Johnny Carden

Daniel Dye / The Herald

A crowd of more than 100 people listen to Johnny 'Hope Dealer' Carden give his testimony at an event co-hosted by Fresh Start Motorcycle Ministry and Celebrate Recovery on Saturday.

Over 100 people gathered at First United Methodist Church Saturday evening to hear the testimony of a Millbrook man who turned his life around after years of dealing drugs and legal issues.

Johnny Carden shared his life story at an event co-hosted by Fresh Start Motorcycle Ministry and Celebrate Recovery in hopes his message would connect with people experiencing issues like drug addiction and the troubles that go along with it.

When Carden transitioned from a life of drugs to spreading the word of God and encouragement, he started using a new moniker.

“Everybody today calls me the ‘Hope Dealer,’ he said. “I’m just going around spreading what God has done in my life.”

That was the message Carden shared with the audience through his story — now turned testimony.

“No matter how deep you are, you can come out,” he said. “ I was one of the biggest drug dealers in this area. If God can change me, he can change anybody. He can break chains. That’s what I’m working on.”

Through a new ministry called Big Visions, Carden and others spent Saturday afternoon in Montgomery feeding the homeless and giving them encouragement.

“We are just a new ministry trying to take off,” Carden said. “We go out and feed the homeless.” He said one Saturday each month the ministry cooks 100 plates of food to feed the homeless.

“Some of my people have been homeless and lived on the streets,” he said. “It’s just part of us giving back. Big Visions is about just trying to get the community together and do something kind for someone. One kind deed can go a long way.”

Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin said Carden has warned students about the dangers of using drugs.

“Johnny has spoke at half a dozen schools on the hazards of drugs,” Franklin said. “Over the years, from time to time, we’ve interviewed a number of inmates who could translate their trials and tribulations with drugs and had them speak at schools in the area.”

Fresh Start Motorcycle Ministry founder Paul Henderson said the evening also included a time for people to participate in a cardboard confessional.

As musician Bill Noland played “Amazing Grace,” people carried pieces of cardboard with messages on both sides and links of chains.

“They will hold up the cardboard that says something like, ‘I was a dope addict,’ on one side,” Henderson said. “They turn it over and it says, ‘But, Jesus saved me.’ It’s a really powerful deal. Confession of sin breaks chains.”

Henderson said several young people have recently joined the ministry which has helped the organization reach more people and form relationships with other organizations like Celebrate Recovery.

“The young kids are fresh out of prison, inviting people to come out, they out there feeding the homeless,” he said. “You would not believe it. Five years ago, they were outlaws. I chased them around for a year trying to get them off the stoop.” 

One new Fresh Start member Henderson chased always ran away from him until now. 

“When I was out running the streets, Paul used to chase me around,” Samuel Noland said. “He would give me Fresh Start fliers and tell me about God. I always ran from him. I thought he was a police officer.”

Eventually, Henderson’s words convinced Noland to turn from a life of drugs.

“Now, my name is on the fliers with Paul’s name and we are out chasing people,” Noland said.

The ministry meets from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at FUMC Wetumpka. 

Contact Henderson at 334-201-5428 for more information.