They came to the Mission eight months apart, both crack cocaine addicts who were running out of chances in life. Both, too, were Christians who had turned away from God: Debra for 16 years, Jerold more recently.
Jerald says: The humbling part was letting people know what was really going on. I was living a double life, and people were starting to notice things.
The last time I smoked crack cocaine, it hit me. I said to myself: “What the heck are you doing?” Crack cocaine is straight from hell. With me, it was just the ultimate in being totally selfish. There is no end to it. Once you start it, there’s no stopping it. Nothing else matters. Your kids, your family, your marriage … nothing matters.
But I knew coming to the Mission was the fix. In all of my prayers, the word “rescue” just kept coming to mind.
Thank God for the Rockford Rescue Mission. This place, from corner to corner, is anointed with restoration power. I felt it from the day I walked in here.
But, a relationship was the last thing I thought about. When I got here I said, “I’m going to serve God and I am going to serve alone. It says in the Bible, it’s better that you don’t be married.” I claimed that. I stood on that. And then, in walks Debra Johnson.
Debra says: The first time we met, we were both stuffing envelopes for The Rescuer. It was February 2007. I had only been there a couple of weeks. Jerald had been there eight months.
I came because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I had let my life fall apart. I didn’t have a place of my own. I lived in a small town and was running out of places to couch surf. My relationship with my four kids was nothing. And I was spending all my money on drugs.
Jerald: Our relationship started as me just encouraging her. In that process, we started sharing our lives – just a little bit at first. But the more freedom we got, the more time we spent together. We walked the bike path, sharing our lives and experiences. Neither one of us was looking for a relationship. But the more we talked, the more we both realized that we were more open and honest than we had ever been with anybody. We could be so open and vulnerable with each other because we weren’t looking for anything. There were no false pretenses, no hidden agendas.
We kept everything open and on the table about our relationship. The Mission discourages this, normally. We were healing. I started out trying to encourage her. But once she opened up to God and the Holy Spirit and I was able to see what God was doing through her life, it turned around and became an inspiration to me. We built a bond. By the time that had happened, then people could see. And we realized it, too, that this could lead into something. Six months in, I knew I wanted her in my life.
We got very, very careful with it, so that we didn’t enter into sin or put ourselves in places where we would be tempted to sin. Her director and my director knew what was going on, and with their encouragement to be careful, they blessed it.
Debra: We got married February 22 of this year, at our church, Crossroads Christian Fellowship. All but one of our kids (we have a combined nine) were there. My 12-year-old daughter stood up and gave a speech at the wedding reception. She said, “I’m so happy for my mom. I’m so happy that she found somebody that cares for her.”
Jerald: What we hope people see from our story is that the God we serve is a God of restoration. No matter how bleak it may look, Jesus will always be the answer. And that’s taking nothing away from programs and treatment facilities, but God through his Holy Spirit is the answer. He can fix it.
Debra: You can let Jesus be Lord of your life, for real. The Mission helped me understand that Jesus still loves me and that God is a forgiving God.
-- as told to Jim Killam