How God Saved, Freed, and Reformed Dale Partridge—A Personal Testimony

by Dale Partridge

I was born in the small town of Upland, California in 1985. Upland was a quiet town pushed up against the San Antonio mountains of Southern California. I was the oldest of two boys and was raised by a blue-collared worker and a stay-at-home-mother. Looking back, it’s evident I was the last generation to experience a complete childhood free of the internet and the rapid pace of our modern digital life.

Our family was as average as you could find. We fit the all-American mold as nicely as the last piece of a puzzle being pushed into place. If you’ve ever seen the show The Wonder Years, our life wasn’t much different.

Growing up, we weren’t regular churchgoers. However, we did find ourselves in a church service a handful of times each year. Prayers were offered frequently during dinner times and even Christian decor and Bible verses could be found scattered throughout our home. Were we a Christian family? Surely by identification. But was Christ Lord over our lives? Not quite.

Between the ages of five and twelve, I found myself immersed in baseball, skateboarding, and camping. Minus a heart-valve complication that nearly took my life at age seven, these were fairly good years. But as I entered my teens, sin crept at the door. Before long, I was introduced to a dark and depraved world. While I maintained average grades and a common sense of normalcy, any fragment of Christian principles I had was soon lost in the nightfall of Jr. High and High School. I was smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol in the seventh grade. I began fooling around with girls even before I could drive a car. At age 17, my alcoholic mother cheated on my father and brought our family through a vicious divorce that left our family in shambles. Fistfights, shoplifting, and vandalism were a regular part of my friend community. By the age of 20, I had nearly five friends who had died—a telling sign of the type of crowd I ran with in those days. I was a hardened, broken, and numb young man. Much to my surprise, however, I found myself speaking at funerals and laboring to make sense of suicide, drug overdose, and fatal drunk driving accidents. This was new territory birthing new questions for which I had no answers.

The First Encounter

It wasn’t until a few months before my 21st birthday that the brokenness of my life manifested itself in a state of unmerciful sleeplessness. I was in Calabasas, California for a business workshop about 100 miles from my home. I found myself unable to sleep that evening and, by 6 am the following morning, decided to continue on to my workshop without a minute of rest. By the end of a long, tireless day, I was exhausted. Having not slept for over 40-hours, I found myself begging God to close my eyes—the request was denied. As one might expect, I turned to substances to seek a solution to my need. But interestingly, even those vices, for some reason, returned void. Hours later, I again found myself outside in the grass at the Lord’s feet in prayer. Like a man in a desert pleading for a drop of water, I entreated the Lord with a ridiculous and desperate offer, “God, if you let me sleep, I will start going to church.” Within minutes, a friend who attended the workshop with me offered to drive me home. By the time we arrived at my home in Rancho Cucamonga, California, I crawled into my bed and I slept for nearly 12 hours.

Upon waking, I felt like a different person. In the coming weeks, I found myself praying regularly and routinely attending church. I quit drinking and partying and started to read my Bible on a regular basis. I was even baptized in the Pacific Ocean near Corona Del Mar, California. But something wasn’t right. During these early months of my shift toward God, a religiously veneered version of my old life began to emerge. That is, while I continued to gather each Sunday at church and even read my Bible, fornication, pornography, and the brokenness of my past life began to resurface. While I was more disciplined to control my behavior, my heart still enjoyed sin. In fact, the evidence was on the wall. I was still addicted to porn, I had terrible issues of personal integrity, and I harbored deep-seated anger within me. By all exterior accounts, I was a Christian. But the truth is, I was not free in Christ. I was not set free from the bondage of sin. My heart had not been changed. I was not repentant. Ultimately, I was in the church, but I had not been born again.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait… what? If you weren’t born again, what happened to you?”

It’s actually an amazing question and here’s why, during that period, if you asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ, I would have surely responded, “Yes!” The most obvious response would then be, “Doesn’t belief in Christ equal being born again?” Well, yes and no. The Bible tells us, “even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19). That is, knowing about Jesus is different than knowing Jesus. In other words, there is an intellectual belief and then there is a saving belief.

