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Transformed: Jim Dycus’ new lease on life

By John W. Kennedy

For the first 32 years of his life, Jim Dycus admittedly was a rotten person. Mean. Uncaring. Selfish.

Dycus went through multiple marriages and, to support his drug habit, worked as a pimp on the streets of Chicago. But even that income couldn’t meet the demands of his $300-a-day drug habit. Dycus turned to a more aggressive form of crime — holding up drugstores for their narcotics supplies. His third attempt almost proved fatal.

A narcotics officer on a stakeout yelled, “Halt or I’ll shoot!”

Instead of raising his hands, Dycus wheeled around ready to attack. The officer fired. With blood streaming down his arm, Dycus fell to his knees. He saw his life pass before him; face after face of those he had disappointed flashed in his mind. The cop assessed the situation: only a flesh wound.

During a nine-month jail sentence that followed, Dycus, now 65, had time to reflect on his myriad failures — the wives he had mistreated, the three children he had abandoned, friends he had lost, his unemployment and even his failing health. His drug-addicted frame was down to 130 pounds.

Dycus went to sleep every night wondering if he would be stabbed during the night or if he would make it until morning. Examining his wasted life in that cell, he realized no one on earth loved him; he didn’t even love himself.

His life to that point seemed to guarantee his misery. An undisciplined childhood had led to drug addiction. By age 15, Dycus starting smoking marijuana as a way to escape an unstable home where his father, James, was a violent alcoholic. Pot led to alcohol, barbiturates, morphine and, ultimately, heroin. Dycus quit high school to spend more time getting high.

To support his habit, the young addict stole money from his father’s billfold, pawned family belongings and even stole his dad’s car. He snatched purses and wallets in street muggings.

At 17, Dycus found himself in jail for the first of several stays. He began a pattern of spending weeks at a time in jail cells, then hospital detox units and drug rehab centers. He always returned to abusing illegal drugs.

When Dycus was 21, his mother, Clara, committed suicide. For nine months the grieving son visited her grave every night, begging for forgiveness until the next day dawned. Although he expressed sorrow, he never felt relief.

Upon his release from jail after the drugstore robbery, Dycus went through a government-sponsored rehabilitation program, but to no avail. He continued to crave drugs, shake from withdrawals all night and have nightmares about his mother jumping in front of that train to end her life.

With no other place to go, a hospital social worker told him about Teen Challenge. Figuring he had to get out of the Windy City’s subzero temperatures, Dycus checked into the facility.

In a dorm room that first night Dycus thought he had made a mistake when half a dozen men surrounded him. These men looked rough. They had tattoos, scars and track marks — just like him. Yet they smiled. And they grabbed each other’s hands and started praying for him. Dycus stared in amazement as tears ran down the faces of these burly guys.

The next morning in chapel service, one of the residents prayed loudly, “Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving me for what I did to my mother.” The moment Dycus heard those words his drug-hardened heart began to melt.

Ken Schmidgall, the center’s director, asked Dycus, “Do you want Jesus to forgive you for what happened to your mother?” Stunned that anyone would know about such a connection, Dycus fell to his knees and recited a prayer of confession and asked Jesus into his heart.

Dycus felt like a new man that January day in 1972. “I met Jesus Christ, the only One who had the power to set me free from all my bondages and declare me not guilty,” he says. He has never used illegal drugs again.

At the Teen Challenge Center, Dycus for the first time in years began eating right. He slowly put pounds on his skeletal frame. Just as importantly, he began developing a value system. He read the Bible voraciously and toward the end of his nine-month stay began evangelizing on the streets. He discovered compassion for others.

Dycus moved into a Salvation Army facility and at one service heard Capt. Barbara Cramer speak. Unlike him, she came from a conservative Christian background and had never smoked, drunk or run around with members of the opposite sex. Dycus proceeded cautiously before asking her out on a date, and the couple fell in love. Barbara married Jim in 1973.

Barbara allowed Jim, who took classes at a Bible institute, to be the spiritual leader in the home. The couple ended up at Belmont Assembly of God on the northwest side of Chicago. Jim felt loved and accepted by members of the congregation.

When 23-year-old first-time pastor George Cope arrived at the church that had 50 Sunday morning congregants, Dycus already was immersed in serving by leading worship and teaching Sunday School, even though he had a full-time job as a truck driver.

“He wanted to serve because of what the Lord had delivered him from and forgiven him of,” Cope recalls. Cope realized Dycus had great ministry skills in relating to those who came from wounded backgrounds.

In 1979, Cope needed an assistant for the growing church and he asked Dycus to join the staff.

Dycus didn’t understand how someone with his background could be considered worthy of full-time ministry. Cope told Dycus he believed in him, and explained that if Dycus remained faithful and kept a good attitude, God would use him.

Cope, now president of Zion Bible College in Barrington, R.I., understood that Dycus had a troubled history, but the district superintendent cleared the idea and the congregation voted unanimously to hire Dycus.

“Though he had baggage from his past, he was gifted and called to the ministry,” Cope says. “When grace is bestowed on people, their slate is wiped clean.”

In the early 1980s, Cope took Dycus along to district and sectional meetings to learn more about the Fellowship. Under the tutelage of Dycus, the Belmont Sunday School was the fastest-growing in Chicago three consecutive years. Jim and Barbara implemented a divorce recovery seminar that attracted throngs of needy people. Belmont Assembly gained 400 members in Cope’s 10 years there.

“Divorced people,” Dycus says, “can live effective, whole lives unhindered by the mistakes of the past, just as the Lord has helped me to do.”

After serving at Belmont for five years, Dycus joined the staff at Orlando Calvary Assembly of God in Winter Park, Fla., 20 years ago. He now has been there longer than any of the 15 pastors on staff.

He oversees missions, benevolence, homeless and bus ministries at Calvary Assembly. For most of the past two decades, he has worked with single adults in crisis and recovery workshops. Today the man who used to send prostitutes to work in Chicago is Calvary Assembly’s point man to rescue prostitutes in one of the church’s benevolence outreaches.

Even though he helped hundreds of others find healing from the wounds of divorce, Dycus continued to ache over his failed relationships with his children. He never wanted to contact them during their formative years because of the torment he had put their mothers through.

Yet Dycus has reconciled with those three estranged children. After Scott called him up unexpectedly in 1983, Dycus led his 21-year-old son to a salvation experience. Daughter Jackie, then 18, called unannounced in 1987 and Barbara eventually led her to the Lord. Dycus then made contact with Jackie’s older sister, Lee, who already had become a Christian.

Jim and Barbara have been married for 31 years and have three children of their own: Jimmy, 26; Jackie, 23; and Dinah, 20.

Out of the pain and sorrow emerged a man transformed by God’s redeeming love.

John W. Kennedy is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

Jim Dycus’ story was published in the 1997 book, Not Guilty, From Convict to Christian.

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