EDMOND, Okla. — Midmorning on an early November Tuesday, four people stood speechless in the parking lot of the OU Medical Center Edmond campus. We were about to take photos of Trent Pfannenstiel with his Jeep. I was interviewing Pfannenstiel about his unique way of serving God and delivering people from hopelessness by sharing not only God’s love, but also by giving Challenge Coins to people in which he is drawn.
I wanted a photo of Pfannenstiel with his Jeep, since the vehicle plays a role in the life-changing outreach he says is his calling by God. Pfannenstiel had just poured his heart out, no doubt drained, but he obliged my photo request. We trekked through the lot to his immaculate white Jeep. Pfannenstiel slowed near the door as he noticed something tucked under the windshield wiper. I saw it, too. Slowly, he pulled from the wiper a $20 bill. We looked at each other and the bill and the cars around to see if there was any more cash on cars.
Pfannenstiel turned the bill over and saw a hand-written message: “You Rock! Thank you for your service.”
His Jeep, branded in Marines stickers, is clearly one of a man who has served his country with devotion. But that message of gratitude seemed to hold a different meaning than the usual thanks to a serviceman. It seemed more like acknowledgment from a higher power, a thank you to a man who serves so many in his own, unique way.
SEARCHING FOR PURPOSE
Pfannenstiel served in the United States Marine Corps for 10 years with nearly four years on tours of duty overseas, working in more than 100 cities across the globe. He served his country with patriotic allegiance and dedication.
When he left the service, he found himself on a quest, seeking God, asking if He existed, searching for answers and signs, and keeping his heart open to however God wanted to use him.
“I had always asked for God just to use me. I don’t care how it is, just use me,” Pfannenstiel said. The answer came when he was going though some Challenge Coins he’d received in the military.
The coins were used originally in WWI as a means of communication from unit to unit, like identification or a key back to your unit. The coins were later adapted to become awards based on excellence in service.
On one side, the coin features an Armor of God insignia. On the flip side, they are emblazoned with Marines symbology or other types of artwork, depending on the coin’s purpose.
“I had found these coins and started handing them out,” Pfannenstiel said.
Once on a plane, he sat next to a woman and felt the urge to witness to her. He talked for about 40 minutes about God and gave her a coin, explaining what the Armor of God meant.
She told Pfannenstiel she had been separated from her husband and son on the flight and had been bitter about being seated at the back of the plane next to this stranger. “Now I know the reason why I’m sitting back here.”
A PAINFUL JOURNEY
For 20 years, Pfannenstiel suffered from a mysterious health problem that sometimes rendered him doubled over in pain, feeling as if he could explode. But, tough as nails and bent on other missions, he let the problem go. Military doctors said his illness was diet-related, nothing to worry about, possibly from being dehydrated or other causes. Finally, he was accurately diagnosed with diverticulitis and he got his first surgery in California in 2014.
He’d lost his full-time job after taking off for his first diverticulitis surgery and took up driving for Uber and Lyft in central Oklahoma.
He and his big white Jeep have carried hundreds of people around the city, and often through seemingly insurmountable odds. When he feels the call, Pfannenstiel talks about God and hands out Challenge Coins. More tears have been shed in that Jeep than likely in any other ride-share vehicle. For their recipients, the coins are unexpected gifts of comfort and hope.
ARMOR OF GOD
Pfannenstiel’s coins, or the sentiments they carry, are like pebbles tossed into a pond. Each toss creates a ripple aura through the surrounding waters. The ripples continue with every pebble tossed, like a harmonious network of circles. These ripples have delivered prostitutes from their lives of danger, people broken by life’s tyrannies, suicidal people and others going through terrible times.
The beauty of Pfannenstiel’s coins and mobile mission is that his simple acts of kindness and Christianity touch people he may never even meet, said Dr. Alex Raines, the OU Medical Center surgeon who would eventually mend Trent’s body and be moved by Trent’s heart.
Pfannenstiel has given out about 400 coins to date. He carries coins by the dozen and when he feels guided by the Spirit, he gives one, along with an explanation on the Armor of God.
As it happens, most of these encounters occur in that tough-looking Jeep, by that former Marine who looks bullet-proof but has a heart for humanity.
When Pfannenstiel’s diverticulitis caught up with him again, he found himself driving from Dallas to Edmond, searing in pain and feeling as if he might “explode.”
He made it to OU Medical Center Edmond where he met Raines, who would perform intense surgery correcting Pfannenstiel’s diverticulitis, three hernias, and his gall bladder.
Before the surgery, Pfannenstiel stopped Raines in the middle of his description of potential dangers of surgery. Pfannenstiel interrupted Raines’ description.
“Doc, I know we have to do this for legal reasons but I’m good. I’m good with God and I’m still going to love you no matter what,” Pfannenstiel said.
He handed Raines a Challenge Coin. Taken aback, Raines held the coin in his pocket throughout the surgery, and ever since has kept it in his pocket while he operates and works with patients, as a reminder of the strength of faith.
“I think people look at physicians as if we should be unaffected, resilient, almost as if we are not real people,” Raines said. “The opposite is true. I’m a very sensitive, emotional person, and I deal with people in their most emotional and sensitive states on a daily basis. It takes a lot. We need strength, too. We need support, too.”
That’s what Raines’ challenge coin represents to him. Strength and support.
“Do you understand what God is doing through you? You’re healing people,” Trent told Raines.
“I’ll never forget that,” Raines said.
Raines, too, has begun giving his patients Challenge Coins, touching innumerable lives through the ripple started by Trent.
“This is your ticket home on this earth,” Raines told a 19-year-old patient before surgery. “And it’s also your ticket home in the next world. It’s your Armor of God.”
The girl and her entire family broke down in tears. They needed that message of strength.
Trent said he was so thrilled to hear Raines’ story of giving his first coin. He was happy to have someone to share the experience with.
“We’re just two nobodies trying to tell everybody about somebody,” Pfannenstiel said.
“Every day, we have money issues, health issues, people lose their jobs … it’s all a diversion from the true purpose of our lives,” Pfannenstiel said.
He’s found the true purpose of his life: serving God by serving others.
And that $20 bill found on Pfannenstiel’s windshield was someone’s uncannily timed “Thank you” for Pfannenstiel’s service.
This Veteran’s Day, find a way to thank a Vet for his or her service. It could mean more to them than you will ever know.