I was the least likely to succeed and, probably, survive! My dad, John, was a National Sales Director and Mom, Joyce was an Interior Decorator, comprised my parents. Four brothers, each first name beginning with a “J,” along with myself meant lots of fun growing up complete with tackle football in the family room after we removed all the furniture, and, of course, Mom and Dad out for an evening dinner.
A kid who lived around the corner from our house turned me on to drugs at the bus stop. And, my next older brother was doing much more serious drugs. Parties, getting high, and defiance to my parents characterized the “Jerry” of those days. It all culminated one night when I became very ill at a party and was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers. The family doctor prescribed me Valium and sleeping pills – a disastrous diagnosis for someone young and aimless. I quit school so my Dad had tutors come to my house so I would not fall behind. Every day I was quarantined in our country club house spiraling deeper in depression and losing my will to live.
One fateful day I called my dad at his office and said, “I want to kill myself.” Rushed to the hospital, I ended up in a drug-induced walking coma for eight days, and then checked out to go home. Johnny, Jay, Jeff, and Joel were positioned on the front steps and welcomed me back home on Easter Sunday, 1973. Dad had orchestrated the whole scene. I had no hope. Every day I wanted to die. I suppose that is why I have always had such an avid interest in suicide, written extensively on the subject, and intervened in scores of people’s lives, which like me at that time and had such a strong death wish. When you have gone through the deep valley of despair and survived, you understand other people, of all ages, who fight suicidal ideation.
My oldest brother Johnny became engaged to a girl named Teresa. To be polite my dad insisted that we go visit her church. I thought Christians were Boy Scounts or grandmothers and had absolutely no interest in attending. Dad persuaded, or should I say bribed me, by purchasing a professional foosball table as my birthday gift on May 12 with one caveat: He promised to take it back unless I attended Windermere Camp with the youth group of Teresa’s church in June, 1973. I must have looked out of place with my long blond hair, jeans with a marijuana patch sewed on them, and a dejected look on my face the day we were to disembark for the three hour drive to Lake-of-the-Ozarks, MO, and attend what I determined would be a week of monastery.
The camp speaker was Bob Werner and I sat on the very back row until the last night. A gorgeous high school girl named Cindy started walking down the long aisle headed straight for me. I had certainly noticed her night-after-night. She was so pretty. As she approached me, Cindy reached out her hand and said, “Jerry, will you sit up with me tonight?” I mumbled something like, “Wherever you lead, I will follow!” Dutifully Cindy led me to the second row from the front and just before Bob began his message she leaned over and said, “Now Jerry, listen, this can change your life.” Why had Cindy come and retrieved me? What if she would have ignored the thought to help a struggling, young druggie on the back row that last night of camp? Where would I be today?
So, I listened. For the very first time I heard the Gospel or Good News that God loved me so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for me. And, when Jesus rose from the dead, he conquered sin, and demonstrated the power to transform any person who would put their faith and trust in Him. When Bob extended an invitation for students to come forward and make a personal commitment of faith in Christ, I left my seat and headed straight to the front of that long auditorium. The unforgettable night was Thursday, June 21, 1973 – really, the greatest night of my life. Little did I know the plans God had to use me to speak to millions of people and point them to the same hope I found in Christ.
The attached clip, in very broad-brush strokes highlights several decades, where I have traveled to hundreds of cities internationally and spoken to many people. In addition, a few million students have heard me in public school assemblies and I was privileged to witness literally thousands of students make life-changing decisions. Along my journey I have written 13 books and produced 17 documentaries that have been filmed all over the world. My wife, Dr. Cristie Jo and I are now working on our most important documentary. You will hear all about it in the days to come. Media communication has become a passion for both Cristie and me. Due to the phenomenal technological advances in trans media, we have many extremely creative plans for the future. Join us on the journey … it is going to be very exciting!