Voice of the Kingdom | NOLA.17, 7’56 PMom 1/5/7
Greater New Orleans
Voice of the Kingdom
By Teena L Myers
Dean Sunseri encountered God in an overwhelming and powerful experience during his junior year at a retreat sponsored by De La Salle high school. “I can’t think about it right now or I will start crying,” said Dean. “I have always had a heart for God and been committed to him, but there was just something about that time. I don’t really understand it but I knew he was calling me to ministry.”
Soon after that experience Dean read a biography about Saint Francis of Assisi. He was touched the by Saint’s boldness and love. During the Crusades Francis walked across enemy lines and requested a meeting with the Khalif. A dream the Khalif had the night before Francis arrived spared Francis from death and opened the door for the meeting. The love that resided in Francis impressed the Khalif. He gave Francis a ram’s horn, which gave him the right to go where ever he wanted in the Khalif’s kingdom without harm.
The following year, Dean had another powerful experience with God that impressed a call to ministry upon his life. His love for sports initially trumped his decision to become a priest. He attended Auburn University to play baseball instead of going to seminary, but he could not escape his calling. His involvement in the schools Catholic student community introduced him to Father Francis. The Italian priest and native of Assisi, Italy made a lasting impression on Dean. “Father Francis’ love transcended barriers. He easily connected with people of other faiths like Muslims and Jews,” said Dean.
When Dean told Father Francis about his decision to become a priest, he invited Dean to spend the summer with him in Assisi before going to seminary. Dean loved watching the rhythm of the priest’s life and his devotion to the Lord. Francis taught Dean about scripture, the church and Jesus. Dean’s deep hunger to understand scripture prompted a visit Israel and other places mentioned in the Bible. While he sat alone in the Garden of Gethsemane Church located at the foot of the Mount of Olives he heard God call his name reinforcing his conviction that God had called him to ministry.
Dean returned to Louisiana and enrolled in Saint Joseph Abby and Seminary College. He loved the monks and valued their teachings about contemplative prayer. He enrolled in Notre Dame Seminary for his graduate work where he entered a turbulent time of spiritual wrestling. He knew aspects of a priest’s lifestyle were not for him and felt his call to priesthood slipping away, but his call to ministry remained strong.
At the end of his second year, he decided to take a year off. He felt like a lost puppy as he tried to find his place in ministry. He returned as a lay student to obtain his master’s degree but felt uncomfortable. No longer preparing for the priesthood, he was the seminarian dating a girl.
“I loved theology and didn’t like it,” said Dean. “I loved learning about God, but at the same time, when I reflect back my passion and love for the Lord was less when I left then it was at the beginning. There was something about that formation that raised the intellect higher than the heart, and because of that the intellect and knowledge became, this is just how I interpret it, became a higher thing then the relationship of the heart. Christianity is a love story. It’s not a theological treatise. It’s a relationship. Part of the relationship was lost in the midst of trying to learn about God.”
After graduation, Dean continued to read the Bible and pray but was no longer active in the Catholic Church. He married, they adopted a child from Cambodia and he graduated from the University of New Orleans with a masters in counseling, which became his ministry. Dean and HollyKem, his wife and fellow therapist, developed a concept for counseling which they published in 1999, A Roadmap to the Soul: A Practical Guide to Love, Compassion and Inner Peace. Together they built a successful clinic in New Orleans.
To accommodate their growing business they formed a partnership. Instead of having the positive impact they hoped for business began to falter. “I didn’t pray about joining the partnership, but I did when it was falling apart,” said Dean. Dean severed the relationship. He had worked from his Lakeview office for a short time when he felt an urgency to leave the city. He moved his family to Daphne, Alabama, bought a house and opened a new practice. One year later, Hurricane Katrina buried his former office under twelve feet of water.
Even though Dean remained devoted to God he had stopped attending church. HollyKem suggested they return to church for the sake of their son. Dean knew she was right, but he was unwilling to return to church out of obligation. They searched for a church where they could be fed and could offer something. They had visited several churches before they walked into a Methodist Church and felt at home. They loved the worship, the messages preached and the people. The pastor began referring people to Dean for counseling. His positive impact on the people he counseled prompted the pastor to offer him a staff position in pastoral care.
At the Methodist church Dean was exposed to the ministry of Oral Roberts, an evangelist and faith healer. Reading Roberts’ autobiography, Expect a Miracle, opened him to a spiritual dimension he had only read about in the Bible, most of which he did not believe was possible anymore. The autobiography gave Dean a thirst to know more just as the biography about Saint Frances of Assisi had. Dean wrote a letter of thanks to Oral Roberts for exposing him to a deeper understanding of God. He was pleasantly surprised when he received a letter from Oral Roberts secretary inviting him to meet with Oral Roberts.
Roberts, semi-retired from ministry, only met with ministers. Two years before Roberts died in 2009, Dean joined a group of ministers for a private meeting in Roberts’ home.
“We walked into the room. It was electric. The power of God was so present. He was bold and loving and so strong and so sure of himself in terms of the work of the Lord. At one point, he said ‘I can continue teaching but the anointing is so strong I would like to lay my hands on each of you.’ He prayed for each of us and then continued teaching for several hours.”
Dean returned home knowing he needed more training. HollyKem joined him in a prayer for guidance, “Lord, we will go anywhere in the world to be trained.” A month later, he heard Dr. Leroy Thompson speak on a Kenneth Copeland broadcast. As Dean listened to the teaching he heard, “That’s your spiritual father.” Dean began reading books by Thompson and following his ministry. Soon after making the commitment to go “anywhere in the world to be trained” Dean heard God say “Resign your job and attend Thompson’s church.”
Dean and HollyKem drove to Darrow, Louisiana to attend a service at Thompson’s church. In the middle of the message, Thompson said, “Somebody will get a house today” then returned to his message. That afternoon they placed a bid on a house in bankruptcy. Dean knew he would have a problem if he won the bid. He lived in a nice golfing community, but the house next door to his had been on the market for months with no takers. Dean prayed, “Lord, if this is you, I need you to sell my house in Alabama.”
Dean won the bid on the house in Louisiana. He put a For Sale by Owner sign in his yard and hoped for a quick sell. The next day, a woman bought his house for significantly more than he paid for it. They moved to Louisiana with a comfortable cushion to reestablish their counseling business.
The Sunseri’s enrolled in the church’s ministry school and served where ever they were needed as they waited for God to direct them to their field of ministry. Dean found that direction when he attended his thirty-year high school reunion at De La Salle. As he interacted with his friends compassion rose in his heart. In that moment he knew God had called him to New Orleans.
Dean and HollyKem Sunseri offer secular based or Christian based professional counseling according to the client’s needs. They have offices in Baton Rouge, Gonzales and Metairie. Visit http://www.ihaveavoice.com/ for more information. On Monday nights you can find Dean at the Holiday Inn, 2261 N Causeway Blvd, Metairie at 7 PM.
Teena Myers is the Vice Chairman of the Southern Christian Writers Guild and author of two books: Publishing’s New Frontier and Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. She is an approved speaker with Stonecroft Ministries and a Toastmaster Competent Communicator.