My name is Gary Johnson, I’m a sixty-three year old African-American male. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. My family was a church family, always did have a strong belief in God. Unfortunately, my mother died when I was about four or five years old. I started to lose my way. My father was tremendously affected by the death of my mother and our family became estranged. I think that had a profound effect on me individually, in that I did not have anybody to guide me, anybody to push me in the right direction, and I used to feel like I didn’t have anybody to love me for a long, long, long time.
At the age of seventeen I migrated from Jacksonville to Tallahassee to live with my mother’s sister. Aunt Margaret was a cornerstone of what is now New Mount Zion AME Church. But for some reason, I didn’t go. Looking back on it, I see that that lack of participation in any spiritual activities had a profoundly negative influence on my life.
I went into the military from Tallahassee in 1965, served in the Army for ten years. Survived Vietnam, met my wife, my angel that God sent me, in Baltimore in 1971. We both had a child from previous marriages and when had three children of our own. My lack of being involved actively in the church allowed me to destroy this beautiful thing that God had sent me; beautiful family, beautiful opportunities.
I became addicted to cocaine, using all kinds of excuses. I think I used to say to my wife “Well, I’m managing this.” Well, I managed to mess things up tremendously. After this beautiful woman put up with, or tolerated these actions from me; the lies, not cheating, but the squandering of family money, some of the hateful things I said to her, finally she had had enough and Baltimore is her home. So I decided to come back to my home.
In the spring of 2007, I found myself looking for a place to rent to live. I was working, going to work every day but doing cocaine virtually every night. Destruction. Somebody guided me to this place called the Haven of Rest, up on West Tennessee Street here in the city. I went there. I remember talking to the director Glen Burns, he gave me a tour of the place, told me what the requirements were, told me what the accountability thing was about, just gave me the whole spiel. Unfortunately for me at the time, I said that it was too restrictive, and deep down inside I know what it was is that I hadn’t prepared myself to give up my destructive ways yet.
Well, as God would have it, I got a slap upside the face, upside the head, upside the life actually. I lost my job, I was facing homelessness. This was now March of 2008. I was looking at having to live in the streets. Something led me back to the Haven of Rest at this time. I was welcomed with open arms and I shall never forget it.
It was on a Monday night, I believe it was the 23rd of March, 2008. Brother Steve Davis preaches on Monday night. Sometime over that preceding weekend I had gone to God, something that I hadn’t done in perhaps forever. And I said “God, I give my life up. I’m lost, I’ve made an absolute mess of things, and I need you to come into my life and to guide me, and to save me, and I will do whatever I have to do.” Well, that Monday night Brother Steve preached a sermon about redemption. And for the first time in my life, every part of me heard it. It literally was just like God was speaking directly to me about me. I remember standing up in the middle of the chapel and saying “I hear it! I feel it! I’ve got it!” They say it’s a supernatural thing, well I can attest to that. For the first time in my life, I heard the word of God coming to me.
I could feel right then the changes starting to occur from the inside out. That’s when I began my walk, my walk continues today. Needless to say, I don’t do drugs anymore, I don’t drink, I feel God working on restoring me with my family. I’m living proof that God can reach out and put His hand on you, and in a moment change your life.