Addict who became celebrated pastor found dead in NJ church
There may be few people for whom the words of Amazing Grace were more fitting.
Ron Christian had been raised in the tradition of his Baptist church. His father was a pastor. As a young man, he'd gone on to be a prison guard himself, and taught at a community college — but it wouldn't be long before he was on the other side of prison bards.
Christian battled heroin addiction. He lost his job. And he was sentenced to prison in 1996 for theft.
It wasn't that he went "another way," he said in a documentary about his life by Risen TV, seen above. Christian went "a distant way. A left way," he said.
But he found his way back. After his release in 1997, he joined a church where his father was working. He became a minister himself — known for counseling murderers, drug dealers and other criminals seeking guidance or redemption.
Christian was found dead at the Christian Love Baptist Church in Newark Friday, where he was head pastor, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office confirmed to New Jersey 101.5. An autopsy is pending, but his death does not appear to be the result of foul play, a spokesperson for the office said.
It could be weeks or months before toxicology results are back.
Friday, the church was streaming video of services honoring Christian and his contribution on its website.
"Pastor showed me how to seek god, and how to dwell in his love and be a loving and forgiving person," one member of his congregation said.
She said he'd often tell his own troubled story, which she often thought was unnecessary.
"He said, You know what, Farrah? You like things nice and neat. You like the nice little package. But that doesn't get anyone saved," she recounted.
In a statement, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said Christian's energetic sermons, dynamic personality and kind words inspired everyone he met.
"It didn't matter who you were because Rev. Ron welcomed people from all walks of life into his church and into his own life," he said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story