Christian Retailing

Former bookstore owner testifies to the ministry of a good book Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Friday, 29 April 2011 03:31 PM America/New_York

By Jackie Johnson

In 1979 a friend gave me a copy of David Wilkerson’s book The Cross and the Switchblade. I was so moved by the story that I believe it helped shaped the course of my life. Before receiving the book, I had been living my life as a reckless teenager. All I cared about was partying with friends and my own desires. And even though I was about to graduate high school, I had no real plans for the future.

Tragically, the week before my graduation, my 16-year-old brother had a horrendous accident.  Nubs—his childhood nickname—was fooling around with some friends and climbed an electrical station tower near our home. While at the top he slipped and accidentally grabbed onto a live wire, which sent 69,000 volts of electricity through him. He caught on fire and continued to fall onto another section of the structure. The electricity went out in the whole community.

My parents heard some commotion outside and rushed out to see what was wrong.  Someone shouted for them to go to the tower and they ran down the road at a frantic pace. When they arrived, they looked up and saw a fiery ball hanging from a metal beam. They were shocked to learn it was their son. Once the paramedics arrived they were at a loss as to what to do. The electricity was still on, and no one could get close without the risk of electrocution. Many people began to show up, and when Tom, my oldest brother, arrived, he became hysterical and had to be physically held back from trying to rush in to save Nubs.

Once the electricity was turned off, the firefighters and rescue workers were able to get to my brother. Remarkably, he was still alive. My mom was able to ride with him in the ambulance, and before they put a trachea tube in him, she said, “I’m praying for you, Nubs. You pray, too, OK?” He responded, “I am praying, Mom.” These were the last words he ever spoke.

I was at my boyfriend’s house when I received the call. I was only told to come home right away. I rushed home and nearly passed out when I heard what happened to my little brother. The report from the hospital was that he had third-degree burns over 90% of his body. The electricity had gone through his body damaging internal organs and had exited through his right leg. His leg would have to be amputated.

Nubs and I were very close. He was one year younger and we had begun partying together and hanging out with the same crowd. I had gone to Sunday school as a child, and had even been involved in a youth group, but was certainly not living as a Christian. However, I knew enough to fall on my knees and pray for my brother’s life.

The next few months were an emotional roller-coaster ride. I went to the hospital almost every day to pray and talk to him. He was in a coma, so I was never sure how much he could hear. At times, Nubs would seem to rally, and we were hopeful he would survive. But most of the reports were negative—he was in bad shape. In August 1978, two months after his accident, Nubs passed away due to kidney failure. We were devastated.

After the funeral, I rededicated my life to Christ. I did so out of a really selfish desire to see my brother again. I became aware of the fact that my brother had gone forward at an altar call mere weeks before his accident, so I knew where he was spending eternity. I wanted to do whatever it took to go to heaven. I also had another determination that stemmed from my brother’s death. I wanted to talk to other youth who were living life as though there was no God, and thought they would live to a ripe old age. I felt an urgency to share Christ with my peers before it was too late.

When a girlfriend told me she had a book she wanted me to read, I had no idea the impact it would have on me. When I read David Wilkerson’s story of how he followed the Lord’s leading to go into New York City and witness to the youth of the inner city, my heart began to pound. “This is what I want to do,” I thought. “I want to reach out to youth and tell them that their life can be changed through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Long after I finished the book, I could not shake the feeling that I should pick up the book again. This time I flipped to the back page and noticed a contact number for World Challenge (The Institute of Christian Training), a school that trained people to work with young men and women with drug and alcohol addictions. My mom encouraged me to consider going, but I lived in Delaware and this school was in Texas, plus I was only 18 years old and already enrolled in the local community college taking human services courses. Well, in spite of all my excuses for why I could not go to World Challenge, God had other plans for me. He opened doors and provided finances and three months after reading The Cross and the Switchblade, I was shaking hands with David Wilkerson in East Texas on the beautiful campus of World Challenge.

The school was amazing. I was a new Christian at the time, but I grew in my faith as I worshiped with Dallas Holm and Praise, and was ministered to by David Wilkerson himself. I had wonderful instructors and also met Nicky Cruz and Israel Narvaez, who were mentioned in David’s book. I studied hard and traveled along with my classmates, to inner cities, prisons and Teen Challenge centers in Texas and Alabama where we had opportunities to minister.

I saw God work in miraculous ways during the course of the five-month program. When I returned home after receiving my diploma, God led me to the Turning Point Ranch for Boys. I was able to minister to boys ages 12-17 and share what happened to my brother and how Jesus had changed my life and could change theirs as well.

In 1986, my mom and I opened Sonshine House Christian Bookstore in Newark, Delaware. We sold our store to Family Christian Stores in 1999, but I stayed on as manager for four years. I left the bookstore to go to work for my church as the senior high youth director. In 2007, I was asked by my pastor to open a bookstore in my church.  I now spend my time volunteering in both the youth ministry and our church bookstore. I can honestly say as I look back over the last 30 years, that my love for youth and Christian books was shaped by God and the amazing book He led me to read.