Aubrey L. Duncan
From Crack to Christ: A Testimony of God's Amazing Grace
It was in the midst of a twelve year plus crack cocaine addiction that an associate of mine remarked to me, “you don’t need money…you need Jesus”. That was the last thing I needed to hear. Upon hearing those words, I thought that it was the most unkind and terrible thing Captain Medas could have said to me. I came to him penniless, homeless, and expected that he would have some sympathy on me and loan me some money.
It hadn’t been very long ago that I was evicted from my modest one bedroom apartment and had my belongings stored at Medas’ warehouse where he ran a shipping company in Brooklyn, New York. I was very grateful for him for not charging me any monies for storing my furniture and other household items at his warehouse.
I had become familiar with Captain Medas in the process of publishing and marketing a magazine targeted to the Caribbean community in the United States. He was a supporter of the magazine and had placed some advertising with it. Our relationship had been one of professional friendship. Coming to him to ‘borrow’ a few dollars was quite out of the ordinary. He was no doubt aware of that fact.
As I made my request, he looked at me, eyeball to eyeball, and asked a very poignant question, “Aubrey, do you use drugs?” I boldly responded, “NO”. Of course I was lying. More likely than not, had he given me any money, I would have put it in the crack cocaine pipe. It must have been his spiritual discernment that caused him to ask me such a question. The old sea captain was a religious man and an elder in his church. In retrospect, his response to my request for money with an invitation to come to Jesus and visit his church was one of those moments of divine destiny that I did not immediately recognize.
It was not in any way a conscious response to the call of Jesus on my life; but rather out of my respect for and admiration of Captain Medas that led me to accept his invitation and visit his church. His invitation evoked a double surprise. First, I was not brought up in a religious home, so going to church was a brand new experience for me. Secondly, I was quite surprised when the captain told me that his church met on Saturdays. I, like most of the people I knew, thought that going to church on Sunday was the right, God ordained thing to do.
Upon visiting his church about a week later, I found the members to be quite loving and accepting of me. I would continue to visit sporadically as I struggled with my crack cocaine addiction which remained the driving force of my life.
Because of my addiction, I was, about one year later, brought face to face with death. For an entire week I managed, by the grace of Almighty God, not to smoke any crack. I called my only daughter, Undra, who was about twelve years old and had spent the previous weekend with me, to let her know that I was doing fine. I had sold quite a bit of advertising for the magazine that week. I had made enough money to pay some funds to my magazine’s designer and purchase some groceries.
But then came Friday evening. In late afternoon, on my way home to the apartment, I decided that I would get a couple of $5.00 vials of crack cocaine. I knew I was deceiving myself into thinking that that would be all for the night. It would be in the wee hours of the next morning that reality finally stepped in.
I rushed up to my second floor apartment, put down my briefcase, took off my jacket and tie then lit up for my first hit in a week. The euphoria was as when I smoked crack for the very first time. It wasn’t too long and and several trips to the crack dealer that a couple of female associates stopped by the apartment. Together we smoked crack until about 3:30 in the morning. Then I realized that all the money I had left from my advertising sales that week had gone up in smoke.
Annette and her friend seemed to be fully enjoying the evening until they realized that the crack was smoked up and my money was all gone. I knew that they were not there because I was such a nice guy. They were in it for the crack. I was stupid and high out of my mind deceiving myself into believing I was having fun. They wanted more crack and were disappointed when I told them that there was none I had no money left. They both decided that they had someplace to go. I let them out of the apartment and retired back to the couch, the only piece of furniture in the apartment beside my dining room table and four chairs. I started scraping the crack pipe for residue and looking under the couch’s cushions and on the floor for any bit of crack I can find. That's what crack addiction would do to your mind.
I eventually laid back on the couch and with wide-open, glassy eyes gazing into the ceiling, I thought of what a fool I had been in wasting all my money. I was sweating profusely. My heart was beating so loudly and rapidly that someone sitting at the other end of the room could have heard it. Amidst it all, I was craving for another hit. I jumped up and began searching my pants’ pockets hoping to find some money. I was greatly relieved when, lo and behold, I found four single dollar bills crumpled together in the pocket of my slacks. I immediately got dressed and rushed out of the door to the crack dealer. It was now about 4:30 a.m. My eyes seemed to be protruding from its sockets and I looked like a zombie.
