~ Jon's story ~
Lights from the Las Vegas strip shined in the distance as the sound of the helicopter overhead sent Jon Ponder’s beating heart into overdrive. Jon squinted his eyes as flashing police lights flickered and sirens screeched around him. Police dogs barked and officers surrounded his vehicle.
“Get out of the driver’s seat!” The thunderous and demanding voice sounded like God to Jon’s flustered brain. Distorted, he climbed out of his car...
One after another, Jon listened. He lifted his hands, dropped to his knees and fell forward face down as an officer pulled his hands behind his back, slapping handcuffs on.
“You have the right to remain silent …”
After being handcuffed, they took him to jail and his anger and frustration that he had been holding onto since he was a kid had exploded. Kicking and fighting everyone and everything in his way. In spite of being drunk and high from drugs, he knew they had him.
At 38 years old, he was facing 23 years in federal prison for a string of bank robberies. He had nothing left to lose. Already prone to violence, he was ready for whatever or whoever was coming his way, until a man he’d never before seen walked into the room. The man that walked in was caucasian, in his 50s, graying with deep blue sea eyes. Jon looked at the name on the badge. He was Special Agent Richard Beasley, the FBI agent who tracked him down and arrested him. The moment he stepped into the room, something engulfed Jon. He did not experience this feeling often.... The feeling of peace. No one said a word, but Jon felt as though that prosperous voice spoke to every part of him.
"Everything’s going to be all right."
“At that point in my life, nothing looked like it would ever be all right again” Jon recalls. “I smoked three packs a day and was addicted to multiple drugs, including heroin and cocaine. I was so violent they put me in solitary confinement while I waited for my court date. The withdrawal was awful.”
I screamed, ‘Get away from me!’ Before he left, he dropped a Bible through the slot. I was furious and had no intention of reading it, but after two weeks I was so bored I picked up the Bible and started reading the New Testament.”
“I grew up on the streets of New York City, one of six kids whose dad walked out on us,” Jon explained. “Our mother was strong, but she wasn’t able to keep us out of gangs and off the streets. In the summer we visited our grandmother, Madea in Mississippi. Reading the New Testament brought back memories of going to church with her and hearing stories about blind Bartimaeus, the woman at the well and the woman with the issue of blood.”
This time he dropped another book through the slot. It was 'Pursuit of His Presence' by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. I turned to that day’s date and read the message. It was as though it had been written just for me.”
“As I read that book and the Bible, the strangest thing happened. The anger which had been my constant companion for so many years dissolved. Alone in a prison cell, I was aware that Jesus was with me. Through his book, Brother Copeland was with me as well.”
One morning another inmate was getting discharged. Passing by Jon’s cell, he said, “Hey, I can’t take this with me. Can I give it to you, Ponder?” He passed a little transistor radio with one ear bud through the slot. Lying on his bunk, Jon tried to find a station but the radio could only pick up one signal: KSOS 90.5, a Christian station.
Jon Ponder did not need anyone telling him how bad he was, he knew this. By the young age of 12, he started drinking, using drugs and stealing. Detectives had come to his high school and arrested him for armed robbery. He had children he didn’t really know about. He was a functioning addict and a career criminal. Jon knew he was a sinner. What came as a surprise were the stories the radio DJ told about God’s forgiveness. They broke him until he fell on the floor weeping. God could and would forgive him? He crawled back into his bunk and fell asleep listening to the radio. When he awoke at 2 a.m. , Billy Graham was preaching on the prodigal son.
Jon heard Graham say, “Jesus wants to be the Lord of your life.”
Jon then stood up and prayed the sinner’s prayer accepting Jesus as his Savior.
There in solitary confinement, Jon became a new man in Christ.
After almost 40 years, Madea’s seeds were finally taking root!
During the long months in solitary confinement, Jon was constantly in the Word of God. When the time for sentencing came, the U.S. marshals took him to the courthouse in shackles. Waiting in a cell, Jon fell on his knees and started praying.
“God, I know You’re real,” he said. “I’ve experienced You in my cell. I want You to know that from this day forward I will spend every waking moment serving You and I’ll serve every day of the time I’m sentenced to serve. All I ask is that You climb into the robe of that judge and let my sentence come from You.”
Stepping into the courtroom, Jon felt that peace which he now recognized as the presence of God. When the judge asked him if he had anything to say, he stood and spoke from his heart...
“Mr. Ponder,” the judge said, “I’ve been on the bench for more than 22 years and I’ve never heard anyone say they’ll do what you’re saying. If you do even half of what you’ve said , you’ll walk out of prison a transformed man.” Then, looking directly at Jon, the Judge said “I don’t know why I am doing this, but I sentence you to 6 years in federal prison.”
Wow! What could have been a maximum sentence of 23 years in federal prison had been remarkably reduced to 6 years. Jon knew it was the intervention of God. It was as if He Himself had climbed into that judge’s robe and handed out that sentence...
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