By Mark Ellis —
Larry Johnson grew up under modest circumstances in the steel town of Granite City, Illinois, and began working from the time he was very young.
After college he got into computer sales and launched what became a highly successful computer leasing and sales company. “I was lost in the world of money-making and success and believing the American dream would provide everything that I had ever dreamed of in my life,” he told God Reports. Larry and his wife Marilyn enjoyed an enviable lifestyle at their home in Birmingham, an upscale suburb near Detroit.
He had people in his life trying to share with him about Christianity, but resisted then, “I thought they were all a little crazy,” he admits.
While Larry was still caught up with worldly pursuits, he began to wonder why he wasn’t satisfied. Even though he had a Catholic background, he only had a vague memory of hearing the priest actually read from the Scripture. In his childhood home, he says the Bible was still cellophane-wrapped in the original box.
“It just sat there. Nobody ever opened it or read it.” He describes his family as “legalistic” about church attendance, faithfully dropping 50 cents into the offering each week. After attending a Catholic grade school, Sacred Heart, he absorbed a healthy measure of guilt and understood his salvation depended on his goodness.
“That’s the way I was educated about having a relationship with God.”
One night Larry accepted an invitation to dinner from his son’s basketball coach. They met at the home of Bob Smith, a friend of the coach. As they sat around the fireplace, Smith opened up the Bible and began reading from Mark, chapter eight.
“That may have been one of the first times I heard someone read from the Bible,” he says.
One line Smith read grabbed Larry’s attention: “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Larry sat there momentarily dazed by the powerful truth. “Man, that just penetrated my heart. I remember walking home and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me. I need to ask the Lord into my heart and start following him.”
He surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and was born again. “Right there I changed my life. That night I began to walk a new path.”
“I saw that I was chasing after the wrong things and I was never going to find any satisfaction short of this relationship with Jesus.”
Larry went home and shared what had happened with Marilyn. “She grew up in a Baptist church and completely fell away. When I made my commitment to Christ that night, I remember her shaking her head and saying, ‘Oh my gosh…I’m not sure I’m ready for this.’
When she saw the transformation in his life was authentic and couldn’t be shaken, she began to follow Jesus as well.
As they grew in their faith, Larry and Marilyn got involved with small group ministry, planting churches, serving at a local rescue mission, and going on short-term mission trips overseas.
A few years later Larry sold his business to a Fortune 500 company and they began to reassess their commitments. “We both said we need to really plant ourselves in one thing and devote the rest of our lives to that.” They prayed and talked, recognizing there were great needs in the city of Detroit.
In 2005 they launched LifeBuilders, to see if God could use their energy and resources to make a difference in one Detroit neighborhood, Regent Park. To a remarkable degree, God has used them to bring change to their targeted, one square mile section of Detroit, using them as catalysts to help stimulate God-centered transformation throughout the city.
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