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Probation officer/author follows higher calling

People, Places & Things

ALBANY, Ga. -- That Ryan Jenkins now stands before the congregations of several local churches, delivering God-inspired messages, goes against everything the Department of Corrections probation officer ever planned for his life.

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Joe Bellacomo

Ryan Jenkins is promoting his book "7 Steps to a Moment of Truth".

The son of a pastor, Jenkins felt the pressure early to follow in dad Roland Jenkins' considerable footsteps. He fought the pressure almost daily, refusing to yield to a call that built both internally and externally.

But one year into his preaching career, with authorship of "7 Steps to a Moment of Truth," a guidebook for Christians seeking their individual "divine assignment," to his credit, Jenkins has discovered that his resistance was nothing more than a prolonged exercise in futility.

"God gave me gifts, and I just walked all over them," Jenkins said. "When I finally quit listening to the lies that the Devil told and obeyed God, I wrote and said things I didn't know I knew. I spent all my life chasing my own dreams and aspirations, feeling I was going to be some kind of failure if I didn't follow my own plan.

"When I realized finally it was time to live God's plan, my world changed in a big way."

Jenkins is an imposing specimen of a man in his Department of Corrections uniform, his just-past-30 body still buff enough to remind local football fans of the Monroe High School/Albany State University fullback who bowled over opposing linebackers to clear the way for more heralded running backs.

Football was actually Jenkins' second choice of sports, taken up when mom Odessa refused to let him study martial arts. Monroe's William Chunn and Albany State's Mike White were happy with mom's intervention.

Jenkins played well enough for Chunn at Monroe to earn a full ride at ASU, and there he was part of perhaps the best team in Albany State's storied history. That's the team that led eventual Division II national champion Valdosta State University 24-0 in the first half of the D-II playoffs only to let the game slip away in the second half, a game that still haunts Jenkins.

"That's maybe the biggest disappointment in my life ever," Jenkins said of the tough loss. "We had the best team in the country, and we were on our way to a championship, but we let it get away from us. That still hurts me like a death.

"But that game had a lot to do with me learning to deal with disappointment."

There was little for White to be disappointed about in Jenkins' play at ASU.

"I can't say that I'm surprised at the man Ryan has become," White said of his former player. "He was an extremely hard-working kid, one of those 'yes-sir, no-sir' kind of guys who fits the Albany State mold. He's the kind of kid who always did whatever you asked.

"When you see someone who has Ryan's work ethic, you know he's going to be successful. I'm really proud of him, proud that our program played a part in him becoming the man he did."

The admiration is obviously mutual.

"A lot of people are going to realize what a legend Mike White is when he finishes coaching," Jenkins said. "I saw it back then when I had an opportunity to play for him."

Jenkins quickly realized during his career at Albany State that his dream of making it in the NFL was unrealistic, and although he'd long considered a career as a probation officer, he allowed some close friends to talk him into joining the Albany Police Department, where he spent most of his 5 1/2-year career assigned to APD's Gang Unit.

"God moved me to that door," Jenkins said. "I was an athlete growing up, and I wasn't really bothered. But no publicized report can tell you how terrible gangs were at Southside Middle School and at Monroe. I saw people jumped on constantly, and I developed an instant passion for the people who were bullied by these gang members."

Just as God had opened the door for Jenkins to join the Albany Police Department, He eventually brought the decorated officer back full-circle to his first love.

"God works in funny ways," Jenkins said. "We were working on one of the first RICO cases (with APD) when I started feeling a shift back to the probation department. A position opened up in the Albany office, and I applied. I've been there almost two years.

"One of the things that compelled me is that God helped me understand that people getting out of the prison system are some of the people most in need of God's grace and mercy."

About the time Jenkins made his career shift, he found himself led to make some life shifts as well. Always a skilled writer, he started feeling a call to write a book about his pathway to faith.

"I could always write, but I'd never really used that particular gift," Jenkins said. "But I felt God telling me to write a book. I said, 'I'm not a writer,' but God said, 'Just start writing, I'll lead you every step of the way.' ('7 Steps to a Moment of Truth') became my love gift to the world. It's my response to the hurt I felt seeing people living below what God intends for them."

Inspired by his finished book, but cognizant of his own mistakes and battle scars -- and his lifelong reluctance to follow in his father's footsteps -- Jenkins found himself fighting what he said was clearly God's call to preach.

"I fought it and fought it," he said. "But eventually I knew it was time for me to live by God's plan. He'd delivered me when I had a wreck so bad I was spitting glass out of my mouth but didn't even get a cut, and He'd allowed me to survive five gunshots. How could I not follow His purpose?"

Despite his strengthened faith and renewed calling, Jenkins confesses that he comes to them with many of the same human flaws that afflict every man.

"The fact that I had a baby out of wedlock when I was younger certainly was not great for me or my family imagewise," he said of 6-year-old Ryan Jr. "But I don't shy away from talking about that aspect of my life. Some people say that makes me 'unworthy,' but I know that God does not make mistakes. He allows things -- even bad things -- to happen for a reason.

"Even my marriage to my wife Verna and the birth of our baby girl (Lauren, who will be 2 in September) are proof that God had a plan for my life. Verna and I were king and queen of Sylvester Road Elementary, but we lost touch and didn't meet back up until we were 18 and going to rival schools. I finally told her how I felt about her, but I messed that up. Still, God told me that was my wife, and when I finally worked up the courage to call her up on Valentine's Day in 2006 and tell her how I felt, she didn't make it easy. She told me she had a boyfriend.

"I had to have faith, and it was hard, but God made that come full circle, too."

As he looks to the future, Jenkins said he is leaving things in God's hands. But he is planning to write more books. And he's willing to preach a message whenever he's asked.

"God has given me so many opportunities," he said. "Like everyone, I went through some tough times to get where I am. But God has given me the tools to validate my life. His love -- all love -- can cover a multitude of sins."

(Jenkins' book "7 Steps to a Moment of Truth" is available at www.ministerryanjenkins.com.)