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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. ...

Notorious Faith

By James Meredith
Mar. 17, 2013

It’s Sunday morning, and the Spirit of God is moving at Abundant Life Church in Jackson, Ga. The altar is a picture of spiritual diversity, as dedicated churchgoers offer life-changing prayers with the addict, the alcoholic and the prostitute.

Under the leadership of 34-year-old Jeremiah Hosford, this suburban Atlanta Assemblies of God church has experienced dynamic growth, with attendance tripling in the past three years. Virtually every service adds to the volume of stories of bound and broken souls transformed by grace.

But perhaps the most amazing testimony of God’s power to change a life is found in the pastor himself. Eleven years ago, Jeremiah Hosford walked through the doors of Abundant Life for the first time, broken, bound, and far from God.

“I grew up in Jackson,” Hosford explains. “As a child, my parents took me to a Spirit-filled Methodist church. So I knew about the power of God.”

Yet Hosford’s life soon took a far different direction. At age 12 he was abusing drugs regularly. Two years later, he was selling. By the time he reached his 18th birthday, Hosford had multiple drug arrests on his record — and an infamous reputation in this close-knit community.

“Life for me before salvation was a life surrounded by drugs, getting high every day,” he explains. “Most of my life was a blur.”

On an autumn morning in 2002, God changed everything. By that time, Hosford was newly married to Lisa, who was also entrenched in a lifestyle of addiction. Jeremiah’s brother, who had recently become a Christian, had invited the young couple to outreach meetings at the church he attended. Jeremiah resisted, but something sparked in Lisa’s heart.

“My mom had always been a Christian woman,” Lisa recalls. “Even though I didn’t serve the Lord, I knew God had different plans for my life.” That conviction led Lisa to midweek services, and she began to realize her life needed to change.

Lisa arose that autumn Sunday morning with a personal mandate.

“I told myself, ‘No more of this,’” she remembers. “‘Today I give my heart to Jesus.’”

She also had an ultimatum for her husband: Go to church with her or be gone when she got back.

Although Jeremiah had been high for three straight days, without sleep, he decided to comply. But he insisted they avoid the church his brother attended.

“I could sense the Holy Spirit’s conviction just driving by that place,” he says. “There was no way I was going in there.”

So the Hosfords went to another church. But as divine intervention would have it, daylight saving time began that morning. They arrived one hour early, just in time for Sunday School. This presented Jeremiah with a bigger problem.

“Being lost and on drugs,” he says, “the last thing I wanted to do was sit in a Sunday School class.”

Soon they were back in the car, and on their way to where his brother attended church.

“As soon as we walked in, we could really sense the power of God,” Jeremiah says.

About halfway through worship, there was a message in tongues and interpretation that spoke directly to the young, wayward pair.

“It was as if the person giving the interpretation was reading our mail,” Jeremiah says, still in awe of the experience.

Lisa says she rushed to the altar, tears filling her eyes. Several members of the congregation laid their hands on her shoulders. The situation was entirely new and unfamiliar, but she recalls one specific hand on her back as she cried out to God. She turned to look, and it was Jeremiah. God had begun a transformation in both their lives.

There was no sermon that day, as the service instead became a celebration of God’s grace and redemption.

“When Lisa and I walked out of the church, neither of us knew life without drugs,” Jeremiah says. “Years and years and years of drugs, of addiction, of being on the streets — and it was the last time either of us ever touched drugs.”

The years ahead would be filled with promise and hope, yet not without challenges. Their marriage was already in trouble. After only six months, the Hosfords discussed splitting up. Now, with their addictions gone, the realization came that they’d never known each other sober. They would have to develop a relationship, a new life together. And it was tough.

A week after their conversions, Jeremiah was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Several months later, Lisa also received the Baptism. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they grew and persevered in their marriage, strong in the knowledge that God had a plan for them — together.

Central to that plan would be a call to ministry. Jeremiah sensed it right away, that day at the altar. But he resisted. Lisa, too, strained to see how this young ex-addict could someday serve as a spiritual leader.

Instead, Jeremiah and Lisa focused on their own growth in the Lord. Jeremiah placed himself under the guidance and instruction of his pastor, as well as a number of other spiritual leaders and mentors. He also became involved in ministry outreaches and teaching Sunday School. Still, the seeds of God’s calling remained firmly planted in his heart.

