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Student favorite shares his testimony of God's grace
March 24, 2003
By Jonathan Leeman
The scarcity of time in day-to-day life prevents us from knowing much about many of the people with whom we sit in class or pass in the hallway. But on occasion we are given the opportunity to be heartened by the remarkable story God has been writing in the life of another Christian.
A favorite of many students and staff, Joseph Robert Goatley, known as "Bobby," has been working at Boyce College as the custodian since October 1999. Goatley had worked in the painting industry for 32 years before retiring in 1995.
Thirteen months of retirement was enough for him, and he knew he still "wanted to contribute." Besides, Goatley says, "Christians never retire. You might retire from your job. But that's all."
Goatley came on board with the seminary in 1996. He has held a number of jobs at the seminary, including several years in the post office. But when the opportunity came in 1999 to oversee Carver Hall, he said, "That's exactly what I'm looking for."
Ask Goatley when he became a Christian, and at first he will give you only the barest details.
"Dec. 15, 1981," he recalled. "Yes, sir. That's when I was converted. The old life was over. My best friend was witnessing to me. He had been saved the year before. The old life was over."
And like many, Goatley's testimony recounts the crucial movement from trusting in his works to trusting in Christ.
"I was Catholic," he said. "But no one had ever told me I needed to be born again. I thought maybe if I was lucky St. Peter would let me in. He might say, 'Yeah, you've been a good enough guy. You've done a lot of works.'
"But deep down in my heart I knew that wasn't right. And with the predicament I was in before I was a Christian, I knew I wasn't going to heaven. So I started asking the Lord if He was real."
But keep pushing Goatley, and the story gets more and more interesting, and God's work of grace becomes more and more striking. At age 34, Goatley was sharing an apartment with a friend selling illegal drugs to make money.
"I was driving around in a Corvette," Goatley said. "There was a lot of money in that stuff."
The two had been best friends since high school. Then one night in 1980, their relationship changed.
"My best friend told me he had been to a church and got saved," Goatley said. "When he told me, I was in my living room weighing marijuana. He told me to get it off the premises."
Incidentally, Goatley recounts this occasion as one of his "most embarrassing moments." His heart's opposition to the Gospel at that point caused him to dismissively respond, "This religion stuff is embarrassing."
However, the two continued living together, at least until the roommate's daily, Gospel badgering prompted Goatley to move out.
"He was always talking about it," Goatley said. "He would set my alarm radio on Christian preachers. I couldn't get into the shower with hearing it. Finally, I told him I'm moving out ASAP."
Goatley did move out, but shortly thereafter he was caught on a drug offense and found himself standing before a criminal-court judge.
"The judge told me that I should go to the penitentiary," Goatley recalled. "But then he said he was going to give me a break since I didn't have any felonies on my record. But if he ever saw me again, I was going to do time."
This court appearance occurred on Dec. 15, 1981, and that was the day God broke into Goatley's life.
"I know that was the Lord, because I don't know what would have happened to me if I went," Goatley said. "I went back to my apartment knowing I wasn't going to prison. But I was a broken man. I knew everything my roommate had been telling me over the year was true. I got on my knees in that little apartment, and He saved me. I shouted for joy right there. I'll never forget."
As a new Christian, Goatley immediately experienced two new appetites.
"I wanted to read the Bible at that point, and know what it had to say and what it had for me," he said. "[Also,] I started attending church regularly, which I never did as a Catholic."
Goatley spent about four years in his first church. In 1988, he joined Valley View Baptist where he continues to attend and serve as an usher.
Goatley has also had a nursing home ministry since 1990. Several times a month he visits with nursing home residents who do not have families, both to keep them company and to share the Gospel with them.
But Goatley's greatest joy is working with college students.
"You learn things, even from kids," he said. "People come from all over -- north, south, east and west. Sometimes overseas. I consider it a privilege knowing them. My favorite thing is getting to know them -- their personalities and characters."
In fact, he likes it so much, a decade down the road, he sees himself doing exactly what he's doing now.
"[I'll be] doing what the Lord wants me to do ... obeying His Word all the way till He takes me home."