Updated: Aug 1, 2020
A person who buries the pain from their past doesn’t make their wounds go away. They just allow it more time to develop roots that will eventually surface in unexpected ways. For Johnny Banks, his pain took root at the age of seven, when he was molested repeatedly by a family member for two years. He knew it wasn’t right, but while growing up in the deep south in the 1960s, he learned not to challenge the behavior of adults. Yet, his ability to stay silent about the abuse did not quiet the voices inside his mind. The memories from this dark period in his life remained strikingly vivid, warping his view of reality and his own identity. As he grew older, he was left wrestling with many questions like “Am I gay or less of a man because of what happened to me?” There was no one to talk to, but he had to do something to silence the noise, so he turned to drugs. Johnny was introduced to drugs at the age of 12. At first, he was pretty good at hiding his “recreational habit” from his family, but it wasn’t long before the drugs began to turn him into someone else. Johnny became mean spirited, and couldn’t care less about the world around him. School became an afterthought, and by his freshman year, he dropped out of high school. The streets became his classroom, and he started selling drugs, stealing, and engaging in every street hustle imaginable. Johnny’s life continued to spiral out of control, as he desperately struggled to dull the pain from his past. As he got older, his use of marijuana eventually progressed into heavier drugs, and he sought temporary relief by engaging in casual sex with beautiful women. He became a teenage father, but the birth of his child did not stop him from continuing to go down this dark path.
Throughout the rest of his teens and 20’s, his life remained a blur. He continued to live each day for that moment and had no hope for his future. Then one day, when Johnny was 31 years old, a guy randomly walked up to him and said “Hey man, I love you. Why don’t you stop doing these drugs and do something different?” The man’s words immediately struck his heart. He hadn’t heard the words “I love you” in years. In that moment, Johnny made a decision that he would never use drugs again. He found a Narcotics Anonymous group and began attending the meetings regularly. In those meetings, he was reintroduced to God. God began to work on his heart and slowly started to heal his wounds from the past. During his early stages of recovery, he was introduced to James Bevel, who served as the chief strategist for Dr. Martin Luther King. James challenged Johnny to think differently and taught him the history and inner-workings of the civil rights movement. Johnny spent hours every day studying under James, which eventually ignited a strong desire for him to go into ministry.
Johnny became the guy at the NA meetings that always talked about Jesus. As time went on, he developed the strength in those meetings to confess to others the abuse he experienced as a child, which helped him to let go of the shame he held from his past. He realized that what happened to him didn’t mean he was “soft” or less of a man, and he refused to continue to use what happened to him as an excuse for him to self-destruct. He took his power back and focused his time and energy on ministry and reclaiming the time that was lost. For years, he kept a book in his hand, constantly reading to obtain knowledge and learn from legends before him. In 2003, God showed him that it was time for him to utilize the what he had learned through his personal studies and under James Bevel to start an organization that would empower, educate, and strengthen his community. That year, he opened the doors to his nonprofit called “A Knock at Midnight.” The agency, named after a famous sermon given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, grew from a vision to a force in the community that provides a range of resources like workforce development, parenting, social-emotional learning, and financial literacy classes. As AKAM continued to expand, Johnny recognized that his work could not remain behind the desk. Wearing a baseball cap and a suit, Johnny made it a point to go outside his office doors regularly to touch the hands of the members of his community.
While continuing to pour into his nonprofit, Johnny felt God prompting him to expand his ministry by starting his own church. He resisted the idea for several years, but God continued to tug at his heart. In 2016, he accepted the call and started the process of forming his church. One year later, the doors of Wayside Chapel Chicago were open. He wanted the church to reach those who had fallen by the wayside due to being marginalized by society or spiritually injured by those around them. As he envisioned, Wayside has helped to uplift and strengthen many of God’s children who came to the church looking to grow in their faith and experiences a deeper understanding of God’s love for them.
Now serving in ministry as a pastor and the Executive Director of a nonprofit, he sees how the hand of God has been so miraculous in his life. Although Johnny’s journey has not been easy, he lives with no regrets. Everything that he went through in his past, from hustling on the streets to dropping out of school, served as one of his greatest assets in ministry. All of the brothers on the street respect him because they know that he has once walked in their shoes. That is why, in the midst of every success that Johnny has, he continues to remain humble because he recognizes that he did not get to this point in life because of his obedience or hard work, but his success is truly by the grace of God. He has seen how God opened doors in his life that were greater than anything he could ever imagine, which is why he is committed to helping people understand that even though their past might be full of painful and dark memories, it doesn’t have to dictate their future. God is able to restore everything that the devil tried to take from us, and Minister Johnny Banks is living proof of that.
If you were encouraged by this week's Faith Friday Feature, be sure to subscribe to receive other testimonies of faith once a week. New to Faith on the Journey? Check out other Faith Friday testimonies here.