In one of the most painfully truthful interviews ever given by a Christian music artist, one-time member of the NEWSBOYS John James spoke in depth to Mike Rimmer.
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But hadn't the band seen the deterioration in him? He pondered, "I think they did but sometimes, you know what? We can see stuff but sometimes we don't want to admit it. Because you've got to understand that we're a part of a big machine. It's our career. It's our livelihoods. Actually you've got many families involved. Many people involved. Their livelihoods, their careers. It's a big moneymaking machine. Sometimes you don't want to see problems. Even though they're slapping us in the face. They're screaming out to us. But sometimes we choose not to see them. And sometimes, honestly, we become blind to them even though to others on the outside it can be so blatantly obvious. It's almost like we choose to be blind and not to see these things when we don't want to."
Was John ever involved in recreational drugs as well? "Unfortunately yes I was. And again that's not something that I'm proud about. I'm really ashamed about that. Especially when I left the band. Like I said, there were no restraints once my career with the band came to an end and I confided in the Newsboys and I was forced to step down. Then all restraints were taken away and then the alcohol spiralled out of control, the drug use. I got to the point where I was spending hundreds of dollars supporting a cocaine habit. Really, I just started to lose perspective on life and everything."
So far, John and I had talked about drugs, alcohol and rock'n'roll. What about sex? John admitted to being sexually involved with other women. He explained, "That was not only devastating for my life but it was devastating for my wife. She left me. She took my eldest daughter and went back to Australia. My marriage was over but I was so messed up mentally and emotionally it was almost like saying good riddance! Go! Because then that gave me the freedom to reeeaally party and do what I wanted. I was just losing the plot so bad. By this time I was out of the band so they couldn't help me because they were touring so much. They wanted to but what were they going to do? Put a leash around me and police me? They were touring all around the countryside. Nobody's there. I'm wasn't connected to church. I'm wasn't connected to them. I was a guy with nice 'toys', nice cars, and I had access to money! It was like no restraints. I'd lost the God-perspective. Boundaries had been removed and I just lost the plot."
He continued, "One of the benefits about being one of the 'owners' of the company, the band. . . We were very fortunate to be in a place financially where a lot of the 'toys' - the bells, whistles - were paid for for the band. There's a lot that comes with success and one of the by-products of success is that you're in a position where you surround yourself with a lot of nice toys. I know once we were cruising down the road in the tour bus and we passed this great-looking motorbike shop. So I think we stopped and bought a whole lot of 4-wheelers just there on the spot! Paid for them on the MasterCard or whatever. We'd be into 4-wheelers so we'd buy everyone 4-wheelers. Then we'd be into motorbikes so we'd buy everyone motorbikes. And then a new motorbike would come out and so we'd sell them and buy everyone new motorbikes, you know? Like I said, in the Newsboys we worked hard but we played hard."
With his band days behind him, as John's lifestyle spiralled downwards so did depression and doubt.
"Can you imagine the battle, as a man and my own ego and my own mind, that I'm trying to fight?" he asked. "Every day, having everything. Gaining everything. Being in this incredible position of influence, success, notoriety, fame.and now I've lost ALL of this?! It's like my whole world is being raped from me. My entire sense of value, validation, my sense of worth is taken from me and I realise, I HAVE NOTHING. I'm feeling like an empty shell of a man. Nothing to validate anything I do. It's like I'm totally lost. I'm broken. My life's purpose, the Newsboys, has just been taken from me. How do you deal with that? How do you process that?"
He continued, "And that's why I ran as fast as I could. I couldn't face up to the harsh reality of who John James was. It was terrible. I hated the reflection that looked back at me. I hated the eyes that stared back at me. You know, the eyes are the windows to my soul! And that's why half the time I constantly was drunk or high on drugs. I HATED the quietness of lying in bed at night because if I ever was sober or had my right sense of mind I would start to contemplate the heart and the soul of John James. And I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't face that."
Fans will remember that when it was announced that John had left the Newsboys a statement was issued saying he was returning to Australia to start a preaching ministry. Nothing could have been further from the truth. "You've got to understand; love covers a multitude of sins, you know? Possibly protecting me? Possibly protecting themselves? What would have been better? To say 'John's an alcoholic and a drug addict and he's been unfaithful in his marriage. He's been sleeping around. His wife's left.' How would that have helped me? I think the best thing for me was probably to protect me. My wife and I were dealing with enough rubbish with the pressures and everything. So I think they really covered for me and maybe a bit of that too was to protect the Newsboys' best interests."
