Jay Jay Eras was a young man who seemed to have everything going for him and he was going for everything. Except he was going in the wrong direction. And unless there was a dramatic change in his life he would end up on the wrong side of the law and at best behind prison bars for the rest of his life.
The only child of loving, affluent parents that were devoted Christians and doted on him, Jay Jay never lacked for anything . He was deputy head boy, an academic achiever and gifted rugby player. Off to study teaching at the Rand Afrikaans University in 1994, Jay Jay captained the Gauteng Lions under 19 rugby team, coached by Jake White, the man who eventually coached the Springboks to World Cup glory. White predicted a bright future for this young man.
Journey to a far country
But Jay Jay veered off the promising path. Like the biblical Prodigal Son he soon found himself in a far country. Drinking, dating and dead-beat friends became his lifestyle.
He discovered gambling – or it discovered him, and wouldn’t let go. He developed an aggressive streak and picked fights on campus. He hated his parents and stole money from them to feed his growing gambling habit. It didn’t take the university long to expel him from residence and he was sent home from a rugby tour for ill-discipline. Then he dropped his studies altogether. “I was just bigger than the world,” says Jay Jay. He was travelling fast down a slippery slope. It was a tragic waste of great potential.
But Jay Jay’s father was not giving up. Ever hopeful that he could reach his son he generously offered him work. However this did not work out as sadly the two didn’t get along. Jay Jay took different jobs and started his own business. At a nightclub a few years later he met Jacinta, newly recovered from a short marriage and even shorter divorce. She had married young, and came from a strict Portuguese Catholic background. But Jacinta couldn’t cope with a husband that was more interested in pornography than in her. Rejection bottled up.
Marriage and new opportunity
Jay Jay and Jacinta were married in 1998. The union did not start off well. She was distressed that he got into a fight at his bachelor’s party. Devastated when he didn’t show up for the wedding rehearsal. Jay Jay was charming and a consummate liar living a double life. He wasn’t going to tear himself away from gambling and a party at Teazers to decorate a wedding venue. More rejection for Jacinta, when Jay Jay seemed more interested in fishing than her on their honeymoon.
As a wedding present, Jay Jay’s father gave the couple a year abroad – travel to get to know each other, he advised. But it was unpleasant chaos. If Jacinta had not fallen pregnant with their first child, Tristan, they would have split up. Instead they returned home and Jay Jay’s father, ever the generous optimist, gave the couple a home, a car and his business. “At age 23 we were set,” says Jay Jay. “But our relationship was terrible. No passion. No joy. We tolerated each other but were verbally and emotionally abusive.” Jay Jay was possessed – he extended his repertoire of addictions to pornography and intended to pawn his mother’s designer wedding ring.
One day Jacinta had a dream. “As a Catholic I had no idea God spoke in dreams, but He gave me a vivid promise – in the dream Jay Jay and I were together, he was playing golf and I was doing my own thing. Suddenly a volcano exploded and next thing we were on a cloud. It was me, Jay Jay, Tristan and a baby. Still together, it was very real. ”
But the worst was yet to come. They started a second business – a nightclub. While trying to work out how they could attract young professionals, two men visited the club, announcing that they would sell drugs inside and give Jay Jay a cut. “I said no, I didn’t want blood on my hands, but the words were barely cold when the business nose-dived. Two weeks later the two were back and I said, ‘Let’s talk.’
Jay Jay found himself in the middle of the protection racket and bouncer turf wars that gripped Johannesburg. “You can’t be in that business and be clean. You think night clubs are about normal Joe Soaps going and having a good time. It’s not. It’s a gangster lifestyle where only the strongest survive. You think you’re the owner of the nightclub but you are not.”
Experimenting with the drugs in his club, Jay Jay was soon hooked and it became an after-party venue for clubbers coming off their highs. “We were open for the truly lost of the lost.” Jay Jay’s first business suffered as he used whatever drugs made the rounds. He set up drug deals. He made enemies in scary places. One night a rival club’s security visited, “they shoved a 9 mm to my head, saying if I don’t change my ways they would sort me out.”
The road back
Six months pregnant with Joshua, Jacinta fled to her in-laws with Tristan. She new they had lost everything – banks were phoning her when they couldn’t reach Jay Jay. Debts piled up. “I was extremely hurt, felt it was my fault,” says Jacinta. “Then my mother-in-law took me to Maranatha Church in Kempton Park, knowing that the Spirit would speak to me at such a low point. That was the day I gave my life to the Lord.”
Jacinta started praying with her in-laws for Jay Jay to come to his senses and be a father to his sons. At first things seemed to get worse. During one of his visits, Jacinta found rolls of banknotes and bags of cocaine in his car. “In that time,” says Jay Jay “we were on a cocaine pickup, waiting in the car and I said to my business partner, “Don’t you think what we are doing, in the sight of God, is wrong?” He pulled out a knife and held it to my throat and said, “If you ever talk to me about those things again I will slit your throat.”
As we drove back I thought to myself, where did this question come from? Why would I suddenly think like that? Life is great. I’m on top of everything…I’ve never thought about God…where did those words come from?”
Looking back, Jay Jay says it was prayer that began to pull him into the vortex of God’s love, and out of the miry pit. As he would visit family, watching them as if from afar, he saw the love and closeness they shared and thought how nice it would be to have that. And one day he just had enough. He went to his parents to say it was over. They had heard it all before, but this time, they sensed he meant it.
The three questions
His mother asked her pastor, Mac Adaimi around to speak to Jay Jay. “I didn’t really want to know about God as I saw Christians as hypocrites. But then I told him tongue-in-cheek, ‘If you can answer three questions for me from the Bible, then I will give my life to Jesus.’
Jay had three big questions, and Pastor Mac had the answers ready. The first question was about the conflict of being created in God’s image. If science claimed we had evolved from apes. The second question concerned dinosaurs and whether the Bible acknowledged that they existed. The third was whether drugs were wrong – Biblically speaking.
Pastor Mac met Jay Jay’s questions head-on. He led him through the creation account in Genesis. He showed him the existence of dinosaurs in Job. And he explained how the Word equated drugs to sorcery.
“The Word was uncontestable. It spoke the truth. I could not raise another argument or find another question. There was a sense of authority and I had to obey. God Himself had silenced and answered me. I started crying and confessing to my parents everything – the theft, the hate, and the lies.
Pastor Mac asked me if I wanted to give my life to Jesus and I said, “Yes!”
“The compassionate shepherd led me through a simple prayer. I cried for three days and went through weeks of mourning but I had been washed clean by the blood of Christ. Free of guilt, of porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling, theft. In a couple of hours I was clean and delivered. There was no withdrawal or cravings.”
A new life
Like everyone, Jay Jay has had to fight temptations. He and Jacinta have been through rigorous marriage counseling and discipling .
God made it easy for him to pay his last debts to old business acquaintances and walk away from the underworld. He even got to testify to ex-colleagues that Jesus had saved him. “That was the last time I had anything to do with those guys. Sometimes you would see these guys in a mall but God is so good. He protects us and they would walk right by without noticing or recognizing us.”
“The faithfulness of God and the power of His mighty hand has kept us safe from hijacking, armed house-robbery, and our eldest son from death.”
In the last 10 years this inspiring couple has been on an amazing journey with God and they freely share what they have been given of God’s goodness to schools, churches, youth groups, parents and drug rehabs.
After serving as a pastor with the vibrant New Day Church on the East Rand Jay Jay and Jacinta have now taken on a new challenge developing a church plant of Shofar Christian Church in Cape Town’s northern suburbs. They have come out of darkness into Christ’s wonderful light and are determined to share that light wherever they go.