Called to Faith is a monthly series profiling leaders of local congregations.
Pastor Jackie Chavers knows the importance of second chances.
After all, he said, if God hadn't given him another shot at life, he wouldn't be here today.
Long before becoming the pastor of Gospel Lighthouse Church in Ridgeland, Chavers was living a life of recklessness.
"My life turned to alcohol and drugs," Chavers said. "And it stayed that way for 23 years. It was a downward spin."
But after he almost died, Chavers decided it was time to make some changes. He became very sick in 1996. His body shut down because of all the alcohol and drugs. He developed a high fever and could not recuperate. He was in the hospital for eight days, but his body refused every antibiotic the doctors gave him.
"I felt like if I ever shut my eyes and went to sleep ... I would die and go straight to Hell," Chavers said.
As he lay dying in a hospital bed, Chavers said he looked up at his pregnant teenage daughter and realized he needed to stick around for his family. He knew he needed to tell both his daughters about Jesus.
So Chavers said he told God if he would get him out of the hospital, then he would do better. He said his body started accepting the antibiotics, and four days later he was out of the hospital.
Chavers said he never smoked another cigarette again after leaving the hospital. Soon after, he gave up drinking and eventually drugs as well.
He knew he needed to straighten up his life. He was facing 25 years in a federal penitentiary for drug trafficking. He had lost his home and his job. He said his family was probably next in line to go. So on June 29, 1997, he said, he surrendered everything to the Lord.
"From that moment, God just started putting everything in my path -- the mission, the church," Chavers said.
Chavers said he was never convicted of the trafficking charges. The only time he served was about a week in jail awaiting bond. And his family stuck by him through everything. He and his wife, Donna, have been married for 38 years.
He said God gradually changed his heart, setting him in the right direction. He said he used to spend a lot of time and money gambling, but God took that desire away from him.
And now -- more than a decade after getting clean -- Chavers is helping others straighten out their lives. For the past eight years he has not only led the nondenominational Gospel Lighthouse Church, he has also spent time ministering to inmates at the Jasper County Detention Center and the Ridgeland Correctional Institution. And in 2003, he opened a homeless men's shelter.
Ridgeland Christ Central Missions sits on 22 acres of land. The large white brick building houses about 250 men every year. It can accommodate 15 men at a time.
Chavers said most of the men who come to Christ Central have had problems with drugs and alcohol. Some arrive right out of prison. Their families have disowned them, and they have nowhere to go. Christ Central feeds, clothes and shelters the men.
Chavers and the house manager, Randy Deloach, teach the men to be responsible, encouraging them to look for jobs and stay out of trouble. They also teach them about Jesus. They go to church twice a week and participate in Bible studies with Chavers, who said he knows first-hand how a relationship with Jesus can change someone's life.
"No man could ever do for me what Jesus Christ has done," he said. "I woke up every morning to get high, and I went to bed every night wasted. ... God has brought me a long way, delivered me, set me free."