LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Steve Drake gripped a 15-inch steel rod in one hand and the throat of his hippie victim in the other.
But before the bar-brandishing Drake could deliver a possibly fatal scourging to the long-haired hippie who had stolen Drake’s girlfriend, an unseen foe tackled him from behind. The scuffle ended with Drake slightly scarred and more than a little lovesick.
The battle-torn, scruffy mess who emerged from the skirmish hardly resembles the suspender-donned Drake who now directs Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s supervised ministry program. But nearly 30 years after his beatnik brawl, Drake humbly presents himself as a trophy of God’s grace.
In fact, God’s deliverance began that same night in 1972 in the small college town of Carrollton, Ga., where Drake served as a meat inspector for the state.
In the aftermath of the battle, Drake had returned home. To what? Not much, in his mind. Drake had lost his girlfriend. He had pursued a fast life of marijuana and alcohol. And he had forsaken his Christian upbringing.
Distraught, Drake weeded through the roach clips, liquor bottles and dirty laundry littering his apartment floor. He collapsed on his bed.
“I was really sad because my life … was just nothing — garbage, trash,” Drake said.
He thought he had reached a dead end. But God was just beginning. During the night, Drake awoke under strong conviction. He knew what he needed to do — he fell to his knees.
“I said, ‘God, I’m sorry for living in the garbage that you know that I’ve been living in. But if you still want me, I give myself to you. Amen,'” Drake recounted.
The next morning, he was a changed man.
“I felt like I had a second chance. … All the time I’d been running, [God] had been searching for me,” Drake said.
With the previous night’s commitment to Christ still fresh on his mind, Drake was on a mission.
“I thought what I really should do was go buy a Bible and begin to read it so I would learn what it is was that God wanted from my life,” he said.
Only one problem — his 1967 blue Dodge Satellite 262 two-barrel wouldn’t cooperate. The car whined in protest as Drake wrenched the ignition. Nothing. Again. Nothing. But nothing was going to stop him either — not even a dead battery.
“I said to myself, ‘I haven’t been right with God but for about four hours and already the devil is trying to steal this thing away from me,'” Drake said. He acted fast and probably a little foolishly. “I just got up under somebody else’s hood and stole their battery [and] put it in my car,” he said. He bought the Bible and then drove to tell the news to his flabbergasted father, who had given up on Drake as a lost cause.
Four days later, Drake gave the battery back. God forgave him. The woman he stole it from didn’t.
“She came out and cussed me for a long time,” Drake said. “I just tried to be nice to her as I put it back in and drove off.”
Several days later, Drake also drove away from his old life of decadence. A job opportunity allowed him to move away from his hippie friends and get a new start in Rome, Ga.
In that north Georgia town, God directed Drake to a church — West Rome Baptist Church, led at the time by Jerry Vines, current pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
“I went out there and heard an expository message for the first time in my life,” Drake said.
The Sunday after his initial visit, Drake heard another message — one that addressed his experience perfectly.
“He [Vines] preached, ‘You’re not your own. You’re bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body and soul which are his,'” Drake said.
Spiritually energized, Drake walked to the altar and made a public commitment.
“I said, ‘Preacher, I’ve been on God’s payroll for a long time, but I’ve never lifted a finger to help. I want to punch in and go to work,'” Drake said.
Drake enrolled in God’s army, and Christ proceeded to transform his new centurion at the church in Rome.
There, Drake met his wife Sherrie. And there, God called Drake into the ministry — but not before Drake battled some trepidation.
Though he believed God wanted him in the ministry, Drake feared he might have misinterpreted his happiness in his new Christian life as a true call to the ministry. And he wondered how God could use a butcher with only a high school education.
“I said, ‘God, do you really want me to be in the ministry? I’m happy to do it if I know that you want me to do it. But you see, I’m a meat inspector, and I’ve got a wife now,'” Drake said.
Drake also thought he had another obstacle — his new car, an MGB Roadster.
“I said, ‘Of course, if I went into the ministry, I would have to go to college. And you know, Lord, if I went to college I’d have to sell this MGB Roadster. And I just don’t know who would want to buy [it],'” Drake said.
While praying, the answer came. The phone rang. Someone wanted to buy the car.
The buyer came over and looked at the car. Then the two drove to the bank. About 45 minutes after the phone call, Drake returned to his prayer with a sold car and an assurance that God had called him into the ministry.
Still lacking a college education, Drake was called to a church immediately — a country congregation in Rome.
“What the [search committee] said was, ‘Well, I know he hasn’t been to school yet. But he sure does look like a preacher,'” Drake said.
He pastored for a year before God led him to continue his education at Criswell College in Dallas. Drake later became the first Criswell student to enroll and graduate from Southern Seminary. He obtained a master of divinity.
Following graduation, Drake served in several churches and obtained his doctor of ministry degree from Southern. In 1996, God called Drake back to the Louisville, Ky., seminary.
In addition to his duties in the supervised ministry program, Drake also serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry — a rewarding career he never could have envisioned as a 21-year-old ruffian.
“I could not have possibly imagined Steve Drake sweeping floors at Southern Seminary, much less teaching young ministers about the ministry,” Drake said.
Though his transformation shocked even his parents, the new Drake now knows God can transform anyone.
“I think that it pleases God to take the roughest and the weakest and use them in great ways,” Drake said. “Don’t ever think that God can’t change anybody.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: STEVE DRAKE.