Sunday school with John

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a very religious person. I wasn’t raised religiously, I’ve rarely been to church and the thought of being part of a particular religion has never really appealed to me.

BUT, being open to stuff is obviously one of the most important aspects of being human, and one of the most important aspects of getting a lot out of a trip like the one I’m on.

A few days ago, I was slowly rolling down a winding Illinois road. It was a sunday, and the road was pretty empty. Whether that was because it was a sunday and everyone was in church, or because the road was less traveled than others, I don’t know. I was almost out of water. About a quarter of a bottle left and the next town was 8 miles down the road. To my left I saw a small campsite – nearly empty. There was in fact only one trailer there, but something caught my eye about it. There were these neon green t-shirts hanging all around it. I decided to pull in and see if there was water to be found.

I pull up to this trailer and a friendly looking man walks out – smiling. He was wearing a t-shirt turned into a wife-beater that read “Jesus Freak” on it. He looked like this:


His name was John. John was, for many years, a cocaine addict and hardcore alcoholic. He got busted several times for possession of drugs and driving while under the influence. He’s served jail time on three occasions. About a year ago, John had a court date to attend. I forget why he was going to court, but John explained to me that he was very unsure about what was going to happen on that day. Because of this uncertainty, John and his brother – also an alcoholic – decided to go out for one last rumble at a friend’s bar. They both got heavily intoxicated, got in a car to go home, and then got into a fist fight in the car. John’s brother had always been the one with aggressive tendencies of the two, but this time John decided he’d had enough. He fought back.

This whole story ended with John being flown to one hospital and his brother to another one for intensive care. His brother nearly died from his injuries. The thing you see around John ankle is a device measuring the alcohol content in the vapors coming from his skin. He is not allowed to drink any alcohol, and he will never be allowed to get his driver’s license back again.

The drinks John had that night were the last of his life so far. He went through a more intensive and longer rehabilitation than he had before, and one that let him focus on his spiritual side more. Lots of time was spent on prayer and studying the bible.

When I met this man outside of his trailer near the town of Tunnel Hill that day, I saw a guy with such clarity in his eyes and a mind so sharp you wouldn’t believe he’d been basically living off drugs and alcohol for many years.

John himself attributed his physical and mental recovery whole-heartedly to his spiritual recovery. He told me about humility, what love now means to him and how finding his place in the world was an important step. It was truly great to meet this guy, and it gave me an solid reminder to always stay open and non-judgmental. Religious belief, which may carry little or no importance to me, obviously helps millions of people get through the hardships of life – so maybe I shouldn’t give it such a hard time?

John is now a permanent summer resident of this little campground. He grows organic vegetables in the garden in front of his camper and sells t-shirts to passers by (or at rodeos or bigger events if someone drives him there).



He gave me a whole bag of vegetables, cereal bars and water. These vegetables were, let me tell you, the BEST vegetables I’ve ever eaten. The best I tell you. Now I know what a tomato is actually supposed to taste like. It’s nothing like what we buy in stores. John also gave me a sweet t-shirt with a custom print on it.

This man is a legend. God bless him (the God he believes in).

4 thoughts on “Sunday school with John

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