Isaiah 42:7 says, “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.”
Mine is a testimony of being set free from both spiritual and literal prisons. Yet many who have never been behind iron bars have been prisoners to shame and guilt through sin, which is transgression of God’s laws. (See I John 3:4.) Except we should take advantage of the redemption provided for us through the death, resurrection and intercession of Jesus Christ, we all would sit hopelessly on death row, awaiting the just penalty for our sins. (See Ezekiel 18:24; Romans 6:23.) I pray that this testimony will encourage some, who have gone to the depths of sin, to answer the Lord’s call, to become and remain free through the abiding gift of God’s Son.
I was born 1960, in Southern California and raised in a basically non-religious family. There was no Bible around nor Biblical instruction. The closest we got to Christianity was Christmas trees, Santa, and Easter egg hunts. I was the last addition to a family of one sister, Mary, and two brothers, Rob and Phil. I’m the result of my parents’ violation of the 7th commandment and their marriage vows. My mom is 5’ 2” and married to an easygoing man named Jack, whom I call “Dad” to this day. Jack was 5’ 6” with black hair, and worked in aviation. His rival, “Jim,” was 6’8”, a reddish blond police officer, womanizer and husband to mom’s 2nd cousin. Mom worried for nine months that I’d look like Jack’s rival. I was born 10 lbs., 11 oz. with red hair; clearly not Jack’s son. If my mom would have known or taken to heart Numbers 32:23, “Behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out,” I might not be writing this. Anyway, the secret of my origin was kept from me till I was about 13 years old.
Some of my earliest memories, before my folks’ separation and divorce in 1965–1966, are of people saying, “He sure does not look like the others.” How out of place that made me feel. I’m sure it affected Mom and Jack, too. Another memory was going out alone, lying in the grass in our back yard, and looking through the clouds trying to see God. (John 1:9.) He is the light that comes to every child, but we have to cherish that light, or the world (and its god) will eclipse it. I clearly remember people crying over Kennedy’s assassination and racial tension from the Watts riots a few miles away. I also remember that Dad managed my cousins’ rock band, “The Rubber Band,” and how, when they practiced in our garage, it would attract the neighborhood. I used to get as close to the drums or amplifiers as I could, as I liked how it changed the rhythms of my heart. “Rock” and “acid rock,” which evolved into “heavy metal,” profoundly affected my life. (See I Corinthians 15:33.)
- The divorce split us all up. We were all given the choice to live with whichever parent we wanted. My sister and I chose Mom. However, my brothers and I still attended the same school. Then, one day, I went to meet them in the park, as we always did after school, and they were not there. Dad and his new wife Hilda had taken them out of state. I never saw or heard from them for several years during which, due to a number of circumstances, I was bounced around to different homes and schools. All this compounded that “out of place” feeling, which grew into a sense of rejection and abandonment. Over time, I found these emotions easier to deal with if channeled or transformed into anger or hate and pointed outward. Pretty soon I did not have to try hard to do it. I vented it on others in attacks or fights.
The one stability I had during that time was Grandpa. (Grandma was a Christian, but had advanced Alzheimer’s before that name was given to it.) Grandpa was not a professing Christian, but while I lived with him, he set fair and firm boundaries and made sure my grades stayed up. He was brutally honest, bitingly sarcastic, and a bit racist; all of which rubbed off on me. He also used tobacco, and I started smoking “like Grandpa” when I was eight.
My mom remarried, and in 1971 I moved back with them. It was not long before her new husband told her, “It’s the brat or me!” Mom chose the brat. Mom became very permissive and acted more like a friend than a parent. Her change in behavior and values seemed to be tied to her becoming depressed and anorexic in addition to the valium, barbiturates and codeine that doctors gave her. Under the influence of these, it seemed not to bother her when I cussed, smoked in front of her, grew my hair long, shoplifted, or got in fights with “the jocks.” I was a manipulative, rebellious child, and I pushed to see where my boundaries were. But, there were no laws, limits, or punishment.
