John Elmore’s bright smile and joyful disposition are in stark contrast to the despair he knew just five years earlier. “This is God’s story, not mine,” John shares, as he recounts his life.
Born into a loving and supportive family in Springfield, Missouri, John experienced a happy childhood. He and his older brother were encouraged in their interests, and able to attend Kannakuk Kamp each summer. It was at one of those camps at the age of eight that John put his trust in Christ as his savior. “When I was eight years old, I heard the gospel for the first time, and I remember lying on my bunk at a summer camp and praying, asking Jesus to—what I knew—come into my heart … and placing my faith in Him then,” John recalls.
Having limited knowledge in how to live life as a believer, John relied on his own effort to be good, which eventually proved overwhelming.
“I’m a people-pleaser to a fault—a bad fault,” he admits, “and so I think I just got so caught up in being a good kid and following the rules that it became burdensome to me; it wasn’t always a life-giving thing.”
Tired of the effort he had put into trying to be good, when John started college at Baylor University in Waco, he began making compromises that would affect him for the next ten years. “During those prodigal years I started making decisions I swore I would never make, and relationships changed ….”
John began dating a woman he met at a party and they married very quickly even though she didn’t share his faith. Two years into their marriage, when she began having an affair with one of his college friends, John’s world fell apart.
“I think I became a functional alcohol in college. From the world’s standards I was doing well with work, money, and relationships,” John recalls, “but when I found out about the affair, I crashed—and then I became a very dysfunctional alcoholic. I had no way to cope with that type of pain because I had walked away from the Lord; I hadn’t prayed in years; I didn’t even own a Bible anymore. And I crashed—hard and low—like I’d never known. Life had always been pretty good for me.
“In the middle of all that, at the bottom of all that, I went into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. In going through the steps, step three is surrender your life and will over to your higher power. I knew from my childhood there is one higher power. So I cried out to Jesus. I was living on a couch—two boxes of wrinkled clothes. I hadn’t been praying, so I prayed, ‘Lord I’ve squandered everything but what I have left is yours.’ Just like the story of the prodigal son, He received me back and restored me—and everything began changing.”
At the discovery of the affair, John and his wife separated and his initial desire was to end their marriage, but when the Lord brought John back into fellowship with Himself, John realized he needed to be open to whatever God wanted regardless. It was a difficult time as he continued to pray, but the affair continued and even escalated, and his marriage finally ended.
“It was a strange time; I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep; I had horrible nightmares … but that January, when I prayed to the Lord and surrendered my life all that stuff changed. I was still in Austin, still living on that couch, still falling apart at the seams with my job but all of a sudden I had joy and peace; I could sleep again; I was eating; I started laughing again; I started singing again … It was just the Lord working in me.”
John quit his job and moved to Missouri to live with his parents in the country, then spent the next month devouring the Bible and praying. “I was so starved for God,” he explained.
At that time a family friend suggested John accompany him and some friends on a mission trip to Trinidad. John balked at the idea, but later felt compelled to go, so a week before they departed, he joined the team. Being with the thirty believers who went on the trip proved life-changing for him. “These people had such joy and purpose and love, and a knowledge of the Bible,” he recalls, and knew he wanted what they had.
Upon returning he enrolled in the Kanakuk Institute for a year while earning a ministry degree from John Brown University, and was asked to come on staff, so he did men’s discipleship while taking online classes from Dallas Theological Seminary. John knew within a month of beginning classes he wanted to be in ministry the rest of his life. “I wanted to share the hope of Jesus that I had been given with others who are hurting.”
The institute president and John’s favorite professors were DTS graduates. “Their authority and resource was the Bible; they knew it well—and could teach it well.” John’s passion was to know his Bible equally as well, and felt DTS offered the education he wanted. “DTS’s reputation proceeds them, specifically in this regard, and thus it was the only school I applied to. It’s funny. I never dreamed I would be accepted. In my view, it’s the best seminary in the world and they would never accept someone like me with a shattered past,” says John.
The day he received the phone call from Admissions remains vivid in his memory, “I just knew I was going to be declined and counseled to pursue another career.” Instead, they recommended he enroll as a ThM student because it would better equip him for a lifetime of ministry. “I couldn’t believe it. I received a personal email from the Dean of Students, Dr. Bob Garippa, telling me that he was praying for me and was so thankful for what God had done in my life.”