As I approached the drug pusher, I reached into my pocket and took out the four dollar bills all crumbled together. I said to him, “I only have four dollars, let me get one”. I proceeded to give him the money which he placed in his pocket without counting it. After all, I had spent almost two hundred dollars with him over the course of the evening. What happened next was both exciting and frightening. He handed me four $5.00 vials of crack cocaine. He obviously thought I said that I needed four vials. I hurriedly turned around and ran towards my apartment which was about one city block away. On my way back to the apartment, I hoped to see Annette and her friend but they were nowhere to be found.
If using crack cocaine is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette, which it is, then for me, that night was the ultimate. As I approached the front door of my four-story apartment building, I glanced over my shoulder to see whether the drug dealer was coming after me. There is one thing I knew for sure, had he realized what had just transpired, you would not now be reading this account, I would have been a dead man. Looking back, I am thoroughly convinced that through it all God was with me. There was no other way in the world I was able to survive the events of that night. I have come to realize how much the grace of God is afforded us sinners and that He does not easily give up on us.
No sooner than I entered the apartment, I started smoking again. I was out of control. Deep inside I knew that what I was doing was not only stupid and wrong, but extremely dangerous and life threatening. Nevertheless, I was powerless to stop. I smoked the four vials in rapid succession. With each hit I took, my heart pumped faster, harder and louder. I sweated more profusely but I kept on going until it was all finished.
I later came to realize that there was an intense struggle for my life. The enemy of my soul was ready to take me out; but my God of love, mercy and grace would not let go of me. I realized how much He is determined to save us all.
Finally, I threw myself on the crack-smoke filled couch. I was alone and helpless. My eyes were like brightly polished marble as they seemed to protrude through my eyelids which were unable to close. I knew that I was at death’s door. I placed my hand on my heart, laid back and literally cried out to a God to spare my life. I had never felt that way since I began smoking crack cocaine several years prior or since. The thought came to my mind, ‘what would my family and friends say if I was found dead from an overdose?’ I was in deep desperation and pleaded with God to give me another chance. He demonstrated to me that He is indeed a God who does answer sinners’ prayers. It was not that I knew Him; but I am grateful that He not only knew me, but heard me.
He did surely answer my prayers that night. As the day dawned, my body rhythm began to gradually slow down; but the effects of twelve plus hours of smoking crack was very much present. In my mind, I kept promising God that if He would save my life, I would never smoke crack cocaine again. In my debilitated and depraved state of mind, I heard the Lord speaking to me. It was crystal clear. He kept saying to me, “Go to church…go to church”. It was now about nine o’clock on Saturday morning and through the power and grace of Almighty God I was able to get up from the couch. There was no other way in the world I was able to get up.
The only church I had ever attended was the one my former business associate, Lawrence Medas, had invited me to. The pastor, Dr. F.E. Roy Jeffries, was somewhat drawn to me. He would find time to chat with me on any occasion I attended his church. He always had encouraging words for me and I enjoyed his preaching very much. He seemed to bring a certain practicality to God’s word that I never heard from the television ministries I was fond of looking at and listening to when I was sober enough to do so.
On this particular Sabbath morning, following that unforgettable Friday night, I felt not only compelled but propelled to go to his church. I realized that I had not taken my clothes out of the cleaners as I normally would do on Friday afternoons. Besides, I didn’t have many clothes since most of my money was consumed in the crack cocaine pipe. My slacks and jacket that I wore the previous day were sweaty and rumpled. I reached for an old sweater and a pair of blue jeans. I quickly got dressed, washed my face, combed my hair, brushed my teeth and started out to church. It never occurred to me what anyone might say when they saw me in this condition at church. On my previous visits, I was quite ‘appropriately’ attired, displaying my Dr. Jekyll persona.
