Photo by Larry Ball
I was born in 1955 and grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky. My biological mother died when I was just six years old. My father got remarried fairly quickly to a woman who was so good to my brother and me. She tried to take me to church, but my dad didn’t like that idea very much. So, I had a great childhood but didn’t go to church. My dad and stepmother were great!
My parents really couldn’t afford to send me to college but they did, and I flunked out. So, I came back to Frankfort and went to work. I decided I wanted to be a policeman. I got a job in 1977 with the Lexington Police Department. I wasn’t a Christian at the time. Really all I cared about was working. Early in my career I met the police chaplain, and he saw something in me. He took me under his wing and mentored me. It wasn’t really about being a Christian but more about how to be a compassionate policeman with integrity. I saw in him some things I really liked but it never occurred to me what a better policeman I would be if I were a Christian man. He was a great role model for being a Christian and a police officer.
I worked at the police department in narcotics two or three different times. I was undercover, buying drugs from people by myself. It was dangerous work and I had a lot of crazy things happen to me. All aspects of being an officer, whether a detective or in uniform, has built-in dangerous situations. Looking back, I thank God for protecting me, but during that time I wasn’t a Christian and I never stopped to thank God for how He protected me.
I never really thought I would get married but, in 1983, I met a wonderful woman, Keene. We got married in 1985. She had two children and their father had died long before I met them. The children really didn’t remember much about their father, just as I didn’t remember much about my mother. As I look back, I can see what a good role model my stepmother was for me. She showed me how to step into a marriage with children and be a good, loving parent. It’s amazing how God worked that out. I adopted both Jason and Shannon after just one year of marriage. They have been wonderful children. God really knew what I needed.
My wife was a lifelong member of a Methodist church. She asked me many times to go with her to church while we were dating, but I usually had an excuse. Occasionally, I couldn’t come up with an excuse and I would go, mostly because I loved her and she wanted me to go. I began to get involved with the church and liked the people there. The people at church liked me as well, and they began to put me on committees. After we got married, I was still really attending for my wife. I was playing church.
Keene kept on being a role model for me and the children, but she wasn’t pushy. In 1986, I was preparing for the test to be promoted to the rank of police sergeant. It was very stressful. I was working so hard to prepare. One day Keene asked me, “Are you praying about getting promoted?” I said, “No, you can’t pray about that stuff. God doesn’t want to hear about that.” She said, “Yes, God does want you to pray about things like that.”There were 155 people who took the test, and I had the third-highest score. This taught me that I could pray about anything and that God listens to all prayers big and small.
Keene was still chipping away at me, and I was still going to church. The police chaplain and I were still friends. But I wasn’t really committed to God. In 2001, I was having a discussion with Keene about sin. I told her that I prayed about the same things over and over again. I said, “I ask for forgiveness for two things over and over again.” She didn’t ask me what the two things were but she said, “If you ask for forgiveness once, you are forgiven. You don’t have to ask again and again.” One day after that, I was talking with my pastor about the conversation with Keene about forgiveness. It was just the two of us at church. He said, “Let’s go down here and pray about that.” We walked to the front of the church, and I knelt at the altar. The pastor said, “Quit praying about this. God forgives you but you have to surrender. You have to move what you have in your head to your heart.” He led me in prayer and after we finished that prayer, I felt totally different. I was a changed person. I had tried to read Mere Christianityby C.S. Lewis before that day, and it was like there was something that was blocking my understanding. But after that day, it just clicked with me. The same thing happened with the Bible. Before, I was reading the Bible so I could quote scriptures. I could “play” church as well as anyone. I put on the best act going. But after that day in 2001, I read the Bible for a different reason, not to impress anyone but to change me. Really everything changed for me — my marriage, my friends, being a policeman.
Many people know Jeremiah 29:11, which says:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
But you have to read down a little further to get a more complete picture of the message. This is one of my favorite verses:
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
God had a wonderful plan for my life, and He had been preparing me; but I had to surrender first before His full plan for my life could be realized.
I left the police department after 20 years to become the director of police training for the Department of Criminal Justice in Kentucky. During that time, I was really able to share my Christian faith with many people. In 2004, I was appointed to work for the governor in a statewide law enforcement job. There were a lot of Christian men and women in that organization. We prayed at meetings, and there were Bible studies that started as part of our work. I felt like I was not only doing a good job, but I was being more significant. I started to really grow in this job. In 2008, we had a new governor and I left that job. I went from making a really good salary, to making no money. But God provided for us and our way of living did not change. Still, I wanted to work.
