By Joe T. Veal, You Turn Ministries Founder
Any testimony has three parts:
- Who were you?
- How did you meet Jesus?
- Who are you now?
Who I Was
I grew up in a little town in Georgia, and when I was 3 years old, my father was killed in a construction accident. We lived on the poorest side of town near a mental institution and a women’s maximum security prison. Then when I was 7, my mom married a doctor, so we moved to a very wealthy neighborhood.
We also started going to church. Every time the church was open, we were there. Unfortunately, in my 16+ years in attendance, I never heard the Gospel. There was a lot of talk about hell and punishment; just a lot of legalism and dry, dead orthodoxy. So by the time I was 18, I left the church and didn’t want anything to do with God.
I joined the Marines at age 21 and instantly grew up. I had a very successful four years in the marine corps, and one day during my last year in Okinawa, Japan, I was playing golf at Kadena Air Force Base. As my ball sailed through the air, this thought hit me: “Somebody designs these golf courses. That’s what I want to do!”
I went on to earn my degree in landscape architecture, and I landed an internship with Arnold Palmer. I worked for his organization for several years and had a life I could have only dreamed of. I had everything a man could want, but my life began to spin out of control. I got myself deep into immorality and alcoholism.
“If you’ve ever seen a man who deserved to go to hell, you’re looking at him.”
How I Met Jesus
In 1998, I came home to find a note from my wife taped to the refrigerator. It said that she loved me, but she needed space and had gone to stay with her sister. I turned on the TV, and there was a man preaching the Gospel. He made a statement that got my attention:
“If you let the mistakes of your life hang around, they’ll mock your miracles.”
The Holy Spirit pierced my heart, I fell to my face and repented of my sins. At that moment, God radically changed my soul. I became a new creation, just as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says.
Up until this point, I had seen the world through a lens of opulence and prosperity. Now that I had the mind of Christ, I began to feel a burden for missions. I thought my role would be to plant churches and sow money into mission trips.
God had a different plan.
In 2000, a man invited me to go to Malawi, Africa. He wanted me to see that the Gospel actually works. I saw so many people saved — it was a multitude. The missionary there saw a gifting on my life and he began to mentor me. That was when I surrendered to the call of ministry.
“I walked away from a $70 million partnership in the development business. I sold everything I had, gave it to people who could never repay me, and started over with Jesus.”
Who I Am Now
You Turn Ministries was developed to facilitate my call as an itinerant evangelist. I also wanted to take people on short-term mission trips because of the impact these trips had made on my own life. Over the years, many individuals, churches and businesses have joined us and we’ve ministered all over the world.
We noticed that God was doing a unique thing in southeast Africa and that His Spirit had descended on Malawi. We saw a harvest of souls year after year, and people were hungry for the Gospel. As we worked to fulfill the Great Commission in Africa, we began to recognize the people’s need for clean water and orphan care. Those practical needs became the focus of our ministry, in addition to church planting.
Looking back at my very first trip to Africa, I was asked to preach to a group of people who had traveled for three or four days to hear the Gospel. The church was packed, and there were even more people outside. A woman walked in holding a beer can with a rag stuffed in the top. At first, I was indignant that she brought a beer can into church, but then she started shaking it. She had put rocks inside the can to turn it into an instrument. She began singing a beautiful song in her native language that translates to “I love you, Jesus. I love you, Lord.”
The Holy Spirit said to me, “Joe Veal, you are that beer can. I found you in the ditch. I cleaned you up. I cleaned you out. And I filled you with the Rock of Ages. Are you going to praise me like that?” I hit my knees and vowed to God that everything I could get my hands on from that day forward, I would use to bring Him glory.
God changed my life through that beer can.
Watch Joe’s full interview with Ken Chinn on the Encounters With God podcast: