Growing up in the early 1970s was hard; during the Vietnam conflict, single mothers were commonplace. Eventually, my home life included a stepfather who was violent; he hated the children of a previously married woman—me and my two siblings. Beatings came weekly, if not daily. My mom said, “You kids will be grown one day, and I need somebody for me when I get old.”
When I was 13, my stepfather said to my brother, Kevin, and me, “If you come home with anything less than a ‘C’ in school, DON’T!” At the end of the semester, I received several “F’s” on my report card. Knowing that our stepfather meant what he said, we didn’t ride the bus home that night.
We began living on the streets of Redding, California; I was 13 and Kevin was 15. We couldn’t work, as we were under the legal age. Some friends of ours would sneak us into their bedrooms at night, but we had to be out before sunrise so their parents wouldn’t see us. Eventually this arrangement stopped, and we were on our own. Food came from dumpsters and garbage cans. At the end of the day, we gathered doughnuts from behind a bakery for the next morning’s breakfast.
We made our bed among the trees behind a drive-in movie theater and packed up our stuff before sunrise. Police patrolled the area, so we had to find the best hiding places. Other street people would tell police where we slept if they saw us with something they wanted or if they wanted our spot. Trying to get out of our spot in the morning or back in at night before police, residents and other street people saw us became a daily challenge.
In one sense, I was living a teenager’s dream: Every day I had doughnuts for breakfast, and I ate at fast-food places or nice restaurants every night. The reality was, I had to fight ants for doughnuts, fend off rats, cats, and stray dogs for dumpster meals, and check my food for mold. Although I enjoyed the weekly drive-in movie, I was constantly checking my sleeping area for scorpions and rattlesnakes; they liked the heat I produced.
Six years passed before my brother and I broke that chain of lifestyle. We were under the control of drugs and alcohol; we sold drugs to make a small amount of money to buy alcohol. I believed that I wouldn’t live to age 20. I’d say to people, “We were all born to die; we’re just in a waiting period.”
My brother and I sometimes ate at the rescue mission on South Market Street. Shortly before my 17th birthday, we sat listening to the hour-long sermon to get the meal. At the end, a junior pastor saw a questioning look on my face and came over to talk to me. It wasn’t long before I stumped him with my questions. The senior pastor must have seen what was going on and came over to asked if he could help. We talked a bit longer about the Bible, and what that senior pastor said next changed my life forever. First, he asked my opinion of the Big Bang Theory. I said it made sense and was believable. He said, “Then where did the Big Bang come from?” I said it came from the universe. Then he said, “Where did the universe come from?” I said, “It was there!” He said, “From out of nowhere the universe just happened?” I replied yes. “Young man…who turned on the lights?” For that question, I had no answer. At 6 p.m. on October 21, 1983, I gave my life to the Lord and received Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized; however, my baptism was for the wrong reason; I was told that baptism was part of the process of washing away my past sins.
At age 19, I entered the U.S. Navy thinking my life would become better, and I’d grow closer to God. That was the furthest thing from the truth. Instead, I went into a downward spiral and fell victim to Satan’s lies. I stopped being a servant of God and was living a life of sin again. Not knowing salvation was forever, I believed I had fallen from grace. I thought God would never love a sinner like me. I lived this way for several years until I met Jennifer, the woman who is now my wife.
In May of 2015, a very good friend of ours took her own life; Jennifer and I felt overwhelming pain and sorrow. As we watched a program on a Christian television network, the announcer said, “If you need help and don’t know where to turn, please give us a call.” My wife called and got a Baltimore extension (oddly enough, our good friend was from there). It was a cell phone number for a counselor who was from Baltimore but had moved to serve at the Christian counseling Center at Valley Forge Baptist. Jennifer began receiving counsel and was told, “You can be counseled, but you have to be in a church to do so.” We were desperate for help, so we started attending Valley Forge Baptist in October of 2015.
On November 23, 2015, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). I had never heard of it and became very scared. During the 48 days I spent in the hospital learning to walk again, our family members did not once come to see me or my wife. Jennifer stayed by my side the whole time, and every week—sometimes on a daily basis—I was visited by several of the pastors from VFB and received many get well/prayer greeting cards from church people.
As my walking improved, my wife and I decided it was time for a change. When I was released from the hospital, we both dedicated our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I finally understood that salvation is forever, and baptism does not wash away sins but is an outward sign to others that a person is a believer in and follower of Christ. Pastor Scott Wendal baptized us on April 3, 2016. We sense a new feeling of family now that we’re members of VFB.
Since my illness would not let me return to a contract position, my contract was not renewed by my employer, and we were forced to move from our home within 30 days. Again, there was no sign of help from our family members. During the turmoil of our living situation, our new family in Christ stepped up to help us move. We are forever grateful for the life in Christ we now have. We know that without our Lord Jesus Christ and the dedicated brothers and sisters we would not have the life we are so blessed with today.
What will it take for the light to come on in your life? It’s very easy, but does require some effort and commitment on your part. Simply bow your head in prayer, confess your sins, ask to be forgiven of your sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross for you, and invite Him to come into your life to be your Lord and Savior.