In the Gospels, Jesus also teaches that even verbal confession doesn’t necessarily reflect saving belief. In Matthew 15:8 He says, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Sadly, this was me. My belief was merely mental and my confession was bankrupt of heart. So what did happen to me during those sleepless nights in Calabasas? Did I imagine God into my story or was there a genuine encounter with the Almighty?

Communication Versus Conversion

After years of reflection, deep biblical study, and laborious theological counsel with some of the most mature Christian men I know, I have concluded my answer into two points.

I’ll start with, yes. That night in Calabasas was a genuine encounter with the Almighty. In fact, this scenario is not a foreign concept to Scripture, either. God confronts and reorients people without immediately redeeming them quite often. However, God, in His sovereign goodness, caused my sleeplessness, met me in my need and relocated me from a life of drugs, alcohol, and pain into the visible covenant community of His people—the local church. By grace, He moved me into a life where I would sit under the regular preaching of Scripture and be surrounded by a group of people whose lives illuminated my immorality, brokenness, and spiritual need.

But why wasn’t this encounter a saving encounter? Why didn’t that prayer to God and my knowledge of Him result in spiritual rebirth? The short answer is, I didn’t come to God to be saved. I didn’t approach Him in repentance or in an effort to place my trust in Him for the forgiveness of my sins. I wasn’t even convicted of my sin! Like many people, I came to Him to address a physical need—I was desperate for sleep. Like a soldier who cries out to God in a time of terror—he wants the bullets to stop flying. But asking God for the bullets stop is far different than having remorse over your sin and placing all your hope in Christ as Lord.

Thomas Schreiner explains it nicely, “Conversion occurs when sinners turn to God in repentance and faith for salvation. Paul describes the conversion of the Thessalonians, ‘For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ (1 Thes. 1:9). Sinners are converted when they repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ, trusting in Him for the forgiveness of their sins on the Day of Judgment.”

A plea to God for circumstantial modification is not the same as coming to Christ for fundamental salvation.

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” As I said earlier, the Lord used my sleepless moment to reorient me. The beauty of that redirection was that it put me on a path that would ultimately end at His feet again. But at this point in my journey, I had not heard the “word of Christ.” I was nothing more than a religious seeker trying to follow the rules.

The tragedy of it all was that I thought I was saved. Due to the type of flashy infotainment churches I had been part of where size was the objective—the idea of preaching self-examination that could result in the loss of church attendance was not popular. For this reason, my lifeless religiosity went on for years. From age 21-28, I likely attended 300+ church services, led a Bible study or two, served at VBS, prayed on a regular basis, and even helped at our church all while I was spiritually dead!

This trend continued for some time, too. In 2009, I started a Christian business conference. In 2011, I slapped Scripture verses on my company’s products. In 2013, I even spoke at a weekly church men’s group. But again, all of this was done in complete ignorance of the pious corpse I was living in. Like many in the church today, I had confused moralism for regeneration and nobody in my church community, including me, noticed the difference.

Dr. Steven Lawson warns the church against this spiritual catastrophe when he said, “The only thing worse than not having the assurance of salvation is having the false assurance of salvation.”

By all accounts, that was me. I was falsely assured and self-deceived. I genuinely thought I was saved when in fact I was a waterless cloud, a fruitless branch, and a dead man walking. While I never noticed it then, looking back, I viewed Christianity more as a philosophy to follow than a Person to be enjoyed. As I said earlier, I knew about Him but I didn’t know Him. I was trying to improve my life through moral living and religious practice not realizing that I didn’t need to be better, I needed to be made new.

Some of you may be wondering how my ignorance could go on for so long—which leads to my second point. Unfortunately, this long-term ignorance is quite common. Because many people have come forward during an emotional, yet incomplete Gospel presentation through the simple raising of a hand and the reciting of a prayer, multitudes are assured that salvation is secured. While some of these individuals are surely genuine, the certification of salvation in the Scriptures is not spiritual activity, it’s spiritual fruitfulness as a result of God’s sovereign redemptive work in a person’s life (Matthew 7:16-20; John 3:1-8).

