From Behind Bars to Behind the Pulpit
I was born February 24, 1955 in Great Falls, Montana, to Harold and Ruth Randall, the fourth child, and the only son. My parents were already having serious marital problems by the time of my birth. My father in later years told me that my birth was totally unplanned and not wanted, coming eight years after my youngest sister. Thus, my glorious arrival into the world.
Anything resembling a “fifties happy family” ended when at the age of two my parents divorced. This was followed by what I was told was a history making child custody trial. I along with my three older sisters were placed into the sole custody of my father.
During my earliest years my sisters and I went to a Methodist Church where my father was quite active as a Sunday school teacher, though I remember very little of it. By the time I was eight or nine years old, I was the only one left at home. My sisters were married and gone. Dad stopped going to church altogether, which was fine with me, because I didn’t like church at all.
Home life with just my father and I was not good. There was never any verbal expression of love between us. My father’s idea of showing love was to simply go out and buy something for me. Maybe it was guilt, I will never know, but one thing is for sure, I never felt any real love.
Growing up I came to realize that my sisters and I had two entirely different home lives and remembrances of life with our father. While theirs seemed to be pretty normal, my life was deeply affected. From the time I was seven until I was about eleven years of age there were several incidents of fondling by my father. There was no one to tell, and I was too ashamed of what took place to talk about it anyway, so I put up a wall and pretended it never happened.
Needless to say the relationship with my father became very sour, and I became a very angry, belligerent, and disobedient young man. Not a day went by that my father and I didn’t argue and fight with one another. Any authority in my life was resented, as I had lost all respect for not only my father, but myself. At the ripe old age of twelve my life began to spiral out of control, as I began to run the streets, coming home whenever I wanted.
Because of my father’s concern that I was on the fast track to serious trouble, he thought the solution might be to capitalize on the new Rock and Roll invasion from England, and get his son involved. He bought me a bass guitar and at the age of twelve I and three other buddies started our first Rock and Roll band.
It was also during this time that I met a beautiful girl by the name of Betty Hovland, who would just four years later, on April 1, 1972 become my wife; more about that later.
In spite of the fact that everyone in the band was very young, in a short time we became quite popular in the area, and found ourselves playing for dances nearly every weekend. With the popularity came the money. It was more money than anyone else our age was used to making and man were we ever enjoying it!
When the band was two years old we added a fifth member. He was a lead guitar player who was the one to introduced me to the world of drugs, I was fourteen years old.
From that point on the thrill and excitement of drug use captivated me and I began getting high every chance I could. By age nineteen I was smoking heroin, snorting cocaine, dropping LSD, drinking and doing anything I could to stay high. It was also at this time that my father died.
We had never in my memory ever expressed any words of affection for each other. As he laid there in a coma for 14 hours with me at his bedside watching him die, my hardness gave in to emotion, and I cried like a baby and told him that in spite of everything that loved him. He never woke up, and I never heard him say those words to me, but I hope he heard me.
As the years came and went, my addiction kept growing. I made a great deal of money playing with various rock bands, but it was not enough to provide for the wife and baby daughter, that I now had, and my addiction to drugs and alcohol. To make matters worse was the fact that Betty was also addicted to alcohol and drugs.
How well I remembered when Betty and I were first married. 17 and 16 with a baby on the way, and thinking we had nothing but great years ahead! Neither one of us came from Christian homes, but Betty came from a very close and loving family. Because of that she wasn’t involved in all the drugs, that unknown to her now totally consumed my life.
It was not long before Betty caught me using drugs. I will never forget chasing her down the dark alley behind our little house, telling her I’d never do drugs again, and anything else I could think of just so she wouldn’t leave me!
She believed me, though the painful truth was, I was hopelessly addicted, and there was no way I could quit! I knew then that the only way I could keep Betty was to somehow get her into using drugs with me. The plan worked, and before long she enjoyed getting high and drunk as much as I did!
Now faced with mounting bills as well as drug and drinking habits that were growing every week, it became necessary for me to sell drugs along with playing in the band. I began to move large amounts of drugs for a well connected drug dealer, an easy thing for me to do with my connections in the rock and roll world. Now I could enjoy even more money and the high life too, or so I thought.
My marriage by this time was going down the drain fast as Betty and I began to fight about almost everything. The rage in me began to come to the surface, and I became a very violent man, taking out my hostilities on Betty in physical beatings that to this day make me so ashamed.