The church was more than three miles from where I lived. I had no money but God had told me, “Go to church”. I had a very large Bible which I had bought for $2.00 from a roadside vendor in downtown Brooklyn, New York some years ago. It was a King James Version. It was about fourteen inches long and ten inches wide and three inches thick. In addition to the Scriptures, it contained lots of resourceful information. I read it as often as I could but never quite saw the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. For me, it was an intellectual exercise more than anything else. With my cherished Bible in hand, I started on my way. I was sweating even more profusely than the night before. The junkie, Mr. Hyde persona, was present but I kept on going. I was paranoid yet deeply self conscious of my despicable physical condition.
As I arrived at the church, I could sense that everyone, from the greeters to my friend Medas detected that something was strangely different about me. The welcome was not as warm and friendly as it had been in the past. Some stared at me as though I was a creature from another planet. It was evident that in their minds I was out of place. None of it mattered to me. After the night I had just gone through, I was simply so happy to be alive and wanted only to hear a word from the Lord. I was convinced that if there was anytime I needed God, it was then.
It was a little past eleven thirty o’clock when I arrived at Philadelphia church on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Jeffries had just begun to preach. In his usual animated, dramatic and charismatic style, he was talking about who man is and what was his true relation to God. He had a life size mirror as a prop on the pulpit as he dramatized how man was created in the image of God. I was no Bible student; however, what he was saying seemed to be tailor-made for me. I walked to the very front of the church and sat on the second row on the right side of the sanctuary. I knew I was a spectacle but that had not mattered at all to me. I was simply thankful to be alive.
Pastor Jeffries obviously noticed my strange condition but I could see no indication that he resented or otherwise was displeased with me. He kept on preaching and I listened most attentively. After a short while I felt relaxed, forgetting about my present condition and the events of the previous night. Based upon his presentation, I began to focus on who God is, who I am and what is my relationship is to Him. Despite my circumstances, I had never felt this valuable in my life before. Dr. Jeffries looked directly into my eyes on several occasions as he brought home the point of what man can be in Jesus Christ. I don’t remember his Scripture texts, but the message was clear. That moment is inevitably etched on my mind. It was the moment I began consciously to focus on the mercy of God and His love for me.
At the end of the meeting, the good pastor descended from the platform and came directly over to where I was sitting. He gave me a most penetrating stare, an ironclad handshake, and simply asked, “how are you”. I humbly replied, “I am fine, sir”. He gave me the brightest smile imaginable and moved on to exit the sanctuary leading the processional. His actions spoke louder to my ears than any words he uttered that morning. It said to me that I am somebody, God loves me and so did he. I felt the touch of God’s amazing grace and unfathomable love through Pastor Jeffries.
I hurried out of the church not stopping to say anything to anybody except a passing hello. It was in the middle of summer and the temperature was very hot, perhaps eighty degrees or more. I started my journey back to my apartment, sweating profusely,and thanking God for speaking so clearly and directly to me. I meditated on my experience of the previous night. I thought on how close I had come to dying and how God had spared my life. I contemplated the message from Dr. Jeffries and how it spoke to me personally. I reflected on the stare, the handshake, and smile he gave me. My mind reflected on the religious classes I had to take during my high school years in my country of Guyana, South America. Those lessons now began to make sense.
Beyond those religious classes I had taken in high school, my conscious religious experience had been almost non-existent. Before visiting Dr. Jeffries’ church, I had not attended a church service since I was about ten or eleven years old. prior to that eventful night and subsequently encountering Dr. jeffries the next day, I knew very little of my Heavenly Father and much less of how to relate to Him. My experience on that almost fatal night taught me that I can call out to my Father and that He will hear and answer.
I always kept my big white Bible on my dining room table located just inside my apartment door. It was filled with colorful maps of the Bible lands. It contained helpful, easy to understand study guides of the great themes of the Bible. I particularly enjoyed the commentaries on the life and parables of Jesus Christ. I read it whenever I was sober enough to do so. It never occurred to me that God was moving in my life to draw me ever closer to Him. I later was convicted that my Father had led me to that Bible. Having had that experience I began to take a closer, more conscious look into His word.
As I perused my coveted Bible, my thoughts would take me to the Bible lands. My mind was being impressed with the unfathomable love of God and the grand theme of salvation for men’s souls. As I read the life of Jesus, I began to see not only the great love that God has for the human race; but my eyes were opened to the lengths to which He would go to save a sinner like me. I begun to experience the great joy and comfort Jesus’ acts have brought to men’s hearts.