As a founder member of the band, John was a part owner of Newsboys, so when he returned to Australia were they still supporting him financially? "I had no financial support from the band," he said simply. "My time with the band was severed and came to an end. I had to get a job. You've got to understand, one moment I can go out and buy anything, next minute I'm flat-out. I can't even buy a toaster on credit. I had nothing. I literally lost everything. One of the most crushing moments I remember was that day when I had to stand in the unemployment welfare line. And then that interview - that was hard. I nearly broke down and wept in that interview. I really wasn't qualified to get a job anywhere so my wife made these little sponge cakes. For several years I sold them door-to-door. That's how I earned an income."
The fact that John James is still married and is walking with God today is nothing short of a miracle. The story of the turnaround in his life began six months before he returned to Australia while he was still living in the USA. His sister is married to a pastor. One night she was woken from her sleep. John told the story, "She began to weep and cry on my behalf. God really impressed on her heart that my wife and I were going through something truly devastating. Something was going on in our lives, to the point where she spent the night just sobbing and weeping and praying for us. A couple of months later, just before we came back here my sister was at a conference with a couple of thousand people. And there was this visiting minister from somewhere overseas and amongst the preaching, amongst a sea of people, he stopped and he walked down the aisle and singled my sister out and stood her up and gave her the most encouraging word. He said, 'Ma'am I don't know you but God's given me a message for you. A word of encouragement. You have a brother and I see God is on a rescue mission to save his life. God's going to reach out, grab your brother, take him out of the environment where he is. Because the environment where he is at the moment is detrimental and is destroying his life. God is going to take him out of there and plant him back here in Australia where he can be nurtured and become healthy and grow strong.' Several weeks after that we ended up in Australia, and neither my sister nor the minister knew anything about what was going on in our lives."
Once back in Australia, John and his wife planted themselves in his sister's church where his brother-in-law was the pastor. He remembered, "My wife literally saved my life. It takes two to be willing for any restoration and the guts my wife showed and her willingness to forgive and work at our marriage was a gutsy move. That first year and a half was hell on earth - the healing process was very difficult. I'm fortunate that we were surrounded by awesome folks at a great church. They just loved us and took us under their wing. They didn't love us because of who we were or what we could give their church but that we were just a couple that were broken, bleeding, left for dead on the side of the road. It was their love and their mentoring that helped us through this journey. Some days we felt like we were winning. Some days we felt like we were losing. But over that first two years they were able to mentor us and disciple us. Some days they were just an ear to listen, not offering us tons of advice. Sometimes they were just there to cry with us."
If you're a fan of Christian music, you may be surprised to hear that the Christian music scene could be described as a detrimental environment. Yet for John James, it certainly was. He explained, "You've got to understand. The Gospel Music Industry, if I can sum it up in that terminology, is a great concept. An organised tool to get the message of Christ out through music, through concerts, through record labels, to distribute the message. A powerful tool. The industry is not the problem. The problem is people's lives in the industry that have become messed up and lost perspective of what it's all about. It's become about the money, the industry, the success, the fame. We've lost focus. I want people to understand because sometimes people ask me, 'Are you bitter now on success, money, fame, position?' I say, no of course I'm not. Influence, money, success, position.those are powerful, incredible tools we can use to influence masses of people. Mighty tools! Those things aren't the problem. Money, success, is not the problem. It's when we allow our hearts to be seduced by those things, where it becomes all about the money, all about the success, all about MY career, MY ministry. That's the problem right there! So I'm not down on those things. Man, I hope one day I have the opportunity to influence masses of people and have the resources to do it. If I'm trusted in that position again, I guarantee you I'll do business differently because of my understanding now. Because of my perspective and my focus now."
The beach at Mooloolaba is one of the best on the Sunshine Coast with its golden sands and at that time of year, plenty of sunshine. There's the intriguing "Loo With A View" which wasn't quite what I was expecting. Instead of a toilet with a great view of the ocean, you get a toilet and upstairs above the loo, the view. It's an observation platform! On the beach people sunbathe and surf and lifeguards do their thing to keep an eye out for those struggling, always ready to rescue those who are drowning.
For John James, it was definitely God who was keeping an eye out for him. Despite drowning his soul in drink, God rescued him. Remembered John, "When I came back to Australia I can remember being at church and the turning point for me." His voice broke with emotion as he shared, "We'd been back about three months and I was sitting in church with my wife. We would come half an hour late and we'd leave early so that we didn't have to talk to anybody. It was so difficult even sitting there in church, at the very back. One day this minister who was visiting from overseas, in the middle of a service in our church of about 1200 people, he walked down the aisle. He didn't know my wife and I. He stood my wife and I up, and it was like he read our mail! He used words like, 'the success and the fame and the notoriety is nothing compared to what God is going to use your life to do.' It was such a word. You've got to understand; I'm dealing with the guilt and the shame that I have messed up my life. It's like my life now is being devalued. God could never use me again. And now here's this man who doesn't know us, doesn't know our background, and he is speaking words that through this healing process we're gonna get to a place that God is going to use us powerfully."