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Once searching for parental love, he now searches for needy hearts

ACWORTH, Ga. (BP)–“I wish I had never bought you.”

For years, those cold, callused words of rejection haunted Tony Nolan. “I can remember my [adoptive] dad looking at me from my toes to my head and he’d say, ‘Son, is this all $200 got me?'”

Nolan never heard the words he most wanted to hear.

“I never remember as a kid ever hearing three words that a soul longs to hear, ‘I love you,'” Nolan said. His parents “may have said it, but I never can remember it. … Out of all the things that bothered me growing up, that bothered me the most. It hurt the most, more than any beatings, not hearing those three words hurt the most.”

Years of emotional abuse followed physical abuse that began when Nolan was just a year old. “For the first three years of my life, I went through foster care and I was incredibly abused physically and burnt with cigarettes,” Nolan said. “As a little baby from the age of 1 to 3, I was thrown up and down flights of stairs because I couldn’t walk up and down them fast enough, and I had knots all over my head.”

Drive-by shootings and murder were commonplace in the Jacksonville, Fla., community, called “Sin City,” where Nolan roamed the streets as a teenager.

“I can remember as a young boy hearing men fight outside of my window,” Nolan said. “My next-door neighbors would shoot guns and drive around our house.”

For several years, Nolan used drugs and alcohol to escape the reality of a life filled with fear, rejection and death. But the marijuana, cocaine, acid and “massive amounts of alcohol,” only deadened Nolan’s emotional and psychological torture for a short while.

“I found myself locked in that world of addiction and darkness,” he said.

When Nolan was 15, his adoptive father died of cancer. A year and a half later, Nolan dropped out of high school and left home. He drifted from one menial job to the next until he landed a position as the captain of a $1.5 million luxury yacht that cruised major ports along the East Coast such as Atlantic City, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Keys, Newport, Mass., as well as the Bahamas.

“Everywhere I went people would look at me and say, ‘Young man, you’ve arrived in life. You’ve made it in life.’ Outside, everything seemed to be OK, but inside I was still withering. I had done everything the world said you need to do to be happy and it did not live up to its claim and that was very disturbing.”

At age 24, Nolan found himself contemplating suicide. “I’d start drinking at 7 o’clock in the morning and I didn’t have a reason to live,” he said.

Then, one night, although still a bit inebriated from drinking a 12-pack of beer earlier that evening, Nolan finally agreed to attend a singles function at church with his stepbrother, who had been inviting him for months.

“They gave me coffee that night because I was drunk and later that night they gave me Jesus,” Nolan recounted. “I had no idea that the Bible is not filled with cruel commandments but sweet solutions.”

Twelve years later, Nolan now travels across the country, with his wife, Tammy, leading an evangelism and discipleship ministry, to teens called TnT Ministries. Literally thousands of teenagers have committed their lives to Christ as a result of Nolan’s ministry.

“God is using Tony Nolan to reach countless lives,” said Austin Rammell, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s personal/student evangelism department.

“In March 2001, he spoke at 2XS (the Florida Baptist Convention State Student Conference). He preached with the power of God and gave a clear and strong invitation to people to come forward only if they were giving their life to God in salvation. Through God’s power, 950 students came forward. God is using Tony Nolan to encourage the saints and reap a harvest. He has given him the ability to communicate to people from all walks of life. Without a doubt, I believe this ability comes from God’s call on his life, his commitment to walking with Jesus, and his passion for seeing people know Christ.”

At an “Extreme Youth Conference” this summer in Panama City, a total of about 900 students made professions of faith in Christ during consecutive Monday evening services where Nolan preached.

Before launching his itinerant evangelistic ministry a year ago, Nolan served on staff as college minister at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.

“Tony Nolan is a close friend,” said Johnny Hunt, senior pastor at First Baptist Woodstock, who also served as camp pastor this summer at the Panama City youth conference where Nolan preached. “He is a gifted communicator of the Word of God. It is apparent that the hand of God rests upon him in his proclamation of the gospel. I had Tony preach at Woodstock and we had one of the most outstanding days in memorable history. God is using him mightily.”

Nolan said he is constantly amazed that God would allow a former drug-addicted, high school dropout the privilege and opportunity to serve him. He said God’s call on his life to fulltime student evangelism was confirmed through a meeting a several years ago with his biological mother, who had been confined to a mental institution shortly after he was born.

“She looked at me from my toes to my head and she said. ‘You know what, I don’t understand all of these doctors killing these babies. … The doctors told me not to have you. It looks like God knew what he was doing.'”

Nolan said God used those words of encouragement from his birth mother to inspire him to excel as a student at the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas where he memorized about 50 passages of Scripture a week and studied the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew while earning a college degree in biblical studies.

More importantly, Nolan said he learned in Bible college that “God would use the dumb and the unwise things, the abase things that he might confound the wise, so that he might do one thing and do it well, lift high the name of Jesus and help people to miss hell and make heaven.”

And as for those three words, he never heard as a child, Nolan said his wife, Tammy and daughter, Christy, and son, Wil, have more than compensated through their expressions of love.

Now each time Nolan hears, “I love you,” he said God reminds him, “He has never regretted purchasing him with the priceless blood of his Son.”

Nolan said his all-consuming passion is not to be distracted by “the insignificant, short-lived trivial things of this world, but exhausting myself to live for the glory and the renowned name of God alone.”
Nolan’s TnT Ministries can be reached at (770) 422-1298 or online at www.tntgogod.com. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TONY NOLAN.

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  • Lee Weeks