I was impressed with the parables in a very special way. Though I did not grasp their full meaning, I was intrigued of what a great story teller Jesus is. He would take the most complex issues and through a simple story made it plain so that the smallest child, the unlearned, and uneducated could understand. Imperceptibly, but surely, I was being drawn to my Savior. He was verily delivering me from the enemy’s grasp.
It was not as if I was intentionally seeking to know God in a deliberate way; rather I was simply attracted to the Bible and the story of Jesus. As I contemplate those experiences, I realize that God was not only drawing me closer to Him; but He was preparing me to be an ambassador for Him. I had no human Bible instructor; but by His Holy Spirit, I was being enlightened by and edified in the magnitude of His love for me and all humanity.
My rather increasing personal Bible studies were supplemented by my tuning into the great Televangelists on my dilapidated television set. I thought that they were so dynamic, charismatic and knowledgeable. However, my own personal studies and attendance at Pastor F.E. Roy Jeffries church had convinced me, beyond the shadow of any doubt, of the soundness and validity of God’ Seventh-day Sabbath.
There was a great conflict in my mind as I would get high on crack cocaine on Friday nights and at the same time thinking it was God’s Sabbath day. It was a great struggle for me. I knew not only that doing crack was wrong; but by engaging on such activities on God’s holy Sabbath was doubly incorrect. His patience and longsuffering with me was even more manifest. How could He still love me, I pondered?
As I listened to the Televangelists, I often wondered why they never proclaimed the keeping of God’s Holy Sabbath; but rather seemed to exalt Sunday. I seldom hear them talk of keeping God’s commandments; but frequently heard them exclaim that we do not have to keep the law since it was done away with at Calvary's cross, and that we are now under grace. Even as a crack cocaine addict, this seemed very confusing to me. From my limited understanding, what I was doing was sin. What I was hearing in effect from these famous men was that my actions were fine with God, for since there was no law there could be no sin. My conscience was telling me otherwise.
I thought seriously about the message I was receiving from them and began to ask myself what was the purpose of becoming a Christian if I could keep on smoking crack cocaine, live a reckless, licentious life and still be saved. It became clear to me that they were preaching a gospel of salvation in sin. This was contrary to what I was hearing from Dr. Jeffries and learning through my own personal studies. Jesus, I was personally convinced, had come to save me from my sins, not in my sins.
It finally occurred to me that the Gospel of salvation was stealthily being turned into a scheme for earthly riches. The cross and what it meant was blatantly overlooked. The idea of the power of our mind to conceive and achieve whatever we desired was conspicuously uplifted. They all seemed to teach that we, as sinful human beings, could call anything we want into existence. The concept of name it and claim it, rather than the need of a Savior, was widely and fervently peddled.
Despite their charisma, large audiences and obvious power of oratory, my friends the televangelists created strong doubts in my mind about their knowledge of and their truthfulness to the gospel they were supposedly proclaiming. They were all great motivational speakers. But the power of the gospel to transform lives was noticeably missing from their presentations. Gradually, I lost interest in them even as I began to spend more time in God’s word, the only sure foundation of faith and practice for the Christian. Men’s opinions would not suffice.
My use of crack cocaine continued to haunt me. Nevertheless, I was finding more time to read my beautiful big, white Bible. What I had learned from Dr. Jeffries coupled with my own personal studies prepared me to handle my soon encounters with my friends, the Jehovah Witnesses. God’s Holy Spirit was working in my life. I was being transformed by His grace.
One Sunday morning, in late summer, I heard a knock on my door. It was perhaps about eleven thirty a.m. and I was recovering from a night of smoking crack cocaine and drinking alcohol. I was not exactly anxious to get up and open the door and was certainly not in the mood of talking to anyone. The doorbell kept ringing and the knocking on the door continued. I finally decided to get up and take a peek through the peep hole. I saw a well dressed middle-aged man with a briefcase in his hand accompanied by two young females. I immediately figured that it was the Jehovah Witnesses. I had seen them before in the neighborhood and had heard so many negative things about them and was therefore not inclined to open my door. However, the Holy Spirit prompted me to otherwise. I was beginning to recognize and obey God’s voice through His Holy Spirit.
