Flint pastor Erick White says faith led him on rocky road from drug dealer to pastor
FLINT, Michigan — A Flint pastor who was once a drug dealer knows that a relationship with Christ can change a person's life.
"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know that change is possible," said the Rev. Erick White, who was ordained last month as a pastor of A Word In Season Christian Fellowship, a 60-member, charismatic gospel church in Flint.
"After what I've experienced, nobody can tell me that God is not real. He's real, and he changes lives."
But before change can happen, a person has to be humbled and ready, said White, 40, of Flint. In his case, the readiness process took decades, and involved an 8-year stint in prison.
White, an only child, was 10 years old when his mother died. Earlier, she had lost her eyesight, and had taught her young son how to pay bills and do other household chores that she could no longer perform.
As a result, White grew up feeling self-sufficient and invincible. As a teenager, even when his father left him, he figured he could do just fine on his own.
"I had that 16-year-old male attitude like, 'I don't need anybody,'" he said.
White was placed with a loving foster family, graduated from high school and went to college. He ran track, but lacked the discipline necessary to maintain good grades. He dropped out of college, got a job, was laid off and followed the example of a classmate who had put himself through college by selling drugs.
White's new career selling cocaine didn't last long. He was caught, spent two years at an Upper Peninsula prison, and was released. He got a job as a janitor, then lost it due to the ailing economy.
"When you're 23 and laid off, you do what you know how to do," White said. "For me, that was selling drugs. I didn't do drugs, but I sold them. I didn't love doing it; I did it because it was what I knew how to do."
White lived in southwestern Michigan, where he went back to school and earned a history degree. An accomplished musician, he created an independent record label. Earning a full-time income was still a challenge, so he continued to sell cocaine to make ends meet.
"I treated it like a 9-to-5 job," he said. "It seems crazy now, but in the culture I was in, it seemed normal."
White married and divorced. He began searching, and even praying, for a better life. He read the New Testament and watched television evangelists. He was even baptized in a local apostolic church.
"After that, my conscience really got to me," he said. "I prayed, 'Lord, get me out of this.'"
One night in 1997, White was home alone, praying, when he heard a voice tell him to flush all the drugs he had down the toilet.
"It was as if another person was in the room with me," he said. "My reaction was, 'All this religion stuff I'm getting into must be making me crazy.' I didn't do what the voice said. Instead, I went out and got very drunk."
Three months later, White was arrested.
"The police came to my house and, while I was laying on the floor with my hands handcuffed behind my back, I remember thinking, 'Well, Lord, it's finally over.' I was nervous, but I was also relieved."
First in the Cass County Jail and then in the Carson City Correctional Facility in central Michigan, White studied the Bible in earnest. He felt blessed to be in a prison with an active ministry. He attended seven church services a week while in prison, and read every book about Christ he could find.
Occasionally, White heard about a Flint church called A Word in Season. Once, he was given a newspaper article about the church from another inmate. Other times, he heard inmates who had passed through the Genesee County Jail talk about a dynamic pastor from A Word In Season who ministered regularly to inmates.
One story in particular got White's attention. A fellow inmate, while serving time in Genesee County Jail, had watched the pastor from A Word In Season invite prisoners to a Bible study. When a drug-addicted inmate said he didn't want to come, the pastor asked, 'Will you come if I get down on my knees and beg?' He got down on his knees, and the inmate reluctantly agreed to attend the Bible study. Eventually, he left drug abuse behind and dedicated himself to Christ.
White heard the story and thought, "That pastor is the kind of man I'd like to meet."
After serving an eight-year sentence, White was released from prison in January, 2006. While cleaning out his prison locker, he came across an old article about A Word In Season church. He didn't know why he'd saved it.
White was paroled to his foster sister's home in Flint. The house happened to be around the corner from A Word In Season. White knew God was trying to tell him something.
"I'd been praying and fasting to find the right church home," he said. "I got out of prison on a Tuesday, and that Sunday I came around the corner to A Word In Season. The people there all shook my hand and welcomed me. Even after I told them I'd just gotten out of prison, they treated me with love."
White met the Rev. Charles Dantzler, the pastor who had once dropped to his knees to beg a jail inmate to attend a Bible study. During the next two years, Dantzler became a mentor to White, who felt the call to the ministry.
Last month, White was among four of Dantzler's students to be ordained as a minister at the church. White also serves as the church's computer technician and heads its audio/visual ministry.
White is also studying computer training at Mott Community College while operating his own company, Urbanlight Computer Solutions.
Dantzler is pleased, but not surprised, when he witnesses a changed life like White's.
"Christ is all about change," Dantzler said. "Even in the midst of a setback, God has a comeback plan for each of us.
"But first, a person has to realize that they lack the ability to make the change happen themselves. If they had it, they'd have done it already. They have to admit, 'I can't do it alone,' and reach out to Christ."
A Word In Season Christian Fellowship is located at 6602 Clio Road, Flint, MI. The church uses a 23-year-old van to take those who lack transportation to and from Sunday services, and is seeking a newer and more reliable vehicle. To help, or to learn more about the church, call (810) 787-2470 or (810) 964-9411.