Behind a successful career, John Baxter’s life was falling apart.

Haunted by memories of a teenage mistake, addicted to drugs, possessed by demons, Baxter would meet Jesus after two years of searching—an encounter that changed his life, as did his post-conversion prayer: “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go.”

Please tell us a little about your early life and some of the experiences you had in your early childhood.

I am the middle child of a family from New Jersey, USA. My family was Christian, but we didn’t go to church much, just occasionally. My father was a good, hardworking man and my mother was a housewife most of the time. I have an older and a younger brother and after we were born my parents adopted a little girl. She has learning difficulties and having her around has made me a better person. 

Do you have any memories of religious experiences as a child? 

Interestingly, most of the churches I went to didn’t preach about Jesus Christ and salvation. Often, the preacher would talk about a book he had read, a recent event, politics or sports, but not the Gospel. It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 years old, when some missionaries visited the church I went to, that I really felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me, because the missionaries talked about Jesus as a real person and how believing in Him had completely changed their lives. On that occasion I prayed to God to help me become a missionary. But I did not have a personal relationship with God and, as I am about to tell you, my life went downhill. However, the Lord answered the prayer I had raised as a child and helped me to become a missionary.

At 15, a young age, I had a girlfriend who I got pregnant. She had an abortion, which affected me a great deal, and I’m sure it affected her too. I ended up contemplating suicide out of guilt and shame. 

You probably had no one to talk to about what had happened. 

I talked to my mum about it, but I didn’t tell her at the time that I was thinking about killing myself. I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I had no one to turn to, so I started using drugs and alcohol to escape the guilt and shame. I had started doing drugs in high school, and I did a lot more in my college years.

I was good at organising successful parties, and because I did well in my studies, I was class valedictorian, so I got to know some influential alumni. One of them had an important position in a big bank in the United States. Through him, I got a job at what is now known as JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank. The first loan I worked on was for $270 million. After that, I went to Columbia University to get a master’s degree in business administration, and the bank paid my tuition. I was working long hours and my girlfriend at the time started a relationship with another man. I had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t eat for two months. At that time I thought no one cared about me. I thought I had to at least make my parents love me, so I decided to buy them a house.

Reading the New York Times, I found an ad for a house for sale in Pennsylvania, so I rented a car at LaGuardia Airport and drove there, arriving before dawn. I was in the car, smoking marijuana, and I pulled up next to a cemetery. In the cemetery there was a life-size cross with Jesus on it, and I walked up to the cross and said, “God, my life is a mess, please help me make some changes in it!”

I walked around the cemetery for a while, then I put my sleeping bag in front of the cross and fell asleep. It was about three in the morning. I was stoned, I was tired and I had drunk about ten cups of coffee that day. So I fell asleep in the cemetery and I don’t know when it happened, but I had an intense dream. I dreamt it was raining heavily, the sky was covered with dark clouds. Then the clouds parted, a light fell on me and a voice said to me, “The end of the world is coming and you must tell people about it.”

I woke up to two policemen shaking me and asking, “What are you doing here?” I grabbed my sleeping bag and my boots, where I had hidden my joints, and shoved everything into the car. The cops were waiting for me to leave and as I started the car I realised I had a serious problem—I couldn’t see straight. I could see all shades of light purple, all shades of dark black, and I could hear voices in my head screaming and telling me things that I now know are lies, but I didn’t know that at the time. I left the graveyard disturbed and with voices in my head shouting at me.

I told my boss the next day: “I have to quit this job because I was shown in a dream that the end of the world is coming and I have to tell people.” I told my boss many bizarre things, but he was very patient with me. That night I walked all over New York City, and around two or three in the morning I called my mother, who lived in Chicago, and said, “Come to New York!”

My mother flew from Chicago to New York and arrived in four hours. My boss told her that he had made an appointment for me at the University Psychiatric Hospital in New York, where I was hospitalised for three weeks. The doctors prescribed some very powerful drugs that reduced the activity of my mind and the voices of the demons in my head so that I could continue my daily activities.

My mother stayed with me for a few days but then returned to Chicago. After she left, I stopped taking my medication and started using drugs and alcohol again because the voices told me it was God’s will and I didn’t know it was actually the demons talking to me. I said to myself, “I’m going to do what the demons told me to do. I will tell people that the end of the world is coming.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I remembered that when I was in Sunday school I had seen pictures of the prophets wearing cloaks. I took off my clothes, put on a bathrobe, picked up the Bible, which I had never read, and walked to Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. It was snowing outside and I was walking along the yellow track in the middle of the street.

I walked like that for about eleven kilometres until I got to the 59th Street Bridge, which connects Queens to Manhattan. Cars drove past me and the drivers shouted obscene things at me. But a limousine stopped in the middle of the road and the man in it asked me, “Would you like a ride?”

So I jumped in next to this man and told him that I was going to the Rockefeller Center, that I had been shown in a dream that the end of the world was coming, and that I should tell people about it. The man told me that I was right, but that my method was not the right one. He urged me, “Go home, read the Bible, find out how Jesus told people that the end of the world was coming, and follow His example!”

