For thirty years, Tony Mong was pretty certain that God hated him. Every disappointment or loss fueled his belief that the God of the universe was out to “get” him. Tony strove to build his own kingdom, where he was sovereign, and athletic achievement, a passionate career, womanizing, and binge-drinking were the defining characteristics of his self-orchestrated life. Meanwhile, his wife Danielle carried an unexplainable longing for a Christ-centered life, but no understanding of how to draw near to a God she had never heard about. When their lopsided life together began to topple, Tony reached rock bottom. Read their story to see how Jesus extended grace, mercy, and unfathomable hope to the Mong family at their lowest point, proving that He had, indeed, been “after” them all along – only not quite in the way Tony had imagined. Rather than vengefully seeking their demise, God was relentlessly pursuing their hearts, and offering them a life filled with the abundant joy of knowing and serving Him.
Danielle & Tony Mong
Tony: I was born to a teenage mother who had conceived in adultery. My mom was murdered when I was one, and I was adopted by my grandparents, whom I then called Mom and Dad. The sin and trauma that began my life set the stage for this theme that really flowed through my first thirty years. I thought God hated me. And all through my life, Satan kept growing that perception whenever something bad happened to me. When I was six, our home burned on Christmas Eve. Shortly after that, my dad was laid off. Life became unstable for several years as we moved from state to state. As I struggled to fit in at each new school, I became a people-pleaser, someone who could easily morph into what people wanted me to be. I was outgoing and loud. I was good at sports, and sports became my idol.
Eventually, Tony’s family settled in the same area of Southern Missouri where Danielle’s family had relocated from Connecticut.
Danielle: Tony and I were born the same year, one month apart. The same Christmas season when Tony’s home burned down, my parents separated. I was an only child, and their separation (and eventual divorce) impacted my heart deeply.
Danielle witnessed the brokenness of her parents’ marriage and the shallowness of seeking solace in worldly things. An ember of hope began to flicker in her heart: a hope that she could find God and build a life on a sturdier foundation. But the brokenness she witnessed also created a longing for male companionship and love, and her fourteen-year-old heart was open and willing to embrace Tony’s manipulation when he waltzed into her life in 8th grade.
Danielle: Tony was the first guy I fell in love with.
Tony: I had become, by eighth grade, not only a people-pleaser and a kid who was obsessed with sports, but also a womanizer. I was really good at enticing girls to love me, and I craved their love. I used my speech to manipulate the hearts of girls – even at fourteen.
When Tony broke up with Danielle in 9th grade, she was devastated. Tony, meanwhile, went looking for affirmation from other girls.
Tony: Sports in high school went well for me. That made it easy to attract girls and get the pleasure and acceptance I wanted from them. I also began drinking when I was fifteen. By the time I was an upperclassman, partying and heavy drinking were a regular occurrence for me. I was on-track for sports scholarships, but I ended up dislocating my ankle. Although I kept playing, that injury impacted my prospects for playing college football and baseball. And, of course, I interpreted that as another slap from God. Another reason to believe He hated me.
Danielle: I had a pretty different high school experience. I wasn’t interested in the party lifestyle. I was a good girl. I wanted to go to college. And even though I wasn’t a Christian and had no Christian influences in my life, I just knew that one day I wanted faith to be a part of my story.
After high school, while Danielle planned to take classes at the local college, Tony was drifting a little hopelessly. Because his studies had taken a backseat to his partying, Tony’s grades were less than stellar, and the colleges that were interested in his ball-playing could not admit him. With no back-up plans for his future, Tony found himself lying on the floor of his brother-in-law’s Las Vegas home, praying a desperate and impossible prayer for a redo of his messed-up life. When God didn’t answer, he again counted God’s silence as an affront.
Tony called Danielle the night he returned to Missouri, and the couple entered – again – into a dating relationship. This time, the relationship lasted, but it wasn’t healthy. Danielle clung to Tony with a tenacity he didn’t deserve, and he continued to live a life of unbridled debauchery and partying. Eventually Tony landed a spot on a college baseball team, and for two years, they attended colleges in separate towns, with Danielle pining loyally for Tony, and Tony cavorting with other girls when she was not around.
T: We got married in August of 1997. Together we moved to a different college. I was seeking a new passion for my life. I found it in wildlife biology, and soon my life was a mish-mash of continued partying and binge-drinking, coupled with a frantic pursuit of success in my field.
