By Jamie Shafer
Based on his family record, one might have predicted Jonathan Sams would become a minister. One grandfather was a church elder while the other was a minister. His father and two brothers are ministers and his sister serves in vocational ministry. Yet Jonathan’s life has proved unpredictable at times.
An Unexpected Discovery
He writes in his online journal (www.paintyourrainbow.com), “I was 12 years old when my mother not-iced the first Hodgkin’s tumor. She sat below some maple trees and touched my neck after I climbed out of my grandparents’ pool on a hot day in North Carolina. The tumor was below my left jaw and was possibly four centimeters long. My mother thought it was swelling from swimmer’s ear. But it didn’t go down.”
Sams saw several doctors over the next couple of years, but no one mentioned cancer. At 14, he asked that the mass be removed for aesthetic reasons. It had grown to over eight centimeters. “I was diagnosed with Stage IIIA Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Disease. My prognosis was ‘poor.’ I was treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. I went into remission in 1982. For the next 24 years, I lived.”
Sams has experienced more than most people his age, including serving in the United States Navy as a cryptologist, linguist, and Middle East Area expert. He served in Operation Earnest Will, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, in the National Security Agency, and as an aide to Congressman Bob McEwen (R), 6th District Ohio, in Washington, D.C.
One of his Persian Gulf tours proved a turning point in his life. Sams shares, “My mother always said if you’re not serving people, you’re not doing anything. So, in the middle of the Persian Gulf, I thought, What am I going to do to make my life valuable? And there I decided I would practice law.”
A New Calling
In 1996 he married his wife Julia and graduated from Emory University School of Law. They moved back to Ohio to start his law practice. The first month, he grossed $65. Today Sams is a managing member of Sams, Fischer, Packard & Schuessler, with offices in West Chester and Mason, Ohio. “This is my ministry,” declares Sams. “We live in a real world, but what we do, we do for the right reasons.” His firm represents clients with integrity, guiding them through difficult times.
“We tell our clients, ‘We’re going to get you through this.’ We advise clients how to handle things in ways that don’t destroy relationships, if at all possible.”
Sams has endeavored to apply biblical principles to all facets of life, noting, “We live conservatively from a financial standpoint. I have 16 families who depend on me and this business. We are not living on borrowed money.” When asked how faith and career can intersect, he explained that Christian attorneys have unique opportunities to serve in churches and organizations by offering their professional expertise without charge. Often they also have the means to financially support organizations and missions who carry out God’s work.
Attorneys can be great community examples of goals and standards. He notes they can have unique political involvement at a party level, helping with party interaction and setting a positive example. Currently he serves as township trustee in his community.
Sams believes in embracing the Christian opportunities before you. “Whether you own the company or load the trucks, you serve in the capacity that you have.”
One of his favorite verses says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). “Help others and let others help you,” says Sams.
He and his wife have been blessed with four children: twins, Matthew and Elizabeth, 8; Sophia, 5; and Nathan, 2. Since 1982, Sams has had several cancer recurrences and is battling it again. Through the lens of cancer, he truly values each day’s opportunities, and he’s never let cancer define him.
In conversation, his love for God, his family, and his community shines. His life exhibits qualities one might expect of a minister, and yet God chose another calling for Sams—one he lives with faith, courage, and humility.
Jamie Shafer is the Communications Director at East 91st Christian Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband Eric have two children.