Barry's Story Former drug dealer, addict, testifies of God's grace

By Bryan Cribb

No money. No friends. No home. No hope. Barry Washington had lost everything. Twenty years of drugs, alcohol, crime and violence had left his life as empty as the abandoned shack where he slept.

He was constantly hungry. he was constantly high. One day walking on the streets of Philadelphia, he even contemplated suicide.

In his sorrow and shame, Washington could barely see two men who were cleaning outside a house. Washington approached them and asked for money.

The men, two Nigerian Christians, gave him money and something more – hope for a clean life. The men saw something beneath Washington’s disheveled, dirty, drug-scarred exterior. They saw a man whom God could save.

More than five years later, Washington, who obtained his A. A. degree from Boyce College on May 19th, now sees it too. God has transformed a drug dealer with an eight-grade education into a sinner saved by grace. 

“One of my favorite texts is in Mark 5 – the man at the tomb who is out of his mind, ” Washington said.

What God has done for me lets me know about true compassion.

For most of his life, Washington modeled the man that Jesus met. Raised in Pittsburgh by his adoptive parents, he rebelled from the start.

In grade school, he never learned to read or write. Though a talented baseball player, he gave up on sports and school to play another game. “I chose to follow my brother’s career as a drug dealer and ended up dropping out of school in 9th grade.” Washington said.

His decision began a 20 year downward spiral of destitution. “I started selling,” he said. “I went from reefer to cocaine, to selling heroin.”

In the 1980’s, Washington moved to Michigan, but he packed his old lifestyle with him. The drug running finally caught up with him when several other dealers confronted him and left him for dead in his front yard.

“I got stabbed 41 times,” Washington said. “I almost died.” When he recovered, though, Washington fell back into his old addictions and moved back to Philadelphia.

Drug pushing made sometimes $5,000 in a day, but his business and life soon turned sour. He overdosed three times, he was in and out of jail, and he knew that something was wrong.

Every time I would use drugs I would ask God for help,”

Finally, he came to the breaking point outside that abandoned shack. He wanted to kill himself, but those two Nigerian men pointed to true life. 

“I called them my Peter and John in the book of Acts at the gate called beautiful.” Washington said, referring to the passage in Acts 3. “That day they invited me to a church meeting in their house.” At the small service, the preacher explained the gospel. At the end of the service, Washington prayed to receive Christ.

Though he still struggled with his addictions, the desires gradually fizzled. Several weeks later, Washington walked away from his old way of life and has been clean to this day.

He returned to Michigan and began to attend church regularly. there, he received his calling to ministry. Washington could barely re-adapt the time, but six months later, with the encouragement of his pastor, Washington had earned his high school equivalency and had begun to preach. His pastor also encouraged him to further his education at Boyce College. 

The 37-year- old Washington graduated in May with an A.A. degree, but he’s not finished. He’s planning on obtaining his B.S. degree in pastoral counseling. Washington attributes these achievements to God, but he dedicates the degree to his mother who prayed constantly for him.

“Some pastors I know say, ‘Well, it’s only an A.A.,” Washington said. “They don’t understand my history and what this would do for a woman whose sisters and brothers said, ‘your kid’s aren’t nothing.'” Washington currently uses his experience to minister to others. He leads youth ministries, helps with homeless shelters and boys’ homes, teaches on drug addiction and preaches across the state.

“The Lord has been really gracious to me down here,” Washington said.

“I could have been dead a number of times. I could never have dreamed of doing anything like this. I still don’t believe it some days.

But Washington does not want to forget, either. “I keep this old welfare card of how I used to look just as a reminder,” he said.