He has a calming presence about him–this tall, slim, soft-spoken teacher with the disarming smile. With a self-effacing manner, he engages in lively dialogue with his pupils in the Salvation Army adherent class. Not too long ago a student himself, he expresses surprise that the corps officer has asked him to assist. The students, however, not at all deterred, hang on to his every word.
There is power in this room. The students are beneficiaries of the Anaheim Adult Rehabilitation Center. The teacher, Jefferey Burke, 48, graduated this program and today wears the uniform of a Salvation Army soldier. These students desire to be like Jefferey. They know where he has been and what he has become. They want it, too. This is not the same man who, for several years, drank himself into a stupor again and again, repeatedly contemplating suicide.
He has shared his story: “More than once I held a gun to my head.” He tells how in 1986 he begged his wife to leave him: “We were no longer two people. The alcohol resulted in my dissolution as a human being.”
Jefferey’s story is a powerful and dramatic one. It begins in an abusive, alcoholic family from which he escaped to live on his own when he was 14. “I went through the full gamut of psychedelic drugs, searching to find some meaning to my life.” At 19 he joined the Marine Corps and spent two years with Force Reconnaissance Units in Southeast Asia. Jefferey’s search for meaning plunged him deep into the realms of his own soul.
“During the war, I discovered horrible depths to myself which I put aside because I couldn’t deal with them and do what I had to do.” There Jefferey became so familiar with death that, in later years, suicide seemed a natural option. “One of Satan’s biggest lies is that if you commit suicide, it’s over.”
After the war, he traveled extensively, “addicted to living on the edge.” Eventually Jefferey married and had children, but by then alcohol was a constant in his life. After his wife left him in 1986, “the depths of self-hatred became terrible. My health went downhill, and I lost my job.”
He tells the story: “I used to drink and sleep in my van. One morning, waking from a stupor, I loaded my gun, determined to shoot myself, when I spotted a note stuck to the windshield. It was from my sister and said, ‘Jefferey, if you want help, I love you and I miss you, and I know a place that will take you just as you are’.”
Jefferey was admitted into a Victory Outreach program. After checking in, he was escorted along with others to a Christian rally. “I found myself down on the field, on my knees, crying, accepting the Lord, knowing something tremendous had changed my life.”
After leaving the program, however, he began drinking again. “I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For the second time, I had a gun in my hand. I felt that I wasn’t going to live much longer.”
Jefferey entered the Anaheim ARC in August, 1999. “I found a place here in this church where I can be of use to others. I feel needed and wanted. I knew that if I ever became a human being again, I wanted to serve the Lord. I’m doing that here.”
Jefferey beams now as he talks. “Envoy Lynn Svoboda, our corps officer, has become my accountability partner and confessor. I am focused on the practical applications today–walking with Jesus on a day-by-day basis. I have turned my life and will over to the care of the Lord Jesus Christ, and today the joy grows.”
Jefferey Burke has found the path to serenity. No wonder the adherent class students hang on to his every word. The joy is contagious.