Two Christian rock musicians, Joseph Rojas from SEVENTH DAY SLUMBER and Vince Lichlyter from JONAH 33, spoke to Mike Rimmer about how God delivered them from cocaine addiction
Sometimes America's annual Gospel Music Week can feel more like a glitzy showbiz quagmire than a gathering of Christian musicians and industry people. And sometimes as an interviewer it is possible to get weirded out by the number of church pastors' kids who go straight from high school to fronting bands without ever seeming to experience anything. Sometimes I want to meet a band who have a testimony because they have been through a test. During an intense week of interviews, I met two frontmen for American rock bands whose experience of a God of supernatural deliverance has inspired them to reach out to others.
Seventh Day Slumber's debut album 'Picking Up The Pieces' is vibrant hooky, guitar-driven rock. Walking into their room, you know this is a rock band you don't want to argue with, after all any band with a huge drummer called Rhino has to be.ahem.respected! Thankfully they prove friendly and frontman Joseph Rojas is a passionate advocate for the band's music and ministry.
Joseph is very honest about his own past and it's not pretty. "I used to be a drug addict," he says, with unflinching bluntness. "I'll be real honest with you. I had a $400 a day cocaine addiction. I remember being 13 years old and thinking about taking a gun and putting it to my head and pulling the trigger. My father left me at the age of three. My only memories of my father were him beating my mother bloody. I'd never learned how to throw a football, I was the fat kid growing up, I didn't have any fishing trip stories with my dad because I didn't have a dad. I wanted to get picked. I was the guy who was passed up for every team at school. I was never picked. I'd go home and I'd cry my eyes out and I just wanted to end my life."
He continues, "I got involved with drugs and cocaine helped me to escape reality. I would do cocaine about once a month, then once a week, then it turned into once a day and before I knew it, I had a $400 a day cocaine addiction. I've been to jail over 20 times, I was looking at 10 years in prison and finally at the age of 20, I just decided that it was time for me to 'check-out'. I didn't want to live anymore."
Joseph's life changed the day he decided to kill himself. He decided to overdose on cocaine when he knew his family would not be around. He remembers, "My mother walked in unexpectedly and my chest began to hurt. I dropped to my knees and I was overdosing in front of her. She was crying out to Jesus, I didn't even believe in God but my mother was praying for me. The ambulance came and they picked me up. I was coming in and out of consciousness and I don't know how to explain it but everything inside me told me Jesus was real."
At that moment Joseph knew enough to cry out to Jesus for help. He explains, "I said, 'Would you save me?!' For the first time in my life, I felt like I got picked and it was amazing! I felt like I was a part of something and I belonged somewhere. My void was filled and life was different. In a split second, my whole life changed."
Having encountered God in the ambulance, Joseph began the process of living out his faith and allowing God to break his addiction. He shares honestly, "A lot of people like to have the story where it just ended but for me, I had to learn to look to Christ every single day or I wouldn't make it. God saved my life but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have cravings. It would get to me at two o'clock in the morning. I'd wake up in the morning going, 'Man, I gotta get some cocaine!' and I'd struggle and struggle and I'd just cry out to God and he would quench that. The need I had for cocaine, he would quench it with his love. And it's true, it would just go away after I would pray. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they tell you to call the sponsor. That's always good to call a friend and I had some friends to call, but really I would call on Jesus and I would just say, 'I can't get through this, I need help.' He would always be there and I would get through it. I allowed God to work freely in my life and after three months, it was gone! I've been clean now almost eight years."
Joseph knows that a lot of his old friends are either dead or in jail. It's a sobering observation that it could easily have been him. "We've got a song called 'My Struggle' and it says, 'There must be some mistake, cause I'm not worth the price you paid.' And yet Joseph has begun to understand something of God's purpose as he tries to rescue others who struggle like he did. His experiences act as a springboard for ministry. He laughs, "I'm crazy enough to believe that I can change the world and I don't care if anyone else wants to help me or join in. I believe that with God I can change the world for Christ. As a band we decided let's go take this world over for Jesus and lead some kids to Christ and give them hope! And not do it in a preachy way but do it in a way where they can understand us and where we're on their level and we give them the message on their level."
He continues, "I see so many hurting people out there and I believe I've got a chance and I believe the reason God gave me this opportunity isn't just to go and have fun and to rock out. It's to go and help these others who have no hope in life. And that's what I do, that's what our band does. Wherever we can, wherever someone will listen, we will play and we will minister. I believe God gave us an opportunity and I'm not going to blow it."
Someone else determined not to blow it these days is Vince Lichlyter from the band Jonah 33. Like Seventh Day Slumber, this rock team have a hot, gutsy rock album 'Jonah 33' currently getting US airplay. And like Joseph Rojas, Vince Lichlyter is a young man who in his early years made bad, bad decisions. By the time he was 13 years old Vince had left his family and begun to live on the streets of Seattle. He sums up the experience saying, "I started using drugs and getting into that whole lifestyle and pretty much trashed my life."
It wasn't until the age of 19 that he moved from Seattle to Arkansas to escape. "I'd just had too much," Vince explains. "I was in the middle of a really bad drug deal and a lot of violence was surrounding me. So I called my dad up and told him that I needed to come home. My dad bought me a ticket, it was a roundtrip ticket but when I came to Arkansas I met a youth pastor. He just took me to lunch one day and he told me about Jesus the whole way there and the whole way back. I went over to his house a couple of days later and we talked some more from six o'clock in the evening until three o'clock in the morning. I ended up giving up! I had nothing left. I just knelt down and gave my life to Christ."
He is candid in describing the change in his life. "My life just really fell together after I got saved; before it was just a shambled mess. I'd done pretty much everything short of shooting up. I never really messed with needles much but anything else you can probably think of.I was just like a vacuum man, I inhaled it all!"
When it came to coming off drugs, Vince had a different experience to Joseph Rojas. He explains, "When I came home I spent the first two or three days in bed just sleeping. After I became a Christian, the Lord took the urge to do drugs right out of me. I didn't have any deep desires or anything. I struggled with it but it was more of a mental thing. God totally delivered me with his grace and it was just really awesome. I feel blessed because I've heard a lot of stories where guys and girls come off of it and really have a tough time."
Like Joseph, it's Vince's experiences of God that fire his ministry. He recalls one drug experience, "It's probably a little too graphic to get into in this interview but I had an experience that really just opened my eyes. There's a thing where some people believe that God can reach you and kind of smack you around a little bit through the Holy Spirit before you're saved. I think for me that was my moment, God just really shook me and opened my eyes. Even in the midst of being high I realised where I was. I remember that night like it was yesterday. I think the Lord just burned that on my soul because that drives me to be as outspoken and as bold as I possibly can. I definitely know that God brought me through that and allowed me to go through that for the call that he's placed on me today. I want to preach the Gospel at all costs and to not compromise at all. From what I hear it's a tough road but I think I'm completely ready to embrace it."
Vince has very radical thoughts about how he and his band Jonah 33 can do that. He laughs, "I don't mind being a trend-setter as long as God ordains it. I mean I'm not in it for the show at all but can you imagine if you went to a rock show in a wheelchair and one of the guys just felt led to pray for you and you ended up getting out of that wheelchair? That's the lasting impression that Jesus would have on that town when that band left, not really anything about the band but just Jesus himself. I think God's into showing off if it would draw people to him. So I just want to be used by him."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.