On Eagle’s Wings: TSA Admin John Pistole’s Church of God Roots
By Carl Stagner
Did you know that the current administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) finds his roots in the Church of God? He’s the son of a Church of God pastor and graduate of Anderson University. Some of his earliest memories take him back to Park Place Church of God in Anderson, and today he connects from time to time with the Church of God in Fairfax, Virginia. Every day John Pistole is faced with tremendous challenges and great responsibility. He credits the Lord and the Church of God for preparing him for the task.
Page One of John’s story reveals the Church of God in bold ink. Born to Hollis and Elizabeth Pistole, John was surrounded by positive influences in the movement. “My dad was a Church of God pastor in Baltimore, Maryland, while my mom was then caring for four children, age ten and under.” Both of his parents were Anderson College graduates, as are each of his siblings (Cindy Poikonen, ’68; Carole Greenwalt, ’72; David Pistole, ’76). John (’78) followed in his family’s footsteps at Anderson College, though he didn’t carry on the ordained pastor role. Nevertheless his life and leadership have ministered to multitudes.
“I believe God has used me as an FBI agent, deputy director of the FBI, and now TSA administrator, to be light and salt to all those I meet, whether with the thirteen-year-old victim of human trafficking (one of my first cases in the FBI thirty years ago in Minneapolis) or in my current job of preventing terrorists from hijacking or blowing up planes,” John explains. “My goal is to provide strong, ethical leadership, while promoting hope and encouragement to everyone I encounter, just as Christ has given me abundant life through his sacrificial life, death, and resurrection.”
John’s job gives him access to scores of people outside the four walls of a church that many pastors simply can’t touch. As TSA administrator, John interacts with TSA employees in airport town hall meetings across the country. As you would expect, John has the opportunity at most events to share just a little bit about himself. Faith in God is the indispensable part of John’s story. “I share that I’ve had a sense of God’s calling since then, including to say yes to be considered for the TSA administrator position, which as a presidential nominee required Senate confirmation—which was somewhat daunting after the first two nominees for the job did not obtain that confirmation!”
John’s faith has truly enabled him to handle the pressure and responsibility of such a high-level job. Every day, he prays his DEWS to the Lord. John asks for discernment, encouragement, wisdom, and strength. “TSA is a large, multifaceted organization with over 60,000 employees and many leadership challenges,” John explains. Yet he sees these challenges as opportunities afforded by God’s grace. “I know I need God’s DEWS to help me make good decisions for our employees and those whom we protect—nearly two million people who fly in the United States every day.”
Before John stepped on such a high platform to share his faith, he needed a foundation. The Church of God provided that foundation. “One of my earliest memories of church was sitting next to my mom at a worship service at Park Place Church of God when I was probably four or five years old. She was singing beautifully the old hymns with her hymnal open, but I noticed she was rarely looking at it. She not only knew the words and tunes, she treasured them in her heart. What an impression to make on a child!”
Several years later at Anderson University, John developed important critical thinking skills and the ability to apply knowledge to present-day issues. John’s particularly thankful for his Bible courses. “I value all aspects of my time at Anderson University,” he recounts, “especially meeting my future wife, Kathy Harp, there as freshmen in Marie Strong’s Old Testament class forty years ago. Kathy and I just celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, so we obviously learned something in class.”
“The Church of God helped form who I am and whose I am,” he continues. “The Church of God taught and showed me the love and power of God through Jesus. I’m not an ordained minister as my father and father-in-law were, but I’ve been called to ministry all the same, to serve those in my own unique ‘congregation’—those with whom God brings me into contact every day.”
So next time you go through airport security, remember your Church of God roots. Then say a prayer for your brother John Pistole.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.