In the summer of 2008, the friend who invited John to Trinadad sent him an article about people in Haiti eating cookies made of mud just to fill their stomach because they had no food. After some research, John learned that hundreds of Haitian children were dying each day from malnutrition, but they needed more than just calories to recover. He learned about a medicinal peanut butter that had helped other children in third-world countries.
He and his friends planned to raise $8,000 and spend the summer in Haiti, which would allow them to save 100 kids in 100 days, but instead $40,000 came in, allowing them to help so many more. That summer they watched hundreds of emaciated, lethargic children become lively running, jumping, soccer-playing boys and girls.
At the end of the summer, John moved to Dallas and continued his education at the Dallas campus of DTS, and discovered that Dallas Seminary is not exactly what most people expect from a graduate school of theology. “DTS professors aren’t jaded academic recluses. Quite the opposite, they are seasoned with a lifetime of field experience and bring that together with expert Biblical teaching. Beyond this, they truly love students; they consider us their ministry—and you sense it. And anyone that spends time here will see this one intangible: they have the joy of the Lord. Each of these things are contagious—you can’t help but desire it.”
John wasn’t sure how he would be able to pay for his education, but a couple he knew surprised him by announcing they wanted to underwrite his education, which was a huge blessing, and a friend called and said, “The Holy Spirit put it on my heart today when I was sitting in church to ask you to live with me rent and bill-free.” When John came to Dallas, his family bought him a used car, which was stolen within two weeks. The insurance company paid him 130% of the price of the car, so he was further encouraged as he saw God abundantly provided for all his needs.
John prayed about returning to Haiti the following summer, but God had something else in store. Friends invited him to join them at a fund-raiser to learn more about helping individuals in Sudan with micro-loans to finance small businesses. He went with the intention of providing moral and financial support for his friends’ ministry, but as he listened to the pastor from Sundan share the plight of the Sundanese, he realized he had much more to offer. Years of civil war and attacks by Muslim terrorists had left southern Sudan decimated. With industry and commerce destroyed, the surviving men now spent their time drinking to dull their pain and fill their idle hours, and the women, to provide some form of income for their families, brewed the alcohol the men consumed.
“I was there to chip in maybe a hundred bucks for micro-finance, but what I heard was ‘there’s a vicious problem of alcoholism in Sudan, ‘“ shares John. “I walked up to him [the pastor] afterward and said ‘Here’s my story. If you want, I can take this twelve-step program and we can focus it on Jesus … and we can make a Christ-centered twelve-step, translate it in your language, and try to start it.’ and he said, ‘The next time I see you will be in Sudan!’”
So in the summer of 2009, John traveled to Sudan. “We started an alcoholism-recovery ministry, and now it’s spread into different cities. Some of the men who went through it—who couldn’t stand or even speak when I met them, they were so far gone—are now in seminary. Three men are studying to be pastors. Life transformation, one after another, people receiving Christ. The whole village was making up rumors that we were giving out medicine and money because they couldn’t figure out how these people were getting well, how their lives were being instantly turned around. They were making up lies because they couldn’t explain away what Jesus was doing. It was just beautiful seeing the Lord work in these people’s lives over and over again.”
As his summer neared its end and John contemplated what he’d do for work during his next year in seminary, he received a call from the Spiritual Formation department at Dallas Seminary, inviting him to join their staff. With his understanding of God’s grace and his love for people, John has been an asset in training leaders for ministry, and the opportunities his job has provided have been an enhancement to DTS experience.
His recovery—through Christ’s love and power—from alcoholism has given him opportunities to offer living hope to others who have not yet discovered a way out. “God re-engineers and uses our past. One of my favorite verses is Genesis 50:20. It’s Joseph, talking to his brothers, and he says ‘What you meant for harm, God meant for good, for the saving of many lives.’ “
One of the highlights of John’s time at DTS has been his ministry at Dawson State Jail, where John and a group of men have visited regularly to talk with inmates. Having experienced God’s deliverance from alcoholism and a life of despair have given John compassion toward inmates, and a story they can relate to.
As he nears graduation in May of 2011, John plans to continue using his education, skills, and love for people in whatever ways he can. He has seen God’s faithfulness and mercy in the past and knows he will continue to see it in the future.
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.