How a virus scan ignited a ministry that reaches around the world
SOULFIRES | IGNITING MINISTRY
In our Soulfires series, we share the stories of people who have encountered God in powerful ways and responded by initiating significant ministry projects.
The graveyard shift was the perfect name for it. The middle of the night between midnight and 8 a.m. in the back IT office of the company that Jack Costner worked for was usually as lifeless as they come; dark, still, quiet and boring. And this night was no different. Nothing was moving in that dimly lit, silent room, not even the computer screen that he was watching to see if anybody would hack the network he had just installed. Hours had gone by and he was still just watching and waiting and seeing nothing, knowing all the while that he probably never would. It was the perfect environment for anyone who has a lot of pain in their lives to have to begin to deal with it.
Voices have a way of speaking out when there is nothing to fill the void.
And so he thought of his crystal meth addiction that got him into so much trouble, such as getting him kicked out of the Navy and his dad disowning him. He thought of his life and future and nothing looked particularly exciting. His mind then drifted to the previous Sunday when he took his girlfriend to church because she asked him to, and he started to recall the movie clips from The Passion of the Christ that the pastor showed. Surprisingly, the images began to hit him harder in the dead silence of that IT office at 3 a.m. than they did while sitting in the church. He didn’t believe in Jesus, at least, he didn’t think he did. But for a brief moment, the man on the cross looked like he just might be an answer, possibly the answer to his life. And so, with the aloneness of the room looking like an opportunity, he walked over to the lone lamp, switched it off, and in the darkness, got on his knees.
“God, if you’re there,” he said, “I really want to know. If you can reveal yourself to me, I will give you my life. I want to give you my life.”
Jack waited for a thunderclap of some sort. It never came.
When he got off his knees and turned the lamp back on, he rubbed his hands over his body and face to see if he felt different. He didn’t.
At least nothing weird happened, he thought.
He walked the sterile, flourescent-lit hallway to the vending machine to tend to his unrelenting smoking habit. As he stood in front of it looking at the cigarettes a voice suddenly spoke within his spirit. “You’re not going to be needing those anymore,” the voice said.
Jack stopped; the whole world seemed to. The only inner cues he had ever experienced with respect to his vices were promptings to do it, to indulge, to push ahead. This time, however, was a prompting not just to stop, but one that declared him free. He turned around and returned to his office without the cigarettes and a strange sense that he would be walking that hallway again.
When his shift was up, he walked into the morning light and like an ex-smoker gets back his taste buds, it was as if his senses were turned back on; the day looked brighter than he had ever noticed before; the sky looked a new shade of blue. The singing from the birds was particularly loud and beautiful.
What’s this? he thought. Strangest of all, it had been four hours since the incident at the vending machine and he still had no cravings for a cigarette. He never would again.
But it was the clear and sudden death of his craving—a crushing addiction—that shook him the most. He knew that everything was now different. God, just like he asked him to, had revealed himself.
Jack aggressively went into discovery mode. He wanted to learn everything he could about this God and the more he found out the more he fell in love with Jesus.
Jack’s heart sang like the songbirds.
Soon after, Chris, his coworker from another department asked if Jack might go to his house and help him with his slow-going computer. Jack agreed. On the drive over, his eyes suddenly widened when it happened again. “I want you to tell Chris about me,” the voice said in his spirit. Jack recognized it as same that spoke to him at the vending machine.
“I’m not going to do that,” he spoke aloud in his car. “That would just make things really weird.” He drove the rest of the way just hoping the voice, or God, wouldn’t press the issue.
When Jack arrived and took apart Chris’ computer, he saw that a virus scan was in order. It would take an hour to complete. When Chris pulled up a chair and sat down beside him to wait and watch the screen, Jack gulped. What was he going to do now?
“What are you going to tell him?” the inner voice said. Jack closed his eyes and prayed. “I’ll open my mouth, but whatever comes out you own, OK Lord?”
When he got home, he was flying high. The conversation went smoothly and he loved how it felt to be used by God—to speak about him boldly. Better yet was the note that he received from Chris.
“Thanks for what you did today, Jack,” it said.
“No problem. I hope it works for you,” Jack replied.
“I meant telling me about Jesus.”
It didn’t take long to realize what God was asking him to do.
