EDITORS’ NOTE: This is a first-person account by Gwan Garrison, pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Bettstown, Ga., as told to Joe Westbury, managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
BETTSTOWN, Ga. (BP)–In 1994, power and money were my gods. Good, bad or indifferent, that’s the way it was. I had given the devil my heart and would do whatever I felt he wanted me to do to get what I wanted out of life.
I was living the good life in California with my wife Judy and two daughters but was searching for purpose and meaning. That’s when I met a practicing witch, who was one of the office supervisors where I worked as the department head. She served under me and we quickly struck up a professional relationship.
The witch and I were on the same material wavelength and she taught me how to cast spells, how to discern the future, how to influence people and have power over them. I was moving up the ranks and wanted that to continue as long as possible, so (the witch’s abilities) really appealed to me. That’s how I became involved in Satanic worship.
No one, especially my family and my Christian wife, had any idea of my gradual involvement with the darker side of life. As I acquired Satanic paraphernalia –- a bible, literature, candles, books on how to cast spells -– I kept them all safely hidden and would practice my belief away from the eyes of others. I knew they would not understand and I didn’t want to explain.
The witch and I worked in tandem in the office environment and I thoroughly began to enjoy persecuting Christians. I just detested them for some reason -– especially as the Easter season rolled around and they asked to take Good Friday as a vacation day.
That really irritated me and I would always come up with a good excuse to deny the request. “Sorry, we are overworked and understaffed” always seemed appropriate and justifiable, or I would say that others with more seniority had already requested the day. Anyway, they didn’t get the day off to go to church and that gave me a considerable amount of satisfaction and fulfillment.
One of our employees, Susan Conway, was especially bothersome.
Susan had witnessed to me on several occasions and I did everything I could to terminate her. I would accept additional administrative responsibilities to bring her closer under my authority but it never worked out. She would be transferred to another unit or something would happen.
I could never touch her, and it aggravated me to no end. But in her own gracious manner, she never compromised her witness.
There was such a hedge of protection around her that I could never penetrate, and it really bothered me. I loved persecuting Christians and she was one trophy that I wanted on my wall.
Then one day in 1994 my daughter Cammie accepted Christ following her enrollment in a Christian school -– an enrollment that occurred over my objections. I didn’t care for that at all and thought it was just a passing teenage phase and wouldn’t last. I didn’t do anything to encourage her and tried to downplay its significance. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I could have been so insensitive.
When Good Friday rolled around I received the usual requests for vacation days from Christians and turned them down with the usual amount of satisfaction. But that year something different came into play.
I walked into my office and there on the corner of my desk was a free ticket to a drama called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” I didn’t know that it was a passion play and I didn’t have anything better to do so I thought I would go see it. My marriage was in jeopardy and my wife and two daughters had moved to be near her parents in Bainbridge, Ga., who were in failing health. I had decided we were at a crossroads and I would divorce my wife because money -– and my lucrative job -– was more important than my family.
As I pulled up at the address on the ticket I was surprised to see that I was in the parking lot of a large church. My first reaction was a half-smile and to acknowledge to whomever left the ticket on my desk, “OK, you got me.” But I was still confused, thinking that perhaps the drama team had simply rented the facility for the evening and I dismissed any religious connection.
I had been raised in a family where we said grace before our meals but that was pretty much as close as we ever got to God. In fact, my father once decked a pastor because he didn’t like something he said. On this night I didn’t have anything better to do so I thought I’d go inside and see the play.
However, just to be on the safe side I sat on the very last pew -– on the very end, near the exit -– just in case they began to get “churchy” on me and I needed to leave before the closing act.
Much to my surprise, the drama was riveting as the story of the betrayal of Christ unfolded in front of me. As the drama continued, I became especially interested in the scene of the Last Supper.
“I’ve seen that in a painting somewhere before,” I thought as the disciples talked around the table with Christ. I watched as one of the disciples got up and left, walking right by me as he exited the sanctuary.
“I wonder where he’s going,” I thought to myself.
Then the set changed to the Garden of Gethsemane and the doors swung open and two guys dressed like Roman soldiers walked up to the stage and got into a heated discussion with the disciples. In one fast swing, Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers.
Blood spurted everywhere and I thought, “Wow, that’s really life-like.”
I was thoroughly hooked on the story.
Then, to my amazement, Jesus put the ear back on the soldier and the blood disappeared. The next thing I knew, they were dragging Him right by me, through the swinging doors and into the foyer.
The doors closed and I heard the whips hitting His back. Then something strange began to happen: Every time the whip struck Him I began having a very sharp pain in my chest that began moving down my arm. I felt like I was having the symptoms of a heart attack.
