Turning Tragedy To Triumph

Turning Tragedy To Triumph
Issue 1 // 4th Quarter // 2012 Category:Purpose By: Lisa Huetteman

A farm accident changed Shawn Munn’s life forever.

From an office tucked in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Shawn Munn manages his digital imaging company, overseeing everything from innovations to international relations throughout Europe, Asia and South America.

Over the past decade, he has helped build Logos Imaging from a start-up family business into a solid corporation that continues to grow.

Sounds like a typical business success story?

Well, not quite. Shawn Munn is not a typical businessman.

Take a closer look, and you can’t help but see what’s missing: his left arm and his left leg.

But that doesn’t bother him—not anymore. In the days following the accident that took his limbs, Munn wanted to die. Now, almost three decades later, he says it was through tragedy that he learned what it truly means to live.

“God just kill me”

In 1985, Munn was a typical Nebraska farm boy. He grew up in a town of 1,000 people, playing sports and working summers for his dad. Life was simple. “A big trip,” he says, “was to pile the family into the back of a pick-up truck and go to the lake 16 miles away.”

Munn was gifted academically and on track to become valedictorian of his high school class. He was also an athlete, playing football, basketball and, just to “be a little lazy,” picking up golf his freshman year in high school. His identity was wrapped up in sports, and he thought he was headed for success. In retrospect, he says, “I was on a path to total destruction, and in a moment God gave me a gentle nudge, and it was all taken away.”

In the summer between his junior and senior years in high school, Munn was working with his dad at the grain elevator during wheat harvest. The sun was just setting as the last truck of the day pulled to unload its golden contents. Munn climbed up and tried to pull the chain that would release the load. The chain was stuck. As he attempted to free it, his foot slipped into the grain auger (an agriculture screw elevator that is used to transport grain from the ground to the grain bins), and the big 16-inch metal auger entangled him. The next twenty seconds went on forever.

His father ran to shut off the grain auger, but not before the machine severed Munn’s arm above the elbow and his leg just above the knee. Recalling the sound of his father’s voice, Munn says, “I don’t remember what he said, but what I heard was absolute fear, and I began to realize what was happening to me. My prayer was, ‘God just kill me. I don’t want this life.’”

As is the case for much of rural Nebraska, Munn and his father were working in the middle of nowhere. The closest hospital was 45 minutes away, and, with an all-volunteer fire department, the typical response time was about thirty minutes—enough time for Munn to bleed to death.

But death was not in God’s plan. The night of his accident just happened to be the same night that the volunteer fire department held its monthly meeting nearby. Firefighters were prepared to respond, and within minutes they arrived to stop the bleeding.

"I don’t know how God uses tragedy in His economy, but at that moment in time, the very hand of God reached in and grabbed me."Shawn Munn

Physical and spiritual healing

Munn spent three weeks and two days in Scottsbluff Memorial Hospital. He had a non-stop parade of teary-eyed visitors. Family and friends would come bearing copies of Harold Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Although they meant to offer encouragement, the effect was the opposite. “How can you have hope when everyone you look to for strength is saying, ‘This is so awful?’”

Two people were exceptions. The first was Kim Crawford, a girl he had dated briefly. Every day she would drive a half hour to sit by his bedside for thirty minutes. Her faithfulness encouraged him. The second was Pastor Tom Hunter, the father of a friend. Pastor Hunter never shed a tear, but shared his hope that there was purpose in what had happened and something greater ahead for Munn.

Lost in the forest of his pain, Munn believed he was destined to live a life he didn’t want—the life of an amputee. Gone were his dreams of walking into Memorial Stadium as a Nebraska Cornhusker. Gone was the hope of finding a woman who could love him. He remembers his mother’s tear-filled eyes when he arrived at the hospital by ambulance. The first thing he could think to say? “Mom, no girl will ever love me like this.”

At 17 years old, the identity Munn had was gone, and for five years—five years of darkness—there was no joy in his life. As he described it, “I lived in total selfishness and self-pity.”

