We are privileged to share with you one man’s powerful testimony of being broken but not beyond the redemptive love and hope found in Christ.
Prison inmates used to tremble whenever John Foster was near. He was a big man full of anger. At one point, corrections officials wouldn’t even give him a cellmate.
Today, John is a different person. The 58-year-old is gentle, soft-spoken and loving. And he has dedicated his life to bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to imprisoned men and women across Minnesota and North Dakota.
John works as the Prison Reentry Coordinator for the Northern Division’s prison ministry team. His job includes leading church services inside of North Dakota prisons and providing resources for men and women who have been released from prison in the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota and North Dakota.
He’s good at his job because he knows from experience just how difficult it is to survive prison. He spent 24 years in and out of juvenile institutions and prisons, including an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence for armed robbery and a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for violating his probation.
His troubles resulted from an abusive childhood. One of eight children, he was raised by an alcoholic stepfather, and a mother who did the best she could but was riddled with pain herself. At 14, when his stepfather died, life took an even worse turn when he met his biological father, who was a drug addict and also abusive.
“I’m humbled by how God is taking all of my bad experiences and poor choices and using them for His glory,” John said.
John’s life changed one night in 2003 while he was in solitary confinement. He’d be sent there after getting caught with drugs.
At 3:00 a.m., he lay awake on his bunk in pitch blackness reflecting on his life. Suddenly, God showed up.
“God started showing me the faces of all the people I’d hurt, injured or harmed during my lifetime,” John said. “One by one, their faces were popping into my head…I began to weep.”
John didn’t know much about God, but he could feel His undeniable presence.
“I told God, ‘I don’t know you, but if you can do what they say you can do, then I promise to serve you from this day forward,” John said. “If you can take away my guilt, my rage and my resentment, I’ll know you’re real.”
Though in solitary confinement, John did not feel alone for the first time in his life.
“A peace fell over me in that cell,” John explained. “Even though I was behind bars, I felt more free than I’d ever felt in my life.”
Three days later prison officials inexplicably released him from solitary confinement almost three months early.
“When that happened, God really got my attention,” John said.
A few days after that, God spoke to him again, this time during a game of poker.
“Poker was a means of making money, and out of habit, I’d say yes when my friends asked me to play,” John recalled. “But when I started playing, I kept hearing a voice say, ‘Remember what you promised.’ It was weirding me out. So, I threw the cards down and quit.”
The following Sunday morning, God urged him to get dressed and go to church. “During the church service, it’s like the pastor was talking directly to me,” John said. “I was crying the entire time.”
John went on to launch a Bible study in a prison ward that housed the most violent offenders. At first, the Bible study included John and one other man. By the time he left, 30-40 men were part of the Bible study.
Path to success
After John was released from prison in 2006, he began living in a small town in Ohio, where a pastor and his wife welcomed him into their home and ministered to him for a year. Through them John felt the love and compassion of Christ.
In 2008, the pastor and his congregation raised enough money to send John to The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in Minneapolis, Minn., which offered a unique one-year residential program called BOLT (Basics of Life Training) for men who wanted to learn how God intended them to live. John graduated from the program in 2009 and was hired as a maintenance worker at the Minneapolis Parkview Corps.
In 2011 he started working at the Harbor Light Center as a security officer for five years and then worked for three years as volunteer coordinator. In May 2019 John began his current job in prison ministry and also became a soldier of the Harbor Light Corps.
“Every hand that God has allowed me to shake, and every person I’ve met, has led me to this moment,” John said.
Though the pandemic has made it harder, John has found ways to continue ministering to others. For instance, he holds a Thursday night support group on Zoom for men and women who’ve recently been released from prison instead of having the meeting at the Parkview Corps. The Bible study he has conducted for nearly a decade also has transferred to Zoom. John says the pandemic has driven home for him again how things can happen in an instant and change the trajectory of a person’s life or test a person’s faith. “That’s why it’s so important to be rooted in God’s Word,” he explained.
He also recognizes how God can put people in our lives at just the right time, just when we need them. He recounts spiritual mentors like John Bailey, a Salvation Army supporter, who has been an outstanding mentor and role model to him for nine years. And, of course, there is John’s wife, Janet, who he providentially met when she was part of the security staff for another Salvation Army program. They now live in the northern Twin Cities suburbs and attend the corps at the Harbor Light together.
John knows without a doubt that God has placed him in people’s lives at just the right time, too. For instance, one day he received a call from a man he didn’t know who was scared, frantic and needed help. Someone had given him John’s contact information. John picked up the man, took him to the adult rehabilitation center to receive addiction counseling, and then stopped by periodically to check in and support him.
“I’m amazed by the position that God has put me in to help people—especially after all the things that happened in my life,” John concluded. “I always tell people that God doesn’t waste anything.”