Once again the doors swung open and Jesus was standing there wearing a crown of thorns. He took three steps and fell in the aisle right in front of my pew and looked up into my eyes, with blood dripping down his forehead, and said, “I did this for you.”
Goose bumps ran down my spine. I didn’t know how to respond. He was speaking directly to me like He had known me forever.
Once Jesus got to the stage, which was set as Calvary, He began crying out with each nail that was driven into his flesh. And each time the hammer hit the nail the pain in my own chest returned. I knew I was having a heart attack and morbidly thought to myself, “Well, at least I’ll die in church.”
“Father, forgive them …”
Then they raised the cross with Christ attached, dropped it into a hole on the stage and a tremendous clap of thunder roared over the speaker system. I heard Him say something remarkable: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The house lights went down and the sanctuary was totally black. As the lights come up, the cross was empty. I was used to casting spells on others, but at this instance I was spellbound by the gospel story.
The pastor, standing under one dim light at the front of the sanctuary, said, “If you are hurting in your heart tonight, I want to pray for you. Please raise your hand.” With pain running from my heart down my arm I didn’t wait a moment. I shot my hand up, seriously thinking to myself, “If you want to do something, call 911.”
I don’t remember how I got to the altar when the invitation was given, I just remember kneeling with the pastor. After a moment he looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve never felt the presence of evil like I feel in you tonight. I sense that Satan completely controls you. If you want to be set free from the pain you’re feeling, Jesus can set you free.”
As I prayed the sinner’s prayer the pain immediately left.
It was 7:55 p.m. on April 1, 1994 -– I became an April Fool for Christ that night.
I wanted to be baptized right then but the church was not prepared, so we scheduled it for two weeks later. But I knew that as a new believer I had to destroy the Satanic altar in my house as soon as I arrived home. Since my family had already returned to Georgia, all of it was out in the open in the living room, all set up in the fireplace with candles, my Satanic bible, the book of spells that was used in worship, my crystals.
I went over to the Satanic bible and picked it up and I was hit by a force like I had felt only once before when I had been electrocuted. I’m using that description because I had once been hit by 860 volts of electricity while in the military and I spent three days in the hospital. I knew what a jolt like that felt like.
That’s when I got a broom and mop and, holding them by the straw and cloth ends, picked up the bible by the wooden handles like giant chopsticks and took it outside to the trashcan. My neighbors, if they saw me in the streetlights, must have thought I was crazy. When I went back inside, my cat’s eyes were as big and mean-looking as I had ever seen them; he even had this strange, low growl that I had never heard before. He had always been a great friend and I had never had a problem with him, but that night he was changed.
At the office on Monday the witch would not come near me. Then one of the workers came up and said, “Is it true? Did you go to church on Friday?”
“Yes, I got saved Friday night,” I replied.
“Man, we stopped praying for you years ago,” he stated.
I thought for a moment and said, “Well, I’m glad someone never stopped.”
That’s when Susan walked up and said she had been in the service that night and told me her church had sponsored the play. And then she said she was the one who left the ticket on my desk.
That’s the first time I knew who left the ticket -– it was the one person who I had tried to terminate on so many occasions. I could not believe her faithfulness to her Lord.
Two weeks later, just after Easter, Susan was the first person I saw and who handed me a towel when I came up out of the baptism waters at her church. I’ll never forget that big smile that she had on her face.
From that day forward money didn’t mean anything to me. My values changed. My life changed. The witch transferred out of my work unit and we never worked together again.
I decided not to follow through with the divorce and, with Eric the cat who became friendly again, drove across the country to Georgia to reunite with my family. We became involved in a Georgia Baptist church, I responded to a call to the gospel ministry and enrolled in Bible classes at the Bowen Bible Institute sponsored by Bowen Baptist Association. In 1998 I led my younger daughter, Olivia, to faith in Christ at our kitchen table.
Today I serve as the information technology manager for Leon County, Fla., just across the state line in Tallahassee. I was ordained and licensed by Faceville Baptist Church under the ministry of Ken Gainious in 1998 and accepted the pastorate of Franklin Baptist Church in 1999. By the grace of God and the help of my wife, I just completed my eighth year as pastor of this wonderful, loving, 52-member church.
Today I tell Christians this earthly battle is about the flesh versus the spirit. Whatever is fed becomes stronger. We choose daily who we will serve, who will be our master.
But for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Individuals desiring to contact Gwan Garrison can reach him through email at [email protected] or by contacting Franklin Baptist Church, 1002 Bettstown Road, Bainbridge, GA 39819.