Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How Free Do You Want to Be?

Leslie Basham: As a new believer in Christ, Craig Owen had to decide whether to turn himself in for crimes he’d committed. He asked himself this question:

Craig Owen: “How free do you want to be?” And there is a freedom that you get knowing that your conscience is clear that you can’t get unless it is.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, October 3.

All week we’ve been hearing from the late Craig Owen and his wife Terri. If you missed any of it, you can listen to past programs at ReviveOurHearts.com. The programs this week have made us examine the idea of surrender. Are we willing to take radical steps of obedience and trust God with the outcome?

When we left Craig, he had turned himself in to Canadian authorities and confessed the crimes of his past. His wife, Terri, was back in Indiana praying that she would see him again. Let’s get back to the conversation between Nancy, Terri, and Craig. He had been forgiven by Christ but was pleading guilty in court.

Craig: I showed up, and this was the scheduled hearing to accept my plea, and it gets a little interesting here because I have the attorney who was representing me, we have the Crown Prosecutor, which plays the role of District Attorney. The evidence is put before the court in terms of the particulars of the case of each of them.

The court asks, “Do you understand what you’re pleading guilty to?”

And I say, “Yes.”

Then my attorney then goes into, “But then our whole intent here is to plead on the mercy of the court relative to sentencing and to move to an acceptance of the guilty plea and then move on to the sentencing stage”—which was done.

In the sentencing stage, sure enough, the prosecutor was looking to full terms. He was looking at ten years, and he felt quite adamant that that was what was needed. He said, “We have a responsibility to show . . .  to make an example here. Just because you ran away and then come back on your own time doesn’t mean you get a better sentence.” Regardless, he had an animosity toward my case.

And I did have a bad track record. I think, in fairness, he would see on the paperwork a long career or track record or criminal element and asking for this special deal when there really seems to be nothing there other than the fact that he ran away for six years.

So he was fighting hard against it, and my attorney was telling the court that I deserved it. The fact that I came back in itself meant I deserved this break. I could even tell from the judge that the judge was getting irate with my attorney because the guy just wasn’t making a lot of sense. I mean, you don’t deserve things. In the court of law in those things, it just stiffens that up. You may want it that way, but his approach was unprofessional in the way he was doing it.

He actually was cautioned a couple of times about his demeanor, as was the prosecutor. It seemed my attorney and the prosecutor were having this head-butting contest, and then the judge being the guy in the middle.

In the midst of this, a voice comes out of the back of the courtroom asking the judge if he could have the ear of the court. So the judge has the attorney stop his discussion, and he asks the guy to approach.

It was a police officer, the detective—one of the two that I had surrendered to. He said that the police officer would have a better understanding of explaining to the court what his perspective was to this process because he was the one that interviewed me during the surrender. So the judge allowed him to come up and take the stand.

This police officer basically went on to explain, probably better than I could have, my testimony as to why I came back. Now, he didn’t agree with me. He was a Christian. He wasn’t supportive of that role. But what he was supportive of was the character that drove me to do this.

Again, he said, “This was a genuine surrender of somebody who wanted to clear his past.” I don’t remember how many years he’d been on the force, but he had an exemplary career. He gave some of his credentials, and then the said, “I’ve never in my career come across a situation like this.” He said he felt it was important for the court to understand that however they chose to do the sentencing, though it be within the domain of the judge, he felt it was important for the judge to understand that this was not a normal case that there was extenuating circumstances weaved throughout this.

The prosecutor then got upset and tried to have his statement stricken from the record because he said he was acting as the defense attorney now.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Just what you needed.

Craig: Yes. Again, the prosecutor was actually censored by the judge in a more formal manner because of his outburst. At the end of the day, the judge took everything under consideration. He felt that based on the fact that I would be returning to Indiana, to the States, I had the family, that I had made all the approaches to try and deal with the surrender and trying to deal with resolving my past, he really felt that he took the officer’s perspective to be the best one, and he sentenced me to six months in prison for jail term.

And then I had a parole term. As a parole violator, you have to finish the amount of parole time you had left, which also happened to be six months. Now normally, that has to be separate. So whatever time you get here, then the parole time is added on top of, but he made an injunction that allowed the parole time to run concurrently, so I was still doing six months.

