By Mark Ellis —
Almost all of Josh Sourwine’s childhood friends in Ohio are strung out on drugs. After he was busted for dealing marijuana, cocaine and pills in his hometown and spent time in prison, he knew he needed change in his life.
“I was a mess,” Sourwine recalls. “I realized this is not the way I want to live my life.”
When he was 20, he had a raucous fight with a girlfriend that prompted neighbors to summon police. After authorities arrived, they charged Sourwine with unlawful restraint, because he had his girlfriend locked in the bedroom.
Later, they obtained a search warrant and unearthed his stash of illegal narcotics and money. “They found everything,” Sourwine recounts. “They found pills I didn’t even know I had.”
After Sourwine served time at the Mansfield Correctional Institute, he tried to chart a new course, but fell back to his former ways. “I was clean for a long time,” he says. “But then I started smoking pot and doing pills on the weekend.”
When his roofing job got slow in the winter, he started running drugs again. “I needed money so I resorted back to old habits,” he says.
But one day, in a moment of quiet reflection, he thought, This is not how I want to continue living. I need to re-associate myself and get away from everything here.
He sold his jeep, stuffed a backpack with his few worldly possessions, and boarded a Greyhound bus headed west. He only had enough money to make it to Phoenix, and then he hitchhiked to Long Beach, California.
Sourwine began to walk and panhandle his way south along Pacific Coast Highway, and he noticed something unusual. “The majority of the people who gave me money for meals were Christians, and they shared Jesus Christ with me.”
The Lord who loved him when he was lost in rebellion and sin began to stand at the doorway of his heart and knock.
Shortly after that, Sourwine found himself at a homeless breakfast at Laguna’s Main Beach on a Saturday morning, one week before Easter. He sat and listened to a message from John 10 delivered by Dave Tomlinson, a member of the Gideons: “In order to change your life, you must have a changed heart…” Tomlinson began.
As Sourwine listened, a striking thought lodged itself in his mind: I will not live without Christ…
Under the compulsion of the Holy Spirit, Sourwine went up to Tomlinson after the meal. They talked for a short time, then Sourwine prayed to receive Jesus as his Savior and Lord.
Tomlinson has been preaching at the homeless breakfasts for the last 15 years, but this stood out. “I’ve never seen the Holy Spirit pull in a person like that,” he says. “His presence was so strong. It was an awesome moment I’ll never forget.”
Suddenly, the sights and sounds of that crisp March morning seemed more beautiful and intense than ever before to Sourwine. As he sat on the boardwalk and watched the waves beat against the shore, he had a rather extraordinary observation: I can hear God’s breath in the waves.
Still homeless and penniless, Sourwine walked to Ralph’s market and began to panhandle once again. Dr. Claus Hecht, an emergency room physician, emerged from the store and his eyes landed on Sourwine.
“Can you spare a dollar?” the young man asked.
“No, I’m good,” Dr. Hecht replied, as he lowered his head and kept walking. But after Hecht got in his car and began to drive away, the still small voice of the Lord gently intruded.
You call yourself a Christian…? The thought had such strength behind it that he turned his car around, drove back to the store, and began to talk to Sourwine.
“What’s your name?” Dr. Hecht asked.
“Joshua,” the young man replied.
“Oh, that’s a great name! It means ‘Jehovah is salvation’ in the Bible.”
“I dedicated my life to Jesus on the beach this morning,” Sourwine said, and he began to recount his story.
The doctor and his wife, Alison, invited Sourwine to dinner that night, then graciously allowed the young man to stay with them.
On April 17th, Josh’s 25th birthday, Alison Hecht picked up “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers for her morning devotional. When she read the passage chosen for April 17th, she knew it would carry special meaning for Joshua. She copied the page, blew it up, put a border around it, then framed and wrapped it as a present for Joshua’s first birthday celebrated as a new believer.
“I remember reading it, crying and smiling at the same time,” he says. “It was like a letter the Lord sent to me.”
Chambers began his meditation on John 21:7 with these words, “Have you ever had a crisis in your life in which you deliberately, earnestly, and recklessly abandoned everything? It is a crisis of the will…The true deep crisis of abandonment, or total surrender, is reached internally, not externally.”
“Have you deliberately committed your life to Jesus Christ?” Chambers asks.
Of course Joshua could reflect on the abandonment of his ruinous former lifestyle, and his recent commitment to follow Jesus.
But Chambers’ closing sentence caused Joshua’s tears to flow: “If you have ever heard Jesus Christ’s voice on the waves of the sea…”
The words penned 100 years ago – that coincided with a new believer’s 25th birthday — were almost identical to the thought that overwhelmed Joshua in the first moments after he was born again on a beach in Southern California. “I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around all these things,” Joshua says.
“It was so powerful. The Lord has brought me through.”
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