Then in June 1976, what was left of my world came crashing in. After months of some very close calls with the law, I was finally arrested and jailed on charges of illegal possession of dangerous drugs. As I sat in my jail cell, my mind began to imagine that the Police, who had long been watching my house for suspected drug traffic, had no doubt gone with their search warrants to try and find more drugs; and if true it would have been more than they could have ever imagined, for stashed secretly at my home were drugs with a street value of more than $300,000.00.
Worse than even the thought of being busted on huge drug charges, was that Betty was no doubt already in custody by now, and our little girl Chassidy was in the hands of Child Protective Services. I was almost physically sick thinking about it all! Bad enough that I was on my way to prison for a very long time, but I managed to take my whole family down with me! Life was over for me.
You cannot imagine my total shock, when I was finally allowed to make a call from jail, and found out that the police had not gone to the house! With one call my place was sanitized of all drugs, bail was posted, and I was a free man…at least until my date with the judge.
Later that month I pled guilty and was sentenced to 3 years in Prison. But because I was actually busted with such a small amount of drugs in my possession, and the fact that I had no previous criminal record, the judge, to my surprise deferred the sentence. I’ll never forget his words, “This sentence is deferred not suspended, and if you come in my Court again I’ll send you to prison for a very long time; you keep your nose clean and it comes off our record in three years.” I guess I don’t have to tell you how happy I was! Boy did I ever party that night!
As a result of the drug bust everything was hotter than ever, and fear of another bust sent everybody in the band their separate ways. Being the only family man in the band, I desperately needed some money quick. I pawned everything of value that I had, but with Betty and I so addicted to drugs and booze, it didn’t last long!
Finally in the face of foreclosure, I had to sell our home. It bought us some time, but reality began to set in as I realized that in the previous three years, I had squandered nearly $100,000.00 living the party life!
The only work I could find was on a railroad tie gang as a spiker. It was hard work, but being a big, strong man, it was not much of a challenge. Almost everybody on the gang drank and used drugs … what a job! But the party didn’t last long as I seriously injured my back and landed in the hospital. I had no idea at the time that this injury would be what God used to get my attention and change the course of my life and my family forever!
On the morning of June 2nd, while lying in traction in room 324 of the old Columbus Hospital in Great Falls Montana, a nurses aid by the name of Vernice Sanders walked into my room, and God was about to change the whole direction of my life.
Vernice Sanders, as I found out later, was a Christian and a member of Fairview Baptist Church. When she walked into my room that morning she had no knowledge of the rough and belligerent patient that she was looking at, but in her heart she became very concerned about a troubled young man who she said later “looked scared, and was as white as a sheet.”
How could she have known that right before she walked in that morning, I had just awoke from a terrible nightmare in which I had seen my death, coupled with a frightening voice telling me that “this is it, no more chances!” I thought honestly I had lost my mind…I was petrified.
Vernice left my room and immediately ran into Pastor Marc Elledge, the Visitation Pastor for Fairview Baptist Church, who was just starting his visitation rounds. Concerned about what she had seen, she asked if he would go down to talk to the troubled young man in room 324.
Pastor Elledge came into my room that morning, and began to talk to me. This in and of itself was an incredible miracle of God, seeing as the drug world had reduced me to such a violent, paranoid individual that I trusted no one. I am still amazed even to this day that I didn’t do something to throw him out of my hospital room.
As he talked, I found myself telling this absolute stranger about my dream of dying, at which point he asked me the most startling question I had ever been asked, “if I knew for sure I would go to heaven.”
Man, you talk about a heavy dose of reality! I didn’t know if there was a Heaven or Hell, but if there was, I was sure Hell was going to be my destination. I just told him, “I don’t know.”
The next words out of his mouth, were put there by God, as he asked me that if he could show me in the Bible how I could know for sure I was going to Heaven, would I believe the Bible. I had absolutely no trust of any human being, and had he asked if I would believe him, I would have said, “No Way!” But when asked if I would believe the Bible, I can remember thinking if there was anything decent and true left in this old World, it was probably the Bible; and I said, “I would.”
The concern that this stranger had for me that morning was so evident, as he began to show me in the Bible that God loved me, and sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for me, and that He would save me if I would just turn to Him and receive Christ as my Savior.
Here I am laying in the hospital bed, a young man in his twenties, who had already done 80 years worth of sinful living, and in all that time, no one ever told me that God loved me and sent His Son Jesus to die for me!
Something very strange began to happen to me that day, as tears began streaming down my cheeks and without one bit of hesitation I began to ask the Lord to forgive my sins and be my Savior and Lord! I was wonderfully saved that morning of June 2nd, 1977! Later I learned that on the night before I was saved, Pastor Elledge and four other men had had a prayer meeting together and asked God to move in even an unusual way to save a lost soul … I believe to this day that God answered their prayers the next morning.
