Michael Elia

Open Door Fellowship – Jail Ministry
Phoenix, Arizona

It had been almost two decades since I had first smoked pot, and rarely a day passed that I had not used or pursued the use of some mind-altering substance. My addiction had progressed into harder drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines, and it was taking its toll on my life. Homeless, penniless, hopeless and lost, I was finally arrested and incarcerated, and though I didn’t know it at the time, my life would take an incredible new direction. In fact, my life was about to begin.
I was sentenced to six months in jail, during which I detoxed and sobered up. I befriended a man who suggested I go to a church service run by volunteers. He told me that they were serving coffee and donuts, and that won me over immediately (you may not know, but they don’t feed you too well in jail). I don’t remember a lot of what the person leading the service said that day, but I do remember that he was sincere, and I was sure he was convinced that this Jesus guy he was talking about was real. I went to every church service in the jail from then on, and before long I came to know for certain that Jesus was real and He was changing me. I asked Him into my heart and to forgive my sins, which were many.

After being released from jail I went to a halfway house. I had nothing to my name except my Bible from jail and the hope of a better life with God. After visiting a church where I didn’t feel like I fit in too well, my roommate took me to a church in Phoenix. He said he had gone to seminary school with one of the leaders. I figured if my roommate from the halfway house knew someone who was a leader from a church then I would have to check it out!

When I walked into the place it felt like time stood still. I was still reeling a bit from the warm welcome I received at the door, but there was something about the atmosphere in this place . . . I am not a good enough writer to describe it, so all I can say is that I knew immediately that I was home! I didn’t know it but the environment of grace that God had so lovingly drawn me to would affect my life then, now, and perhaps for the rest of my days. I heard the preacher talk about how Christ lives inside of me now and the new identity God has given me will form me from the inside out if I could just trust it. He told me that God had great dreams for me and that he would heal me and prepare me for them in His time and His way; all I had to do was just trust Him.

It was almost three years ago that I was going through the TrueFaced study when it occurred to me that the dreams were coming true. I was drug and alcohol free. I was married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and was learning to be a dad (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) to her four kids. I was playing drums on the worship team, and as loud as I was they still put up with me. Most of all I no longer identified myself as the old me. I wasn’t the hopeless drug addict anymore; I was Christ-in-Mike. AA helps keep me clean, but grace has made me free! Sure, I still have issues, some of them pretty ugly, but that was and still is ok. I don’t have to hide anymore behind the pretense that ‘I’m fine’, because often I am not. But more often I am doing quite well, and when I look back at how far God has brought me, I always well up with tears, just like I am right now.

Today I get to give back. The TrueFaced study brought me to a place where I could see and believe that God could use me to fulfill both His purpose for me and my dreams at the same time. It was there that God gave me the idea to go back to the jails and tell others about His love and grace. I asked permission and support from the church leadership to start a jail ministry. Today the church’s jail ministry provides four services every week to inmates in Maricopa County who are just as starved for hope as I was when I was in there. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for the life Jesus bought for me with His shed blood. Today I am comfortable in my own skin, and I am not afraid to let others see the real me because I know who I am and who He has made me: Christ-in Mike Elia!!!

Brittany Sawrey