I could have fallen over in the court room. I mean, it was just . . .

Nancy: Probably the prosecutor could have, too.

Craig: Well, yes. He said he was appealing it, but I never got notice of the appeal. So he must not have, but, yes, he was livid.

Nancy: It was just so much different than the worst you had dreamed.

Craig: Well, yes. I mean, I never even started thinking of six months. I mean, that would have been absurd to think that.

I was returned back to the jail cell, and as far as the court was concerned, that was all resolved. That was it, and I started my six months.

Nancy: You were able to call Terri?

Craig: Yes, and the word got out.

Terri: We were shouting, “Hallelujah!”

Craig: It was kind of like everybody was saying, “How? What’s next?” And there was no next. There was no other cases. They just took all the cases that were opened—there was even driving offenses in there, some DUI’s, the kind of stuff that’s really nothing compared to the seriousness of the other charges—but everything was put in there, and it was a clean slate.

Nancy: Did you have a fresh sense of mercy?

Craig: Oh, in such a way. I mean, there were still little stumbling blocks to deal with. I went back to the detention center where I was being held at. It’s the one I was at before in my younger years, and I had been a lot of trouble there. When I was in the system when I was younger, I actually got removed from a couple of prisons and sent to worse ones because of behavior problems. So my inside track record wasn’t a good one either.

There happened to be one guard that was still left over from that who knew me well, and he kept trying to take my testimony from me. He would come in, and he would roust my cell in the mornings. He’d take my pictures off the wall. He just pushed all the buttons—not abusing me or anything like that, but just pushing your buttons to see.

Nancy: Testing.

Craig: Yes, and God gave me the grace to understand from where He’d brought me, there was nothing else they could throw at me. The way the time works on a six-month sentence is you do four months, and then you’re finished if you do good time. So I actually physically spent four months and then got released. Out the big, gate door out the back was my wife and my mom waiting for me, and I came back to civilization.

Nancy: The support that the church had given . . .

Craig: I was released, and my parents put us up for a week. 

Terri: Two weeks for our honeymoon.

Craig: Two weeks for a honeymoon here, because we never had one when we were married. They just got us a two-week apartment rental and gave us some money and just said, “Enjoy yourselves, and get reacquainted with one another.” So we did that here, immediately on my release, and then we returned to Indiana. The kids were staying with friends down there at the time for that two-week period.

We collected the kids, and then I had two weeks to reconnect with the kids and have that re-bonding time with them, then I started to look for work. Plenty was being offered to me at the time. The offering that had been taken initially to help support the family, they never had to have a second offering. The fund was depleted at the end of that last week I spent with the kids.

Terri: And there was two cents left.

Nancy: Was that about five months?

Craig: Yes, a total of five months.

Terri: Yes, but God knew exactly what we were going to need to the penny.

Craig: So that offering was taken once, in faith, in a love offering manner, and it was never replenished—never needed to be.

Nancy: It was enough.

Craig: Yes. It filled it right to the point of when we got back. That was like you say, "the icing on the cake" or the actual gift.

Terri: A special gift.

Craig: I’m just saying, I trust You in the big things but even in the little things.

Nancy: Down to the penny.

Terri: Yes, to the pennies.

Nancy: How are you allowed to go back to the States?

Craig: I came across as a visitor, to return you just say, “I’m coming back to visit.”

Nancy: Because you still didn’t have residency or anything?

Craig: No. Again you’re just crossing as a visitor. You’re not making any declaration of, “I’m doing this or this or this.” It’s very benign. But then the next step was to immediately go to Immigration in the United States and say, “Okay, here’s where I am. I’ve done my restitution. I’ve cleared up everything in here, and I want to become a resident of the United States. I want to apply.”

I put the application in, and I surrendered my identities of Donald Ray Love. I still had some of my old guns from before, and so at the local police station, I surrendered them. I took them down. I just tried, but I had them come out and pick them up. I said, “Dispose of them as you see fit. I don’t need these things anymore.”

And the local P.D. did that. One of the guns came up as a handgun that was stolen out of a police detective’s home, a burglary of his personal home in Illinois, which I had no knowledge of. It was a street gun. When you pick it up, you don’t know where they come from. But the Illinois authorities were convinced, obviously, that I had a part to play in this.

