My name is David Hooten and this is my venture story from rebellious recalcitrant to becoming a believer in Christ. I am originally from Clermont, Florida. We used to vacation up and down the East coast. My father was in the citrus business, and there wasn't much activity between the months of late May and early September. So, since my mother was from Rutland, Vermont, we made a month long trek up the coast. We would take a week driving up, and would visit all the historical sites along the way. My father was a great believer in, “You have to know the roots of your Country." I am grateful for that upbringing. We would then spend a week in Rutland, then head South seeing more sites along the way. My Dad had an Army buddy who lived in Hildebran, NC, so we would stop there for a week and then head back south to Clermont. It was there that I grew to love the Western, NC mountains.
Fast forward a few years from junior high (middle school to most of you) to high school. The “hippie movement" was just starting with free love and drugs. I started with pot, but that truly was a gateway drug to others (no matter what people say). Smoking pot does make one more susceptible, or open, to trying and using other drugs. I was the type of person, who, when doing something, dives headstrong into it. I did this with the hippie movement. After graduating from high school, I was greeted with a letter from President Richard Millhouse Nixon ordering me to report for duty with the US Army. After basic and MOS training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC, I was assigned to West Germany and stationed at O'Brien barracks in Schwabach, West Germany (near Nuremberg).
On my third day in Schwabach, I was introduced to crystal methadrene. I loved the high, and stayed up for at least two days. From there, even though my hair was shorter, I was committed fully to the ideals, morals (or should I say immorals), and beliefs of the hippie culture. This culture was basically based on hedonism, rebellion against the norms and traditional beliefs held by our predecessors. From that point, I began dealing drugs, making a good bit of money, and enjoying free sexual expression.
After being discharged from the Army, I met two of my military mates in Flint, Michigan. We had sent quite a stash of “crank” home from Schwabach and that was going to finance our dreams. Back then, it was about $700,000 on the street. However, our dreams were foiled when some bikers found out we had a stash and stole it. We then drove to California to follow our “dream": buy a farm, grow our own pot, and live with the woman of our choice (uncommitted of course – who needs a piece of paper to tell you that you are in love!
After moving from the L.A. area to San Diego, we proceeded to try to build our dream. At one point, we were three bachelors renting a nice house in La Mesa, California (inland from San Diego proper). We had our pick of the female litter, so to speak, went to great rock concerts, and threw great parties. However, in the midst of all this supposed success, a deep dissatisfaction was growing in my heart. I finally came to the conclusion that “hippie wasn't working,” so I decided to go back east, go to college, work for twenty to thirty years, then buy a farm, grow my own and live with the woman of my choice.
So I contacted my Dad, told him I wanted to go to college, and headed back East. My Dad was more than willing to help. Since I had found memories of the mountains of Western North Carolina, I decided to attend college at Western Carolina University. I went back to Clermont, Florida for six months, worked, earned money, and then moved to Sylva, NC. I had to work for a year to get in-state tuition, so I got a job in Sylva to live and get my in-state status.
Once in Sylva, I contacted an acquaintance of my Dad`s named Marcellus Buchanan for assistance in securing work. I called him and went up to his house to meet him. I asked him what he did for a living, and he answered, “I am the solicitor for the 3 counties in Western North Carolina.” I said, “So you’re the District Attorney?” I couldn't believe it! I was still committed to the hippie lifestyle, doing drugs, and courting women. The words, District Attorney, were anathema to my ears, but I needed a job more. He was a nice gent, and took me under his wing" so to speak.
I started work, and met another “head” in the area named Carl. He and I hung out, smoked pot, and went to parties. One day, he and I went to get our shoulder length hair trimmed by his sister. She, as it turned out, was a believer in Christ, and attended the Sylva Church of God. I tolerated some Christians, but had an extreme dislike for most. I thought they were a bunch of hypocrites. I used to say, “You all are hypocrites - you say one thing and do another. We are hippies, and we just tell you straight you’re a jerk and not just smile to your face and then talk behind your back.” We are real, and you don't even act like Christians!” As I was getting my hair trimmed by Carl’s sister she asked me about learning guitar. I said that I was trying to learn some Bob Dylan songs, but I was struggling to learn them. She said, “Well, why don’t you take lessons at the SonShine Music Shop?” I said, “What is that?” She answered, “It is a Christian Bookstore and Music shop here in Sylva.” I said, “I don’t really like Christians, present company excepted of course.” Then she said, “They only charge $3.00 a half hour.” I thought to myself, “I can put up with a Christian for that price!” So I called the store and spoke to a guy named Tom Barrett. We made an appointment for me to come in and discuss the lessons. Tom was very friendly and pleasant and smiled a lot. There was something different about him that I had not experienced in my earlier years. He seemed genuine and he talked like he really heard from Jesus. I agreed to start lessons and then walked out. My friend Carl asked me, “Well what was it like?” I said, “He is really into it man, but he seems ok”.