As I opened the door, I was met with the most pleasant and endearingly genuine smile and good morning greeting. I was hardly able to return the pleasantries when the gentleman stretched out his hand and offered me a magazine which had the most beautiful artist’s rendition of the earth made new on the cover. Simultaneously, he asked, “would you like to live forever?” “Of course”, I promptly replied as I reached out to take the magazine. He asked if they may come in and I pleasantly agreed, opening the door wider to let them in. Once inside the apartment,
I invited them to sit at the dining room table which was close by the door. I asked to be excused for a few minutes as I rushed to the bathroom on the other side of the apartment to get a quick fresh up. My tabletop was covered with some dirty utensils, newspapers, books and magazines. My big, white Bible was sitting on top of the stack of newspapers. I apologetically cleared the table except for my big white Bible. Almost immediately, the conversation turned to my Bible.
After complimenting me on the look and size of it, Mr. Thomas, who was seated directly across the table from me, smilingly asked, “do you know who wrote that Bible? “Absolutely” I replied, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”. Turning my Bible to the book of 2nd Peter, chapter 1, I pointed to where it was written in God’s word. Seemingly quite surprised, Mr. Thomas, replied, “No, King James wrote the Bible…and he was a pagan…that’s why they call it the King James Version”. Simultaneously, he reached into his brief case and pulled out a copy of the New World Bible as he rather emphatically declared, “This is the true Bible”. I thought for a moment, what could be in there that was not in my Bible?
As our conversation continued, he explained to me that somewhere in the eighteen hundreds, God gave the founders of the Watch Tower Society the true light of His word which is found in their version of the Bible. His companions, seated across from each other, nodded in agreement. He went on to tell me that every few years, as God gives new light, his organization makes the necessary changes to keep the people informed.
I listened attentively then replied, “First of all, sir, King James did not write a single word in the Bible…It is simply called the King James Version because He was the ruling monarch who gave his support and provided the resources to enable the scholars to translate the manuscripts into the English language”. I continued, “ King James did not write the King James Version of the Holy Scriptures any more than John F. Kennedy built JFK airport… both were named in honor of the leading statesmen of their time”.
Mr. Thomas was quite surprised and taken aback. His companions looked at each other, obviously expressing their reception of some new revelation. I don’t know whether Mr. Thomas was surprised to hear what I said as new information or he was amazed that a seeming substance abuser knew it. I had learned all this information from my precious big white Bible. I further pointed my guests to the front of my Bible where the letter written to King James by the translators was recorded. In it they expressed their gratitude and appreciation for his support of their efforts and dedicated their work to him.
I proceeded to ask them that if their Bible was the true word of God, why they need to change it every couple years. I further asked, how were God’s people edified, if God waited until their founder received His truth more than eighteen hundred years after the life and ministry of Jesus Christ on earth? Mr. Thomas became very pensive, his companions puzzled. That radiant smile he came in with was now gone. He proceeded to tell me that truth was progressive. I promptly agreed, insisting that new light does not contradict old light; but rather, only illuminates it. About forty five minutes had now passed. Mr. Thomas looked at his watch and indicated to his companions that it was time to leave. I offered to pray with them, but they refused. As they departed we exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call me during the week and come back to see me the following Sunday. I told him that I’ll be delighted to continue our conversation. We exchanged parting pleasantries and then they left.
Mr. Thomas did keep his promise to call me during the week, confirming our appointment for the upcoming Sunday. At the appointed time, Mr. Thomas did return; this time with his ‘overseer’. On this occasion our discussion was focused upon who Jesus Christ really is. They claiming that he was just a good teacher, I contending, based on the word of Almighty God, that He is the Divine Son of God, and verily God Himself. Our discussion was contentious, but respectfully and politely so. In fact, there was a third and final visit the Sunday following, this time with the overseer’s overseer. It was their final visit. I supposed that they had determined that I was not a candidate for their movement. But God was convincing me that I was not only a candidate for His kingdom, but also an ambassador for His cause.