The only way that I could prove that I wasn’t was the timeline. At the time the burglary happened, I was in prison in Texas under the name of Donald Ray Love. They asked the F.B.I., well, first they asked the Indiana police if they would surrender me, and our local police said, “No.” They believed there was enough integrity in my story that they felt that they would not oblige that.

So the Illinois State Police asked for the Federal Bureau to get involved because it crossed jurisdictions and to find out the facts of the case. The F.B.I. checked it out and in short order came back and said that I was correct. There was no way I could have stolen the gun because I was in prison in Texas at the time. But they also said I was using a fictitious name right now of Craig Owen and that my real name was Donald Ray Love, as an American citizen, and that’s when I was in prison, incarcerated, and couldn’t have stolen the gun.

So they absolved me from the gun issue, the Illinois issue. 

Nancy: But now they weren’t believing who you really were.

Craig: They had it backward as to who I really was. Had I stayed with that finding and changed my name back to Donald Ray Love, I could still be here as a citizen of the United States.

Terri: But living a lie.

Craig: Yes, but living a lie.

Nancy: And you knew you couldn’t do that.

Craig: No. We went through all that. I mean, I don’t even think it was a temptation to. First it was frustration, and then it was more humor. It just shows how convoluted things can get . . . lies upon lies upon lies . . . it’s sometimes very hard to get to the truth of things.

Nancy: You can’t fault the government for being confused at that point.

Craig: Exactly.

Nancy: Because you weren’t a U.S. citizen, you had to go through the process of applying for residency, which ended up not being a simple matter.

Craig: No. We applied, and within eight, nine, ten months, something like that . . .

Terri: You were denied.

Craig: I was denied my request for permanent residency. It didn’t surprise us under the circumstances, but we really had hoped it would go through. We had a lot of support, community support, and we had a congressman write a letter, but Immigration said, “No thanks. The merits of this case shows that there was extreme moral turpitude issues”—that’s the way they described it. There was no room for me in this country with that kind of history.

I had the right to appeal it, and if I chose to appeal it, then they would assign me a hearing, and I could argue the case before a federal judge. So we opted to appeal it and to have that hearing. They said it takes a while for the hearing to go through—we expected lin ike a year to a year-and-a-half, it’s what they said, for the hearing process.

To try and compartmentalize it, it was over fifteen years, and they still never got me a hearing. We would check in periodically, and my case was on file waiting to be seen, waiting to be heard, but it was just never assigned.

Nancy: So you stayed in Indiana.

Craig: I had a valid work permit to stay until the hearing was completed. So I was able to function like a residence and work and provide for my family over the years. The laws of immigration kept changing over the years. They would have revamped immigration laws which always affects your case, and that slowed things down. There was a big revision in 1986, and that slowed everything down, so that would explain for some of it.

And then there was another one in 1996, I think it was, but the one in 1996 was a bigger one because, unlike previous overhauls, this was retroactive applied. That meant that some of the particulars of the law would apply to anybody whose cases were before the hearings, and that was mine.

What that meant was that under the new law, it was no longer up to the federal judge to allow for this. It would require a presidential pardon in order to have my case that allows me to stay for permanent residency.

So we knew at that point that we would no longer have a legal realm to pursue. They didn’t come and tell me, “Okay, now you have to leave.” But we knew by the law’s structure, and we had a couple of interpretations done by several law firms, and they were all consistent with the same answer. Short of a presidential pardon, that was the only way in which I could stay. We don’t see us as having that level of a case to go for a pardon.

That’s when we started making plans to move back to Canada, because we felt that God had given us that window of fifteen years to raise our kids. They were all out on their own. At any position in our lives, we were at a better position to be able to do it now at that time period than we could have before. It was still our desire to stay, and it was sad, but on the other hand, we felt at least we were given an incredible opportunity to put everything into order so clearly.

Nancy: This is where the Lord had brought you to faith and had discipled you and got you grounded spiritually.

Terri: Yes.

Craig: Over the years, we had moved from Covington, and we had been discipled in other churches. We had gotten involved in other churches and in ministry. So our lives were very strongly involved in church, working where God would have us work and serve.

