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Second place

The comeback

By Joseph J. Pfister

I sat in my car in front of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Rain was coming down, the wind was blowing, and I was sick of my life. I had just driven from a three-day gambling binge in Atlantic City where I lost more than $5,000 and maxed out my credit cards trying to recoup my losses that now had surpassed $300,000 in more than five years. If I wasn’t at the casinos, I was sports gambling with a bookie or at one of the three racetracks in my state of Delaware.

I was an addict.

My past flashed before me while I got up enough nerve to climb the bridge’s walkway and jump the 500 feet into the Delaware River. I once was, I thought, a decent sort, until my marriage broke up and I began womanizing, drinking and betting on anything, anywhere.

I am a retired Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. I had started an organization called Operation Patriotism, where the nation’s Air National Guard initiated speakers bureaus and programs for schoolchildren to promote good faith between youth and the military during the Vietnam War. I spoke in 22 states; on radio and television; and before 90 schools, colleges, civic organizations, military units, prisons and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. I had appeared on television and later had my own show and won numerous awards including Citizen of the Year in Delaware, Sergeant of the Year in the Air Force and shared the top National Freedom Foundation’s highest award with John Wayne. My works on patriotism were entered into the Congressional Record of the U.S. Senate.

Back then I had a purpose in life. That’s when my four children had respect for me. Now I had become an addicted sleaze whose every waking thought was consumed with evil deeds and evil thoughts.

I took a swig of the highball I had carried out of the Resorts Hotel and Casino, opened the door and started walking toward the bridge. A state trooper came by at that moment and yelled, "Car trouble?"

I said, "No, sir, just getting some air."

I climbed back in my blue Sprint and drove over the bridge into Delaware and to my condominium where I spent a lot of lonely hours contemplating all my failures. It was 4 a.m. on a Sunday more than 11 years ago, and I drank some more booze to help me sleep.

About 3 p.m., the phone rang. It was Jim, an old friend who always wanted me to go to church with him. He would say the same thing, "I prayed for you this morning, Joe." He invited me to go with him that night to hear a guest speaker.

I consented, figuring he would treat me to a hamburger after church.

His church was a Pentecostal church, and every seat was filled. The visiting speaker gave an eloquent sermon and then started speaking about individuals in the audience who were hurting spiritually, physically and emotionally. A long line formed across the platform, and the pastor stood in front of each. Several fell backward.

My friend explained, "Joe, the Holy Spirit is here and those people are being slain in His Spirit. Come on, let’s go up." I waited until there were only a few left. I was curious. I thought these people were paid to collapse.

When I went up, the pastor came in front of me and asked, "What can God do for you, my son?"

I blurted out something about my asthma. He raised his hand, closed his eyes and began to pray. I suddenly felt peace come over me and the next instant I was lying in Jim’s arms. Did he push me down? I wondered, as I glanced around and saw I was the only one left on the platform.

"No, Joe," Jim said, laughing. "He never touched you."

"How long have I been lying here?" I asked.

"Oh, about eight minutes," Jim said as he helped me to my feet.

The next day I made an appointment to see the pastor and told him my life story. He quoted 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." From that day I began to walk in Christ’s path. The day before I almost took my life. If my friend hadn’t called, if I wasn’t hungry, if the visiting pastor had not grabbed my interest … I might be dead today.

I now read the Bible every day. I surround myself with devout Christians. I usher at my church and narrate the plays and special presentations. I write articles for the newspaper to promote our ministries. Recently I helped instigate the start of a radio program for our church. And on the Fourth of July Sunday this year I addressed the congregation about my views of God, country and the flag.

But my favorite ministry is being helped and helping men in HonorBound men’s ministries. Weekly we meet to counsel, pray and love each other so we can be better husbands, fathers and godly examples.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I have reached perfection. I have not. I still have to pray daily for God’s help and be vigilant in struggling with my past addiction, but my life has changed completely from the habitual, compulsive, destructive person I was to one who wants to follow our Lord with every ounce of energy I have. I am now married to a wonderful Christian. I thank my church and the members there. I am truly blessed and forever thankful to Jesus my Savior.

Joseph J. Pfister, 67, Chief Master Sergeant, Ret., USAF, is a member of First Assembly of God in Elkton, Md., where Alan Bosmeny is pastor. Joe says, "If revealing my sordid past can help people walk in the light of Christ, then I’m glad to do it." Before joining the Air Force, he was a pitcher in the farm systems of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies.


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