As Different as Night From Day: A Transformation Story
About the Guest
His father didn't stick around for his childhood. Getting a job at age 11, he had to grow up fast to help his mother. He would father a child himself when he was only 19. Pastor James Ford shares the amazing story of how God intervened in his life and radically changed the course of his family's history.
James FordPastor James Ford Jr. has been the senior pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago, located on the south side of Chicago, Ill., for nearly 30 years. He also serves as the president of Impact Ministries, an outreach ministry committed to strengthening families in the South Shore community of Chicago.
His father didn’t stick around for his childhood.
As Different as Night From Day: A Transformation Story
James: Sin perverts you. I started getting more perverted, more perverted and doing other things. My wife found out about it; and she said, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” She told me that was what caused her to decide, “He doesn’t really love me like I thought he does. Why should I even be faithful to him?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We will hear from Pastor James Ford today about how God got his attention and transformed his life and his marriage.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I was sitting here trying to think, “When did I develop a well-formed understanding of God’s purpose for marriage?” All I can think is it was a long time after I said, “I do.” You know. I don’t know how many people before they say, “I do,” have a well-formed idea of God’s purposes for marriage.
Dennis: Maybe a seminary graduate.
Bob: (laughter) We just know our purpose for marriage.
Bob: It is a little different than God’s purpose for marriage.
Dennis: It is, but we have a gentleman with us in the studio who knows seven reasons why God created marriage. James Ford joins us on FamilyLife Today. I’m excited you are here today, James. We are always excited about having preachers join us on the broadcast.
James: I am excited, too, Dennis. This is a privilege for me.
Dennis: It is our privilege as well. James is the senior pastor at Christ Bible Church, which is formally South Shore Baptist Church. Where would you think South Shore Baptist Church might be located?
Bob: That would be somewhere in the Florida Keys.
Dennis: Miami. Are we right?
James: (laughter) You are off just a little bit. (laughter)
Dennis: Try a couple thousand miles?
James: I’m telling you, we are in the heart of inner city Chicago.
Dennis: I knew it all along. He and his wife, Leslie, have been married for more than 39 years. They have five children and nine grandchildren. Back to Bob’s point here: When did you first really begin to grapple over God’s purposes for marriage? Did you get it from your mom and dad growing up in the home you grew up in?
James: I didn’t get it from my mother, and I certainly didn’t get it from my father because he was never in the home. As a matter of fact, I never even met him. I had my first view of him when I was 26 years old. I was able to get in contact with an aunt, my only aunt on his side. She sent me a picture of him.
Bob: That was the first time you saw your father?
James: When I was 26 years old.
Bob: Did you ever meet him face-to-face?
James: I never met him face-to-face.
James: The irony of it is—even though he had no influence in my life, I ended up doing the same thing that he did. He was in prison in Tallahassee, Florida, for pushing drugs. Ironically, that is what I ended up doing as well and never had his influence on my life.
Bob: So you were what—in high school, in college—you were starting to getting involved in using drugs and passing them on to others?
James: In high school, but after I left the military is when I started actually dealing drugs.
Bob: Were you married at the time?
James: Yes, I was.
Bob: So tell me how you met your wife and how you decided to get married in the first place.
James: You know, to the previous question you asked about formation: I didn’t have that—not only was my father not there but my mom had nine other children. I have nine siblings by three different fathers.
Dennis: What was your perspective of marriage growing up?
Bob: If you didn’t have it modeled for you and you didn’t have any instruction, why didn’t you follow the pattern you had seen in your own home of just being one of those guys who drops in from time to time?
James: Because when I was 11 years old, I started working. I worked to help my mom. She was on welfare—we grew up on welfare. I worked to help her. I was exposed at this hot dog shop—I was a curb boy. I would start at 7:00 and work until 1:00 in the morning at 11 years old.
I was exposed to smoking cigarettes; I was exposed to marijuana reefer; I was exposed to older women—18, 19—they would come in. I got exposed to all those kinds of things. That is how I got started.
Dennis: At the age of 11!
James: At 11. Yes. At 11. Yes. As I began to get involved in all these things and began to see that my mom had different boyfriends coming in—I knew it wasn’t my uncle; it wasn’t my cousin, as she was saying. I began to form that kind of comprehension of what relationships were all about. It was all about sex. It was like that was my focus. That was my goal.
I met my wife-to-be when she was the grand old age of 8 and I was 12. When I first met her—the first day I met her—I told her I was going to marry her. At least I had a concept of sex in marriage, but we began to “date.” We grew up together.
