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From crossfire to the cross

MEMPHIS (BP)– Ronnie Johnson, pastor of Miracle of Redemption Church, Memphis, has been shot four times and stabbed seven times. In his leg, he carries the scars of a 12-gauge shotgun wound the size of a softball.
“Of course I shot other folks too,” Johnson said.

Johnson was part of the gang Gangster Disciples until June 1, 1995, when he got “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

During his time in the gang, Johnson watched two friends die in his arms. In and out of prison, he eventually started selling drugs and became his own best customer. He was addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

One day, a man with the Ronnie Tullos Evangelistic Association came to Johnson’s South Memphis neighborhood. He came up to Johnson and said, “Ronnie, look, I’m not trying to tell you to put down that big Custer that you like carrying, but if you’ll get Jesus in the temple, He’ll run all the money changers out.”

Johnson did not understand what the man was talking about and actually thought the man was with the police since the street was known for its “drug houses.” Johnson informed his friends to keep a look out because “the Feds (are) around the community posing as preachers.”

To prove to himself that the preachers were the police, Johnson went to visit their facility. However, instead of the police, Johnson found people singing hymns.

Johnson asked Ronnie Tullos, who owned the facility, for work, and Tullos told Ronnie to be back the next day at 9 a.m.

“Of course, in the street life, there is no set time where you come out to do dirty work you know,” Johnson chuckled. “It’s whenever you get up and get out.”

Once Johnson finally showed up at noon to work, Tullos started to turn Johnson away. Johnson grabbed the door and said, “Man, I need some help.”

Tullos invited Johnson in and shared the Gospel with him. He asked Johnson if he had ever been saved, and Johnson replied that yes, he had been saved in the penitentiary.

Tullos said, “Ronnie if you had been saved in a penitentiary, you wouldn’t be a crack addict now.”

The two men kept talking until Tullos said it was his prayer time when he normally prayed in his attic. He said if Johnson wanted, he could follow him.

“I followed him up in the attic, man, he prayed in such a way as if I never heard and never seen before a person do it. It was as if God was right there with him,” Johnson said. “And after he finished praying … it was just quiet and the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray, to cry out because he had quoted all the gospel of Romans.”

Johnson began to pray that more than anything he wanted to be saved.

“I don’t how I’m going to live it, to be honest, God,” Johnson prayed. “But Lord, if you’ll take me, here I am.”

Johnson noted, “Now, I tell folks all the time, God saved me, He’ll save anybody. I was lowest of the lowest.”

Two years after he was saved, God called Johnson into the ministry.

“When the Lord saved me, He immediately gave me a passion and burden to go back to the other gang members, to the dangerous places, to the despised places, to the dirty places where no one else was going,” Johnson said. “We didn’t see the church in those places, but I didn’t know how I was going to do that.”

Johnson did not feel like he was qualified for the task, but he found in the Scripture that God uses the foolish and weak things to confound the mighty and wise.

“God reminded me, ‘You said you would go wherever I want you to go, do whatever I want you to do, and be whatever I want you to be,'” Johnson said.

God then sent Johnson back to school. He had dropped out of high school after going to the penitentiary at 17. He obtained his GED and attended Mid-America Seminary. Now, he is working on his bachelor of arts in biblical counseling.

Johnson began to work in the Ronnie Tullos Evangelistic Association in Memphis, eventually becoming the director. But after serving there for 18 years, God called him out. Johnson struggled with the call, but one night God woke him up and asked, “Ronnie, are you going to trust me or are you going to trust me?”

Johnson told his wife the next morning that he felt God was calling them out from that ministry. “She looked at me with tears in her eyes. She said, ‘Ronnie, we need to be obedient,'” he said. “And that sealed it.”

Johnson has been pastoring Miracle of Redemption Church for the past seven years. Last year, his church saw 47 baptisms and 271 professions of faith.

“I felt like, you know, to give back to the community is not just putting a person in a better house or continue [to] just give and give. But to … give them the one gift … through the saving knowledge of Christ,” Johnson said.

Miracle of Redemption has an educational wing, a food pantry and a clothes closet. Johnson said that while the church has the facility and the tools, they still need workers, especially for their education center.

Miracle of Redemption is in a more diverse neighborhood than the one Johnson grew up in. However, Johnson said this neighborhood has the same generational curses as his childhood neighborhood.

Johnson himself has worked to break the generational curse of his family. His father died when he was 2, and his uncles and aunts were killers and drug dealers, “just bad people,” he said. “When God saved me, I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want my sons to be like I used to be nor like the generation that was before me,'” Johnson said.

Today, one of Johnson’s sons is a pharmacist, “a legal drug dealer in the family,” as Johnson put it. Another son is a medical doctor who is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, while another son is in training to enter the Shelby County sheriff’s academy.

“I told them, ‘Man, guys listen, I’m proud of y’all, but it isn’t your career I’m excited about for y’all…. I’m more worried about that you keep your eyes on Jesus,'” Johnson said. “‘You can have all the money, the best career, but without Jesus, it’s just emptiness and misery.'”