This partial Gospel was actually the most unfortunate part of my story. Even with the hundreds of sermons I consumed and the countless alter calls I witnessed, I don’t remember anyone preaching clearly about repentance. I don’t remember pastors speaking soberly about human depravity and sin and the fact that I was a transgressor against a Holy God. I don’t remember hearing much of a proclamation on the fear of the Lord or hell or man’s great need for Christ. Instead, I remember innumerable “messages series” that were built on cultural topics sprinkled with Scripture. I heard declarations of the love of God that painted Him not as a holy and sovereign King but more as a lonely savior begging for his sons and daughters to choose to come home. And, if “home” was the goal, then I thought I was there… I was at church for goodness sake!

But church attendance, passionate and emotional worship, and good behavior don’t save anyone. Only a saving faith in Christ will do. That is, salvation has nothing to do with church participation. Salvation has nothing to do with good behavior. Salvation has nothing to do with spiritual activity. In fact, many in the church today have confused spiritual activity with spiritual security.

The Bible teaches that salvation comes from faith alone in Christ alone.

However, the late theologian, R.C. Sproul clarifies, “Justification is by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.”

In other words, genuine saving faith is accompanied by genuine repentance, obedience, and fruitfulness. It is a faith that recognizes the gross, depraved, and hopeless state of guilt and the need for forgiveness. It is a faith that has removed all trust in self to be found righteous before God. It is a faith that has placed all hope in Christ to secure a righteous verdict before the King. It is a faith in Christ that continues the sanctification of the heart. It is a faith that doesn’t merely change what you do, it changes what you want to do. These miraculous and sovereign works of God are all the result of being born again. It’s not a decision to acknowledge that Jesus loves you. It’s not a repeat-after-me prayer during a church service. It’s not a “let Jesus come into your life” decision as if you need to give Him permission to do so! No. It’s a spiritual resurrection. In the same manner, by which Christ raised Lazarus from the dead (without permission), He also raises us from spiritual death without permission.

Ernest Reisinger explains it boldly when he said, “Too often, modern evangelism has substituted a “decision” in the place of repentance and saving faith. Forgiveness is preached without the equally important truth that the Spirit of God must change the heart (that is, create new life). As a result, decisions are treated as conversions even though there is no evidence of a supernatural work of God in their life.”

This was my story. I made a decision for God but I never exercised saving faith. I never heard of my great need for forgiveness. I never understood how guilty I was. I never was presented the raw truth of the Gospel.

But that finally changed for me in a men’s Bible study in 2014. I had recently moved our family from Southern California to Bend, Oregon after selling a company I founded in 2011. I had spent the past several years trying to “be good” in a for-profit social enterprise I built that raised money for charities. We had over 50 employees and nearly $7 million in annual revenue. “Being good” felt great especially when it paid nearly a half-million per year and I was being featured on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine and enjoying mentions in Forbes, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. But inside, I was as broken as you could be. My marriage was failing. My relationships we superficial. My identity was in my money and I was frustrated with why I couldn’t find freedom from the bondage of pornography and other habitual sins. During that time, I was still reading my Bible. Oddly enough, I kept crossing paths with passages that taught that Christians were set free from the bondage of sin (1 John 3:9; Romans 6:14; Romans 6:18; John 8:32). But when I looked at my Bible and compared it against my life, the two were wildly different. I had a sense that I wasn’t experiencing the promises of Scripture. To be clear, I’m not saying that Christians don’t sin. I’m saying that born again Christians are no longer slaves to sin. That is, they don’t sin habitually or addictively. We know this because 1 John 3:9 says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” Unfortunately, this wasn’t true in my life. I was a practicing sinner. That is, I had habitual sin in my life—sin that I couldn’t conquer on my own.

