John Jennings stood in the courtroom, looking into the eyes of the man who had murdered his son. This man had been his son’s friend, but one night, this “friend” took John’s son into the woods, demanded his money, and shot him.
Arrested and ashamed, he stood in the courtroom, facing his crimes and his best friend’s family members, including John. Tears streaking his face, John said what he had come to say to this friend turned killer: “God told me to tell you He loves you, man, and the only way we win today is if you give your life to the Lord.”
Swallowing hard, John knew there was one more thing God had told him to tell his son’s murderer. “God loves you,” he repeated, and taking a deep breath, he continued, “and I love you, too.”
John walked out. The entire courtroom was in tears. As he left the courthouse, John says he heard God speak to him once more. Now, son, I can use you, He said.
This tearful obedience to God was a long time coming. The road leading to this emotionally charged day in court was winding and unpaved, but John says, “I am where I am today because of Prison Fellowship.”
Power of Money
John started getting into trouble in his twenties. He grew up in North Carolina. Though he admits he was a “little wild,” he was a smart kid and went to college. He failed to “grasp what life was all about,” though, and dropped out. He began doing and selling drugs. A whiz with numbers, he also earned supplemental income by preparing people’s taxes for them, fudging the numbers so that both he and his “clients” received a hefty return from the IRS.
This ill-gotten wealth came quickly and went even faster. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” John says, “so I lost it all. I didn’t want to go out broke, so that’s when I started robbing banks.”
John teamed up with his uncle, a “career criminal,” and crossed into South Carolina where he boldly walked into banks with a toy gun he had bought his son. He showed the tellers the butt of the realistic-looking Colt .45 in his pocket and left with duffle bags of cash.
When the law caught up with John, he was 37 years old and faced 165 years for armed robbery and aiding and abetting a criminal. “I realized this was not the life God created me to live,” says John. “I asked God to give me one more chance so I could be the man He created me to be. He heard my prayer.”
In prison, John learned that Prison Fellowship volunteers came in to lead Bible studies and talk with the prisoners. John took an interest. “They started telling me about Christ and introducing me to the Lord,” remembers John. “I knew they were telling me the truth.”
Then one Christmas season, a Prison Fellowship volunteer named Bruce Williams sang a song. “I’ll remember it my whole life,” John says.
When others see a shepherd boy, God may see a king. Even though your life seems filled with ordinary things, in just a moment He can touch you, and everything will change. When others see a shepherd boy, God may see a king.
With tears in his eyes, John asked Bruce if he could get a copy of the inspiring song. Bruce promised he would mail him a cassette. Two days before Christmas, he received the cassette Bruce had promised. “That really touched my heart,” says John.
The next week, Bruce wrote John to ask if they could meet one on one. John agreed. Soon, Bruce brought his family so they could meet and visit with John, too.
When John came up for parole, Bruce talked to the board on John’s behalf. And when John was released, Bruce and his family offered him a room in their home, new clothes, and a job with their family business. “When he did this for me, I thought, Wow, I need to do this for someone else,” recalls John. “So I said, ‘Lord, if You give me what I need to do it, I’ll do the same thing.’”
Power of Obedience
John says God called him back to North Carolina, where he founded an organization that helps former prisoners by meeting them at the gates and providing the spiritual, physical, and financial support they need to begin anew.
“John is doing tremendous work,” says James Murray, Prison Fellowship’s field director in South Carolina. “I believe in the body of Christ, and this particular ministry impacts the least of these. In God’s eyes, the least of these are the greatest of these. I believe that John is one of the greatest of these.”
More than a decade ago, John heard a song about a shepherd boy, who stood as a king in the eyes of God. John took that song to heart. Once a drug dealer, a cheat, and a thief, John Jennings has become a Christian, an entrepreneur, and a fisher of men. And even despite losing his only son to a thoughtless and violent murder, he has found a renewed hope and purpose in his life.
John explains it simply: “God has blessed me.”