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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Out of the Pit

By John W. Kennedy
Aug 26, 2012

Cregg Jones had just turned 18 when he prepared to join the U.S. Marine Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. But in July 1967, Jones still could be found at his customary post every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night: as a bouncer at the family juke joint in southeastern North Carolina.

His father operated the bootleg house, and young Cregg helped maintain order at the family business — with a holster strapped to his waist in which he kept his .22-caliber pistol built on a .32-caliber frame. With beer and liquor flowing freely, customers could lose their inhibitions and let loose pent-up frustrations from the workweek.

It was a Saturday night when Jones ventured into an unruly crowd to break up a fracas. One of a trio of brothers involved in the melee threw a bottle at him. Enraged, Jones reached for his gun and shot the man, mortally wounding him. A brother of the dying patron grabbed Jones from behind and tried to slash his throat while the other returned fire.

A .22-caliber bullet entered Jones’ side, tore 11 holes in his stomach, struck his liver, and pressed against his spinal cord. When Jones arrived at the hospital, the attending physician didn’t give him much chance of surviving. At the time, doctors considered the bullet in too precarious a position to operate. Jones spent the next four days in a coma.

While unconscious, Jones says he experienced a foretaste of hell in his mind.

“It was dark and I was thirsty and hot,” Jones says. “There was water in a trough two feet away, but it took me 96 hours to reach it.”

During much of that touch-and-go period, Allie Fair Bullard, a Pentecostal mother of one of Jones’ childhood friends, interceded for him. Jones spent 10 days in the hospital. Fourteen months later, he underwent an operation to remove the bullet next to his spinal cord.

In 1969, a jury convicted Jones of second-degree murder for his role in the shooting. He received a 10- to 12-year term. He gained his freedom after serving 2½ years of the original sentence.

Despite his ordeal, Jones returned to the raucous lifestyle he had known before. That often meant consuming a great deal of alcohol. Every Monday morning, a Pentecostal woman named Jeannette Allen would invade the rough neighborhood where Jones lived and shake her finger at him, telling him he would surrender his life to the Lord.

“I didn’t want to hear that when I had a hangover,” Jones says. “But I had to respect her for being bold enough to walk onto our street.”

While Allen planted the gospel seed, it was another woman — Jones’ wife, Katie — who unintentionally pushed him into the Kingdom. Tired of his womanizing ways four years into the marriage, Katie walked out with their daughter and moved to Florida to live with her sister.

Ironically, at 18, Katie had married the rough-and-tumble Cregg in an attempt to get away from Christianity. Her father was a preacher, and religion permeated the family home while she grew up. Six months into the separation, Jones had a revelation.

“I found out the problem; it was me,” Jones says. “I told the Lord I would serve Him if He brought her back home.”

Katie returned, and her husband kept his promise. Jones says God took away his desire to drink alcohol and to be unfaithful to his wife.

“When I was saved, God made me a new creature,” he says. “I had such a hunger for the Lord. I was ashamed of the way I had lived.”

“It was an awesome change,” Katie remembers. “He was totally different as a husband and a daddy. He wanted us to be a churchgoing family and to raise our kids in faith.”

Two weeks after returning home, Katie made Jesus her Savior.

Jones passionately studied the Bible, memorized Scripture and prayed constantly. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Carolina Bible College in Fayetteville, N.C., and started serving as an evangelist. He later became assistant pastor at Fayetteville Assembly of God, where he started a jail ministry to capital crime offenders.

“I wanted to help people because I came from a similar background,” Jones says. “I knew the only thing that would help was Jesus Christ.”

Jones, now 63, is one of 58,000 members of the Lumbee, a Native American tribe in the Tarheel State. The Lumbee include a mixture of other Native American heritages, including the Tuscarora and the Coharie, which is Katie’s ancestry.

In 2001, Jones started Rainbow Covenant Assembly of God in Rowland, N.C., near the South Carolina boundary line. Katie is the church secretary and leads the women’s ministry.

That same year Cregg and Katie lost their youngest child, 20-year-old Cregg Jr., who had gone to retrieve his girlfriend from a drug house. Instead, gang members shot him in the back of the head, execution style.

Cregg found solace in Scripture. Katie had a more difficult time. It took her a couple of years of Christian counseling sessions to recover.

“It took a toll on me,” Katie says. “I figured God wouldn’t let my son die because we were pastors.”

Life experiences have helped Jones preach with conviction about living righteously and trusting in God. He encourages young people to attend college and start businesses commensurate with their skills.

Jones is vice president of the Assemblies of God Native American Fellowship and a general presbyter. He speaks around the country on reservations, holding camp meetings and revivals.

John Maracle, president of the Assemblies of God Native American Fellowship, says Jones has done a remarkable job ministering despite multiple setbacks.

“He has a great testimony of the work of God bringing him to a point of serving Him with all his heart, mind, soul and strength,” Maracle says. “Brother Cregg is a great preacher. God has opened up tremendous doors for him across the nation.”

Married 40 years this month, the Joneses these days do some counseling of married couples themselves.

“We went through rough times together and have survived about everything that might break a marriage,” Katie says. “If we can make it, anybody can, but it takes 100 percent from both.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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