Although my mind was clouded, I said to myself, “What he says makes sense.” This man took me to my flat where there were about 10-15 police officers. They put me in a psychiatric hospital, where I stayed for a short time, and then I ended up in another psychiatric hospital in Chicago, the city where my parents lived. I was there for two months, during which time I realised that the voices I was hearing were not from God, so I had a serious problem. I started reading the Bible and praying, “Please, please help me!” This situation lasted between two and two-and-a-half years.

One day I saw a poster in a shop window that said: “Come to these meetings to learn the amazing things the Bible says about the end of the world!” I attended those meetings. At the time, I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, drinking a lot of alcohol, possessed by demons and on medication, so my life was a mess. In the meantime I had read the Bible twice, cover to cover.


Yes, I had. But I read it when I was on drugs or drunk, so I didn’t understand the things in it. But in these meetings I started to understand the things I was reading because they were logical and they made sense. At the end of the Monday night meeting, the young speaker invited me to his house on Wednesday for lunch and Bible study.

This young man, Jim, opened the Bible, introduced me to Jesus and at the end of the study asked me, “John, do you want to be forgiven and healed?” Then I said a very simple prayer: “Lord, I am sorry for the sins I have committed. I am a sinner, but I believe that Jesus became flesh and died on the cross for me. I believe these things. Please forgive me and heal me.”

At the end of the Friday night meeting, which was also a great experience, Jim invited us to pray and he said, “Lord, thank You for our families, for the fact that we have religious freedom, for the fact that we have got rid of the smoking habit…”. I had been smoking for 12 years and at that time I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. I spent $200 a month on marijuana, drank a lot of alcohol, had an immoral sex life, my vocabulary was vulgar and I was possessed by demons. As I listened to Jim’s uplifting prayer, I realised that I hadn’t smoked for three days. I hadn’t realised it until then. Then I realised that I had not smoked marijuana or drunk alcohol and had not heard voices in my head for three days. After a prayer, Jesus Christ helped me to escape!

That was 27 years ago. I worked in the bank for another two years. After I left the bank, I went to work for a television station. I started a Christian TV station in New York and I also took food to the homeless and did anti-smoking and stress management programmes. Jesus had helped me and delivered me from my vices, and I tried to follow His example and help others. I did these things for about two years, during which time I met the woman who was to become my wife. Then, a month after our marriage, my wife and I went to India.

The state we went to has the largest population of any state in India, ranking fifth in the world. Only 0.0002% of the population were Christians. We lived there for six years, during which time we witnessed God’s miracles. After a while we started to be persecuted by extremist Hindus who told us they would kill our families. An Australian missionary and his two sons were burnt alive by such extremists. The extremist Hindus said they would burn me and my family alive, so I told my wife and children to leave the town where we were, leaving only me, because I did not want to set a bad example to the few Christians in the town. But eventually I realised that it was better for me to leave as well, so as not to draw attention to ourselves.

What methods have you used to get closer to people in a country with a completely different culture like India?  

I learned Hindi. And we tried to find out how we could get closer to the people there. Basically, Hindu temples are open 24 hours a day, while Muslims go to mosques five times a day and Christians go to church once a week.

Devout Christians might go to church twice a week, but most Christians go to church once a week. I asked myself, “How can we help the people of India to know Jesus?” To find a solution, I studied the Bible and found that the Jews worshipped the Lord in the temple morning and evening. So I organised services in the church in the centre of town, morning and evening, as the church was open to the public. The service was characterised by simplicity. We would begin by singing a Christian hymn in Hindi, then say a prayer and then read a chapter from the Bible.

Over six years, about 5,000 people attended our services, 99% of whom were not Christians but Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians or Muslims. Most of the people who came to church were illiterate, and we realised that we needed to help them learn some passages from the Bible, so we asked them to learn some texts. One young Hindu girl managed to memorise 150 Bible verses. Hindus worship many gods and I think it’s safe to say that most Indians have never heard of Jesus.

Babul Ram, a Hindu who couldn’t read or write, had come to church several times, so I knew him. One day he told me he wanted a copy of the Gospel of John, so I gave him one. But because he couldn’t read, he explained what he was going to do: “I am going to ask my children to read the Gospel to me.” So I gave him a copy and that evening I saw him walking with another man who was reading the Gospel to him. I walked behind them and listened to what they said. The man reading the Gospel came to a passage about Jesus and asked Babul Ram who Jesus was. Babul Ram exclaimed, “Don’t you know who Jesus is? He is the God of love.” I said to myself, “Babul Ram came to church a few times and got the essence of it.” I don’t know if he understood that Jesus is the true God who became man for our salvation, but he understood that Jesus is the God of love, which is wonderful.

In 1900 only 2% of the people in India were literate. Today, 50% of the country’s population is literate, thanks to missionaries of all faiths, because Christian missionaries put the greatest emphasis on literacy, the importance of which is now understood by the whole of Indian society. India is now a world economic power thanks to the foundation laid by missionaries. This would not have been possible without literacy.

The needs of the people are very great, but I put my trust in God to guide us in our mission. If Jesus was able to save me, He can save anyone.

John Baxter speaks soberly and quietly about his duties with Adventist Frontier Missions. But when he begins to tell the story of his life, with its wanderings and unimaginable depths, you sit back and wonder if he is the same person.

Note: This is an interview by Adrian Bocaneanu. The transcript of the interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.