drive to become an entrepreneur in high school. I excelled easily at school, especially in math and business classes. I wanted to pursue starting and owning a business one day. But, at 15 I experienced an extremely traumatic loss when my parents got divorced. Little did I know, most of my life my parents had huge marital issues involving infidelity and deception. The divorce was ugly. The infidelities involved the church my family attended for many years. In one fell swoop, I lost any shred of faith I had up to that point, my family, and my future. My dreams of being an entrepreneur just fizzled out, and I reeled in anger and grief at what had happened. It was like something inside me died when the divorce happened. When I started community college right out of high school, I was immediately failing classes and couldn’t concentrate. That’s when I got introduced to poker. Poker was something that got my adrenaline going and could take my mind off of the pain I felt inside. It felt good to win. It felt good to feel the excitement of being in high-pressure situations, competing mentally against other people. Somehow, poker became a new distraction that would eventually become a profession.
So, fast forward to nine years and I find myself at the peak of my poker career, feeling emptier than ever. The adrenaline that had served as a way to mask a deep hurt was no longer enough. The wound was still there. One day I was on a skype call with my cousin Andrew, who lived across the country. Andrew was talking about his discontent and his need to make some big changes in his life as well. In that phone call, he was describing his disappointment with the way he was living life, and he wanted something different for himself. So kind of impulsively I asked him if he wanted to move in with me to get a fresh start. He accepted. That’s when things started to change for me. When Andrew moved in, God was really working on his heart and the Spirit was calling Andrew to seek after Jesus.
I remember waking up at 2 or 3pm from a late night of playing poker, and Andrew would be sitting on the couch in the living room with his Bible open, reading and praying. Something about what God was doing in Him was curious to me. I started to ask him about what he was reading and why. Andrew described as best he could what he was learning and reading. He seemed to have a peace about him, that was very attractive to me. I just felt emptiness, anxiety, and sadness. That’s when things started to change for me. I decided to reach out to God, not knowing what to expect. I began praying, probably for the first time in many years, that God would enter my life. And enter He did. God connected Andrew with some amazing people from a local Adventist church who began to disciple us in a small group. I was absolutely loving the things I was learning from the Bible. I started to feel joy and peace return to my soul. It was such a good feeling. I knew I wanted more of God and more community.
One day Andrew came to me and told me that he was going to go and finish school. That was a turning point for me, because Andrew was the one who really kept me accountable to this new spiritual journey that I was on. He asked me what I was going to do when he left. I had no idea, but something inside of me told me that I was at a crossroads and I needed to make a choice: stay where I was and continue to play poker, or start new with something else. I had no idea what I would do, or what skills I had other than poker. I decided that any alternative career that I would want would require some school, so I started contemplating going back to college. Rather quickly, I applied at Walla Walla University, a bit doubtful that they would accept me with how bad had done in my first year in community college 10 years prior. But they accepted me! I ended up moving across the country and starting over there.
The first semester of college at WWU, the only class I really enjoyed was a class on the New Testament. I knew I wanted more Bible classes, and the only way I could take more Bible classes was if I chose the Theology major. So out of a pure passion to grow in my faith and learn more about the Bible, I chose that major. The thought of a job was far out of sight at that point. When the end of university started to come, I really wrestled with the question, “what do I do with this degree?” I ended up interviewing for a pastoral position, and was the first person in my class to receive a call!
That’s more or less how I got to where I am now (at least that is the abbreviated version). I look back in amazement at how God would choose a guy like me to lead others. And it turns out, the skills I learned from poker really help with understanding people and their inner worlds – both inside the church and outside the church.
What I’m passionate about today is building community and helping others heal and belong. I pastor a church that is an amazing community, and we are known for being full of grace and mercy to others who have had a lot of hurt and pain or are on the fringes of the faith community. It’s a perfect fit for me, because that was my story!