NFL free agent wide receiver Jason Avant says his grandmother's faith led him to Jesus. She prayed for him for years, and when he finally came to Christ, it was the happiest day of her life.
Her positive influence goes back to his drug-dealing days,Avant told CBN News in a video interview posted Friday.
"I was the worst gang-banger/drug dealer ever because my grandmother gave me too much truth for me to be comfortable in that environment," he said. The NFL star admitted to dealing drugs as early as sixth grade when he was growing up on the south side of Chicago. He lived with his Christian grandmother, but most of the other relatives he lived with were gang-bangers, so he grew up familiar with drug deals and drive-by shootings.
Avant's grandmother considered him her "second chance on life," the NFL star said. "Her children didn't turn out the way she wanted them to, so her prayers were for me 'Lord, let him be different; let his life be one that will serve you; let him escape these streets; let him do your will." She lived long enough to see those prayers answered.
Nevertheless, Avant did not turn to Jesus right away. He testified that the gang-banger environment made him "bitter and callous toward God," even though he envied his grandmother's faith. "I couldn't see me serving Him when some people in the world have affluence and other people could have the bottom of the barrel," the star explained. This inequality perplexed him.
The star found his ticket off the streets in sports – first baseball and then his passion, football. "In one year playing receiver I was the number one player in the state of Illinois," he recalled. "It was like a dream come true." Avant became an All American, and signed on with the University of Michigan in 2002.
Living away from his grandmother, Avant expected to finally escape that talk about God and Jesus, but then he found himself rooming with a pastor's son.
Although he had signed on to play at the University of Michigan, Avant started on the bench. He recalled pouting the night of a big game. At some point, he realized, "I'm being a real baby right now, and I'm missing this exciting game." After cheering on the team, and pumping up the crowd, he watched the University of Michigan win in the last second with a field goal from 56 yards.
"It was one of the greatest victories that I ever had as an athlete," Avant declared, and he "had nothing to do with the win." At that moment, he explained, the athlete "died to self, and then I made my life about others."
At the end of his freshman year, Avant started going to church and God began to speak to him. "He began to show me, all the times being in the gang neighborhood and selling drugs out of my grandmother's house, all the times my house was shot up and nobody was killed form it, how He protected me over and over again," the athlete recalled. "The last thing He showed me is how He gave me this talent that I didn't know I had, how He used football to bring me to this place" of humility.
"At the end of that, it was as the Spirit was speaking to me – 'After all I've done for you, Jason, you can't live your life for me?'" Avant said.
"The Bible says it's the goodness of the Lord that brings us to repentance," the football star explained. "He was so good to me, so merciful to me, so kind to me, that May 4, 2003, I finally say yes and surrender my life to Jesus Christ."
He remembers the day vividly, and recalls going to tell his grandmother.
Avant thanked her from the bottom of his heart: "I thank you for showing me that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I thank you for all your prayers, I thank you for being a good person, I thank you for helping me find the right path, and I tell you that because of you, I surrendered my life to Christ."
"It was the happiest day of her life," Avant recalled. "She enjoyed me going to the University of Michigan, but her goal of my life was that I was finally surrendered, and I finally surrendered to God."
Avant's grandmother lived just long enough to see his conversion. "Next year, she passed. It seemed like she stayed around long enough for me to find Jesus Christ," he said.
After about eight years as wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, Avant was released early this month. While he does not know where he'll go next, the football star places his hope in God.
"He is the God of the comeback. He has the power to raise up dead things," Avant stated. "I was definitely on my way down, but I know Him now to be the resurrection and the life."