Two weeks following my release from the hospital, Pastor Elledge came to my home and shared the Gospel with Betty. Man, was I nervous and even more surprised when I heard Betty pray and ask the Lord to save her too. Now I had a saved wife, and I was so happy! What I didn’t realize at the time, was that Betty didn’t really mean what she was praying. She later said, “I prayed because I was scared of Gary… not because I really wanted to be saved”
Pastor Elledge continued to come by every week, giving me these little comic book type Gospel Tracts, and inviting us to go to church. Every week I would say “we’ll be there”, and every week I’d make an excuse not to go. This went on for almost a year, but Pastor Elledge never gave up!
The truth was, that although I was truly saved, my present condition was that I was still addicted to drugs and alcohol, and so was Betty. The old Devil had some huge strongholds in our lives, and he wasn’t about to let us go without a fight.
Though not yet in Church, God was convicting my heart through those little Chic tracts that my life was not at all pleasing to Him. It was a terrifying time as I thought of what my drug buddies would say and think and even what they might do if they found out that “Randall got religion.” But really the big problem was that I was hopelessly addicted, and could not see any way out!
I wrestled with God about this for so long, trying to quit in my own power, and failing over and over again. Finally burdened and broken over my sin, God brought about two events in my life that changed me forever!
The first happened one night about midnight, when I told Betty we were through with drugs, and I gathered up all the drugs and paraphernalia that we had stashed in the house and put it all in a big garbage bag.
What a strange sight it must have been, me standing in the alley behind our house, with this garbage bag, looking up to Heaven with tears running down my face and crying out to God “please, if you don’t do something supernatural in my life to deliver me from these drugs, I’ll be digging through this garbage in the morning looking for a high.”
I found out that night, that when you finally come to the end of yourself, and cry out to God, He’s right there to reach down and deliver you.
That night God miraculously delivered me from drugs, I never went through one minute of withdrawal, and have never had a desire for drugs since that night! I was truly free for the first time in many years. A few months later God did the same thing to deliver me from booze!
The second event happened within days, and took place as 5 or 6 men sat in my house cutting and packaging drugs and getting high. Though I was through with drugs, I still had the problem of the “Drug life.” Because of the tremendous conviction I was under, every time somebody passed something to me, I’d pass it on to someone else … there was no doubt I truly had no more desire for drugs! But finally one of the guys said, “Hey Randall, what wrong with you, how come you’re not getting high?” To which I said, “I don’t think the Lord is pleased with this”
Man I wish I had a video tape of what happened next… you would have thought a skunk walked in the room. Everybody was looking at me in total disbelief. I could not believe I said it myself! Within minutes everyone had packed up and left, and it came to me that I was suddenly a religious fanatic with no friends. Strangely, I sure felt good inside that I had finally stood for the Lord, however feeble it may have been.
I learned something very important that day… that was true friends don’t mock you and walk out of your life. Second, you don’t have to worry about separating from the wrong crowd. If you just live for the Lord, they will happily separate from you!
For the first time I felt like my life was getting on track and going up, instead of spiraling down! I knew I wanted to be the right kind of husband to Betty, and the right kind of dad to Chassidy our little five year old daughter, and the only way I knew to do that was to finally get into church!
So we started as a family attending Fairview Baptist Church. But with hair half way down my back, a big black beard and a still somewhat paranoid, anti-social attitude, I was really scared how people would react; after all these church people looked a lot different then us.
Boy, were we ever surprised when on that first Sunday; the people of Fairview Baptist Church loved us, and made us feel so welcome. We had no idea, that Pastor Elledge had been asking these people to pray for us, and they had been…for almost a whole year!
We started attending more and more, Sunday School, Sunday Morning and Evening services and even after a while Wednesday night Prayer Meeting, though I must admit that I was terrified going the first time thinking I would have to pray in front of everybody.
We were making new Christian friends, and it was not long before we decided we wanted to join this church. On November 22, 1978, Pastor Richard Dion baptized Betty and I on our professions of faith in Christ. No one but God and Betty knew that she was just going through the motions and not really saved.
Over the next four years God was working powerfully in my life. I began helping with the Teenagers at the church; God was using my testimony to touch some of their hearts.
Pastor Elledge began taking me with him on visitation. Silently I sat back and watched God use him to lead one after another to Jesus Christ! It was great, and I was getting bolder and bolder about telling people of the Lord.
