John: “It Was God’s Will That I Stayed”

Fall 2005

My name is John Bollenbach. I was stuck in the world of addictions, divorces, lost jobs, careers, lies and deceit, and still trying to keep my head above water in gambling and my body filled with booze and drugs. I’d sleep wherever I passed out.

My parents finally had enough and told me to check out the Rockford Rescue Mission. The time came for a prearranged meeting with the staff there. But I told my parents I was too sick to go. So they went without me. When they returned, they gave me an ultimatum: “This is it. Talk to the people at the Mission or ….”

I made an appointment to see the director. But before I went, I medicated myself with a few hits and some drinks because I was afraid.

At 4:30 a.m. on Monday, January 5, 2004, I ran out of drugs. At 8 a.m., I drank my last drink. And at 9:29 a.m., I took my last puff of a cigarette. At 9:30 a.m., my father and I walked into the Mission and met with the director. We then went into a room, held hands and prayed. As I looked up at my father, I saw a tear in his eye. I died.

Every night those first three weeks or so, the staff asked if they would see me in the morning. Lots of evenings I couldn’t answer. Even the director let me know that if I left, there would be a bed for me when I chose to come back.

Looking back, it was God’s will that I stayed. For me all bets were off, and I had no reason to stay. At first I wanted to change things only to accommodate myself because life was totally about me. But changes didn’t happen. Looking back, I know this was good because I was totally out of control and answering to no one. I had to learn to make new and better choices.

I started doing the things the staff encouraged me to do. I asked someone to be my sponsor. Then I asked someone to be my spiritual mentor. I also had a staff member as case manager. These three men became my core support group. I met with each one at least once a week. Today I still meet with them a few times a week. They have become close friends in my recovery.

My true transformation toward Christ came when I volunteered to serve for the prayer table at lunch. People came up and requested prayers for jobs, housing, relationships, and more.  I prayed for each of them and their needs. Some of them returned to tell me that things were happening. Their stories convinced me that answers to prayer are not mere coincidence. This helped me to pray by faith in God’s goodness and power and to surrender afresh to Jesus Christ. Before I came into the Mission, my average prayer lasted 15 seconds if that. Now, I don’t even keep track of the time. When I read the Bible, it was only for classes. Now I spend at least half an hour daily.

For quite a while I taught Christianity 101 on a volunteer basis to the guys in the crisis department’s New Day Program. I wanted to do it to give back. But instead it provided the opportunity for me to learn more and more of God’s Word and how to apply it in my life.

While working on the serving line at meal times, I met a volunteer who suggested that I apply for part-time employment where she worked. It would be the perfect fit for my program at the Mission, while giving me the opportunity to start earning money. I went to US Bank with my resume, filled out an application and had an interview. They offered me a job and worked my schedule around my responsibilities at the Mission. I truly believe this was God’s doing. After a time, I moved to full-time hours and was promoted to Teller Coordinator. God has blessed me with great co-workers. Actually, God has blessed me in all areas of my life.

I still volunteer at the Mission and am a member of Salem Lutheran Church.  I am also active in Alcoholics Anonymous and Credo. 

Today I realize how much we all need each other. I couldn’t have had a totally changed life without God using so many people like you.