Joe Oreskovich the Gravedigger
Many of you
have asked for my testimony. I have not shared it with my audience,
except for bits and pieces. I'm not a writer like many of you, but
I attempted to put it down on paper last week. I am forwarding it
on to you and I pray that it will be a blessing to someone. It's
been my driving force to be an example for others. This might not
be as admirable as your goals in life, but it was the best I could
come up with during the early days in that cardboard box. It takes
about ten minutes to read. You can also Watch the Video.
Childhood . . .
I was born in
San Francisco, California as an only child. I
was told from a very young age that God did not exist. My family
refused to have anything to do with God and they would not lead
me in the ways of the Lord. But they might not have ever received
a witness for themselves. This left me exposed and susceptible to
the advances of the evil one. You see, the devil was quite aware
of the purpose of God for my life so he quickly arranged for this
unprotected child to be kidnapped and sexually tortured for many
weeks at the tender age of five. In spite of that, my life was destined
to be used in a mighty way by our Lord.
Because of the kidnapping, my mother slipped into a deep depression and was institutionalized for many years. Alcoholism ran its course throughout my entire family. My mother was a very unstable woman. She would take me to the dentist to get my teeth drilled and extracted, with nothing to dull the pain. I cried and cried because it hurt so badly. She told me that I should "be a man and take it." She also said to "never run away again." I didn't--you left me, mom!
My dad never told me he loved me. I knew that he really did, but he never voiced it. He was diagnosed as a grand mal epileptic. At my young age his seizures frightened me. One day he went after the men who molested and tortured me. He must have succeeded in finding them because the police took my father away and I did not see him for a very long time. At this point I was sent away to live with my aunt and uncle, both of whom were alcoholics. Growing up from the age of five was a nightmare of fears. I was afraid of everything. Alcohol became my antidote for fear at a very young age. By the time I reached my early teens I was a full-blown alcoholic.
Crash . . .
I drank throughout most of my life. In fact, I can't recall a sober day in thirty years. Nevertheless, I was able to maintain a decent career in the insurance industry. But still, my life was deceitful to many. My second marriage held together for seventeen years. I had a son from my wife's former marriage, but I didn't know how to raise him properly. We never attended church as a family. The only thing I had to draw from was my past family life. My son especially admired the stability of his grandfather and I resented it greatly! I guess I resented a lot of things.
Fear and resentment dominated my life. My mother died when I was in my mid-forties and my father died when I was a young adult. I had not made amends or even spoken to my mother for many years before she became ill. I loved her, but I always felt that I never had a normal childhood because of her. When I was kidnapped as a child, she left me to go get drunk. In the months during her illness we became close again. My mother put her arms around me and held me. It was a feeling of security I so desperately needed. For a moment I wasn't afraid. Shortly thereafter she died.
A huge hole opened up inside me after my mother's funeral. Words cannot express how empty, lonely and afraid I became after her death. Alcohol and Valium would not fill the void any longer. I needed something more, but what could it be? I tried everything! I tried to find comfort by having extramarital affairs, but it only added to my guilt and was destroying my marriage in the process. I tried quitting my job and starting something new, but I didn't have the tenacity to complete anything I started. My life was going nowhere fast. I was very confused. Why was I feeling like this? Everything was out of control!
One night after a binge, I came home and my wife told me she had found Jesus. I was shocked at how much her demeanor changed over the next few months. She became a saint--always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need. I thought it would pass, but instead our lives gradually began moving in separate directions. Our sexual fantasies were not allowed in our bed any longer. She would not drink or smoke pot with me anymore. The many nights we used to enjoy dancing at the clubs were finished. She would sing in the church choir, while I stayed home drinking. One day I left her and my son. I just took off.