Several of us would go with Pastor Elledge on Friday nights down to the main drag of town, and stand in the back of my old pick-up and share our testimonies and preach that you must be saved in order to go to Heaven. God blessed and we saw several make decisions accepting the Lord and being saved right on sidewalks!
It was also during this time that Pastor Dion felt led of God to start a Bible College Ministry of the Church. Everyone was so excited, including me, even though I had no desire to go to Bible College, after all, I didn’t even graduate from High school.
I had a good job as a heavy Equipment Operator, and was content to be a good Church member; serving the Lord wherever I was needed…God however had other plans.
At the Block Plant where I worked, we were busy re-building the Block curing Kilns, and during the construction I seriously injured my back for the second time. Over the next 10 months every possible medical procedure was tried to avoid a spinal fusion operation, but to no avail.
God used an injury to put me in the Hospital where I could hear the Gospel and be saved, and now God once again had me in a hospital to make a life changing decision.
The combination of Doctors saying I would never return to my work, and God working on me through sermons, Bible study and prayer… I finally surrendered to the Lord and said I’d go to Mountain States Baptist College, and do whatever God wanted me to do with my life.
During that first semester God showed me in Romans 10:14-15 that He wanted me to give my life to the Gospel Ministry. I surrendered to that call and God confirmed it by opening doors for me to preach His Word immediately! By the time I graduated from Bible College 4 years later, I had preached over 250 services!
My weekly schedule was hectic, but God was blessing in every area of my life, and I was preaching nearly every weekend somewhere. Little did I know that God was about to give to me the greatest blessing I could ever have!
I came home for lunch that day, and Betty met me at the door in tears. I had no idea what was wrong until she said, “I have been under conviction for a long time that I am not saved.” She wanted to tell me earlier, but was so worried about what people would think of ME…out preaching all over, and his wife not even saved!
That sure didn’t matter to me as we both got on our knees that day in 1983 and Betty repented of her sins and truly received Christ as her savior!
What joy I had as I watched Pastor Dion baptized my dear, sweet Betty on her genuine profession of faith the very next Sunday at Fairview Baptist Church. Betty has such a marvelous testimony of God’s grace to share, and has been the greatest helpmeet that God could have ever given to me. She is indeed a sweet, godly lady.
The following year I also had the privilege of praying with my daughter Chassidy as she asked Christ to save her at the age of eleven. Chassidy today is a Pastor’s wife, and Mother of five children. She is a godly lady, and the apple of her Mom and Dad’s eye.
In the years 1984 and 1985 I had the joy of being an interim Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church of Havre Montana, and also Heritage Baptist Church of Columbia Falls Montana (later became Gospel Light Baptist of Kalispell, MT). I traveled hundreds of miles across Montana every week with Betty and Chassidy to preach God’s Word in these needy young and struggling churches. This was a great time of seeing the Lord work in hearts and lives.
After graduation from Mountain States Baptist College, Fairview Baptist Church ordained me to the Gospel Preaching Ministry. Though this was an exciting time, it was also a time of great trial for Betty and I. We had a great desire to have more children, but instead had three babies die in Betty’s womb in the fourth and fifth month of pregnancy, and our second daughter Charith Jean was still born at six months on May 22nd 1986.
As devastating as this time was for us, we know that we have four beautiful children in Heaven, and God’s grace was indeed sufficient to get us through. God used this time to prepare us to be a strength and encouragement to others in the future that have struggled in the same areas.
The Lord in His great love and goodness has blessed our son-in-law Tim and first born daughter Chassidy with a large family, and has given to Betty and I five beautiful grandchildren, the fourth one is named “Charith.”
All through college I truly believed that God wanted me to prepare to be an evangelist, but I was counseled to work on a Church Staff with a Pastor to get some experience, and so I began to pray that God would provide me an opportunity. In a short time Pastor Dion approached me about remaining at Fairview Baptist as the new Youth Pastor. I accepted.
I served as the youth pastor at Fairview from 1985 to 1987. This time was wonderfully blessed of God as we saw the youth ministry grow both numerically and spiritually, and in the first 18 months these on-fire teenagers won over 450 precious souls to Christ!
In the midst of all this excitement, it came as a real shock when the Lord revealed His desire to call us to another ministry. Pastor James Nolan and the Bible Baptist Church of Puyallup, Washington asked me to pray about coming to be their new associate pastor. After much prayer I felt it was indeed God’s will for us, and so I accepted the call to come.
Once again, God used Betty and I to reorganized and build up the youth ministry and start the Saturday teen soul-winning program. We also helped start their first bus ministry.