The County Attorney offered me a job working as a gang enforcement specialist. As a part of this job I worked to help identify criminal gang members in conjunction with the police department in the community and in jails and worked in the school system to put gang prevention initiatives into place. Working in the schools was challenging because I was older. But God provided a partner for me in this work. One of my friends got into a conversation with a man named Gerald Gibson (Geo) who worked at a local gas station. Geo told my friend that he was looking to work with young people. He was a convicted felon and while he served time in prison, he developed a program called Operation Make a Change (Story #187). The purpose of OMAC is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. My friend invited Geo to come to the police station to talk with us. I knew when I met him, he was the real deal. But he was a convicted felon and I wasn’t sure my boss, the county attorney, would permit him to work with me. When I went to my boss and told him I wanted to work with Geo, he was very reluctant. But when I told him that I would vouch for him and I would work closely with him, he agreed. The school system let me bring Geo into the schools with me, but I had to be with him in everything we did. We led the OMAC program in the school. Then we started leading the program in jail. Here you have a younger African American man working with an older white retired police captain. It was like Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte!
At first, Geo worked as a volunteer but we ended up hiring him part-time through the county attorney’s office; then we hired him full-time. Geo was a changed man. It was his faith that had changed him. I called myself a changed man, but I still believed that people in jail deserved to be in jail. I had separated the person who committed the crime from the person God created them to be. Over time my perspective changed. I sat in the group when Geo talked to the men in jail. They loved him and hated me. But after a few weeks, the men began to see me differently and wanted to interact with me when they got out of jail. I helped them find work and find a church. During my 10 years in this job, I had many other jobs offers, but every time I turned to God for an answer, the answer was “No.” I was right where God wanted me. I can remember many incarcerated men found so many blessings in the two of us working together on their behalf. They were quite surprised to see this unlikely duo.
We were still working together, but my work was dwindling down. There was another transition in our governor, and I was told I would get a big job in justice with the state. However, I didn’t get the big job and was disappointed. Out of the blue one evening, a national leader for Alpha, a prison ministry, called me. Typically, I don’t answer calls at 9:30 p.m., especially if I don’t recognize the number, but that night I answered. He asked me to think about becoming the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. I was familiar with Alpha because my wife and I had taught a 14-week Alpha course in the church and had been involved in the marriage and business components of the Alpha ministry, but I didn’t know that Alpha had a prison ministry. The national director came to Lexington the next day and spent three days talking with me. He told me that all my years of work had prepared me to go into prisons and do ministry. I was open to this because I had begun to see jail as a real dark spot for many lost people. The least and the lost!
I accepted the non-paying job to be the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. We started that ministry four years ago in one jail, and over time it has expanded to other jails and prisons. This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Had I not been working with Geo in jails prior to this, I probably would not have taken this ministry job in prisons and jails.
I have come to see people who are incarcerated in a different way. Their crime is what they didand they have to have accountability for that, but that is not who they are. I have recruited many people to help in the prison ministry. They all say they get more out of prison ministry than the inmates do.
It has often been uncomfortable work for me. Sometimes I run into men in prison whom I arrested — sometimes for murder. This has really grown my character. I trust God and have seen God work in amazing ways. Once a man I had really connected with asked me if we could start a Bible study in his area. I said we could if he picked the people and the topic. We have been doing this Bible study now for four years. One Saturday afternoon he called me saying he had just talked by phone with a friend who said she was going to kill herself. He gave me her name and address. The police found her just as she was getting ready to take the pills to take her life. It was the anniversary of her son’s suicide, and her parents had been murdered a few years earlier. The police were able to get her help. I talked to the man later and told him that I had never known anyone who wasn’t a police officer who had saved a person’s life — but he did. He started crying. He and I would have never met if it hadn’t been for the Alpha ministry.
A few years ago, I met a retired police officer who was dying from cancer. I started visiting him every week in the nursing home. We talked about police work and we also talked about God. I asked some of the inmates to make cards for him. This man was so touched by the love that poured out from the inmates that he left a large sum of money to be used in prison ministry when he died. He wanted to reward people who were surrendering their will to God. With his generous donation, we formed the nonprofit Kentucky Alpha Prison Ministries, which helps many people.
Two of the most important things I have learned is that God is very forgiving, and God is very patient. I’m thankful that God accepts me as a sinner. I’m thankful that God’s Son took my sins and was crucified, died and arose from the grave. I’m so thankful to God for a great wife of 35 years. Keene has played such a big role in helping me to become the man God created me to be.
You have to totally surrender every part of your life to God. Many people want to hold onto one corner of their life and not turn it over to God. They try to manage sin, but it is impossible to manage sin. Until you completely surrender every aspect of your life, you are always going to have problems. You will not be able to become the person God created you to be and live out the fullness of His plan for you. Complete surrender made all the difference in my life. If I can do it, anyone can.
Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 10:25a).
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.