In the years to come, he began to see that he could still be active, despite his amputations. Still, something was missing. He wasn’t a believer, yet he knew on some level that the path he was on would lead to self-destruction. After five years of adjusting to his new normal, he got a job with a Christian bicycle ministry. It was a group of singles, ages 30 to 35, from Chicago. Leaving his home in western Nebraska, Munn traveled with this group from Indiana to Maine. He watched them and witnessed their joy and a hope that he didn’t quite understand.

“As they started explaining the source of their joy to me, the testimony of Pastor Tom Hunter sitting at my bedside started to make sense. I started to recognize the hope that he was pointing to. I watched these people for a week, and the truth of Romans 8:28 started to make sense. I understood what hope meant for the very first time in my life.”

The revelation transformed him. “I changed from someone who would take any risk because he didn’t value the life he had, to someone who understood there was great value in his life and there was great opportunity and potential ahead.”

Relationships with impact

On a spring break trip in Florida with the same Christian ministry, Munn met his future wife, Melanie. It was “March Madness” time, and they connected through their love of basketball. For the first time in his life as an amputee, he asked a girl for her number.

Melanie was the youngest of four children in a Christian family. From the first time he met them, they embraced him and invited him to stay in their house. He got to see firsthand how faith was an integral part of their lives.

“Living with Melanie’s family was a very different experience for me. They challenged the way I thought versus the way a godly man thinks. They modeled how to be a leader in a family and how to deal with the struggles and conflicts that happen within families. For three and a half years, they treated me as a son.”

In 1994 the couple married, and soon after, he joined the family’s expanding portable X-ray machine business. He got the opportunity to travel, meet people and develop relationships.

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose."Romans 8:28

“We make X-ray devices for bomb detection,” Munn says. “It is a small niche market, so it is easy to develop relationships. You can move beyond just a business relationship to one where you can know the person and where they are struggling, and you can speak wisdom as it is given to you in those situations.”

In the late 1990s, as the world moved toward digital technology, Munn saw a chance to take the family’s film-based X-ray business to digital media.

“I met with a company in California that agreed to modify their dental imaging system for our market. I jumped into a car, took off for two and a half weeks, met with our customers and got the product placed.”

In 2002, with his wife’s three siblings and a shoestring budget, they launched Logos Imaging. By 2010, the Munns bought out Melanie’s siblings and now own the company outright. Currently, they have over 2,000 installations domestically and internationally, a distribution channel of 25 to 30 international representatives and opportunities throughout Europe, Asia and South America.

Munn credits his success to bringing Scripture to a problem and making the Word bear on how company executives make decisions at Logos Imaging.

“Our corporate culture—not that we are very big or ‘corporate’—is very much centered on how God will be honored in the decisions we make. I encourage our employees to talk about it and challenge me if they think I’m not making a decision that would honor the Lord.”

“Employees are also deliberate in forging relationships”, Munn says. The key to all relationships, “is you have to be consistent and willing to make the investment,” he says. “By being consistently available, you have the opportunity to enter and impact lives.”

Perhaps this is a lesson he learned from a young lady who drove daily to spend 30 minutes at his bedside so many years before. It is also a lesson taught in the Gospels, Munn says.

“One of the greatest desires of the human heart is to know that someone cares and to know that they are valued. Jesus added value to every life that came to Him. He made sure that every person understood their significance before Him,” he says. “If we can find a way to model what Jesus taught so every person who enters our lives leaves feeling ‘That guy cared about me,’ then we can have impact. In our office, we try to let everyone know that they have tremendous significance to us.”

Asked if he wishes God’s plan for him could have been less painful, Munn emphatically answers, “No!”

“Anyone who has experienced traumatic physical pain knows that there is nothing you can do to bring that pain back,” he says. “There is nothing I can do to make my leg feel the pain it felt that night. I still have a lot of insecurities and some emotional challenges, but on the physical side, it happened, it was dealt with once and I will never have to deal with that pain again. It is one of the amazing graces in the way God works.”

Today, when he’s not in his office in Loveland, Colorado, Munn spends time with Melanie, their three children, Mason, Mallory and Mya, and enjoys a competitive game of golf. In the midst of his busy life, he finds time to chip away at his “12 handicap” as he travels the world with the Mulligan Golf Ministry, sharing Christ through his testimony.

“The average person thinks it’s difficult to swing a golf club with one arm,” Munn says. He laughs then adds, “Try doing it with one leg!”