I was a seventeen-year-old ne’er-do-well that summer of the
ugly car. A high-school dropout, teenage alcoholic, and
habitual gambler, I was living my “lofty” life’s goal—managing
the local poolroom. I’d hung out there ever since I was able to
come up with a forged ID the year I turned fourteen.
My first car was a beat-up 13-year-old Chevrolet. That car
was so ugly I dared not be seen in it. It was so bad I asked my
friend Dave to drive me home every day after work.
One day Dave said, “I’m kind of in a hurry today, John. Do
you mind if I let you off at Carolina Beach Road? You could cut
right through to your apartments.” I told him I didn’t mind,
so he let me off, and I began walking toward home.
Just as I was about to cut through to the apartments—at
319 Bordeaux Avenue—I spotted a cute little girl about 5’2”
outside her house, twirling a baton. The closer I got, the prettier
The next day, I decided it was silly for Dave to go so far
out of his way just to take me home! “Why don’t you just let
me off at Bordeaux Avenue?”
From then on, he dropped me off at Bordeaux Avenue and
I walked by that house. I wasn’t even a Christian yet, but I
remember praying, If there is a God in Heaven, please let her
be out there! And sure enough, every day she would be outside,
twirling her baton.
That cute little 5’2” baton twirler named Janet became my
bride six months later. And what I didn’t know at the time was
that every day when she was outside twirling her baton, she
was really waiting for me to walk by!
It’s a wonder Janet ever got her parents’ permission to marry
me because of my bad habits. And sure enough, our marriage
hit serious snags right away.
My downward spiral had started early. My Mom worked
two jobs to provide for me and my four brothers and sisters. As
the youngest, growing up with little adult supervision, I found
it easy to get into trouble.
The government housing project where we lived had a
community center and on weekend evenings, all the older
guys would go up to the dance. I thought, Boy, they are so
cool! My buddies and I began slipping into the bushes behind
the building where they hid their whiskey; and at the age of
eleven, I experienced what it meant to be drunk. By thirteen,
I was an alcoholic.
At fourteen, I found a driver’s license, used it illegally to
“prove” I was sixteen, and became a regular, hanging out at
Every morning, Mom gave me lunch money for school.
I’d walk straight to the poolroom and ask: “How long can
I play for ninety cents?” For five years of my life, I played
pool—sometimes for as long as eight hours a day. All the while,
with a cigarette dangling from my lips, I drank, cursed, and
gambled—gambled for large sums of money.
The first thing I did when I actually turned sixteen was to
get my own driver’s license. The second thing was quit school.
Right away, the poolroom owner hired me as manager, which
meant I spent most of my days and evenings there.
My lifestyle flirted with self-destruction. One night, in a
borrowed car, I drove some buddies to a drive-in. Drinking
heavily, we got into a scuffle that didn’t go our way. I went
home with one of my friends and got a shotgun, then headed
back to the drive-in with every intention of killing the guy who
I felt had done me wrong.
On the way there, I ran off the right side of the road. When
I jerked the wheel back, the car went into a spin across the
median. When we finally stopped, the car was upside down,
facing the traffic. I was hanging out of the car, having been
dragged down the road.
That escapade netted me a trip to the hospital, a night in
jail, and a very angry owner of the car I had totaled.
After Jan and I married, I tried to do better, even worked
an extra part-time job at a hardware store. But I always slipped
back into my old ways.
Now, Janet began talking about our need for church. About
every two months, on Saturday night she would ask me, “Can
we go to church tomorrow?”
“Well,” I would say, “let’s wait and see in the morning.”
But in the morning, I would act like I was so tired I couldn’t
get out of bed.
Then N. W. Pridgen began coming by the hardware store.
Mr. Pridgen never left without saying: “You know, Johnny, I
wish you would come to church with me sometime.” And I
always made some excuse.
Mr. Pridgen’s message began to change. One day he said,
“Johnny, do you know an old boy that hangs around the
poolroom by the name of Dan Tritt?”
“Yeah, I know Dan.”
“Did you hear what happened to him last week?”
“No, I haven’t seen him lately.”
“Well,” he said, “Dan got saved and Jesus changed his
Now I had never read a Bible verse and didn’t know what it
meant to get “saved”. I thought people simply decided whether
or not to be religious, and I had chosen not to be.
But let me tell you about Dan. At a Saturday night party,
Dan had stood out in front of the poolroom, shaking his fist
at the sky and saying, “If there’s a God in Heaven, strike me
dead!” And now I’m hearing that Dan is going to church and
that God has changed his life!
Week after week, N. W. Pridgen came in, often with a report
that Jesus had changed the life of yet another “good ole boy”.
And always he said, “Well, you know what I’m going to ask
you, don’t you?” And I sure did. I had heard it so many times
it sounded like a recording on Dial-A-Devotion!