Eighteen months had passed since I left my home and family. I was 44 years old when I realized what my life had become. My home consisted of a cardboard box filled with bird feathers. I was living like an animal, eating baby sparrows--raw. One night I urinated in my pants just to keep warm. The smell was disgusting. My life savings were in that box in downtown Atlanta. A blanket with stains of blood was pulled up around my neck. I was shaking from the frigid cold. It was relentless at times. I looked around my home and saw a partial crack pipe broken in half. The night before, some street people had put a gun to my face and stolen my only fresh can of sardines. A container of spoiled orange juice, which had been expired for weeks, filled my throat. I overheard footsteps walking up behind my box. In a moment someone screamed, "GET A JOB, YOU BUM!"
Finally, I was served with divorce papers. Tears filled my eyes as I read the contents. There was a note from my son saying, "Stay away from me and mom, we don't need you to be a part of our lives." Night after night those words kept filling my head. The grief was unbearable. Nothing could dull the overwhelming pain I was in. I needed some dope. I continued to see the disgust in peoples' eyes when I tried to beg for food. I will never forget those eyes. "GET A JOB!" they would say. Those eyes . . . they saw right though me.
The Hand . . .
It was the winter of 1989. I had lived in the cardboard box off and on for over a year. I could feel the anger of a life gone bad. I was angry with God for taking my family from me. I reasoned that if my wife had not found Jesus, we would still be together. I convinced myself that everything was fine before she met the Lord. I was angry with the street prostitutes for leading me to crack and I was angry with myself for wasting $393,000 of my hard-earned money in one year's time. I was angry and resentful that God had taken my mother and father from me. The fear and loneliness I experienced as a child was still a part of me. It never left me.
I heard some footsteps coming up to my box again. I knew in my heart someone was going to yell at me again, saying, "GET A JOB, YOU BUM!" I had tried to figure out a way to do that, many a night. Over and over, the obstacles seemed too many. I had anywhere from five to seven warrants out for my arrest in the Atlanta area. The IRS was searching for me. I had no car or driver's license, no residence, and no telephone. I lost my social security card and if I tried to replace it I would be arrested. That is why I couldn't go to a homeless shelter. I had no references. Even my right to vote was taken from me on my last felony conviction. Bad checks were floating all over Atlanta. I couldn't shower or put on clean clothes to go on an interview. Besides, what address would I give as my residence? One day I caught a glimpse of my face while looking into a broken piece of mirror. I was a mess. Most of my teeth were missing--kicked in from the last skirmish for food. My body was aching all over from drug and alcohol withdrawals. And I must have owed at least $40,000 on my credit cards.
The footsteps were getting closer. I couldn't bear to hear those words again. I reached for the mirror. The jagged edge was coming closer to my throat. Then I heard what sounded like the sweetest voice in the whole wide world. It sounded like my father and said, "Come with me. I'll give you rest and remove all your fears, Joey. Just put the glass to your throat and pull." As I raised the jagged piece of mirror to my face, a reflection of the most hideous face I'd ever seen reflected back to my eyes. It was Satan himself, I thought. I heard him say, "God had His way, try mine. PULL! PULL!" At that moment a large hand reached into my box. It scared me. I had to make a quick decision about what to do. I don't know why, but I grabbed the hand. Thinking back, it had to have been the reflection that I saw. On the other side of that hand was a fireman and the Word of God.
The Hand Continued . . .
As the hand gripped mine, I felt a tug of tremendous strength pulling me out of the box. I slowly arose to my feet. My body was hurting and aching so badly. At first it was hard to stand up straight because I was so cramped from being confined in such a small space. In the brightness of the daylight my eyes tried to focus on the imposing figure dressed in uniform. He asked me if I was hungry. I said, "yes" but quickly added, "I don't need any help." In my mind a uniform represented the police, and I was trying my best not to go to jail. Then he asked me if I knew Jesus. I said, "I don't want to hear about Him. He took my family away." He smiled and put his Bible behind his back. Then he asked me if I would like to have some spaghetti. I answered, "yes." It didn't take much to persuade me. He could see I was quite scared so he took the liberty of saying that he was not a policeman, he was a firefighter. I finally began to relax and warm up to him.