As Tony worked whole-heartedly towards fulfilling his new dreams – including pursuing a master’s degree in Kansas, Danielle began her career as a nurse.
T: I had no sense of partnership in marriage. Eight years into marriage, while I was still working towards my master’s, Danielle got pregnant. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia and prescribed bed rest. I literally, at one point, left her lying on the couch so I could go out drinking. After Raelyn was born, I was filled with deep love for our daughter. But nothing changed with our relationship. We had no one speaking into our lives or showing us how to live.
I heard a voice say, “I have more for you.” I knew it was God. I looked up and, miraculously, I was right in the middle of the road. Those simple words were a profound realization of God’s love. He didn’t hate me. He had more for me.
As Tony’s patterns of binge-drinking and working long hours continued, Danielle began to grow weary.
D: In the summer of 2005, I told Tony that things had to change. Nothing changed over the next few months, and by December, I was done. I sat Tony down and said, “I don’t love you anymore, I don’t want to be with you, I’ve found someone else.”
T: I felt crushed and betrayed and overwhelmed by a desire to fix things. I really scrambled to try and fix our marriage. I didn’t want our daughter to grow up with divorced parents.
In April, Tony left home for work training. The training happened to fall on his 30th birthday, and he felt particularly bereft. For months, he had been grappling to “fix” his broken marriage by saying the right things, romancing Danielle with flowers, and doing everything in his power to restore their relationship. It wasn’t working, and Tony felt hopeless.
T: I began to think about how I could take care of my wife and daughter without actually being there. I started to plan how I could die in such a way that it would look like an accident and they would get the insurance money.
Tony left the work training late at night and began to drive home through blinding sheets of heavy rain. The pouring rain that accumulated dangerously on the highway seemed to provide the cover Tony needed. He envisioned hydroplaning to his death. Accelerating to 120 miles an hour, Tony took his hands off the wheel.
T: Very distinctly in that moment, I heard a voice say, “I have more for you.” I knew it was God. I looked up and, miraculously, I was right in the middle of the road. Those simple words were a profound realization of God’s love. He didn’t hate me. He had more for me. I didn’t know what it meant to believe in Jesus, but the Lord got ahold of my heart in that moment. I was different.
D: When Tony came home, he truly was different. He treated me differently, put me first. Truthfully, I didn’t want him to change. I was emotionally done with our marriage. I was trying to exit. But Tony began to pursue me in a way he never had before. Over time, my heart softened. And I fell in love with my husband again, something I would not have believed was possible.
T: I had had this experience with God, but we didn’t have any Christians in our lives. I wasn’t reading God’s word yet; I wasn’t being discipled. During that season, it was enough for me to just know that I was loved by God. His love changed me from the inside out.
Eventually, Tony and Danielle felt compelled to find a church – something Danielle had hoped for, for a long time.
D: The pastor at our church was a great teacher, and we learned and grew so quickly. We were both baptized in 2007. Our lives were completely changed.
The words God had spoken to him on that fateful rainy night stayed with Tony. “I have more for you.” He knew he wanted to serve God with the life he had been given. Together, the Mongs absorbed biblical teaching, studied the Word on their own, and invested in community. Their family grew as boys Ethan and Sam were born. When Tony faced job uncertainty as a wildlife biologist, they even pondered the possibility of seminary and itinerant preaching. However, the Lord led them instead to the tiny town of Baggs, Wyoming, where they served in the one local, struggling church for seven years. Tony’s next Game and Fish assignment brought the Mongs to Cody.
T: One of the first times we visited church in Cody, our daughter was excited to get a smoothie from the church coffee bar. But walking into the sanctuary, she fell and spilled the pink smoothie all over the carpet.
The man who stepped in to gently and jovially clean up the mess turned out to be the church’s youth pastor – Greg Brooks. And Tony knew they were in the right place. When Greg felt called to attend the Watermark Institute, Tony stepped in to lead the youth group. Now at Outpost, Tony and Danielle’s love for the Lord still compels them to disciple, counsel, and serve in a variety of ways.
T: Looking back, we can see how God has used the “bad” parts of our story for His glory. There were sin patterns and issues in our lives that He has woven into good. Because of our story, we can relate and speak into the lives of others who are hurting. God had a plan for our lives and He brought us together. Our story is a true testament to God’s sovereignty. All along, God didn’t hate me. He was drawing me to Himself.
As the Mongs begin each new day by asking God how He wants to use them, they continue to see that in His economy of extravagant grace, the broken is made beautiful.
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”