Nancy: Craig, thinking back to just the cost of being right with God, getting your conscience clear—now you’re many years past it—but at the time, you’re in your twenties, you’ve got a family, you’ve got four kids. A lot of people could have understood if you had decided not to turn yourself in.

But if I remember correctly, I thought at the time that you expressed that you felt you would be more free even doing time in prison than if you didn’t face that.

To somebody who’s thinking about this issue of a clear conscience being too hard a thing to go deal with, as you look back now . . .

Craig: I wouldn’t take it away from the fact that it can be very hard. If it was easy, I don’t think we’d be talking about it as much as we do. So there is a cost. There is a hardship that can come by it. But there’s that point at which God takes over, and the blessings that He gives, the peace that He gives. In retrospect, though it wasn’t an easy choice, the alternative would be always looking over your shoulder, about somebody finding out about this, wondering if you have this base covered. Do you still have this warrant out there? Did you resolve this?

That’s just more on the criminal side of things, but you can apply it to any level. It can be with flies in your relationship. It can be with work-related issues, partnership issues. The question is: How free do you want to be? There’s a freedom that you get in knowing your conscience is clear that you can’t get unless it is.

Leslie: That’s the late Craig Owen. He had to take some significant steps in surrendering to the Lord and clearing his conscience.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss talked with Craig and his wife Terri before he went home to be with the Lord, after his body surrendered to cancer. We’ll hear more from Craig in just a minute.

You may not be facing the exact circumstances as Craig Owen, but all of us need to surrender to the Lord. For each of us, that means making some tough, practical choices. Nancy Leigh DeMoss shows you why giving control to the Lord matters so much in her book, Surrender. She gives you a biblical understanding of surrendering to the Lord. She walks you through some practical steps and helps you think through the fears that can tempt you away from surrender.

We’d like to send you a copy of the book, Surrender: The Heart God Controls. It’s our way of saying “thanks” when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. We can’t provide the program in your area without the support of listeners like you who believe in the ministry, want it to continue, and have a burden for sharing this message with others.

We’re so thankful for the opportunity to share this podcast with you each weekday. The reason we’re able to provide so much content at ReviveOurHearts.com and on the podcast is because listeners like you support the ministry.

To make your donation, visit ReviveOurHearts.com. There you can indicate you’d like the book, Surrender, or ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959.

Tomorrow Craig and Terri Owen will talk about a different kind of surrender, not to the police or the courts but to a doctor’s prognosis.

Earlier this week we heard how God changed the heart of a criminal on the run at a Life Action Summit. Teams from Life Action continue to travel to churches across the country, teaching these themes of surrender, obedience, and having a clear conscience. Would you consider finding out more information about having Life Action visit your church? You can get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com and then pass those along to your pastors.

Craig and Terri are back to tell us more about a Life Action Summit.

Craig: It’s not a written script that’s going on. Sure, you make plans and directions, and you have structure to the event—the Summit—but ultimately, what you’re doing is you’re just trying to establish biblical principles and allow the Holy Spirit to be loosened and not bound by issues of our problems that we have in church.

Once that happens, then you really can see what God wants to do in the church. Your church won’t be the same, but do you want it to be?

Nancy: You’ve tasted revival.

Terri & Craig: Oh, yes. Yes.

Nancy: Not only personally, but you’ve seen a corporate visitation of God’s Spirit.

Terri & Craig: Yes.

Nancy: You’ve been in a lot of churches since then. Do you find yourselves longing . . .

Terri: Longing for that revival because we’ve tasted it, and we want to see it again. So many churches are so dry. There’s not that hunger for God, so I find myself constantly praying, “Lord, revive us. Bring it here. We need it.” When God says to do something, you better do it.

Craig: The sad side is seeing that corporate revival and seeing the intensity of how it burned the wick at both ends, spiritually. It makes it hard when you’re in a regular church now because you’re constantly looking and recognizing . . . You know you have a great church, you have great believers, great programs, you have substantive things that are helping people, getting things done in their walk.

But that still does not bring you to the threshold of a real corporate revival in a church, and when you cross that line, it’s something that . . .

Terri: . . . you don’t forget.

Craig: Yes, you just don’t forget. I have prayed for it at every church we’ve ever been at.

Terri: Continually.

Leslie: For details on bringing Life Action to your church, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries. 

 

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