Within a year or so, my brothers ran away from Dad and Hilda, and were in and out of our house before joining the military. It was during a family fallout that my oldest brother let out the family secret and the identity of my true father. As a father and police officer, my biological father was to represent love, law, authority, and integrity. Due to his representation, I rejected them all. (Those are all attributes of God, and they were so distorted in my mind that God had a hard time reaching me.) Satan knows our weak spots and how to time things. He saw to it that somebody showed me a Bible text: Deuteronomy 23:2: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” That was the ultimate rejection. But, here was (to me) Bible proof that the God I sought as a child had consigned me and any offspring from me to eternal flames. I did not choose to be born this way. I had no affinity for Satan, but I figured I was going to burn with him, so I might as well get what I could from life right then. This may seem simplistic of me, but misapplied Scripture can do serious harm in one not trained to study correctly.
I was 13 years old and there was nobody around I could speak to about spiritual things, at least Christian spirituality. I had some serious voids in my life left by this misunderstanding of God and the lack of a father or brothers. Around that time, my sister’s new husband introduced me to Dexedrine, an amphetamine. I liked it, as it changed the way I felt about everything. I started trying other drugs and liked them better than marijuana and alcohol. However, I continued to use them all. I found that I could chemically alter those feelings of not belonging, insecurity, etc., and I was determined to stay in those altered states. A Vietnam vet moved in next door at that time, bringing all his crazy biker buddies, and I was attracted to the Harley Davidsons, the heavy metal music, and the wild parties. They seemed to like having the wild kid around, who could take as much LSD as they could. They took the place of family to me, and I’d do anything to impress them and spend time with them. My girlfriend Kim used to baby-sit for them, so that also gave us time, unobserved, we should not have had. We were both way ahead of our time.
Amidst all that, I remember the Lord knocking hard at my heart’s door that year. I was confronted by a Christian youth group on my way into a rock concert. You could see joy in their eyes, and I needed that, but in my pocket I had the keys to a ’65 Mustang Mom had turned over to me, money, drugs, and I was surrounded with friends. I quickly reasoned that I was young, and Christian life would take away my fun and friends. Besides, I reasoned further, God’s word already showed me I could have no part with His congregation. So I ignored the knock and sent the Lord away. This brings a passage and a principle to mind: Proverbs 13:12 states, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”
It was many years before I sensed the call of the Lord like that again. During those years I dropped out of school, began using the needle and committing serious, even gun crimes to supply the large sums needed for drugs. I became more hateful and embraced Nazism. And, of course, I was having run-ins with the law. Though I’d get arrested, for the most part through technicalities or leniency, charges would drop or I’d never get more than 11 months, even for felonies. Ecclesiastes 8:11 reads, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”
By my twenties many of my contemporaries were dying of overdoses, being murdered, killing others, or in prison; Subconsciously, I had a death wish. On occasion I’d rob armed drug dealers, knowing they could not call police, they could only kill me. In 1986 I got in close with a bunch of witches. And that is when God intervened. Early in 1987 my fiancée, Jerianna, and I were arrested in La Paz County, Arizona, for a string of crimes committed on both the California and Arizona sides of the Colorado River. One of the charges in Arizona carried a 20-year minimum, mandatory sentence. Jerianna got scared and made a deal with both states. She would tell them everything if they’d let her go but bury me, as she was afraid I’d kill her if I ever got out.
This was the best thing God could do for me. While I was being tried, God used a police officer named Troy to put a King James Bible through the bars into my hands. Troy’s kindness took me off guard, as I had not treated him with much respect. I sat down and admitted that “doing it my way” had caused a lot of hurt, and that I would try God’s way if He’d help me read and understand His Word. I started with Psalm 64. Part of it fit my situation, but He needed to answer my problem with Deuteronomy 23:2, the quote about the bastard not being allowed into the congregation. God did answer that problem with two key passages. John 3:3, 6, 7 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. … That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” The second text was John 1:12, 13. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” All of us are offered the privilege of being children of God, if we receive it. But it doesn’t end there. Colossians 2:6 promises, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.”
As I began turning my life over to God, He began overruling in my legal situation. Even after I confessed my crimes, I got roughly 1/10 of the mandatory 20-year sentence in Arizona. I see that as a miracle. I accepted prison as part of God’s way of setting me free spiritually. (See John 8:31, 34.) God taught me that in Christ there can be no racism. In I John 4:20 we are instructed, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Cutting loose from Nazism was like a huge weight lifting from me. I learned to pray for my enemies. I also learned that God’s forgiveness does not always clear away earthly penalties for our sins. Galatians 6:7 clearly says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” I knew I still had felony charges in California that carried four to ten years.
