Jonathan Herron is quite the story of rebel turned redeemed. To hear the miracle of how he came to be where he is today from where he was before is nothing short of the grace of God. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware on May 22, 1979 and has lived most of his life as the middle of three sons. James is his older brother, and Daniel, the younger. I say most of his life because just two years ago he discovered he had another brother, Kevin. It is amazing the connections Facebook can be responsible for making these days! All four of the brothers have different fathers. Jonathan also learned that he has a sister he hasn’t met yet, Janice. Jonathan describes his dad as living the “Rolling Stone” life, punctuated with battles with alcohol and serving time in jail. He currently resides in Wisconsin. His mother is still in Delaware. Though he is closer with his mom than his dad, he confesses he is not as close with his mom as he would like. His stepfather is battling drug addiction. “They’re in a bad place,” Jonathan laments.
Raised by a single mom, Jonathan attributes his very life to the goodness of God expressed through grandparents who invested in him from an early age. In K-4th grade, Jonathan’s earliest formative years were spent attending a private Christian school. “I was an ornery kid. I got in trouble,” he confesses. His 5th grade year he moved to public school and began playing sports. That was also the year they moved to a new town, which opened up a season of upheaval and instability for Jonathan. “I rebelled and got in with the wrong crowd. I was always outgoing, and w/o guidance I got into the wrong crowd. I got arrested for the first time when I was 13 for burglary of a friend’s house.”
That was the beginning of a long, dark season for Jonathan. He began drinking, and smoking, and trying to be “cool.” He admits his biggest influences were the wrong people, popular culture, and music. “I hung out with guys who were selling cocaine as a 15 year old…people I should not have been hanging out with. I saw the cars, the money, and I wanted that. They were my role models. I was drinking the whole time.”
During this time, and through all the years ahead, the seed that had been planted by church and his grandparents was still in the back of his mind. “I knew of Jesus from school and church and from my grandparent’s influence. However, when I was 15 I stole my mom’s car and got a DUI. They took my license and arrested me. I was always getting arrested for underage drinking. I was smoking weed.” Jonathan lost the privilege of having a license again until the age of 21, at which time he got it back and promptly got another DUI and then lost his license again for the next 15 years! “I just got it back last November!”
“I’ve had about 6 DUI’s in my life, and it is by the grace of God I haven’t been to prison. If it weren’t for my Grandma, I wouldn’t be here. She was my savior on earth. Pop-pop is in heaven now. Pop-pop found the Lord at 35 years old. I’m told I am a lot like my grandfather, which is a blessing to hear.”
Jonathan’s story really takes another turn at age 15. He got beat up badly and had to have reconstructive surgery, and now lives with titanium plates in his face. The fight was over a girl. He had a champagne bottle shattered over his head, which caused bleeding on his brain. The doctor told him, “If you get hit on the head again, you will die. I did get hit on the head again after that, and God spared me. I was also told I wouldn’t be able to talk, but I still can.”
“When my 16th birthday rolled around, my life consisted of fighting, selling drugs, and doing drugs. I was in places a 16 year old shouldn’t be…strip clubs, etc. I was in the ghetto and the hood and I had a ‘hood pass/ghetto pass,’ which got me plugged into big time drug dealers. I never had to worry about money. The money, the music, the culture, that’s what I lived by. Whatever was cool was my identity.”
Jonathan totaled three cars and had numerous near-death experiences. On one occasion he got hit by a tractor-trailer on I-95. Again, alcohol was a factor. “Thank the Lord there was no traffic! There just wasn’t that night.”
He ended up experiencing alcohol poisoning an dehydration, while also overdosing on adderall. His kidneys were shutting down. “The doctor said I was dying.”
Jonathan reflects that was part of God’s breaking him down and getting his attention. He confesses, “I never had a period of sobriety between the ages of 15 and 33 longer than two months.” He went to rehab when he was 15. The judge in one of his cases said, “You can either go to juvee for a year or rehab for 30 days. So, of course, I picked rehab. I went to Baltimore for rehab and was able to convince the staff I was okay.”
“I never got arrested sober. My criminal record is pretty lengthy. No felonies, praise the Lord!”
After rehab, Jonathan got out and returned to the work,party, work,party lifestyle. He also admits, “I was a womanizer. I would get drunk and talk about God. I would still read the Bible and still pray. My grandparents were always watering the seeds. I truly believe if it wasn’t for the prayers of my grandparents, I wouldn’t be here.”
At age 16 the family moved again and Jonathan switched high schools. “I was really angry about that and basically wrote school off. I dropped out and sold drugs. I had a girlfriend who had a positive influence on me. She said, ‘If you’re going to be with me, you’re going to go back and finish school.’ I went back to school at 19, night school, and got my high school diploma. I did it solely to make my girlfriend happy and to not lose her. I actually graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA.”
But, the diploma was not enough to sustain the relationship, and at 21, Jonathan and that girl broke up. When that happened, it was like the dam broke loose and he really went into a whirlwind of not caring. He got another DUI. “I just lost all hope. I didn’t care if I lived or died. When I drank, I lost all inhibitions. The alcohol continually consumed my life. It got to where I couldn’t go without it.”