But after we moved, I met an older gentleman in Oregon who, by God’s grace, invited me to a small local Bible study where at last, the Gospel was made clear! It was just me and four other men of similar age. What an amazing result the Good News had produced in me. For the first time in my life, I went home and experienced a deep conviction in my heart. In fact, I remember the fear of the Lord taking over me and how repentance began to pour out of my heart. Something had changed inside. Not only did I openly confess my sin to my wife but my bondage to pornography disappeared. I was made new. As I said earlier, I’ll say again, the miracle of the Gospel isn’t that it changes what you do—no—the miracle is that it changes what you want to do. For example, an atheist who goes through AA to end their alcoholism may stop drinking out of sheer self-discipline, but the truth is, they’ll always be an alcoholic. However, when a Christian is born again, they are no longer a porn-addict or an alcoholic or a druggie or a hooker, they are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19), new affections, and a new river of living water that bears much fruit (John 7:37-39). It may be slow at the start but God’s work of sanctification is continuous, steady, and sure (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:2).

Awakening to the Doctrines of Grace

Several years later, I found myself called into full-time pastoral ministry. I was 32 years old, coming up on 33. Our family had just entered a severe season of trials that carried on for roughly two years. Within one week of ministry, we were hit—and hard. It began with the 2017-18 flu that killed over 80,000 people and our entire family was almost counted in the total. Not long after, I found myself bedridden for over 100 days and was diagnosed with an immune-system-destroying bacterial infection that led to skin cancer, kidney stones, gastritis, bronchitis, intestinal parasites, dizziness, pain, extreme weight loss, and complete reliance upon God. But this wasn’t all. My wife after being bitten on the river by a bug that left her with a large red bulls-eye rash became exceedingly ill with Lyme Disease. My son was also diagnosed with asthma and nearly died several times during this period. My other son almost drowned in a pool. My daughter had to receive surgery and my mom suddenly passed away without notice. The trials were simply astonishing. The Lord was literally reshaping our family and molding us into people we never expected to be. I say all this to paint the spiritual reality we were living in. We had been taken through a season of extreme sanctification and suffering that greatly humbled our family through tears and sorrow. 

During this period, I had enrolled in Seminary part-time and I was laboring in the Word of God or in theological study for nearly 5-10 hours per day for months on end. At the time, I was a devoted Arminian-Wesleyan. Namely, I believed that, by God’s grace, free-will was restored to humanity and every individual is able to choose to accept the Gospel through exercising self-willed faith or could choose to resist it through unbelief. In lock-step with this doctrine, I also believed that any Christian, by participation in regular and ongoing sin, could lose their salvation through rebellion and apostasy. That is to say, if one could choose to come to Christ then he can surely choose to leave. It was this reason that I worked so diligently to uphold such a rigorous conduct of personal holiness and devotion. I believed the line of lost salvation was somewhere in the distance of my life and I was determined to stay far from it.

It was on a family road trip in January 2020 from Oregon to Southern California that landed me in a pew on a Sunday evening listening to a sermon by a preacher named Mike Riccardi on the Doctrine of Union. Mike was one of the pastors at Grace Fellowship led by John MacArthur.

That evening was devastating to my tightly held beliefs. God, through this preacher, crushed my silver theology and inaugurated the process of replacing it with heavy golden truth. I felt the words of Thomas Adams radiate in my heart, “Such is the immutability of truth, the patrons of it make it not greater, the opposers make it not less; as the splendor of the sun is not enlarged by them that bless it, nor eclipsed by them that hate it.”

In other words, truth, regardless of how it makes you feel, is rightfully stubborn and immovable. In this instance, I would either embrace what was being preached or reject it. And that truth was this: I didn’t choose God. God chose me. Me! The gross and failing sinner I was. I didn’t make an intellectually wise decision to choose Jesus. God, before the foundations of the world, chose me (Ephesians 1:3-6)! But not only did He choose me, but it was also Him who regenerated me and gave me faith and justified me. But best of all, because He is the Author of my faith, He is its Finisher, too (Hebrews 12:2). That is, He promised to keep me, forever (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:30; John 10:28). This revelation changed my life. 