While going through extradition hearings, I continually studied the Bible and got nicknamed “the preacher.” I was under heavy conviction for my countless sins, and my need for baptism. I was taught that eternal torments in hellfire awaited the unsaved, and the charismatic ministry volunteers taught that speaking in tongues was the evidence that God accepted you. For months they laid hands on me, but it never happened. At my baptism, unintelligible words came out, but nobody could interpret. I reasoned that the Holy Spirit didn’t forget what He inspired Paul to write in I Corinthians 14:27, 28, and this did not match what was taught there or in Acts 2. So I apologized to God for demanding a certain gift as proof that He accepted me, and asked that if that was not His Spirit speaking through me, that it not happen again. It never has. God overruled again, and California courts counted some of my time in Arizona as “time served,” leaving only five months to serve in Chino, California. It was there in 1989 that I became acquainted with “Flying Prison Ministries.”
These men had a thinking man’s faith, not all clapping and emotionalism. They had joy, yet their message carried reproof and called for serious study and continual surrender. The head chaplain was a fallen away Seventh-day Adventist, and he restricted their messages and the literature they brought in. I knew they were different, but did not know they were Seventh-day Adventists till they invited me to attend their church on release. I had a SR-22 driver’s restriction. A Sunday church within walking distance from where I was paroled had already placed me with a good job with one of their elders. Still, God compelled me to call on the Adventists one Saturday, and in minutes I had a ride to church. The prison minister, a former gang member, was the church librarian. When I asked him for the best books to define the SDA church, Bobby handed me Daniel and Revelation by Uriah Smith and The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White. In about a week, I read The Great Controversy, and it helped me see Christ more clearly, as well as remove Satanic mists of false prophecy and traditions that exalted the authority of the Roman Catholic Church over Divine authority, i.e. the Laws of God and Scripture. I never really knew what it meant to be a Protestant or Catholic till I read that book. That book multiplied the worth of my Bible to me more than words can describe.
I wish I could tell you I fully submitted to God right then. But an intellectual assent to even the greatest truths is not enough to break the grip of Satan. I was fired from my job with the Sunday church and became a Sabbath keeper, as God helped me establish a painting business. He helped me leave off unclean foods. I got off parole and got engaged to a Pathfinder leader. Outwardly, I looked good, but deep inside, the missing element that earlier made drugs an option left me with a weakness that needed only the right opportunity to show itself. It was the same weakness that after walking 3 1/2 years with Jesus, Peter had when he denied Jesus in that judgment hall. Self-will was enthroned where God should reign, and like Peter, who went back to fishing in his great disappointment, I went back to my old ways. Compare Matthew 12:43–47. I lost my fiancée, business, home, all but a van that I pit-stopped in. What made my fall worse is that people knew I had been involved with Seventh-day Adventism. I became a false witness who gave room for Satan to reproach Christ, His cause and His Church.
God leaves it to us to surrender our will in exchange for His. That can be our greatest struggle. Many times I asked to be delivered from temptation and sin, in my case, methamphetamines. And one day, in prayer, I finally came to the point where I admitted to God that I loved drugs more than I loved Christ. But I knew Christ loved me more than His own life, and if I would accept that love, and overcome, even as He overcame, He would assure me a place with Him in His eternal throne. (See Revelation 3:19–21.) I asked Him to take my will and what I loved and replace it with His will. This is exactly what Jesus did when He was tempted to give up at Gethsemane. He admitted that His flesh was weak, and surrendered His will for His Father’s will. Three times He did this. (See Matthew 26:39–44.) He overcame, giving us an example of how to overcome while in the likeness of sinful flesh.
God moved decisively, and my friends and drug connections closed up to me. My church had been going toward the celebration style of worship, to the point where a youth leader/elder rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle into the sanctuary on Sabbath, October 22, and told a children’s story about how Harleys got named “Hog.” That was my cue, after making a protest, to wipe my feet and leave to look for fellowship and study among people who respect God and the mission of His church. In 1995 I was told of a Hope International camp meeting in Angeles Oaks, CA. I had seen Our Firm Foundation and LandMarks magazines while I was in Fiji in 1993–1994. I needed strong fellowship when I got back from Fiji, but that was not easily found in my old church. Anyway, I was impressed that I’d find serious Adventists at the camp meeting. Although God had just delivered me from meth and alcohol weeks before, I still smoked. I prayed all the way from Los Angeles to the mountains where the camp meeting was being held that I would not come down those mountains still hooked. God answered. On sight, Ron Spear told me, “God wants to use you right now, but He can’t till you can tell people about victory!” The next question was “where are you your cigarettes?”
