post date: September 5, 2011
“I don’t remember much about my 20’s because I was on drugs the whole time.”
When the police arrested him, he was put in jail for 30 days. Sometime during that period he found a bag of books at the Cook County Jail and thought he could trade the books for cigarettes. While looking through the books, he found a small paperback called An Anchor for the Soul. The subtitle intrigued him: “Help for the Present, Hope for the Future.»
“That’s what I need,” he said to himself.
So he read the book. And then read it again. And read it again. He ended up reading it at least seven times during those thirty days. Somewhere inside of him, the light came on. “I remember reading the story about Charlotte Elliott and the poem she wrote called ’Just As I Am.’ I thought to myself, ‘That’s the only way I can come to God–just as I am.’”
He came to Jesus.
He asked Christ to save him.
He was born again.
His prayer was answered by the God of heaven.
When he got out of jail, they gave him back the clothes he was wearing when he was arrested. “Phew! I didn’t realize how bad I smelled,” he said. Life wasn’t easy. He fell prey to drugs again. This time he found Teen Challenge and went banging on their door at 3 AM. They took him in and helped him break his addiction to drugs.
Ten years ago he called the church in Oak Park where I served as pastor. I must have been busy that day because he had to wait for 45 minutes to talk to me. We chatted over the phone and I told him a few things that helped him in his walk with the Lord.
Here’s the other part of the story. Nick’s life has been on the upswing for the last few years. He and his wife have a good life together in a Chicago suburb. He serves as the operations manager for an agency that provides cleaning services. About a month ago he was overseeing his workers who were doing some cleaning at a church just north of Chicago. When he asked about one of the staff pastors, the secretary said he was no longer at the church. On a whim Nick asked if she could help him find a Pastor Ray Pritchard who wrote a book called An Anchor for the Soul. The secretary not only found the Keep Believing website, she also saw that I was going to be speaking on September 4 at Central Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
That’s almost 600 miles from Chicago.
It didn’t matter to Nick.
He and his wife drove all the way from Chicago to Memphis to meet me. When he saw me before the first service, he began to tear up, hugged me, and said, “I just wanted to say thank you.”
It was the first time we had ever met.
He didn’t really come to hear me preach, he said. “That was just a perk.” He wanted to say thank you. “I was homeless and stealing soap to take showers at fire hydrants. I slept in my car. I got food from a food pantry. I was so lost.”
Today he attends an evangelical church in the Chicago suburbs. He showed me pictures of his home and of the garden in his back yard.
It was as fine a moment as any I have experienced in my ministry. You don’t often get to meet people whose lives are changed so dramatically. When we prayed together, I thanked God for the work of grace that found a man in utter despair and transformed him from the inside out. It’s not a book that does that. It’s the grace of God.
When he showed me the pictures, he pointed to one with corn and other vegetables he had grown. “I used to eat at a food pantry. Now I grow the food in my backyard.” That’s not all.
“I used to steal soap so I could wash myself at a fire hydrant. Now I have two showers in my home.”
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