He put his arms around me, walked me to his fire truck and drove me to the station where I met several men. They fed me a meal and we talked a while. A few hours later they gave me a meal of another kind--the Word of God, and I accepted Jesus into my life. I'll never forget that witness. Along with my newfound hope, the firefighters provided me with many Scriptures. They wrote them down and put them in my pocket. After that I left and went home.
Later that evening I reflected on what I had done. I reached in my pocket to see what the firefighters had given me. I was curious about my new life in Christ, but the lighting was poor as you could imagine. I took a chance and struck a match. As I unfolded the pieces of paper to see what I had been gifted, there are no words to describe how beautiful those Scripture verses were to me. As I read them the void inside me began to diminish. The fear that had tormented me for so long was departing. I felt power building up inside me. The moon was full that winter night and I read all the verses by its radiant beams of light. I don't recall ever having that kind of light in my box before. I fell asleep with those verses floating around in my head and stirring in my heart. Those words from God never left my grasp. I held them close to me all night. Finally I was at peace, and I slept like a baby.
The Vision . . .
I made a few more visits to the fire station. The firefighters convinced me to turn myself in to the authorities and make a new start. These men promised that they would be there for me. Many months of incarceration followed. I was separated from drugs and alcohol for the first time in decades. I suffered agonizing withdrawals.
I worked as a trustee in the Dekalb County Jail under the supervision of a detention officer named Jack Andreu. We grew very close and he eventually became my mentor. When my sentence was up he arranged to have me sent to a recovery program for my addictions. It was named MARR. With tears in his eyes Jack told me to work at Taco Bell or sweep floors, but don't come back. I stayed in MARR for 2 years. It provided a lot of structure. I went to AA meetings, acquired a sponsor and completed the first ten steps of the program in the first year. I also obtained a job at Taco Bell that paid $3.90 per hour.
My spiritual life was being nourished at my church. I was led to attend Southwest Christian. This church had a program on Thursday evenings for people who suffered with addictions. I was faithful to always pay my tithes, but most of the time I was ashamed when the offering plate came around. I think everyone in the whole church heard my change hit the plate. To me it sounded like an echo. My sponsor had me get a new family and I sat next to my new mom and dad at church every week. The most difficult thing I ever had to do was to learn to ask for what I needed. Can you imagine a grown, 46-year old man asking adults to raise him again? Bill and Julie James took on that challenge. At least I got to choose my new family. Not many other people can say that.
Living life on it's own terms was difficult. After two years I still had not paid off my fines, I owed about $17,000 in restitution to the courts and still had many outstanding warrants for my arrest. I was clean and sober, but $3.90 per hour didn't go very far. I was without a driver's license so I had to walk everywhere--to work, meetings, etc. After a while my feet became tired. Life was good, but without purpose. Rebuilding my life was a difficult process--one that produced a great deal of anguish. Yet I believe there was a higher reason for my struggle. Everything I did, I did for the Lord and this was becoming obvious to the people who knew me.
One afternoon I had someone drive me to where I used to live. The box was gone, but the neighborhood looked the same. I pulled the Scripture verses out of my back pocket and started to read them. I prayed to the Lord to make my life have purpose. He gave me a vision, but I did not understand it at first. A memorial park was to be built in honor of the firefighters and police officers of this city. I was to complete it and present it to them.
Now my life had purpose. I assumed everyone would help me since the vision was from God! "Ok, I'll do it," I told God. Off I went like a kid in a candy store. I didn't have the answers to a lot of important questions. Questions like, "Where was I going to get three million dollars to build it?" And, "had it ever been done before?" The answers to most of the questions were "NO!" Would my church help me?" NO! "Would other churches help me?" NO! I though that my church family would donate money since my vision was clearly from God. I though that mayors of cities would help me. Again, the answers were still NO! Politicians didn't help me. Other Christians didn't help me. Police and fire chiefs didn't help me. Television and radio stations didn't help me.
