A sharecropper’s shack near the cotton fields of Mississippi was where Lester was born. The shack was his family’s home – one which they shared with another family. As he grew, instability became the theme of his family. Moving from state to state, the family stayed with relatives or friends in order to have food and shelter. The constant instability helped to fuel tension between Lester’s parents, until his father finally left the family.
By the time Lester reached the age of eight, his mother had remarried and had given birth to three more children. Lester was now the oldest of seven children. The family was dysfunctional and alcohol became a consistent vice in his mother’s life. The more she drank, the more fighting and arguing filled their household. The children watched their parents fight constantly and followed suit by arguing with one another. The children would get punished for fighting by getting a whooping, which Lester seemed to get the most frequently. He would often run to his grandmother’s house where he would find relief and escape from the chaos at home.
As Lester’s family moved once again – this time to public housing projects in Illinois – the fighting and arguing within his family grew worse. During one particularly heated argument, a sister of Lester’s jumped on him and covered his face with deep scratches. With the visible marks of his family’s dysfunction apparent on his face, Lester went to school the next day full of shame. When he got home, he quickly retreated to his bedroom. His grandmother came to calm him and rubbed salve over the deeps cuts on his face. That action of love was memorable to Lester. He was not used to anyone caring for him the way his grandmother did that day.
When Lester reached the age to attend high school, the school officials couldn’t believe he was old enough because his stature did not match that of the other students. The years of stress and often not having money for food had paid a toll. He only weighed 98 pounds and had fallen so far behind in school that he was placed in special ed. By this time, Lester was tired. He was tired of all the fighting, the struggle, and the dysfunction that his family life provided. He lost the will to try for a better life and instead, began giving in to his temptations. He ate candy and anything he could get his hands on for meals, he began drinking and smoking, and eventually developed an addiction to crack cocaine. He would try to hold onto a job, but his addictions and desire to steal would take over. After he was caught stealing from his boss, Lester decided to go to a rehab center. But his addictive behavior just grew worse.
One night, Lester finally reached the point of defeat and things took a drastic turn. He went to the store to buy alcohol and drank until he could no longer drink anymore. He grabbed a butcher knife out of his kitchen drawer and walked the four blocks to the police station. It was a desperate act of crying out for help. Lester says, “I walked in there and they were going to kill me or help me – I didn’t know which at the time. I just wanted to die.” The officers ended up sending him to the hospital and eventually on to a mental institution in Peoria.
Once released, Lester’s life was still in shambles and his addictions were still prevalent. He decided he needed more help and enrolled in Peoria Rescue Ministries’ recovery program at Victory Acres. After three months in the program, Lester was finding it difficult to make a serious life change. He left the program and tried to go back to work, but this only resulted in him returning to a destructive lifestyle. Lester became determined to make a serious change and decided to try the Victory Acres program again. This time, it stuck. He began to really read and study the Bible and true transformation began to take place. But he continued to have an inner struggle between wanting true change and still wanting to feed his addictions. After a particularly challenging week in the program, Lester’s frustration boiled over. He wanted to quit the program and go get high instead, but a staff member sat him down and asked if he had ever accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior. They prayed together and Lester committed his life to Christ. Lester describes that moment when he says, “I had a weight lifted…Something different came upon me.”
Being a new follower of Christ didn’t mean that Lester’s temptations and struggles disappeared though. One night, while Lester was taking part in the transitional phase of the program at the Peoria Rescue Mission, he gave into his temptations. He left to go get high. While walking back to the Mission, he saw the building’s “Jesus Saves” sign lighting up the sky. This time, though, Lester felt convicted of his actions. He felt sick to his stomach and as he says “had a burning in him telling him he had done something wrong.” He knew it was the Holy Spirit. He had never felt that before. He went and confessed his wrong doing to the Mission’s directors and recommitted himself to the program.
Lester went on to learn much through the program. He studied the words of the Bible and took them to heart. After so many years of being in special ed and struggling with learning, he was amazed at what he could learn. Lester explains, “The Bible taught me that I have a heart. The Bible taught me that I can read. The Bible taught me that I am a person – a person of God…You see, growing up, I never knew these things. I never knew anything.”
Today, Lester’s life is full of promise. He is a dedicated employee at the Peoria Rescue Mission and does the difficult job of supervising at the Mission during the night hours. His family has also had a total transformation. His mother and stepfather are now followers of Christ and arguing, abuse, and alcohol are no longer a part of their lives. Lester also has a strong relationship with his siblings. “We’re a different family,” explains Lester, “It’s a whole different ballgame when you’ve got the Word of God in your life.” Through Christ, they are continually finding restoration. “We are at peace,” Lester says, “Because we are with Christ. Thank you, Lord, for giving me something I never had.”