Finally, in 2006, Jeremiah approached his pastor about the call. His pastor informed him the Georgia District of the Assemblies of God had just initiated the Georgia School of Ministry. Two months later, Jeremiah was among the first students to begin a course of training that would last the next three years.

Even then, the Hosfords had no sense of how this calling would come together. At that point, Jeremiah felt no desire to become a pastor. It was also during that time Jeremiah began preaching occasionally at Abundant Life. And God’s greater purpose began to come into focus.

“The first time I heard him preach, I couldn’t believe that the person I ran the streets with was delivering a powerful, anointed message from God,” Lisa recalls. “I knew God had called him.”

Yet Jeremiah wasn’t sure. He didn’t see any doors opening, or any real sense of direction.

“I wondered if I really had heard from the Lord,” he says.

Confirmation came, loud and clear, in 2009. Jeremiah and Lisa’s pastor announced he would be leaving Abundant Life Church after 10 years of ministry. Soon after, the board approached Jeremiah about serving as interim pastor.

The offer caught Jeremiah by surprise.

“I didn’t know anything about pastoring,” he admits.

At that time, the church also faced a financial challenge, with $1.4 million in debt. On the surface, it seemed a daunting assignment for a man barely into his 30s and with little formal experience.

Yet, after an extended time in prayer, Jeremiah accepted the interim offer.

“Everything about the circumstances seemed to speak against taking the position,” he says, “but I decided to trust what God told me to do.”

The recognition of God’s hand leading him and the church was key, as God blessed the congregation beyond expectation. During the next six months, the church nearly doubled in attendance. Giving doubled. God led individuals to bring in large financial gifts, offsetting the debt.

More importantly, lives were being changed in the services. Healings and salvations occurred during almost every service. People walked through the doors for the first time, and found deliverance from drugs and alcohol — much like Jeremiah and Lisa had themselves experienced.

After six months, in October 2009, the board asked Jeremiah to take on the pastoral mantle permanently.

Smirna Phillips, a long-time member of the church who served on the search committee, says it was an easy decision.

“The first time I heard him preach,” Phillips remembers, “I was amazed at the wisdom he had with the Word — wisdom beyond his years. I knew this was exactly what the church needed. We didn’t even consider another candidate.” And while the search committee confirmed the calling a repentant addict had received seven years earlier, what followed provides a powerful reminder that God alone made it happen. About 60 percent of the congregation today is made up of people who have been saved in the past three years.

Many of them are former drug addicts, alcoholics, and recently released inmates — individuals too often overlooked by society, and even the church. As a result, Jeremiah is in a unique position to empathize with their plight — and provide a strong spiritual path toward hope and deliverance through Jesus Christ.

Having a pastor who has lived out his transformation for all the community to see also gives Abundant Life Church unique opportunities for outreach. Debra Patterson has been a member of the church for most of her life; her father planted the fellowship in their living room when she was a child. She says the Hosfords’ testimony has had a real impact, inside and outside the church.

“When they came into the service that first morning, the initial reaction was shock,” Patterson recalls. “They were pretty notorious in the community. But now, people can see these are changed lives. This has been the catalyst for many to come here. They see someone in the pulpit who was, in human eyes, a hopeless case.”

Patterson, who serves as administrator at the church, notes another dynamic that has been present throughout the growth of the church: prayer. “Pastor is a man of prayer. The first two hours of each day are spent in prayer.” This commitment to prayer has gripped many in the congregation as well, bringing vision and provision to a church in constant transition. The influx of new followers of Christ creates an ongoing need for helpers and disciplers to guide and establish them in the truth.

Lisa notes that God always answers the need.

“He has given us a vision of what He wants this church to be,” she says, “and He surrounds us with people to help us reach His vision.”

The pursuit of God’s vision for the hurting and spiritually needy continues to form the heartbeat of Abundant Life Church. Jeremiah says the congregation is preparing to plant other churches in the area.

“We want to take what God is doing here and watch Him do it there,” he explains.

JAMES MEREDITH is adult editor of Radiant Life Curriculum for the Assemblies of God. He formerly served as technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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