In the coming days, the truth from Mike’s sermon was like a sunrise. For some reason, these passages which I had read many times before, sank deeper and deeper into my heart while the sun of revelation went higher and brighter in the sky. Just three days later, on a desert decorated drive from California to Arizona the light of this revelation became so bright it overwhelmed and shattered everything I previously believed about salvation. In fact, it was so profound of a spiritual shift in my heart that I almost want to call it a third birth. I know, this may sound extreme but let me offer you an illustration… 

Imagine living for 15 years on a farm bordered by trees until one day you feel the Lord leading you beyond a treeline at the far end of your property. As you push through the first hundred feet of timber an explosion of light bursts into your face. Low and behold, on the other side of these trees lie the Grand Tetons complete with a glorious purple and pink sunset. The sheer awe that this beautiful reality has been sitting so close to your home without your awareness is almost painful. But still, any suffering from that thought is quickly engulfed by the overpowering joy of this new discovery. This was my experience.

I finally felt the all-humbling and unmerited love of God. I could finally rest and revel in the Lord’s sovereignty over my life. I didn’t have to keep myself saved with good behavior; instead, I could rest in Christ’s perfect saving work on the cross. I didn’t have to persuade people to faith, either. I could simply proclaim the Gospel and let the Lord change the heart (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). But even more importantly, I didn’t have to preach intense behavior modification. I could finally embrace the weaknesses and failings of brothers and sisters as the Lord was accomplishing His work in them.

Oddly enough, this experience wasn’t an immediate intellectual shift as much as it was a heart shift. I say that because, strangely, I believed in these Doctrines of Grace before I even understood them. But to help you grasp the magnitude of this theological transition for me, let me explain how intensely I opposed these exact doctrines just weeks prior. For nearly three years I publicly spoke out against reformed theology. I once preached a sermon where I called this theology (a.k.a. Calvinism) a doctrine of demons! I dedicated an entire chapter in one of my books about its scriptural fallacies. I even wrote an article and recorded a podcast just weeks prior, broadcasting my position against them to thousands of listeners. Essentially, I counted this doctrinal community as nothing more than a band of prideful intellectuals who needed over-reaching theology to make up for their personal insecurities.

My passion wasn’t blind resistance, either. I studied Arminian doctrine to such a great extent that I was able to defend and teach the strongest and most compelling theological philosophies and arguments known on the subject. I investigated and meditated on the works of Dr. Norman Geisler, Ravi Zacharias, John Wesley, A.W. Tozer, Dr. William Lane Craig, and many other free-will theologians. I say this to demonstrate the titanic-sized pill of humility that would be required to swallow by publicly accepting the position of my long-time opponents.

Two weeks later, I had finally returned home from our road trip. During our drive, I had spent nearly 40-hours flooding my mind with audiobooks and sermons seeking to answer the more difficult theological questions of this newfound revelation. Strangely enough, I was scheduled to preach on John 3 the following Sunday. As some may know, this chapter holds the doctrine of the New Birth and has deep roots into the heart of reformed theology. Within a few days of preparation, the clash of my past position, and these new beliefs turned into a spiritual windstorm that resulted in what I called a “theological breakdown.” In other words, I lost it. I knew that if I preached according to my new convictions, people I loved would leave the church. I found myself in tears—almost despair. On February 22, 2020, I got on my knees at the edge of my bed and cried out to God, “Father, tell me if I am seeing this and hearing this correctly. I will worship you regardless. But Father, just tell me if this is this truly your Gospel?” After several minutes of groaning for truth, I opened my eyes and there was my Bible sitting inches from my face. I felt as if the Lord was telling me to open it. I did and as I peeled the pages apart, my right thumb sat on this magnificent verse—a perfect and direct answer to my prayer.

It was Matthew 13:16-17 and it read, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

I read it and wept. There is not likely a better verse in the entire canon of Scripture that could have answered my prayer.

It truly believe it was God’s confirmation that, what I was seeing in the Scriptures, was correct—God is sovereign over salvation (Psalm 3:8). I was not persuaded to choose God by some evangelist or apologist or idea. I was not one of the lucky ones or smarter ones who was wise enough to exercise my free will and come to the Almighty. No, like all humanity outside of Christ, I was dead in my trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:4-5). Like Lazarus, (as I mentioned above) never gave Jesus permission to raise him from the dead, Jesus raised me from spiritual death. For that reason, I have no right to boast in my own wisdom or choice (Ephesians 2:8-9) and no confidence in myself to sustain my faith (Jude 1:24). I can finally rest in Christ—the Sovereign King over all—including me.

