JP used to run from life. Now, he runs toward it. His eyes are narrowed in on his target, his prize, his finish line: Jesus Christ.
Job loss and a tipping point
JP grew up in Louisiana, the land of hush puppies and catfish, before he took off for Colorado to work in the oil fields. Although life had its ups and downs, the bottom fell out in 2015 when oil was sold at a record low, the market plummeted, and he lost his job.
“After that, I lost everything. I became homeless, lived on the streets in Ft. Collins, Colorado under a bridge, shooting up drugs, peddled a little bit of work to make money for drugs,” he says, reflecting on the point that tipped him into destitution.
Eventually, JP wound up in Salem and hunkered down in a local park. His dad, who lived in town, encouraged him to check out Union Gospel Mission of Salem, but JP wasn’t so sure as he wasn’t a “shelter kind of guy.” He reconsidered, though, after living too long on the city’s fringes in the unforgiving elements.
Detoxing, renewal, and new discoveries
For more than a year, JP resided at UGM, though he stiff-armed invitations to join the New Life Fellowship (NLF) program. Instead, he observed the men, assuming they were duped or deceived. Were they so weak that they couldn’t rise above their addictions by their own ambition? Yet, undeniably, he saw the Holy Spirit working in them.
His heart slowly softened; his mind boggled by the transformations he witnessed from the recovery program. “I saw Christ changing lives, and I’m like ‘what’s going on here?’ They said, ‘It’s Jesus Christ, it’s Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is changing me; you’ve got to join the program!’”
The day came when JP couldn’t deny the recovery program any longer and he made the decision to join. Despite the weeks of severe detoxing he endured as he disentangled himself from substances that long held him captive, JP remained steadfast to his commitment.
Over time, his mind and body were being renewed day by day—hope and joy and new life increased. Church, counseling sessions, meaningful relationships, discoveries about his false beliefs, revelations about God’s love and grace, and his eventual baptism—it all restored him to the vibrant man he is today.
Now, he cannot sit still. JP is bursting with gratitude and gusto for Jesus Christ, thankful for the UGM staff who so lovingly corrected him and so compassionately pledged themselves to his healing. This was a kindness he had never experienced.
“From the streets to this, it was shocking because I’d never seen a love like this—I’d never known a love like that,” reflects JP.
The worst jail sentence
Not long after his NLF graduation, JP served time in Colorado, tying up loose ends from his old lifestyle. He was closing the previous chapter in his life story so that he could discover what this next chapter held.
Was jail so bad? Not really. JP, oddly enough, enthusiastically reflected on the opportunities jail gave him for kingdom work.
“I got to lead Bible studies in jail with a Crip from Denver, a kid that’s, like, 21 and on his third DUI, and a crack cocaine addict.”
Talk about a mindset change.
“Really, the worst jail sentence I ever served was inside my own head, to be honest,” admits JP. “So, it’s not a matter of place but a state of mind. Just being liberated from that was huge.”
This is coming from a man who not long ago cared little if he lived or died. Life had no meaning. His family didn’t matter. Nothing had value. Today, his family relationships are on the mend from his reconciliation, a miracle he attributes to God’s power.
Paul says in Philippians 4:10-13, “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
JP’s new addiction
Running for exercise and endurance is JP’s new addiction. It is the perfect metaphor for what God has defined as the “good life.” He is running the race to win, tapping into the strength God gives, knowing the reward a life in pursuit of Christ offers, all while resting in the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
“There’s nothing too big or too small that Christ can’t do. If you haven’t put your faith in Jesus Christ, today is the day,” says JP. “Don’t harden your heart. God’s voice comes as a whisper because He’s right behind you.”
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
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