After two years of constant rejection, I decided to approach a wealthy businessman to ask for his help. I said, "Sir, God gave me a vision to build a memorial park for the firefighters and police officers of this city." I'll never forget his response. He replied, "I don't have time to fool with that, go get your God and build it. PLEASE LEAVE!"
The Ministry . . .
February 4, 1997--seven years had passed since I lived in the cardboard box. Something was different about today. I was going to the State Capitol, as were thousands of firefighters. Millions of dollars worth of fire apparatus were on convoys coming down the expressways from all over Georgia. They were in route to join up with me for Firefighters Recognition Day.
A seventeen-mile parade route from the Capitol to Forest Lawn in College Park had been meticulously planned out with nothing left to chance. An entire year of preparation had gone into this event. All the television stations, as well as print media were anticipating a gala extravaganza.
Governor Zell Miller, along with other heads of state, gathered at the Capitol for the big event. They had never seen such a large turnout of public safety personnel. You could hear the sirens all over the city as fire apparatus circled the three-acre memorial park. There were 125 honor guards standing by, ready to escort the families of slain firefighters up a walkway of Scripture verses. This walkway led to a memorial for both firefighters and police officers.
In May of the same year a similar celebration was held for those in the police department.
The Lord gave me a second vision--to write out a 20-year pension plan for the firefighters and police officers of the state of Georgia. When I spoke at the State Capitol I felt out of place being surrounded by legislators and politicians. Most of what I could remember to say was, "My name is Gravedigger and Jesus gave me a vision." House Bill 1033 had its second reading in March of 1999.
The Lord revealed a third vision to me--to take my walk with Him to Christian television. Many people tried to discourage me from attempting such a thing. I was told that I would be sued, rejected, and that I had no qualifications or theological training to succeed in this endeavor. Everyone told me I would fail if I pursued this venture.
The Gravedigger Show has been on prime time television for almost three years. It's now being picked up by the international airwaves. This show is responsible for aborting 593 suicide attempts with its "Public Servant Hotline." There have been 700 people lead into recovery from drugs and alcohol, thousands have received salvation and five homicides/mass murders have been prevented. The show has also received the "State Bar of Georgia Silver Gavel Award"--a first for Christian television.
A short while ago I had the opportunity to be out at Forest Lawn when Officer Sherry Lyons was buried at the memorial park. She was the first female officer to be killed in the line of duty. She was also the first "in the line of duty" death to be buried at the memorial. Thousands of people, including many heads of state, were there to celebrate her life.
I was asked how I was able to complete and fund the park without the use of government or private funds. They noticed my State Fire Marshal's badge and my Police and GBI shield. "What gives?" they asked.
I've been asked that a number of times. I always respond: "I was wanted by the law and now I am the law." "God makes us the head and not the tail!" I add. As for the funding of the park, we took a stroll up to where some verses of scripture were displayed. I paused for a moment and stopped him. I asked this head of state, "What would you do if you had a vision from the Lord, and someone told you to 'Go get your God and build it?'" He shrugged, and asked "what did you do?"
I looked at him and said, "I did." "God takes all of our scars and turns them into stars."