Pulling it All Together

Interestingly, the revelation of my testimony wasn’t conveniently linear. In fact, I didn’t recognize and reassign my authentic born-again experience until several years after it occurred. For a long time, I viewed my conversion experience during that Bible study as mere spiritual maturation. That is, I associated my freedom from the bondage of sin with sanctification when, in reality, it was justification. Like all humans, I didn’t want to believe I was lost and deceived in the church for so many years. It took the Holy Spirit rushing revelations over my soul one after another for me to release my dead testimony from Calabasas out of my white-knuckled grip.

But God wasn’t done humbling me. After the revelation of my true conversion, I was struck with the disingenuousness of my Southern California baptism in 2005. I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me to be baptized again—an odd thing to do for a pastor, seminary student, and Bible teacher. But this time, I could partake with an honest comprehension of the work that the Lord had accomplished for me and in me. That Sunday I preached a message on God’s sovereignty over salvation, and before the members of our small house church, I was baptized. 

During my sermon, I used an illustration of how I used to view the Gospel as a silver plate, and by studying the Word of God I would polish this beautiful plate for display. But one day, while I was polishing, I realized that under this silver veneer was pure gold. In other words, this plate was not only more beautiful than I ever expected, but it was also more valuable than I could ever imagine. At the time, I didn’t know how this new revelation would sit with my congregation. But months later, a member of our church, for my birthday, commissioned an artist to paint a piece using my sermon illustration. It now hangs in my study as a reminder of God’s grace.  

Over time, I’ve learned my story isn’t that uncommon. Tim Keller once delivered a sermon sharing a story of a minister whose journey was somewhat similar to mine. I will close with a retelling.

If you go to St. Mary’s Church in Everton Bedfordshire in England you will see the tombstone of John Berridge, the late pastor from the mid-eighteenth century. On his gravestone, which you can still read to this day, it says this:

Here lie the earthly remains of John Berridge, late vicar of Everton.
Reader, art thou born again?
There is no salvation without the new birth.
I was born in sin February 1716.
Remained ignorant of my fallen state until 1730
Lived proudly on faith and works for salvation till 1754.
Was admitted to Everton vicarage (the pastorate) 1755.
Fled to Jesus alone for refuge 1756.
Fell asleep in Christ January 22, 1793.

Similar to me, it took John Berridge a number of years to go from an encounter with God to fleeing to Jesus alone for refuge. Like me, his grace awakening came after he was in full-time ministry. This is a man who preached to thousands alongside men like George Whitefield and John Wesley! Man or woman reading this, come to Christ alone. Repent of your sin and place your hope and trust in Him! Christian, open your eyes to the grace of God. Give credit where credit is due. Pray that the Lord gives you eyes to see the great work He has accomplished in you.

By God’s grace, I was saved (Romans 8:30; Ephesians 1:4-5; Ephesians 2:8). By God’s grace, I was made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:17). By God’s grace, I could repent (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). By God’s grace, I could exercise saving faith (Ephesians 2:8; Acts 13:48). By God’s grace, I could mortify sin (Galatians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 10:13; John 8:36). By God’s grace, I am being made more like Christ each day (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; 1 John 3:2). By God’s grace, I will persevere to the end of this life (John 10:28; 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 1:24; Philippians 1:6). By God’s grace, I will be glorified with Christ in eternity (Romans 8:30; Colossians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:12).

We serve a God who is mighty to save—not by our own ascent to Him but by His descent to us.

To Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.

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Dale Partridge is the Founder and President of Relearn.org. Dale finished his graduate studies at Western Theological Seminary and is now an M.Div candidate at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles, California. He is also the author of several Christians books, the host of the Real Christianity podcast, and an elder and teaching pastor at the local house church in which he serves. He and his wife have three children.

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