Meet the new youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Palm Coast.
“Before I was 18 years old, I lived the life of a drug dealer, and I was an atheist.”
Jeff Dawsey, now 30, stood at the front of First Baptist Church of Palm Coast and said these words while wearing a suit and tie and a bright smile, sharing his testimony to the Sunday evening congregation on Sept. 18 to complete his transformation: That night, this former drug dealer was ordained to be a pastor.
Dawsey, who also has been the Palm Coast Observer’s sports editor for the past two years, explained that when he was in 11th grade and living in Crestview, Florida, he had a marijuana habit that took over his life. He had started selling weed, and found that if potential customers came to his house looking for a joint and then found out he was at school, they’d go somewhere else to buy it. He decided school was costing him money, and it wasn’t worth it. So he dropped out.
Life was seemingly going great for him. He was free from just about any responsibility. He watched a lot of movies; he smoked and sold dope.
But then he got hooked on a movie called “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington. Something about the movie took hold of him, and he watched it every day for two months. Then one day, as he looked for a cigarette lighter in a drawer, he came across a Gideon’s Bible with an orange cover and thought about how the Bible had impacted a character in the movie. He thought, “I wonder how many lives would change if I read this?”
He went back to his bedroom and read for three hours straight. Then he kept reading, day after day.
A customer came into his room one day and noted the irony of the situation: “Are you reading the Bible and smoking weed?”
But he kept on reading. Gradually, he stopped selling. He stopped smoking. Instead, he started watching evangelists on TV. He felt convinced that he would some day become a pastor himself.
He didn’t come clean completely, however: He sometimes stepped back into his old paths, and, for a period of about eight months, he gave up on trying to resist his old temptations. Again, he was a man of contradictions. He prayed to God: “If you want the police to come take me to prison, that’s fine with me, as long as I can preach in prison.” He felt resigned to the fact that he would end up behind bars.
But, as he told the First Baptist congregation to a chorus of amens on Sept. 18, “I’m glad he chose this route instead of that route.”
Still, Dawsey still had a remarkable journey remaining. The next part of the story is adapted from a 2012 Facebook testimonial in Dawsey’s own words:
One day in 2006, a close friend stole $4,000 from my safe. Unfortunately for him, my cousin’s business partner had two hit men who were living with us in my house. Once I told them my situation, they agreed to murder my friend for $3,000 whenever I gave them the signal.
The very next day was Sunday, and I had previously informed Diana, my cousin’s girlfriend, that I would go to church and watch her get baptized. I decided to call and notify her that I was staying home but before I could dial her number, she pulled up to my house, so I decided to go.
At church I never reflected on the stolen money. I was focused on the pastor, the congregation, and the music. I had been absent from church pews for over a year, so I felt out of place. When the pastor gave the altar call, I immediately thought to myself, “I have to get right first, and then I’ll come to God.” As if reading my thoughts, the pastor said, “It’s not about getting right and then coming to God; it’s about coming to God and allowing him to get you right.”
I instantly walked up to the pastor so that he could lead me to salvation. The church praised the work of God as I agreed to be baptized with Diana. And so, whereas I had thought that I was attending church to see a baptism, God orchestrated a transformation in my own life, so that I also got baptized.
After my salvation, I went home and read a few chapters in the book of John. Later that day, I saw my friend who had stolen from me, and I began to contemplate whether I would go along with the plans to have him killed, even though I had been saved.
Day after day, I debated. I really wanted him dead.
Finally, after three weeks, I surrendered my anger. I forgave him. I moved on. And I never looked back. My friend’s life and mine were saved at the same time.
Dawsey went on to serve in the military. He married his wife, Jessica, and then graduated in pastoral theology in 2014 from Trinity Baptist College, in Jacksonville. He was hired that same year to work at the Palm Coast Observer.
Since then, he has been a fixture in the First Baptist Church of Palm Coast, becoming a deacon and serving in the youth ministry. His desire to be a pastor never waned, and his dream was finally realized at the ceremony on Sept. 18.
The Rev. Kevin Lauter, senior pastor, led the ceremony in front of the congregation, as more than two dozen other ordained men from the church approached Dawsey one by one, put their hands on his shoulders, prayed quietly with him and offered words of encouragement, while music played in the background.
Lauter addressed the congregation and gave Dawsey this piece of advice: “The way you love the Lord will lead others to love the Lord.” He said it was a sign of a healthy church that God had called a member of this congregation to become a pastor. Some day, Lauter said, Dawsey could be led to become the full-time pastor of a church. For now, though, Dawsey has no plans to do anything other than serve the members and continue his work at the Observer.
“In this post-modern world,” Dawsey wrote on his testimonial Facebook post, “people question why miracles are nonexistent. Their problem is that they are looking in the wrong places: … Wicked hearts are being transformed all over the world.” And he is living proof.