I'd like elaborate on a few points from my testimony that can bring understanding and hope to some that have taken the time to read my biography. Many people are going through some painful trials in their lives. Others are experiencing what seems to be tremendous adversity or loss. You personally might be seeking comfort from Christian faith for the first time or for the believer a deeper understanding of the ways of our Lord. You have not stumbled across this testimony by accident, it will become part of your life forever, turning all of your scars into stars. Let me give you my cardboard box mental insight on this statement." God takes all of our scars and turns them into stars." In the days of scars, I had no purpose for my life before or during the nightmare in that cardboard box. Today the Lord has used that bum to his glory on many assignments and visions.*
In the days of scars, when I sold insurance or lived in that cardboard box I couldn't get people to follow me anywhere. Today the Lord has used me to lead thousands of firefighters, law enforcement officers and high ranking public officials out to a garden honoring them. Believe me, they follow!**
In the days of scars, I can't recall one person reaching in that box to invite me in their home. Today the Lord has allowed me to be on television while millions all over the world invite me through my broadcast into their living rooms.***
In the days of scars, my name was simply Joe Oreskovich, it held no significance outside of my immediate family. Today the name Joe Oreskovich the Gravedigger has been honored with many public appearances, awards and medals.****
In the days of scars I was a drug addict with a long history of alcoholism. Today I've been clean and sober 18 years. With no desire to indulge.*****
In the days of scars I had no home or credit. I had lost my wife and son. Today I'm a proud owner of a beautiful home in College Park Ga and my credit is stronger than it's ever been. I date a wonderful christian woman that's as pretty as any starlet and my son has forgiven me.******
In the days of scars, I had lost my insurance license and a job as a insurance agent . My driving privileges were suspended and my financial future was non existent. Today I have a personal relationship with the insurance commissioner of our state John Oxendine who promoted me to a State Fire Marshall. My right to drive has been restored. I am now the President of Gravedigger Ministries Inc. a board director, the co-executive producer and host of a television show. The show and ministry has produced two consecutive yearly honors from the State Bar of Georgia Silver Gavel Awards and won a Silver Telly twice, (the highest honor). The Hosea Williams Best programming award and was honored by TBS the Super Station with the Super Seventeen Award. My book will be completed and published early next year.
On a real personal note, I really dislike sharing all the things that are stars in my life, because it sounds as if I'm proud of what I've done. It's not that at all. I'm a worm of a man saved by Gods grace, but it's to his glory what he will do in your life if you will only allow it to happen. I can not share this ministry of hope with you unless you see his power at work in my life."To God be the glory" Now the message that will start to turn your pain into gain. Your scars into stars. When you look back on my condition in that cardboard box Do you see my circumstances as blessings or adversities?
Remember without that cardboard box there would be no memorial park or HB-1033 or television show or web site to bring you this message. Let me ask you that above question a different way. If so much good comes out of adversity, why is it not a blessing? Ok so it doesn't feel good. So! What else is new in a faith that denies sowing to the flesh.
Your right! You got it. It's considered the same thing. It depends on which road you embark on. You have a choice to make. Will your pain or adversity keep you in your cardboard box? We all have one we create, just a different environment, or will you turn it over to the Lord and really leave it in his hands, so he can bring about the greatest blessings of your life? I'm so excited for your future. Lets praise God together! "Father, I raise this reader up to you and bind the hands of satan over all pain and adversity and financial hardship or health in this persons life or family,and take the authority you given us to cast out all demons in the name of Jesus and loosen guardian angels to bring powerful blessings out of every thing satan has meant for evil in their life". AMEN!
PHOTOGRAPHS (IN ORDER)
Joe, 2 years old
Joe's father and mother
Just before kidnapping and sexual torture
Joe looking out his cardboard box
Jack Andreu: "Go work at Taco Bell or mop floors, but don't come back."
Fire apparatus surrounding the capitol.
The beginning of a 17-mile parade to Forest Lawn.
Turning into Forest Lawn for the ceremony.
Fire apparatus surrounding the 3-acre memorial.
125 Honor guards opening the ceremony.
Some of the names of the firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Motorcade surrounding the memorial park.
Honor guards dedicating the memorial.
Joe with a yellow umbrella leading public safety and legislators to his 2nd vision, a 20-year-out HB1033.
Officer Sherry Lyons' funeral at the memorial.
Joe's Gravedigger Show Public Safety hotline chaplains that aborted 34 suicides to date.
First time in television history that Christian television beat out secular stations to win the coveted Silver Gavel Award.
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