The God of All Creation has delivered me from more than a twelve-year plus addiction to crack cocaine, estrangement from family, licentious living and near death experiences. He has moved me from the crack house to His house. He has restored my debilitated mind and has equipped me to tell men and women of His boundless love, unfathomable mercy and amazing grace. I have experienced His grace to pardon, transform, and empower to keep His law, including His seventh-day Sabbath commandment.
Not only has He enlisted me for the position of ambassador; He has paid my wages two thousand years before I accepted the assignment at a place called Calvary. There He gave the ultimate price for my ambassadorship. He gave His life in the person of His Son, my Savior, and elder brother, Jesus Christ. The cruel cross of Calvary upon which He made the payment for my ambassadorship is God’s object lesson illustrating to the world the high cost of sin and the low depths to which He will go for the redemption of sinners like me. It is here that justice and mercy meet each other. On Calvary, we witness the greatest demonstration of love the world will ever know. There we behold the supreme sacrifice of all eternity. The One who is infinite in power, rich in principalities and planets gave it all up to become one with me that I may one day become one with Him.
My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who knew no sin, became sin for me that I may become righteous in Him. He took upon Him my transgressions in which He had no part; so that I may obtain salvation which I do not deserve. This is a great mystery that my feeble, finite mind cannot and perhaps may never fully comprehend.
He endured the pain and agony of an ignominious death on Calvary, that I may enjoy a life of bliss wit Him throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. On Calvary, He cried so that I may rejoice. He became mortal that I may be made immortal. In the process, He traded His righteousness for my unrighteousness. He descended to earth that I may ascend to heaven.
In my walk from crack to Christ, I made some amazing discoveries. It was revealed that as I dwell upon the life of Jesus, my character was being transformed. As I contemplate His payment on Calvary, my pride was turned into humility. My drug addiction and drunkenness were remade into sobriety as I beheld His glory and majesty. The rough traits of my personality have been turned into attitudes of kindness, benevolence, and politeness by partaking of His amazing grace.
In the light of His love and mercy towards me, my prejudices were dispossessed and were replaced by love, respect and appreciation for all my fellow men. I was made to realize that it was not the qualification of the applicant that mattered; but rather that the position qualifies the applicant. Coming to acknowledge and obeying all of His commandments, including His seventh-day Sabbath is part of that qualifying. He is waiting to qualify you today.
My story, a glimpse of which I just shared with you, is a testimony of God’s amazing grace. It is the evidence of that grace not only transforms, but empowers us to keep all of His commandments. It is the report one man’s encounter with the One and Only true God, the God of creation and recreation. He is the One who gave us the Sabbath as a sign between Him and us. He is the One that will give you the power to obey His Sabbath commandment and turn away from the traditions and opinions of men. The question is, are you willing to obey?
Whatever you may be going through, my desire is that my story will be an inspiration and encouragement to you. Whatever you have done, wherever you have been, I pray that my story will motivate you to seek and find God’s glory.
He is the only One that can deliver you from every besetting circumstance and provide you abundant pardon and unfathomable peace that passes all understanding. He is the balm for every pain, heartache and hurt that you can experience. He is truly a friend who will bear all your burdens, sins and grief. He is the One who will never leave you nor forsake you.
He will give you comfort like no one else can. He will rehabilitate you from whatever has destroyed you. He will set you free from whatever prison that binds you. He will ennoble your character, purify your thoughts, temper your passions, and certify you as an ambassador of His amazing grace.
He is waiting for you to experience His glory and play your right part in His story. He is waiting to give you, as He has given me, a touch of His amazing grace.
The apostle Paul teaches us, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men; teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). Herein is the full plan of redemption…grace to pardon, power to keep all of His commandments, including His blessed Sabbath-day, and the blessed assurance of His soon coming.
I am no renowned theologian, nor a revered, learned Biblical scholar. Rather, my story is the testimony of a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace. It is a tale of one who recognizes the merits of that grace that not only pardons; but transforms our lives and empowers us to obey His divine, immutable Ten Commandment law, including His Sabbath Truth, thus rejecting the traditions of men.