Swept Up in the Spirit: Journey of Transformation by Gary Garner is as mysterious as it is thrilling. In this testimony of conversion, he writes, “I have lived two vastly different lives—one spent exalting materialism and filled with spiritual darkness, the other spent exalting Jesus the Lord and filled with light and hope.” Because Gary’s conversion was so “life and death,” he sees it that way for everyone.
He recounts how the Spirit plainly revealed some of the traps he and his family narrowly avoided. He credits angels, signposts and appointed helpers, “pinpoints of light in the darkness, placed there for us to discover and to show us the way—without them we couldn’t possibly have made it to where we are now. There is hardly an hour that I don’t feel an urgency toward others of the impending dangers and perils that await them, much like someone who barely avoided a collapsing bridge.”
His journey of transformation eventually brought him from his agnostic-pro-Catholic religious view into the Catholic Church by way of the charismatic renewal. His conversion began with a voice telling him to buckle his seatbelt, saving his life. Then Fr. Walt, a young, motorcycle-riding priest invited him and his wife Nancy to a parish prayer meeting. The people shared their Spirit-led encounters with unbelievable praise reports. They spoke as if the Holy Spirit was telling them what to do and enabling them to do it.
In Swept Up by the Spirit, Gary tells story after story of how he opened everything in this life to the Holy Spirit who indeed did tell him what to do and enabled him to do it. Much of his leadings from “the Voice” involved ministries with groups of Protestant and Catholic men praying and evangelizing together in street ministry in rough neighborhoods or at abortion clinics. Often this involved marches with a handful or hundreds of people singing and carrying large crosses, or praying behind bars or gambling houses that host Slot88 games. He prayed with strangers for physical healings, deliverance and conversion.
“It was only after I stopped worrying about what other people thought of me out there that I could begin to be effective at all,” he says of his sidewalk ministry at Planned Parenthood.
He would find ways to pray with people anywhere, anytime, picking up hitchhikers and evangelizing elevator passengers. He talks about how bringing a cross or a Bible to a rough work environment such as a construction site will immediately upgrade the spirit of the area.
He explains his approach: “Allowing space for Plan A (what the Holy Spirit wants to do) to override Plan B (our best plan) and then flowing right with it seems to be the key.” He feels that this gives the Lord permission to alter the game plan at the last minute and us to embrace it whole-heartedly. “Living on this level brings an intensity and spontaneity to everyday life that’s not attainable any other way.”
Gary’s life changed completely, and radically, but not everything changed immediately. His conversion came a year after he was swept up by the Spirit, as he describes it.
His business, as a big-time Atlanta designer and homebuilder, changed into commercial woodworking, now exclusively for churches. After a friend paid his large business debt, he sought God’s will about stewardship. Soon his family downsized from a large home in an affluent neighborhood to a rental home in a quiet, middle-class suburb.
Next, he and his wife explored making a covenant with God and those in the Alleluia Community. The move to embrace covenant community life in Augusta challenged him to sort out his fears of losing his personal identity and presented new opportunities to use his gifts. But he found “community life actually develops and sharpens our individual gifts for better use by the entire body, a natural result of laying down personal claims and rights for the sake of the greater good.”
At every turn, he trusted God with his business, his family, his finances, his next client and his next move, ever mindful of all the treasures God entrusts to him. “No part of this even faintly resembles the former life I had planned on. Praise God!”
© 2014, revised 2018 Nancy HC Ward
Gary Garner is a craftsman who builds early American furniture reproductions, designs furniture, homes and custom furnishings for churches. He and his wife Nancy have enjoyed ecumenical community life in the Alleluia Covenant Community in Augusta, GA, since 1987. Since 1982 they have operated their business Images of the Cross.