Out of the Wilderness
“For me to be on a college campus every day, every breath is a blessing compared to the death that I once faced. It’s a joy to be alive.” - Jonathan Herron
Jonathan Herron was riding in the fast lane headed for self-destruction.
”My grandparents were highly involved in my life at the time, so from kindergarten to fourth-grade, I went to a Christian school,” said Herron, who was born and raised in a single parent home in Delaware. Herron never knew his father, an alcoholic who was in and out of jail.
Then a move pulled Herron out of the private Christian school he attended to a public school.
“We lived in a trailer park. You look around and there are no authority people, so who do you look up to? You look at the people around you who are the ‘cool’ guys – the drug dealers, the ones with the money – these guys became my example,” Herron said.
“I played sports like basketball and was trying to be a good kid, but I started drinking, smoking, doing drugs, selling drugs – you know – I was in seventh grade selling cocaine and hanging out with guys 20 years old. I thought I was cool; getting arrested was cool,” he said. Troubles multiplied further, landing Herron in jail. Still, he would read a Gideon Bible while in his cell and pray what he called “foxhole” prayers.
“My grandmom prayed for me. They loved me to the cross. Everyone else disappeared, but they never did. Even in my sin, they never did – that’s what kept me alive, literally,” Herron said.
Herron was repeatedly hospitalized for overdoses, and because of the drugs in his system, he suffered from convulsions and memory loss.
“I was at my mom’s house and couldn’t remember how to turn the shower on. I went to the hospital and they asked, ‘are you trying to kill yourself?’ that was my last straw before I went away to rehab,” Herron said, recalling a chapter of life when he hit bottom and lost his desire to live. In 2013, he checked into Colony of Mercy, a faith-based facility in New Jersey that had 40 residents.
“It’s a controlled environment – you’ve got pastors there, chaplains there, people who came to help. It was for all addictions – alcohol, drugs, sex, food. It was every different walk of life, every age range. I went there for four months, did a discipleship program for three,” Herron said. He then went to a house that was part of an addiction recovery ministry run by Rev. Mike McClung, then pastor of Chichester United Wesleyan Church. It was there that Herron experienced spiritual highs, but also lows.
“I saw one cigarette sitting on this window, picked it up, started puffing again,” Herron said. “Devotion life goes under the bed, Bible goes under the bed, church goes under the bed. I started drinking again. The old man just showed his face – he came back.”
Herron went to stay at a YMCA in Wilmington, Del., where in the midst of inner-city darkness, his thoughts turned away from church and turned to getting high on whatever drugs he could get and doing his own thing.
“I was going to try to get back to Jesus on my own. I was going to put those drugs down, I was going to stop doing heroin. I would try to get back without help,” Herron said. “Eventually I got kicked out of the YMCA and moved into Oxford House and thought I was going to white knuckle this thing back, but it didn’t work out – to the glory of God it didn’t work out! I was just losing it.”
Herron sought to return to the Colony of Mercy, but there was a long waiting list. In the meantime, the partying continued. Showing a copy of a mug shot, Herron said he got arrested for breaking out a barber shop window while he was drunk.
“After all this, I got back into rehab, stayed at my mom’s house and slept on the floor for a little while,” Herron said.
Herron again went through an addiction recovery program, and as he was completing it, McClung, now pastor at Trinity Wesleyan Church in Central, invited him to come to South Carolina for a new start.
Herron prayed about it, then McClung drove up to New Jersey and brought him to Central. Trinity Wesleyan helped him move into an apartment along Wesleyan Drive at Southern Wesleyan’s campus.
“I came down here with the clothes on my back and I pull onto the Southern Wesleyan campus and am like ‘really, what is this about? A College campus?’ I was very surprised,” Herron said. “I used to talk to my mentors who would say ‘you need to be ordained. You need to be in ministry. Have you ever thought about that?’ I said ‘no.’ I dropped day school. I never got past ninth-grade. I went back when I was 19 and got my diploma in night school. I did four years of high school in two years. When I came down here, one of my chaplains said ‘you’re moving on to a college campus. What do you think the Lord’s trying to do here, Jonathan?’ I didn’t know.”
After a period of working in the community and being involved in local ministry, Herron applied to Southern Wesleyan and got accepted at age 37, on McClung’s encouragement.
“I was sharing my testimony at Trinity Wesleyan Church – me being new to the area – just getting out of a life of drugs, alcohol and crime and mess. Dr. Voss is out there. I didn’t know who he was, then I saw him,” Herron said.
Looking back, he sees how God’s plan has been falling into place.
“If it wasn’t for God to put the desire in my heart for ministry, I would not be in college; I would not be pursuing ministry. I never looked at myself as an old man. I talk to some students – I’m the same age as their parents – we’re in class and we’re hanging out,” Herron said.
As he nears his 40th birthday, Herron is completing his junior year as a ministry major. He has a fresh perspective on the role God’s grace has played in his life.
“When you meet Jonathan, you know that he is passionately in love with Christ and he continually is seeking to know Christ more today than yesterday,” McClung said. “He has an amazing gift to be able to connect with every individual he meets and he seeks to introduce them to the same love relationship with Christ that he has. In a world of addiction recovery, where so many people go back into their addiction, Jonathan is a breath of fresh air. It’s great to see someone who has legitimately become a new creation. It’s great to see someone who is joyfully able to use his ugly past to bring beauty to the present and future.”
Herron’s life verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (ESV)
“For me to be on a college campus every day, every breath is a blessing compared to the death that I once faced. It’s a joy to be alive,” Herron said.
Southern Wesleyan University is a Christ-centered, student-focused, faith-filled community that offers inventive learning experiences. The university endeavors to prepare its students to be dedicated scholars and servant-leaders who impact the world for Christ. At the same time, it’s Southern Wesleyan’s desire to practice contagious generosity within the surrounding community. For details about degree programs, go online to swu.edu.