PICKENS, S.C. (BP) -- Mike Rushton, the youngest of three boys, grew up tough. His dad borrowed boxing gloves and taught his sons how to fight. "We were always told not to ever start a fight, but if we were involved in a fight we better not lose," he said. "We did not lose many fights."
His father did not attend church, but Rushton’s mother was a faithful Christian who made sure her sons went with her to worship on Sundays. When Rushton turned 13, he got a job working the late shift at a local café. His dad, who considered money to be more important, allowed his son to stop going to church.
Rushton went to work at a cotton mill when he was 16. "During those years I believed there was a God," he said, "but I didn't have any place in my life for Him."
The teenager became disillusioned about Christianity when he had a heated exchange with his former fourth-grade Sunday school teacher, who worked at the cotton mill.
"I have been cussed out before, but I don't believe any worse than she did," he recalled. "That had an impact on my life, and I remember it like it happened yesterday."
Rushton began to believe there wasn’t any difference in his life and that of someone who claimed to be a Christian.
From there, his life began to spiral out of control. He was in jail several times, and "every time, alcohol was involved," he said. "I have seen men shot, cut, beat and killed."
Rushton was in the Army when he and Vickie, whom he had dated for several years, decided to get married. After his discharge from the military, they moved to Newberry, S.C., where he again worked in a mill.
Vickie had been raised in church but had stopped going. When the couple's twin daughters were born she started going again, but Rushton would not go with her. When their daughter Misty, then 4, was not healed of a skin condition, psoriasis, Rushton decided to become an atheist.
"When I heard people talk about Jesus Christ," he said, "I would tell them they were crazy, that people who believe in God are weak."
Vickie would sometimes invite her pastor to the house on Sunday afternoons to visit Rushton. But this only angered her husband.
"I finally had enough and told the preacher that if he ever came to my house again, I would whip him," Rushton said. He told his wife not to take the children to church if they did not want to go. Eventually, Vickie stopped attending services.
Meanwhile, Rushton began doing landscaping work -- and business was booming. One evening, he covered the couple’s bed with $100 bills.
"I told Vickie that she used to talk to me about God and Jesus, but this was what was important to me," he said.
The following week, Rushton was working in a Baptist preacher's yard when a tree rolled onto him and broke his back. The night before his surgery, Rushton prayed, "God, if You are real, I want You to come through this window and take me out of my misery. I don't want to live like this."
At that moment, "Jesus Christ came into my heart, and I had a feeling of peace I had never had before," he said. "I went from being a man who could do anything I wanted to someone who could not even take care of his basic needs. God had broken me, and He started rebuilding me into the person He wanted me to be."
The next morning, Rushton shared with his wife what had happened, and they prayed together. The preacher whom Rushton had threatened to whip visited him in the hospital and later started teaching him how to study the Bible and to pray.
After recovering from surgery, Rushton went back to work. "I knew God did not want to handicap me," he says. "He just wanted to get my attention and change my heart."
Since then, Rushton has led an active lifestyle, going skydiving even running a marathon. He ran for city council in 1990 and won and later was appointed magistrate.
"Imagine that," he said with a laugh, “someone who went from being put into jail to being able to put people in jail."
In 2007 the couple retired and moved to Pickens, where they are faithful members of Pickens First Baptist Church.
"Some people tell me that God did not break my back, that He would never do anything like that," Rushton said. "I know God broke my back to save me from going to hell.
"I am carrying a lot of scars from my former way of life. I have served Satan, and I have served God. Believe me, life is a lot better serving God."
Rudy Gray is editor of The Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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