By Mark Ellis —
They grew up in the same neighborhood in Costa Mesa, California, followed a surprisingly parallel journey, had powerful encounters with Jesus that upended their lives, and ultimately discovered varying degrees of freedom on their paths to sanctification.
“Lonnie and I grew up together, so to speak; he was my neighbor across the street, from when I was 13,” Jon Carreon told God Reports. “I went through many phases with Lonnie from 13 to 17 years old because he was my best friend at the time. We’d have breakfast together, make tea and toast and watch early morning TV during the summer. We figured out the day, whether to go to the beach or what we’re gonna do.”
“We both have that same identity. It was really strange that we went to high school together and had some of the same struggles. I think Lonnie had more struggle with his (family) growing up. It was a very conservative time, so there was no stepping out of the box.”
As teens, they made trips to Laguna Beach together, “Lonnie was getting pretty involved in the Laguna Beach scene. So we’d go down to a gay bar that was there.” They also drove up to Hollywood to sneak into gay bars. “They would let us in, and the bartender would serve us.”
Jon and Lonnie both babysat to earn extra money. “We had enough money to go to Hawaii, but his parents wouldn’t let him go. So I said, ‘I’m going to San Francisco to visit my mom. Do you want to go with me?”
They traveled to the Bay Area together and ventured into the city wearing jeans, V-neck sweaters, with bare feet. “We’re like fresh faced, little surfer type guys. We were used to going barefoot all summer. Lonnie was more precocious that I was. I was really shy and more timid. That’s why we were a good pair. I was his follower.”
As they were walking through the Tenderloin district, a neighborhood known for crime, drugs, and some of the city’s historic gay bars and clubs, a man approached them. After he learned they were from Newport Beach, he said, “You can’t be walking around here barefoot because it means you’re a prostitute.”
They laughed about it afterward, but Jon realized Lonnie was dealing with some serious issues on their trip. “I knew Lonnie was having problems at home. And he was real demonstrative about those kinds of emotions. I was ready to come home, and Lonnie decided he was going to stay and come back later. Well, he never did. He ran away from home.
“His parents called my mom and said, ‘Where’s Lonnie?’
“He said he was gonna stay in the city and then he was going to come home, but he never did. He kind of ‘ghosted’ into Haight Ashbury and I didn’t see him for two years.”
During their two years apart, Lonnie received Christ in a dramatic way and was heavily influenced by four hippie couples living communally in a large ranch house in Novato, California, recreating in some fashion a Book of Acts lifestyle. Lonnie crashed on their living room floor during the early months of his Christian life and grew under their guidance, before he joined Pastor Chuck Smith in Southern California.
Jon, on the other hand, followed a different course. “When Lonnie split, when I was 16 or 17, that’s what I started getting involved in the gay scene,” he says.
When the two friends reunited, Jon was working at a bikini factory on Balboa Island. Lonnie and Connie and a few friends showed up one night, wearing Indian tie-dyed shirts and capes. Immediately, Lonnie shared with Jon about finding Jesus.
“He was freaking me out. My friends were making fun of them. It wasn’t funny to Lonnie and Connie because they got on their knees and started praying for me.”
“Oh, my God, you really want me to accept Jesus right here?” Jon protested. “I’m sorry, sorry, I can’t do that.”
Later, Jon went home and prayed for the first time to a God he did not know. “God, if you’re really real, you gotta prove this to me.”
Suddenly, the air in the room got “really thick.” “I wasn’t smoking anything, and I was totally lucid. I realized something was happening and I said, ‘No, no, go away, go away. Whatever is happening, go away.”
Since the Holy Spirit is a ‘gentleman,’ Jon’s steely resistance was respected.
“I kept running into Lonnie, because his parents lived across the street, and he would visit. I was trying to dodge him all the time. He wanted me to talk about Jesus all the time. I thought, I’ve gotta dodge this guy.”
After Connie and Lonnie moved to Southern California, Lonnie invited Jon to visit his new friends, Pastor Chuck and Kay Smith. “I went over to their house; they were living on St. James Place. And I could really feel the Spirit in that house.
It felt like an Americana moment when Jon walked into the Smith home that afternoon in 1969, because Kay was baking cookies in the middle of the day with her daughter, the intoxicating aroma wafting through the house. The experience of being there left him yearning for the peace they enjoyed, a feeling he said he never felt before.
Then Lonnie invited him to the home of Ginger Burke for a Bible study. “I was so freaked out by the whole idea of a Bible study,” Jon recalls. “I actually asked Jesus into my heart at that point, but I didn’t feel anything. I said to somebody, ‘I just accepted Jesus,’ and nobody said anything, so i thought, this is anticlimactic.”
Shortly after that, someone handed him a tract called Destined for Greatness. Written by a college professor, it explained the possibilities of creation being an accident. It ended with the Scripture about Jesus holding everything in place by His Word.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
A few days later, Jon was at a friend’s house, and they dropped acid together. Suddenly, the words from Colossians came to his mind. “I was starting to get high, but all these words came to mind about Jesus holding things in position. I had a waking vision. I was no longer in this realm. But I could feel Jesus all around me, his presence was all around me.