She got pregnant at 16. I was 19, getting ready to be 20. I knew that this was my child. I had made a promise to my mom and to myself that if I ever got anybody pregnant, I would marry them based on the fact that I didn’t have a father in my life. I was angry because there wasn’t a man in my life. I did marry her; but it was—I was pushing drugs; I was sleeping around. We got married, but our marriage wasn’t very effective.
Dennis: Was she involved in the drug culture as well that you were giving your life to at that point?
James: Yes. She was, too. As a matter of fact, she told me later on she would steal the drugs— drugs that I would be selling—she would steal them and be getting high by herself.
Bob: At 16 she is pregnant; you are almost 20. The two of you decide to “tie the knot” and your reason for marriage at that time was to be the present father that you never had.
James: Right. That was it.
Bob: In spite of all the dysfunction that was going on with the drug use and abuse and with the lack of really a cohesive structure in your family, that marriage held together—at least for a while.
James: For three years.
Bob: At the end of three years, it was starting to head south—wasn’t it?
James: It was unraveling because sin perverts you. I started getting more perverted, more perverted, and doing other things. Then my wife found about it. That really floored her. She told me later on—she told me that was what caused her to decide, “He really doesn’t love me like I thought he does. Why should I even be faithful to him?”
Dennis: At this point in your life, no spiritual light is going on of any kind.
James: No. None whatsoever.
Dennis: But you worked in a place where there was a guy...
James: Yes. (laughter)
Dennis: Explain to our listeners because they have to hear you describe him as you shared earlier with Bob and me—exactly how you described him. Now, don’t cut any slack here.
Dennis: Shoot straight with our listeners, alright?
James: Alright. His name is Ray Reno. I call him Ridge-Running Whoopee From Tennessee. (laughter) When I first met him, there were only two things wrong with him. No. 1: He was white; and No 2: He was southern white, ya’ll. (laughter) I tell people facetiously that I was so racist that I would not even eat white rice. (laughter) I was so racist that I would not take aspirin because you had to pull cotton out of it before you got to the aspirin. (laughter)
I worked at a paper factory in Pittsburgh. I was a low-bed trucker. This guy—he would witness about the Lord—you would know where Ray was because you would see a flood of people at lunchtime, running out...
James: Just scattering. Man, I tell you—like roaches when you turn on the light.
Dennis: He repelled them.
James: Oh, man. You just get in the crowd because that guy who wants to talk about Jesus is behind us. One day he catches me in the cafeteria. I am sitting down by myself. I should have known that something was wrong because no one else was in the cafeteria.
He sits down beside me and he looks at me with that big old grin. He says, “Hi! How are you doing?” I said, “I’m doing fine. How are you?” He says, “Oh, I’m doing fine. What you got there?” I said, “It’s just a sandwich. You know—some bread, some meat.” (laughter) He said, (with a heavy drawl) “Bread? Did you know that Jesus Christ was the bread of life?” I thought, “Man, I got to get away from this guy.” I just left. I used to sell drugs on the job, and he was bad for business.
What happened was—I was a low-bed trucker. I was coming into a station to drop a load so that it could be corrugated. I saw him on a ladder working. I said, “Oh, no. I got to get away from this guy. I am going to drop this load and get out of here real fast.”
I came in too fast; I dropped the load too soon. He grabbed me—he had come down from the ladder. He grabbed me—pulled me out of the way and bam! The load had crashed where I was. The way it was situated—if it had hit me, it would have maimed me or cut me in half. It could have done some real damage because a load weighs on the average of 800 lbs. to a ton. I said to him—I looked at him with my eyes all big, my mouth dropped open. I said, “Man! You probably saved my life.”
He said, (with a heavy drawl) “Life! Do you know that Jesus Christ saved our life?” I thought, “I don’t want to hear this.” (laughter) Then something—in my mind—“He just saved your life. The least you can do is listen to him.” He gave me the first witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I could remember. I went back through the museum of my mind to see, “Had anybody ever told me this before?” Even when I sat in church—no one had ever told me that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh who died, was buried, and rose again the third day.
Of course, at that time—you know the Bible says that when the Word is planted, Satan snatches it. But he planted that Word. A few days later my wife and I were getting ready to go to the divorce court. We were getting ready to separate. I told her, “You know, let’s not be enemies. I definitely want to see my son and take care of him, but I am leaving. You stay here. In the morning, I am gone.”