What a wonderful ministry we had in Washington state. Still believing that God wanted me in full time evangelism, I resigned after a year and a half and moved my family back to Great Falls to begin the work of an evangelist under the ministry of Fairview Baptist Church. The next several months were filled with meetings and activities, and many souls coming to Christ!
In September of 1989 a college classmate of mine, Pastor Mark Davis, of Florence Baptist Church called me to say that he was resigning and going to a ministry on the East Coast. He asked if I would come fill the pulpit and help the church find a Pastor.
I had a long familiarity with the Florence Baptist Church going back to 1981 when God gave me the privilege to preach there. This church had been at one time one of the largest churches in Montana, but had been struggling as the result of a terrible church split three years earlier.
The first Sunday we were there, the people asked if I would pray about coming as their Pastor. Convinced that God still wanted me in evangelism, I was reluctant to even pray about it, thinking that it was some lack of faith on my part, however Betty and I said we would pray about it, and after two months of fervent praying God made it perfectly clear that Betty and I were to be at Florence Baptist Church.
There were only 10 adult members remaining out of this once thriving church, but they extended a unanimous call to us on November 26, 1989, and we accepted the call. At my first service we had 14 in attendance including the children. Over the next ten years we would see the Lord bless in such marvelous ways!
All areas of ministry had to be built again from the ground up. In 1990 I asked Brother Rick Hammond to come by faith as my new bus director. Six months later the church had grown to the place where we were able to call him as our new assistant pastor. Brother Rick and his wife Jana were a great blessing on staff for four years before going out from Florence Baptist Church to Dillon, Montana to start Bethany Baptist Church, which is doing great today and has just completed a brand new church building.
In 1991 I felt led of the Lord to ask my son-in-law and daughter Tim and Chassidy Johnson to come from their home in Minnesota to help us build a new youth program at Florence Baptist Church. Tim and Chassidy served with Betty and I for over eight years and did a great job!
Over the nearly ten years Betty and I were at Florence Baptist we saw hundreds of souls reached for Christ, and many baptized on their professions of faith. God also used this church to help start three other churches in Montana!
On January 24, 1998 I received a phone call from Dr. Royal Blue of the North Valley Baptist Church in Redding, California asking me to pray about coming to assistant him, and succeed him as Pastor upon his retirement.
North Valley was a very large ministry, and I had preached there on numerous occasions, and found it to be a sound fundamental work, with very loving people.
After nearly a year of prayer, I felt once again that God was leading us to yet another ministry. In November 1998, I resigned the pastorate of Florence Baptist to move to California and the new ministry God had for us.
You can only imagine the shock we felt after coming to North Valley Baptist of Redding, when within just a few months it became painfully obvious that the pastor was not going to retire, but instead was beginning to go an entirely different direction with the church. It did not take long to realize that our convictions as Bible believing fundamental Baptists was at odds with the liberal thinking of the pastor and the new evangelicals who had infiltrated into some positions of leadership.
In spite of that, we did enjoy the love and support of many dear Christians, who shared our convictions and desires for a Christ Centered “Old Paths” ministry. However, after 18 months it was clear that God would only use our short time at North Valley to strengthen our convictions and faith and prepare us for an even greater ministry in the future. I resigned in May of 2000.
In early July 2000, two months after my resignation from NVBC of Redding, Elmwood Baptist Church of Brighton, Colorado called to ask if I would consider coming to fill the vacant pulpit of the church following the sudden death of their pastor.
Elmwood Baptist had been struggling for many months and was nearly a quarter million dollars in debt; however, a faithful core of 17 people remained, and on July 30th after much prayer I accepted their unanimous call to come as their new pastor. From our first Sunday we had eight months to come up with $200,000.00 or the Church would face foreclosure and lose it’s property.
The work that God has been doing in restoring this Church for His Glory, by saving souls, building the attendance, increasing the finances and membership as well as eliminating the huge debt has been nothing short of miraculous!
Two month after our arrival, and with only about 35 people in the church … the dear people of EBC stood with me by faith when I asked Pastor Chris & Lori Knutsen (my former Music Director at Florence Baptist) with their children Kim and C.J. to come as our new Assistant Pastor, in charge of the Music and Youth Ministries!
Since that time God has continued to steadily build HIS church. many people today call Elmwood Baptist Church their church home.
God has not only grown Elmwood Baptist to reach the North Metro area of Denver Colorado, but has also allowed us to help start seven church plants, three of these churches in Colorado, and the future vision is to plant other churches as our miraculous working God will lead.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and believe when I say “To God be the Glory.” Betty and I are blessed to be able to serve the Lord, and are honored to be able to serve HIM at Elmwood Baptist Church.