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Yes, You Can!

by Cleveland Houser, D.Min.

Whatever peer pressures youíre facing, with Godís help you can break free.

 The energy generated in the race for the presidency of the United States dominated the minds of millions of people around the world last year at this time. Every day on the campaign trail people shouted with overwhelming conviction, “Yes, we can!” These words caused a nation to believe in itself despite national and global challenges.

The road of life has been confusing for many young people. With all of their heart, they try to make some sense out of this world. Sometimes the overwhelming attitude in their lives seems to suggest “No, you can’t.” How often people’s lives start in environments favorable for success and yet end up in failure. It’s only by God’s grace that they’re able to rebound and live a life acceptable to God, which has been the experience of James Earl White, a youth Sabbath school facilitator in Tennessee.
James was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He grew up on seven acres of whispering pines and bulging oak trees, with farm animals and chirping birds. Reared by his grandfather, a Baptist minister, James’ knowledge of the Bible earned him the nickname “Little Reverend.” His grades reflected the pursuit of academic excellence, and his life seemed destined for success.
When he became a teenager, the way James  lived his life earned him the titles “nerd” and “goody-two-shoes.” It didn’t take long for peer pressure to cause him to seek his peers’ good graces.
James began slipping into the bathroom at school and taking a few puffs on cigarettes. That led to drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor. Alcohol was the gateway drug that led James to smoking marijuana. Promiscuity, substance abuse, parties, and hanging with the guys became his life.
James’ disobedience, stubbornness, and wild lifestyle became more than his grandfather could tolerate. When James was 15 years old, his grandfather called the police and told them, “If you don’t come and get him, I’m going to kill him.”
The police came and took James to his mother’s house; however, his new environment didn’t change anything, and James’ life began falling apart at an astronomical pace.
Almost at rock bottom at 17 years of age, James decided to enlist in the United States Navy. He traveled the world, enjoying what he called the “good life.” His overall attitude remained the same: “Life is just one big party, and I’ll try anything once.”
James became a connoisseur of drugs, trying different drugs in the places he visited.
After leaving the military, James made his home in San Diego, California. By then he’d became a major drug dealer on the West Coast. He had a house on the beach, fancy cars, a pocket full of money, and a boatload of female acquaintances. But soon his business interest shifted, and he became his best customer.
That’s when his life was torn up from the floor up. Soon all he had to wear were the clothes on his back, his bed was a piece of rolled up carpet that he carried around with him under his arms, and he made his home underneath bridges. Life’s stresses and problems due to bad choices from his childhood caught up with him and overwhelmed him as he attempted to maintain the negative lifestyle he’d accepted from his peers. Finally he recognized that the life he was living was the bridge to nowhere.
Desperate, he decided to return to Memphis to start his life over again. He honestly initiated a plan to provide a profitable and lawful livelihood. He started his own painting business, Interiors by James. His business accelerated, and his profit margin soared. He purchased a new home, bought two automobiles, and got married.
Unfortunately, an increase in temptation to revert to drug and alcohol abuse accompanied his increase in revenue. Finally the temptation eclipsed his ability to restrain himself. As his substance dependency increased, so did other problems in his life.
Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he chose a deadly course of action. When he found out that his brother-in-law was physically abusing his sister, the two men got into a fight, and he killed his brother-in-law. A judge sentenced James with second-degree murder and 35 years in prison, catapulting him into a life of hopelessness and despair.
Unexpected end
James served five years in one of the most notorious prisons in Tennessee. There guards on horseback march men out to dig up tree stumps with a pick and a shovel, to saw down trees with a crosscut saw, and to do all manner of hard labor.
God had tried to speak to James on so many occasions, but James had turned a deaf ear. James knew about God, but he didn’t know God. Finally, in prison, James made peace with God, and he and God developed a strong relationship.
After long days of hard work, James was returned to his cell where he didn’t know whether he’d live or die. He survived only by God’s grace, and by God’s grace he got sent to a work release center for educational opportunities.
I met James at the educational center, where I got the privilege to teach him what it means to be a Christian and how to live like Christ. Later I invited James to be a member of Don’t Follow Me, a youth support organization I’d started to deter young people from a life of substance abuse and crime.
Soon James got an opportunity to share his life story in front of hundreds and thousands of young people. The power of his testimony made a deep impression on the minds of many youth. I often heard young people tell James, “Your testimony changed my life.”
James quickly emerged as the facilitator and the glue that made the Don’t Follow Me program an awesome program. And through the influence of the prison ministry team, James gave his life completely to Christ and became a baptized member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Not long after his total surrender to Christ, James was granted parole after serving six years of his 35-year prison sentence. Members of the board of pardons and paroles were  impressed by the way James had changed his style of living, and they gave him their blessing to be a productive citizen in the community of his choice.
James has been out of prison for 16 years. His life is a powerful testimony of what God can do when you allow Him to take complete control of it. When you think that life has dealt you the worst possible circumstances and you feel hopeless, say, “Yes, I can.” You’ll find that God is able to save you, no matter how far you have fallen (see Hebrews 7:25). There is no situation that God can’t handle. Trust Him, and He will bring deliverance.
Today James is a faithful church member. He’s still free from drugs and alcohol and is still the facilitator for the Don’t Follow Me organization. God has even overwhelmed James with spiritual and material blessings. He started up his Interiors by James painting business again and dedicated it to God, and He has also dedicated himself to God to help others who are traveling the road he once traveled.
James tells young people, “Despite the captivity of your circumstances that appear to have you confined in a long corridor with no exit signs, you can live a positive life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13). Yes, you can!
Cleveland Houser, D.Min., writes from Tennessee.

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