A path forward

by Jahzebulun Reid
as told to Hugo Bravo

Some people tend to turn away from God because they think they’re unworthy of His love. I can promise that if someone sits across from me and we go story–for–story, by the end of our chat, they’ll ask me to point them to the nearest church. 

I have been a soldier who has marched a path towards Christ, and away from Him. I’ve carried the Bible in my pocket next to my drug pipe as I entered a Salvation Army church, and later a crack house. My body has been broken, through addiction and other ways. I have committed crimes and lost years in jail. The book of Revelation would call me “lukewarm water,” only good for being spat out. If I had been alive 100 years ago, I would have been one of the guys in town who had ruined his life, was shunned from society, and not allowed to enter any church. You would have seen me on the steps of The Salvation Army, calling out to William Booth for help. 

The recovery 

The first time I heard about The Salvation Army, I was in my teens. One of my drug– running buddies talked about the Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), getting clean, and meeting Jesus. I told him to have at it and enjoy, but I wasn’t interested. Being raised in the Rastafarian religion, I had read the Old Testament and the Torah, but never the New Testament. 

When I became a father at 21, the mother of my daughter Selena threw me out of the house. She would only let me back in on the condition that I finish a recovery program. She gave me a bus pass and said that The Salvation Army ARC was waiting for me. 

Although I was one of the youngest men at the ARC, I was appointed the house manager, and finished the program. That was enough to get me back in my house to see my daughter. But even then, I couldn’t stay clean; I took the ARC program two more times after that. 

From my first time in the ARC, I had attended The Salvation Army in Worcester, Mass. The church felt like home to me. I wanted to become a soldier, and find a path closer to Christ. Though I was still working on my recovery, I thought after taking the program three times, I had it under control. 

There’s a saying that goes, “inside of us all lives two wolves; one good and one bad. You must decide which one to feed.” I thought that I could feed both wolves and continue my old ways. When I went back into the streets and started using again, the people in ministry at the Worcester Corps noticed, even when I showed up to service. I felt like they knew, but weren’t outright saying it to me or scolding me. Instead, they were giving me a different kind of encouragement than before, reminding me how important my recovery was. 

The relapse 

On New Year’s Eve 2009, I chose to go to a party instead of midnight service at the corps. Driving home under the influence, I was speeding, lost control, and crashed my car into, of all places, a church. I woke up in a hospital recovery room with my daughter, my girlfriend, and my whole church family watching me. 

Children are sometimes told a story that a shepherd will break the legs of a wandering sheep so it cannot walk too far off and needs the shepherd to carry it. Like a sheep that had wandered off, the accident broke both my legs. I didn’t fly through the windshield, but the pressure from impact shattered both femurs. The doctors put rods in my legs, and then had to leave them in, because the bone had grown around the rods like moss on a tree. Even when my legs healed, I still walked with a limp. I saw it as a reminder that God can heal me, but did not want me to forget what had happened when I strayed. 

In 2015, I had been clean for four years, having avoided drugs, alcohol, and even cold medicine. I felt like a million dollars and fully recovered. I forgot that, as an addict, my recovery never ends. One night, a friend hosted a party, and I wanted to celebrate for the past birthdays when I had stayed clean. Normal people can have a drink and be well, so why couldn’t I? The next morning, I felt fine, so I kept drinking. “I’m cured,” I thought to myself. “All I needed was an extended length of being clean.“ Later that day, I walked into a bar and ordered more drinks. 

The punishment

There’s a joke that talks about the devil sitting outside of a church every Sunday, weeping because everyone inside is blaming all their sins on him. But we have our own nature that serves the flesh, and our own free will that puts us on the path to temptation. When I walked into that bar for a drink, I had no intention of also getting high. But when someone came up to me and asked if I had “the stuff,” that thought entered my mind, even as I rebuffed him. I didn’t have the stuff, but I could get it. 

That night, I used, and kept using for two days straight. When the money ran out, I thought to myself, I think I’ll rob some gas stations to do more stuff. Today, doing something like that is the furthest thing from my mind, but that day, it was all I could I think about. 

While the addict is busy focusing on the recovery, the addiction is in the gym, lifting weights and getting stronger. My addiction came back like never before. I did seven robberies in about 11 hours, and I was doing these crimes in Worcester, where I had no record and no one knew who I was. But God knew, and The Salvation Army knew. I was eventually caught by a young police officer named Danny who had volunteered at The Salvation Army. We had talked about working in ministry, and maybe even recording some music together in the future. Officer Danny identified me immediately. 

The return 

While in jail, I made a promise to myself that I would use my love of The Salvation Army in any way the Lord would have me. There were Catholic, Protestant, Rastafarian, and Muslim services for the men in jail, and I attended all of them. I took prisoners under my wing who needed someone to look out for them, just as Salvation Army officers had done for me in the past. 

Whenever I would get any financial assistance from the outside, I would tithe 10 percent of it to other prisoners who needed it more than me. Once I got to know them, I invited them to service with me. I became known in jail as the “church guy.” Everyone knew to not offer me drinks or smokes. If someone wanted to know about God, they would always send him to me. I talked so much about The Salvation Army that they thought I was on the Army’s payroll. I told them, “No, but they have always been there for me when I needed them.” 

I was paroled in 2022, coincidentally to The Salvation Army in Springfield, Mass. I learned there is still a need for someone like me to be involved in ministry. I know what it’s like to be an addict who arrives at the ARC with only the clothing on his back, to succeed and then fail in his recovery, only to remain in God’s endless grace. 

I’ve met men who have been in the same dark places as me. Years after I left, they continue to run the same streets. I’m happy to share my story with them and the opportunity of a path to recovery. It’s a chance to get their mind together, be treated with kindness, and be blessed with the same endless grace that I received. It must sound to them like I’m plugging The Salvation Army, like it did in jail. But soon they learn I’m really giving all the credit to the Lord.

When the Bible says “that no weapon formed against you shall prosper,” it also accounts for the weapons you’ve formed against yourself. Nothing that we can do will separate us from God’s love, no matter how far we fall. I’ve fallen farther than most, and yet, I know God and The Salvation Army still have a path waiting for me. 

Read more from the latest issue of SAconnects.