From 21-30, his life was in constant turmoil. Wreck after wreck, hospital after hospital, jail after jail. It was around age 30 that he found himself getting into pills. Percocet and other narcotics. He also continued to drink, but was spending more time and energy on opiates and pills rather than the alcohol. “I didn’t get in trouble on the pills, only when I drank. The alcohol made me reckless.”
“The absence of my dad was a huge piece. I found my identity in places I shouldn’t have. At 32 I hit rock bottom. Suicide was on my mind a lot, which included a plan to drink myself into oblivion. Alcohol was my slow suicide.”
When I turned 33 I reached out to a friend of mine named Chris, who just out of rehab at “America’s Keswick Colony of Mercy” for men in Whiting, NJ. Their mottos is, “A place where hearts are transformed and minds are renewed, based on Romans 12. It was a Christian rehabilitation facility. There was Bible teaching in the morning, work during the day, and more teaching at night. There were counselors onsite. They pointed us to Jesus over the course of the 4 month program. “I stayed for 7. They had an extended program for those interested in continuing discipleship.” Jonathan shared that his friend Chris was paralyzed for life in a drug deal gone bad. He got shot, spent 5 years in prison, and has relied on a wheelchair ever since.
The program was very reasonable compared to most; a $490 one-time fee. I remember getting there and having a sense of “I’m here. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I had a peace that I was safe now.” I got poured into, I dug into God’s Word, and had great teaching from mentors.
After 7 months of discipleship, I didn’t want to go back to Delaware. They referred me to a ‘second chance’ house run by Pastor Mike McClung in Chichester. They put me up and helped me get back on my feet. I did fairly well for a year, was plugged into church, and thought I had it conquered. Pastor Mike became my friend and mentor.
But, I started to get frustrated. I got bored and the fire I felt dwindled. Things weren’t moving at my pace and I started taking my eyes off of God. The slow fade happened by picking up a cigarette again. I confessed it to Pastor Mike, but continued to smoke. That was against the house rules, so I began to cover it up and lie. Satan established a foothold, and the next thing I knew I was picking up a shot of liquor, then a bottle, and I ended up leaving the second chance facility and moved into the local YMCA. I checked out mentally and started to talk to old friends, got into heroin, etc. It was a small room for $490/month, and it felt like a prison cell. (Ironically, that was the same price as the Colony of Mercy program!) The whole time I kept asking God, “Why am I doing this?”
I got arrested for burglary. Now I use the mug shot from that arrest it in my testimony. “When I look at that man, I see a shell of the person God wanted me to be.”
Believe it or not, Jonathan was banned from his hometown. “ I just wanted to die. I found these pills at my mom’s. Crank, heroin, coke and drinking. I overdosed on the pills. I took 10 muscle relaxers. I woke up naked, blood all over my head, had suffered a seizure. Before this, I had put another call in to ‘Colony of Mercy,’ saying I needed help. But I thought that before I go, I would get as high and drunk as possible. I really did it this time. My mind was wiped, and I learned the pills I took could cause my heart to stop!
On the third day, my memory started to return. I ended up going back to ‘Colony of Mercy,’ and was there for another 7 months. I left no stone unturned this time. No games. My first time there was checking off boxes and not fully surrendered.
Pastor Mike had told me before I left the second chance house the first time that he was preparing to leave Chichester to take a pastorate in South Carolina. He somehow got word that I was back at ‘Colony of Mercy,’ and he called to offer me to come to South Carolina. His church, Trinity Wesleyan Church, in Central, offered to pay my first month’s rent and deposit and got me in a home. They had a ‘Meet Jonathan Night,’ and threw me a house-warming party. Everything in that house was given to me. I came down here with nothing but the clothes on my back and the support of my grandmother. To experience the love of God through God’s people is a beautiful, tangible gift! The house they got me is practically on campus at Southern Wesleyan University (SWU), and I felt God telling me He wanted me to go to school. So, I enrolled at SWU as a true freshman at age 37!!”
“I have learned that God protected my life and brought me here for a purpose and that He has a great plan for my life. As far as He brought me, I cannot help but be grateful and rejoice and praise Him for all He’s brought me out of. So many lessons, so much grace. Serving with the youth at church, working at SWU in addition to being a student.
“Everyday is exciting for me to see what God is going to do next! I am a new creation!! Now I get texts from people who say, ‘Wow, you’re a completely different person. I have hope that if you can do it, I can do it too!’” Jonathan would the first to tell anyone feeling like there is no hope, that there IS hope. In fact, Hope has a name…it’s Jesus!
I have to share that my hearing Jonathan’s remarkable story of redemption and salvation preceded my actual meeting him. The news of this transformed man spread through the community, and I actually could hardly wait to meet this guy I had heard so much about. Now I get to see him and worship the Lord with him on a regular basis, and I have the distinct joy of calling him my friend and my brother. By the way, the name Jonathan means, “Yahweh has given.”
He certainly has!!
Lee Millspaugh, INSPIRE
After getting my degree from Southern Wesleyan University, I eventually became a pastor at The Mount Church in Clemson where I’ve had the privilege of serving for the past 19 years, doing what I believe I was created to do.