“He explained to me about creation, how that happened, by His Word, how he spoke everything that we see into being. There was some interesting information about quantum theory and the mysteries of certain parts of it, that allude to the spiritual realm.
“All of a sudden, I realized who Jesus was; I was in the dark and I saw this beam of light coming through outer space. There was like a seed of wheat that was gold, that had his name embossed in it. And it went right into the center of my being and established itself there.
“I felt like I was standing on the most solid rock that I’ve ever felt in my life. Then it was like this ball of fire, which I believe was the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which I had no idea about, came into my body and started (feeling) this woosh, woosh, woosh through me and everything started making more sense.
“Then after his revelation to me, I heard what was like a million billion voices singing. The Scripture says when one sinner accepts the Lord, all the angels in heaven sing, they rejoice. That’s what I heard. I have never heard anything like that, ever.”
Then the voice of Jesus came through the singing. “I knew it was Jesus speaking to me in a different language, but it was translated in my head into English. I was overpowered by it, overwhelmed by it. And I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t go any further, because this is so overwhelming.”
“As soon as this vision was over, I was down. Usually, LSD takes you for eight hours. I was no longer high at all. I was totally down. And my friend kept yelling at me, ‘Jon, are you okay? Are you okay?’”
“Jesus is real! Jesus is real!” Jon exclaimed. His friend, still high, stared at him blankly.
Jon believes this was a turning point in his life, when everything turned around.
After the vision, the Bible “opened up, literally every page. Before, it didn’t make any sense to me. But all of a sudden, these words started to jump out, all the Scripture started to jump out.”
Jon’s life gained new purpose as he realized, I’m here for a very good reason. I’m here to do something with him. He wants to use me somehow.
“Before I was fearful, but I wasn’t afraid any longer.”
Jon went to visit Lonnie and Connie, then living at the former Blue Top Motel, now a communal living space affiliated with Calvary Chapel. When Jon shared the news about his salvation and his vision, it “blew their minds.”
“Immediately, Lonnie wanted to lay hands on me. I said, ‘Okay, you can do that,’ And they invited me to come and live at the Blue Top.”
Jon hit the ground running with Connie and Lonnie. “We were very involved in the ministry of Calvary, and had many really great experiences. We would go in groups to places to witness and talk to as many people as we could down by the water. I went to all the baptisms at Corona Del Mar, almost all of them.
“We were hippies, but we weren’t dirty hippies. I took a bath every day and washed my hair every day. And we had jobs. Connie worked like crazy; she built all the furniture they had out of two by fours.
She built the sofa. She sewed the cushions for it, furnished the house, cleaned the house, hosted the Bible studies. She always had food, and I think I actually went dumpster diving once with her.
“It wasn’t all prayer and Bible studies, We were living our lives, getting to know each other as people. And that was the beauty of it is that we really bonded with a lot of the people that were there.”
During this period, Jon and Lonnie didn’t discuss their personal struggles. “Lonnie was very complicated. We never really sat and talked about our personal lives any longer. Because it was okay; I started over again, it was a new beginning. But I ended up having the same struggles later.”
When Jon was 29, he married a model from Sweden who resembled Elle Macpherson. “Lonnie was there and Romaine married us. We were married for four and a half years; the deal breaker was that I cheated on her with a guy.”
“I went to Calvary to get counseling; I told them, ‘What do I do here? I’ve committed adultery. What should I do? Should I tell her or not?’ And he said, ‘No. Don’t tell her.’”
Jon disagreed with the counselor’s advice and confessed the adultery to his wife. “We were at dinner and it was like a volcano exploding in the middle of the restaurant. Oh boy. It was heart rendering and heartbreaking…I couldn’t afford to move out for three months. So it was it was like living in hell for three months. Oh my, it was terrible.”
After Jon’s marriage broke up, he lived with his father for a while, and ultimately chose to
live a celibate life. “I never felt a struggle with my identity being gay. I wasn’t active. I wasn’t seeking out somebody and I was happy with that. I’m happy because all my friends are straight, you know, and I have a great time with all of them.
“I’m never lonely. I know that I have my relationship with Jesus every day. He is my best friend and I have the best time every day. God knows who I am. I read and converse with Him. He knows me, like the Scripture said, There’s no hiding.”
“With Lonnie, I had no idea that he was still struggling at all. And it wasn’t until later, I found out that he had AIDS, when he was HIV positive. Then I went ‘Holy smokes.’ I heard that he may have contracted it when he was in Brazil. People diminished that part of his life. Even though he might have had this identity problem, God still used him.”
“People need to know that God didn’t just use him locally as preacher. He went all over the world. He went to South America, to Mexico, to Europe, to Denmark, to England. He went everywhere. And everywhere he was welcomed. People diminished that part of his life, and even though he might have had this identity problem, God still used him.”
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
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