Easter story of hope:  Steven Johnson, New York City Rescue Mission

Steven Johnson, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is a resident at the New York City Rescue Mission, one of the non-profit affiliates of Hope for New York. Below, he shares his story of how Jesus has given him a new life and purpose after spending nearly 30 years in prison.

I grew up in a one-parent household with my mother and my sister. My mom had me when she was 14, and things weren’t too bad until she started to work. She was still so young, and wanted to have her life, and when she met her husband, she shut me out. I felt unwanted and unworthy. I also became responsible for caring for myself and my sister, something I wasn’t really equipped for.

When I was nine years old my sister hit her head while fighting another girl at school. No one knew that she had diabetes as well. The next morning at breakfast, my mom sent me off to school and took my sister to the hospital. That was the last time I saw her. I asked my mom if I could visit her, but she wouldn’t let me. I didn’t know it then, but it was because my sister had passed away. The resentment and abandonment I felt towards my mom really solidified after that.

It was overwhelming and I started to act out. I felt I had to do everything on my own. I ran away, got involved doing and selling drugs, and ended up in prison. I felt that nobody cared about what I was going through — so that cycle only continued. I spent almost 30 years of my life in and out of prison. I kept masking my feelings and pain, first with marijuana and then with cocaine and heroin. Things just spiraled down.

Faith was not a part of my life growing up. I’d heard my grandmother say “Jesus loves you,” but I didn’t pay it any mind. I was focused on me and looking out for myself, because it felt like no one else was.

The last time I was in prison, I wound up doing 14 years and I went through some painful moments in that time. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I didn’t think I could deal with it. I loved to play basketball, but I couldn’t even walk. After three years things with my MS started to get better. But even though I was feeling better physically, I still held onto a deep resentment towards my mom that I’d never told anyone about.

When I came home from prison, my spirit was completely broken. At the time, I had no place to go. I started to pray. That’s when God stepped into my life and allowed me to surrender. He showed me that everything I had tried to do on my own, it didn’t work. I needed Him and His grace.

That same day, I wound up at my grandmother’s, and I broke down. I told her I was sorry for everything I had done. She told me to turn my life over to God and everything would be all right. He would never leave me. In that moment, He put his hand on me and that’s when I found out I have a friend, and His name is Jesus, and He is always by my side.

The next morning, I woke up feeling renewed. I told my grandmother, “Ma, I’m going to a place that can help me,” and I went to The New York City Rescue Mission. I used to go there to eat sometimes. By the grace of God, He made a way for me, and when they let me in, it felt like the world was lifted off my shoulders.

From that day forward, I felt like I was set free. I was able to trust the Lord, and that feeling is like no other, to know that He is guiding my life. The Rescue Mission helped me immensely with getting closer to my God. He also worked through my counselor, who took me through some things I needed to hear and work on. Christ really stepped in and changed my whole life. He removed my shame and guilt and gave me peace. He let me know that I have Him, and I don’t have to hold onto resentment anymore.

That was six months ago. Now, I strive every day to be His vessel to work with. Today, I work in the kitchen at the Rescue Mission, and I feel like God put me here to serve these people, because this is who He came for. Before, I was all into me. It was my world. I was using my gifts for the wrong purposes. But, now? It feels so good to be faithful, and it’s only by the grace of God that it’s possible.

Every Easter, Redeemer receives a special offering to support the poor of our city through Hope for New York, our partner for mercy and justice. Would you prayerfully consider giving to Hope for New York this Easter to strengthen work that makes possible stories of hope like Steven’s? 100% of your gifts will help support New Yorkers in need, including at-risk youth, low-income families, immigrants, the homeless, and the elderly.

• You can donate online at hfny.org/easter.

• You can also give during your Easter Sunday service or by sending checks (payable to “Hope for New York”) to Hope for New York, 1166 Avenue ofthe Americas, Suite 1610, New York, NY, 10036.

• You can incorporate generosity into your daily life, throughout the year, with The Hope Exchange, HFNY’s monthly giving program. Learn more at hfny.org/hopeexchange.

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