The Jesus Geeks ministry began with Jack and his girlfriend (who has since become his wife) advertising his service in the church bulletin and on online community boards and then going to responders homes to fix their computer and tell people about Jesus and pray.
In time the Jesus Geeks grew in size enabling them to travel to far corners of the county to solve computer problems and, as was the mission, to offer the answer to life’s problems as well. Jack was amazed. God, the Ancient of Days, was using computer glitches to call people to himself. It was thrilling to be a part of.
Soon, however, the Geek’s numbers began to dwindle as all the driving was taking its toll on their wallets. A member of their church’s business ministry suggested a different model: find a space in the church, pick a regular time and let the people come to you.
It worked beautifully. People came from all over. They each walked away with a fixed computer, prayer, a few new thoughts to consider and the experience of someone serving them in the name of Jesus. Many even walked away with new lives, having given them to Christ. Even a woman who was a vocal and aggressive opponent of the church brought her computer to the Geeks. She walked away giving heartfelt thanks and a broad smile. The new model of visibility within the church helped to make the conversations even easier to initiate as people assumed that the service would be accompanied with something “religious.” They were saving people money and helping them stay on top of their school work or job searches and life. The Geeks couldn’t believe they had stepped into something so meaningful.
But it was at a job fair that God made a slight adjustment to the programming. A woman who ran a ministry of her own approached the Geeks with a request they weren’t expecting.
“Do you have any computers you can donate to refugees?”
Jack thought about the plight of newly arrived refugees and saw how dire the need was. As children and parents who are trying to assimilate into the American computer-dependent culture, life without one would stack the deck against them. Suddenly, there was a new added purpose to their ministry.
The Geeks put out donation jars and people responded kindly. Along with contributing some of their own money, the Geeks where able to buy parts as well as pull parts from dead computers. In just a few months they had gathered a nice handful of fully functioning computers which they loaded with education and Bible software. They were to be hand-delivered to refugee families, many of whom would be hostile to Jesus. But it was clear that it was God who had breathed life into this ministry so anything or anyone the Geeks might encounter, no matter how inhospitable, would be considered hand-picked by God.
The first on the list to receive a computer? A Muslim family.
Jack prayed hard for God’s presence during his visit and even took the time to research how Jesus is pronounced in Arabic. It would be a bold move to bring up Jesus, but Jack knew God was on the move.
The man was rigid and stoic, just how Jack had anticipated. When he received the computer, he invited his family to come and meet Jack. From the bedroom came his daughter with a large bandage on her chest. The man revealed that she had just received heart surgery. Jack knew this man’s need was far greater than a mere computer.
“May I pray for you and your family, Sir? Jack asked.
“No,” the man responded curtly. To show him respect, Jack didn’t bring up the subject again.
When it was time to leave, Jack was not exactly unhappy at getting out of the uncomfortable situation. As he turned to make his way toward the door, the man stopped Jack. He then quickly called for his family to gather around. “Pray?” he asked.
As they took hands and bowed their heads, Jack prayed for the protection of the family, that the computer would bless them, and that his daughter would heal without complication. “In the name of Isa,” Jack said. “Amen.”
The man looked up from the prayer without anger, but with a bit of relief as he took a long deep breath. Jack saw that he was not so much hostile to Jesus, but perhaps more than anything as a man in a new land with an uncertain future and a sick daughter, there was only so much he could handle at one time. Perhaps he was just scared.
After that day, and with that experience, confidence rose for the Geeks. They didn’t worry that they might be viewed as intruders into the homes. In fact, one Muslim man gave them quite a boost of confidence when he said, “The only ones who give us gifts are Christians. Our Muslim brothers have never given us a thing.”
In the years since, even as their service continues as it always has, they have been able to fix, load and send computers to needy places all around the world with different missions teams.
It is always a joy to learn where and who receives the computers. Among the most memorable is a photograph of Geek-sent computers inside a classroom in Chile where the walls are covered in graffiti. Another is a computer lab in a prison in Capetown, South Africa. There was even a sentiment of thanks sent via video from a teacher of the deaf in Cuba who didn’t speak but hand signed his gratitude.
Jack sits with his wife at home and is astonished at what has taken place in just 10 years. When God wills it, it is amazing how much life can come out of a graveyard shift.