Finally, I told my wife, “If you’re going to keep hounding
me about church, let’s just get up and go to the little church
down the street where N. W. Pridgen goes.”
After attending for several weeks, I began to feel pretty
good about myself. Nothing had changed in the way I lived,
but after all, I was in church now.
Then something began to happen to me. I would go to
church and everything was fine so long as the sermon was
being preached or somebody was singing. But then the preacher
would say: “We’re going to stand together and sing an invitation
hymn.” And I would begin to weep.
It embarrassed me, a big shot who hung around the
poolroom—crying! While the others bowed their heads in
prayer, I’d ease out a handkerchief and erase those tears.
One cold Sunday morning in January, my wife and I were
sitting in church, close to the back as usual, when they began
“Just as I am without one plea,
And that thou bidst me come to thee.
O Lamb of God, I come!”
This time Jan caught me weeping. “Are you alright?” she
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Well, then, why are you crying?”
I just told her to “shut up.” I didn’t know what was
happening to me or how to answer her.
Then the preacher, just before the closing prayer, said,
“There’s a young man here, and God’s dealing with him.
Let’s just pray that God will bring him back tonight and save
After lunch that day, I didn’t go to the drag strip where
on Sunday afternoons I usually raced my red ’67 GTO. I told
Janet, “Why don’t we hang around the house and go back to
Janet could hardly believe it. “You want to go back to
“Yeah, you know the preacher was talking about me this
“Oh, Johnny, he wasn’t talking about you! There were 300
people in church.”
I knew better. “Janet, you know I’ve tried to clean up my
act but failed.” She nodded. “Well, if Jesus Christ can change
my life, He’s welcome to it.”
“It’s true, Johnny. He can change your life, make you a
new person—that’s why they sometimes call being ‘saved’,
being ‘born again.’”
Janet added, “Johnny, there’s something I never shared
with you. Before we started dating, I accepted Jesus and was
“You’re saved?” I was impressed. “Well then, since you’re
saved, I want you to do me a favor. I want to go to church
tonight and when the invitation is given, I want you to go down
and tell that preacher that I want to be saved!”
“Come on! You know how timid and shy I am! I am not
going to walk that aisle in front of all those people. I just can’t
do it. I’m too scared! Just go on down and tell him.”
“No, you’ve got to go tell him yourself.”
It came time to leave for church. “Listen, Janet, why don’t
we go down together; and you tell him I want to get saved?”
“No, Johnny, this is something you’ll have to do on your
“OK,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I’m gonna’ do it. But
Janet,” I cautioned, “if Jesus doesn’t change my life, I’ll be the
same old me tomorrow—I’ll still be cussin’ and drinking just
like always. So I don’t want you to bug me.”
I sat there during that whole service, my mind consumed
by the fact that when the invitation was given, I would be going
forward to trust my life to Jesus Christ. When the singing
started, I said, “Now, Jan?”
She said, “Now.”
I went down front and told the preacher: “I want to give
my heart and life to Jesus.”
And that night, January 7,1973, Jesus changed my life!
Word spread around town, “Have you heard about
Johnny? He’s got religion and now he can’t drink and gamble
To which I explained, “No, I didn’t get religion. I got saved!
Jesus Christ changed my life! I don’t drink and gamble anymore
because I don’t want to. Jesus changed my want to’s.”
I went to all my old haunts, sharing the Good News. I
told people that what Jesus did for me, He would do for them.
After I told the poolroom owner, he and his wife both got
saved. Next day, he hung a sign on the front door “gone out
At the saloon, the manager, Roy Burch, was playing with
a cap pistol. I said, “Roy, I just want to tell you the reason I
haven’t been coming down on weekends. Jesus changed my
life! And Roy, I don’t drink anymore; I don’t cuss anymore; I
quit smoking—He’s just changed my life. Man, I’m living for
Jesus!” And as I was sharing my experience with him, Roy laid
that little toy pistol against his cheek and caught the tears that
were falling from his eyes into the barrel of the gun.
Everywhere I went I told people that Jesus had changed my
life. One day a skeptic, knowing my sordid past, asked: “Well,
Johnny, what are you going to do now that you’re saved and
going to heaven?”
The answer came easy, “Take as many people with me as
Now, twenty-six years later, my mission remains the same.
I continue to tell everyone who will listen, “If Jesus could get
me from the poolroom to the pulpit, He can change your life,
too! Jesus is in the life-changing business!”
All the while my heart is adding, Thank you, Lord, for
rescuing this wayward son.
Thank you for that ugly car, that pretty girl, and for Mr.
Author’s note: Since December 1, 1986, Dr. Johnny M. Hunt
has been Senior Pastor of rapidly growing First Baptist Church,
Note: Names of some people and places changed to protect privacy.