My name is Deron Gillespie, I’m Executive Director of Tallahassee Teen Challenge.
I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Had a good family, but really, I can’t say that I was raised in a Christian home. I guess I was always, as a young kid, striving to meet expectations of other people, you know, trying to fit in with the crowd and all that.
I became a jock at an early age and began to play sports. It was something that I was good at. Had some college scholarships and things like that in baseball, I could have played college baseball.
But probably about 9th grade, 10th grade I began to experiment with marijuana, and really found myself getting wrapped up with the party scene, going to fraternity parties and things at an early age, getting caught up in alcohol at an early age. And didn’t really realize as life went on that I was beginning to destroy every possibility that I had in playing baseball or football in college by just smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.
Well, because of depression and different things and feeling like I just didn’t fit in anymore, I began to experiment with crack cocaine at about the age of 19 or 20. An individual had offered me a hit of crack cocaine on a crack pipe and I took it. And basically I could tell you that that point on in my life, my life had ended as far as being a successful individual of any kind, having any hope for a future at that time. My life had ended after one hit from a crack pipe.
And I began to meet gang members in Memphis, Tennessee that was carrying pistols, that were robbing people and doing things like that. And I began to get caught up in the gang scene in Memphis. I began to start getting arrested – DUI’s, drug charges – just different things that came along with the drug scene and living on the streets and running with gang members.
I was in and out of jail. I was in and out of secular rehabs. And about the age of 28 I found myself – all of the secular rehabs that I had gone through never really worked. And so at the age of about 28 I began to experiment with heroin. That really took me down a road even deeper than crack cocaine had. I began to find myself doing things that, just normal people wouldn’t do. You know, there’s a lot of things that I’m ashamed of that I’ve done in life that I know that God’s forgiven me for today.
But, I lived on the streets homeless for almost two years, eating out of dumpsters and sleeping under bridges, sleeping in woods, sleeping in missions, going weeks at a time, almost months at a time without even taking a bath, and having sores on me and things like that.
Before, when I was living out on the streets, I had walked up to my mom’s work one day and she had told me about the ministry of Teen Challenge. She had given me a newspaper article about Memphis Teen Challenge and I had held onto that article and I had held on in the back of my mind about that at that point in time, at that critical place in my life where I was. I had hit, completely hit the bottom.
And it just seemed like I heard that still, small voice of God saying, “Rise up and make that call.” And so I did, and I made the phone call to Memphis Teen Challenge where, at that time, they didn’t have any bed space available, so they directed me to a program in Hattiesburg, Mississippi called Christian Services. And that’s where I had my encounter with God.
We went to a little church service, and we were all sitting together, and there was a missionary from Romania, and I just felt the presence of God. At that time I didn’t know really what it was, but I felt it.
And so there was probably about 13 or 14 other people lined up through there, and the missionary was going down through there laying hands on people and praying for them. And he got to me and he laid hands on me. And when he laid hands on me I felt something go through my body like I’d never felt before. It was like sticking my hand in a 220 electrical socket. And I felt that electricity go through my body, and it scared me so bad I jumped back. But that missionary knew that I had just been hit by the power of God.
And from that day forward my life began to turn around. Things began to change. My mouth started cleaning up. The way that I felt about the word of God and prayer and all the things, it was just amazing to see how things began to fall off of me that held me in bondage. And from that day forward I can genuinely say that my life was touched by the genuine power of God.
And today I look back and I think about how good God’s been to me, even through all the tough times that I’ve had to go through. I can’t focus on the negative things because it’s real easy that I could have gotten myself down and run back to the bottle and run back to the needle or run back to the crack pipe. But today I run to the foot of the cross. Today I run to Jesus Christ for the comfort, because He promised that He would never leave me nor forsake me.
And I’m so grateful that God has brought me to where I’m at today. And I look so much towards the future and where He’s going to guide me and where He’s going to take me next. And how He can use an old drug addict like me for the Kingdom of God.