He and several others took time to pray with me all through that camp meeting. I found people who really loved the Lord and respected the mission and message of the remnant movement of God. Ron and Betty Spear took a chance with me and pulled out a bundle of cash for gas. Ron said, “If you let the Lord keep you in victory, drive up to Hope and volunteer for a while. God willing, the staff will watch and pray, and maybe you will fit in there.” Of course, there was resistance from my church friends to working with an “independent ministry.”
But Hope was what I needed. I had heart, kidney, liver, brain, and, even worse, soul damage from 20 years of injecting drugs. Overnight, I became a vegan, and in two weeks I was over the slump, retraining taste buds and having remarkable recoveries. I could remember what I studied. I needed strong fellowship, study, country living and a purpose in the Everlasting Gospel Commission. God helped me to find it.
Nearly two years later, I wanted to try something more along the lines of mission field, and went to Mexico to CMS, a training School for health, agricultural and Bible workers, to assist in a small press operation being set up there. It was in this place that I became further convicted to do more to advance the Three Angels’ Messages, and I knew I needed to be better equipped.
Reuben and Jean Teske suggested earlier that I look into Black Hills, a school for evangelism led by Louis and Carol Torres, that had good placement with the churches. Through several miracles the Lord opened the way, even the door the Torres’s meant to keep closed to me due to my “ultra conservative” background. Despite a few doctrinal differences, we became friends, and after graduating from Black hills I was called to Plymouth Sorrento Church in Florida where I met and married my wife Blanca.
After working in Florida for a year, Ron Goss called us to work in Virginia, assisting him so he could further develop Project Restore, a publishing and revival ministry. Ron sent us to the Philippines in 2000, where, with the help of the Holy Spirit and good ground workers, God blessed with over 170 precious souls coming out of Roman Catholic Babylon into Christ and His remnant church. It was the encouragement we needed. God granted us some success in the rural “Bible belt” in the United States, but in comparison, Americans are gospel hardened.
On another occasion, during the day before our main evening city crusade, I remember preaching in a hot, sweaty Filipino jail, with the whole cell block in the aisle with their Bibles, note pads and markers. It was near the end of the series, and out of 220 inmates, 80 men and 11 women stopped coming out for mass and requested baptism. The Lord impressed me to share a message called, “Saved to Serve.” We came to Matthew 28:18–20 which says, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” A depth of meaning to that passage and rays of hope came to me such as I’d not sensed in it before.
As I looked at these men sitting on the floor of that jail, I thought of the first time I had read Matthew 28:18–20. I was in a jail, not seeing further than a prison yard, not knowing when I’d get out and so not really applying it personally. As I looked into their eyes, it came over me that by God’s grace and that commission, here I was, in the end of the world, both geographically and in time, teaching them to observe all that the Lord commanded, and that He was with me, as He was promising to be with them. It brought tears of gratitude to my eyes, and hope for these men as well! It was a hope that God could turn away their captivity and send them also to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. Because they were seeking to obey God, already the key of David and the doors of heaven’s blessings were opening for them, as God was doing for me at that moment.
There have been many other soul-winning opportunities and hundreds of baptisms as the fruit of serving God since then. I don’t have seminary training or church ordination, but since 1999 my wife and I have been Bible instructors, and from late 2004 till last May, we were also lay-pastoring. Oh, how wrong I was when I turned the Lord away at 13, thinking Christian life would be boring or bondage. We look forward to where God will send us next, to use the everlasting Gospel keys He has given us “to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” Isaiah 42:7. May God also set you free to set others free in Christ.
Dean Ferrell has served as a Bible worker, a pastor, and an evangelist in a variety of locations. He and his wife, Blanca, make a powerful team in ministry. Dean is currently helping his spiritual mentor, Elder Ron Spear, in Kettle Falls, Washington.