I had bullied the man before, just as I had so many others. And I had been threatened before, with knives and busted bottles. But this time I pushed too far and those few steps I walked toward him were my last on two feet. He shot one of them off.
I was the fifth of 14 children and lost in the crowd unless I did something wrong. By the time I was 11, I was the “best” bad one in the family – stealing, lying and quick with my fists. I didn’t enjoy hurting people but it was the surest way to get what I needed the most: respect.
Recuperating in the hospital after the shooting, I felt broken emotionally. Without a foot, I would never again compete in sports and felt certain that no woman would want me. That single blast blew away my food and self-respect.
But over the next two years, I was fitted with a prosthesis, got married and moved to another city. Establishing my reputation with only one foot meant I had to get tougher.
My wife, Hattie, and I had five children over the next five years but I wanted nothing to do with them. My wife can take care of them, I thought. As far as I was concerned, as long as I brought home a paycheck, my time was my own and I spent it with girlfriends and good drinking buddies who feared me. I had all the respect I wanted.
Then Hattie received Christ.
“Sure, sure, I believe you,” I scoffed. Yet she changed. She no longer begged and cried as I showered, dressed and left her for the night.
“I’m going out,” I’d announce, “and I don’t know what time I’ll be home.”
“All right. But let me fix your clothes first,” she said.
Confused, I’d stare at the neatly arranged, perfectly matched outfit she selected. Didn’t she care? She was helping me out the door!
She no longer threatened or insulted me when I staggered in early in the morning. Instead, she’d open the bed and gently cover me. When I woke up, she’d feed me breakfast. I started looking forward to coming home!
She wasn’t trying to trick me. Hattie was truly a Christian.
She had something I wanted.
But change is hard. I continued laughing with my buddies, playing with women and bullying whomever I pleased. I was dying inside and didn’t want to face it, until I pushed a man too far again. The bar was dark and his aim was poor; he missed me but killed the woman I was with.
I finally faced it. My life meant death not only for me but also for those around me. I went home and told my wife what happened.
“You need to change, Zefnia,” she said. “Not so I’ll stay with you but because the Lord is calling you. He can’t use you the way you are now.”
“I want to change, Hattie, but how?”
“You begin by asking the Lord to forgive you.”
“Forgive me? How can the Lord forgive me? Some of the things I’ve done are unforgivable.”
“The Lord forgives everyone who asks forgiveness in His name.”
I wanted to believe her but I knew my sins were worse than other people’s. So, Hattie read Romans 11:32, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all,” and Romans 5:20, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
I grabbed onto Hattie’s words and begged God to forgive me. I knew immediately that I found her secret – a power greater than mine. Despite all my sins, I knew that God loved me.
So did Hattie. Her love for me had never faltered or wore thin. As I stood before her, I thanked God for that love. I knew I would devote the rest of my life to her and our children.
Overzealous with joy and armed with the gospel, I started spreading the news among my friends. Maybe with a little too much enthusiasm but I was on fire for God.
“C’mon Zefnia, you don’t really believe all that stuff, do you?” Disbelief. “All right, Zef, you had your joke. Let’s go out and get a six-pack.” Temptation. “Get real man. You sound like a preacher.” An insult I was proud of.
I had changed and as I walked away from each of them, I praised God that He turned me from a destructive life to an eternal one.
Because of my increasing awareness of responsibility to my family, I started attending night school for my high school diploma which led to a better job and better example to my kids.
But even more important, I have learned to love. I love God with all my heart, soul and mind, and I love my neighbor as myself. The respect I once demanded from others is the respect I now give to them. Every day as I slip on my prosthesis, I remember the high price of living without God.
By Zefnia Durham as told to Leslie Dunn
Postscript: Zefnia founded a church, "Hope For All Church of Christ." After he passed away, parishioners wrote in his tribute page of how he encouraged and supported them and that he "...was a man among men."