After relapsing from a faith-based recovery program, Brenton Winn broke into Central Baptist Church of Conway, Arkansas on February 28, 2019. He was high on methamphetamines and furious at God for his relapse into addiction when he started his rampage, destroying $100,000 of church property.
The 23-year-old shattered cameras, laptops, and anything else of value he could get his hands on. He didn’t even know anything about the church he had entered, but to Winn, any building that represented the God who let him down was a good place to take out his anger and desperation.
Though Winn grew up in a “God-fearing” home, he was troubled as a teen and turned to drugs as a coping mechanism at an early age.
“Before I knew it, I had a full-blown drug addiction,” said Winn. “From the time I was 16 until a few months ago, my life was nothing but chaos, suicide attempts and brokenness.”
But what started as one of the worst nights of his life was actually the turning point in God’s redemptive plan for Winn.
It all started when the senior pastor of Central Baptist, Don Chandler, decided to extend grace and forgiveness instead of judgment to the recovering addict.
“You can’t preach something for 50 years without practicing it, especially in front of your whole church,” said Chandler. “Had we not shown some grace to him, everything we’ve talked about and encouraged, would have gone by the wayside. It was simply the right thing to do. This was not a hardened criminal. This was a young man who had made some mistakes. He was on drugs and alcohol when he did what he did. But he was redeemable.”
Though Winn was facing up to 20 years in jail for his crime, Chandler proposed to the prosecutor that he be offered the alternative to stay at Renewal Ranch. The 12-month program based on biblical principles seemed like a much more feasible way to help the 23-year-old, as what he really needed was a relationship with God.
Winn opted to go to Renewal Ranch, where he was introduced to the real Jesus that he’d been longing for all his life. After one of the Bible studies several months into the program, he gave his life to Christ.
“Our goal of this program is to make reproducing disciple-makers for Jesus Christ,” said the ministry’s executive director. “I tell people, my goal is not for them to be abstinent of drugs and alcohol. I want that for their lives, but my main goal is for these men to fall in love with Jesus. Through that personal love relationship, there’s freedom from the bonds of addiction.”
Winn’s story is living proof that a personal relationship with Jesus can transform anyone, no matter how far they’ve fallen.
“I gave my heart to Christ that night,” said Winn of the moment he became saved. “I used to think it was a coincidence [that I chose to break into the church that night], but now I call it confirmation that God is real, and He answers prayers. What was weighing on my heart was that I needed a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Six months later, Winn stood in a baptismal pool at the same church he broke into, as Central Baptist’s associate pastor of ministries, Mike Lefler, baptized him before the congregation.
As for Winn, he knows his decision to break into that specific church back in February was no coincidence.
“As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” said Winn. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”
“We’re challenging our members to continue praying for this man because his story is not over,” said Pastor Lefler. “And that’s true for every one of us. God is still working a beautiful story of grace in every one of our lives.”