I said to her—sin is perverted—I said, “Can we have one last night together before I leave in the morning?” She said, “Yes.” So we are sitting there on side of the bed. We are smoking a reefer and drinking what is called Robitussin. It is a cough syrup, but back then we used to use it to enhance our high.
We were sitting there doing that. We were high as the proverbial kite. She says to me, “What about Jay?” That is my oldest son. He was my only son at the time. When she said that—I know now—hindsight is 20-20—that it was the Holy Spirit who was bringing conviction on me because when my mother told me what my father had done to me, I was very angry. I said to her, “If I ever have a child, I will never abandon my child. I will never do what my daddy did to me.”
Here I was, getting ready to do the same thing to my child that my father had done to me. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. The Holy Spirit used that to convict me of my sin. I tell people all the time, “I’m a good Baptist boy, but I felt that high in me be poured out like a glass of water.
Dennis: You are speaking of the high you had on drugs.
James: That’s right. That’s right.
Dennis: It was gone.
James: It was gone. I was cold sober. The first words out of my mouth because I kept hearing—I kept hearing—I kept hearing this voice. “Beau.” That’s my nickname. (with a heavy drawl) “Beau, no matter what your problem is, Jesus Christ is the answer.” (laughter) It just kept going in my head. That Word that he gave me—I realized, “Man! I’m in trouble.”
The first thing I did was I fell prostrate on the floor. I began to cry out to God, “Please don’t hurt me because I didn’t know You were there. Please don’t hurt me.” Like the reality of His existence hit me like a ton of bricks. No one had to tell me that I was a sinner because I had a PhD in it, you know. I said, “Man! I’m in trouble.” Those words: “that God commended His love toward us” and “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
As best I could, I said, “God, I just give myself to You.” I was looking at my wife because I thought she would say, “You gone crazy?” But she was cold sober, too. When I told her this, she said, “You’re right. You’re right.” That night we both gave our lives to Jesus Christ.
Dennis: She became a Christian at the same point you did?
James: Same time. Same time. I tell people, “I vaguely remember, but it was September 29, 1974, between 11:30 pm and 12 am at 7372 Formosa Way, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15208. I was on the right side of the bed, the side closest to the alley...”
Bob: You barely remember. (laughter)
James: Vaguely. I vaguely remember that.
Dennis: It was transformation.
James: Oh! It was...
Dennis: The encounter with Jesus Christ.
James: Oh. It was total transformation. That night we stayed up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Then I had to get up early to go to work. I decided, “I’m not going to tell anybody about this,” because I had a reputation on the job. I knew I was going to be terminated, but on my way out—Ray was up on a ladder working—he was an electrician. I broke free and I ran to the base of the ladder. I said, “Man, me and my wife found God last night! What you told me kept going through my head.”
He came down and embraced me and said, “You didn’t find God. God has never been lost. You and your wife have accepted Jesus Christ and have become believers in Him. Now you need to grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Bob: And he went on to disciple you once a week for the next—how long?
James: Two and a half years.
James: Even now—I mean we are very close. He is ten years older than I am. We have been together for the whole thirty-some years that I have been a believer.
Dennis: You ended up going to Moody Bible, and he was there for your graduation.
James: For my graduation and when I graduated from Trinity. Every leg of the journey where you would want to look out and see a father, I looked out and saw him.
I got to tell you this story! I lived in an alley. It was called Drug Alley—that was the nickname because there were a lot of young people. You could get any kind of drug you wanted. Whenever I flushed the drugs down the toilet—I wasn’t big time but I had two people push for me. They began to spread the word. We led 13 of our family and friends to Christ in three months—the first three months of our conversion.
Clyde, who was the one I got my drugs from, lived in this alley, too. Of course, I had to pay him for the drugs I flushed down the toilet, but he came to me. We had been probably discipled by Ray somewhere close to three or four months, maybe. He came to me. He said, “Listen. That guy—we think he is a Nark. We think you done rolled over.” I said, “No. No. No. I’m a Christian now. I am saved, and he is a believer in Jesus Christ. He led me to Christ.” He said, “I don’t know about all this stuff; but I tell you this: If he turns out to be a Nark and you done rolled over on us, you are a Snitch. You are dead.”
I wasn’t worried about it, but I was worried about Ray. I said to Ray, I said, “Ray, listen, I sure appreciate your coming here to our community; but your life may be in danger. I have seen individuals shot for a $5 bag of drugs. I don’t want anything to happen to you so I want to let you know. Maybe we could come to your house.”
He told me—he said, “Beau, if Jesus Christ can shed His blood for us, then brother, I can shed my blood for you.” I get choked up—not as much as I used to. I used to just weep like a baby because here is a man—you know—that just met me four or five months ago, and he tells me he would give his life for me. You know, man!
Dennis: As you have been telling your story, James, I am just thinking of you and your wife as the world would view you guys—a couple of druggies.
James: Man, that’s it.
Dennis: Selling, peddling drugs.
Dennis: Not much of any kind of purpose whatsoever. About to split the sheets as a couple. I’m thinking—I have a quote by C.S. Lewis. He says, “There are no such things as mere mortals...”
Dennis: ...but people who bear the imprint of the glory of God who are eternal beings.” That is what you guys were. It took a guy from Tennessee to cut through the vibrato about drugs and dealing and share the gospel. To that person who may be listening today—they may need to hear the words that James heard. Whatever you are facing, the answer to your problem—to what you are facing right now—is Jesus Christ.
Dennis: No matter what you are into—the issue is: Whether you lay out on a floor like James did and prostrate himself before God and say, “Don’t kill me, God,” ” but whatever you have done, repent, turn to Christ, and let’s “get with the program” and start becoming who God created you to be. That is what life is all about.
Bob: I heard someone say one time, “If you don’t think Jesus is the answer, you don’t understand your problem.” I think they are right. We didn’t get to talk much about Pastor Ford’s book...
Dennis: Well, he has written a book about marriage; but it has to have a context.
Bob: It does, and anybody who heard our conversation today and gets a copy of the book is going to understand that these principles—while they come out of Scripture—have also been through the crucible. This is not something that is theoretical for you. You have had to live this stuff out.
The book we are talking about is called Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage. We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy. Again, it is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-F as in “Family” L as in “Life” and then the word TODAY and ask for the book Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage by Pastor James Ford. The website again—FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-F as in “Family” L as in “Life” and then the word TODAY. We can make arrangements to get a copy of Pastor Ford’s book sent to you.
Now, let me say, “Thanks,” to all of the FamilyLife Today listeners—those of you who have been listening for a long time and who have gotten in touch with us this month. We have been hearing from a lot of new folks, and that is encouraging. We have had a goal this month of trying to encourage 2,500 of you who are regular listeners, but who have never gotten in touch with us, to call or go online and consider making a donation to FamilyLife Today. We have heard from a number of you, and we are grateful for that.
You can keep track of how we are doing toward that 2,500-person goal if you want to by going to our website FamilyLifeToday.com. I just want to say, “Thanks,” to those of you who took the challenge and have stepped up. You stop and think about it, 2,500 people—that’s 50 people from every state. The folks in Texas and California need to make up for the folks in North Dakota because we have not heard from 50 North Dakotans this month; but again, those are just averages and it has been encouraging to hear from a lot of our new listeners.
This month, whether you are a new donor to FamilyLife or you have made a donation in the past, we want to make available to you as a thank-you gift for any donation you are able to make a two-CD series with our friends Tim and Joy Downs. They have written a book called The Seven Conflicts of Marriage. This CD series helps unpack some of those common causes of conflict in a marriage relationship and helps couples know what to do when you experience conflict in your marriage. Again, if you would like to receive the CDs when you make your donation this month, either online or by phone, just mention that you would like either the CD series on conflict or if you are donating online, type the word “SEVEN” in the key code box on the online donation form; and we will send the CDs out to you.
Let me once again mention that if you are a new donor to FamilyLife and you are able to make a donation of $100 or more this month, we would like to say, “Thank you” by sending you a certificate so that you and your spouse can attend one of our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences as our guest. The certificate can be passed along to somebody else if you would like them to go as your guest. Again, it is our way of saying, “Thanks for your support of the ministry.”
We kick off our fall season of Weekend to Remember® getaways next month. These are great getaway events for couples. I can’t think of anything you could do for your marriage over the course of a weekend that would be any better for you—so I hope you can come out and be with us at one of these upcoming events. Thanks, again, for your support of the ministry. We appreciate you, and it is good to hear from you.
We want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when Pastor James Ford is going to be here. We promise tomorrow we are going to talk about some of the reasons why God created marriage—help us understand God’s purpose for marriage. That comes up tomorrow, and I hope you can be here.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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