I began taking guitar lessons on Tuesday evening. Tom Barrett was kind, friendly and helpful. He was never “pushy” about God. After a month or so of guitar lessons, Tom invited me to a meeting at his house on Wednesday evening. I was reluctant, but I didn’t want to tick off my guitar teacher, especially when the price was so good. So, I went over to his house that Wednesday evening. They were singing new Christian songs, not the “funeral dirges” for Jesus that I was used to growing up. I thought to myself, man this is better. I didn’t know the words, so I whistled along. Then they had a good message on the relationship Jesus wanted with all of us. I remember thinking, “Their peace seems to come from the inside out, and mine comes from the outside in. I can drink it, smoke it, sleep with it and listen to great music, but in the morning, I feel empty again.” I had a girlfriend in Waynesville which was 17 miles away from Sylva. I was at her home one night and told her I went to this home group meeting. Neither of us was a believer in Christ at this point. She told me she worked with a guy from a fellowship called “The Lord’s Mountain.” That was the name the old timers gave to it. She said a whole group of people from Hollywood, Florida had moved up to the Waynesville area, and they owned a 73-acre plot. They went to church on top of that mountain. The property used to belong to the Salvation Army in the 1920’s, and that is why the locals called it “The Lord’s Mountain.” I just said “cool” and we partied with Jose Cuervo, a joint and some music.
I went on about my business working and partying with Carl Stacey and my girlfriend named Kathy. One Tuesday, about three weeks after I went to Tom’s house, he asked me if I wanted to attend a “coffee house” on the upcoming Friday night. Still not wanting to “upset the apple cart” so to speak, I accepted the offer. He had told me the young folks from the “Lord’s Mountain” were going to be there. I went and was surprised to hear their songs which sounded contemporary and “folkish” like Bob Dylan. They were worship songs from Calvary Chapel in California where a bunch of hippies were becoming believers in Christ. I thought, “This is cool”, but afterwards thought to myself, “Man I am getting too close to this”.
I can tell you that up until this point, I had no bad conscience about anything. I used to say, “I am a moral drug dealer! I don’t cheat people, I give them their money’s worth, and I always give a little extra in the bag. I was really feeling good about myself. Then one Tuesday, Tom asked me to come to another coffee house meeting. I said, “I can’t man, I have to work on my car”, which was a total lie. I was going to Waynesville to party with my girlfriend. I did just that. Then, as I was driving back to Sylva at 2:30 in the morning a voice (internal but real) said to me, “You hypocrite, you say one thing and do another; why were you ashamed to tell that man the truth”? I remember thinking, “Well, if I couldn’t tell him the truth, it must be dark.”
Fast forward a few weeks, and at my guitar lesson, Tom asked me if I would like to join them because they were going up to “The Lord’s Mountain.” I said, “If I can find the time I might, man”. Then Wednesday arrived. At four o’clock in the afternoon, I took off my construction tool belt and went to get into the car. Most of my co-workers were not believers and they asked me, “Where are you going?” I said, “I am going to church”. I think they had to hold onto the scaffolding to keep from fainting; they couldn’t believe it.
I went home, cleaned up, and got into a car with three of Tom’s friends. We drove to the “Lord’s Mountain” and went into the chapel. Bear in mind, I was not a believer at this point. Once in, the young adults were leading the contemporary type worship. About halfway through the worship, I just threw up my hands saying, “Thank you Jesus, praise you Jesus”. It was like a champagne bottle, once the cork is out you can’t put it back in. The guy next to me, a “gentle Ben” of a guy named Ray was just weeping. I bet he was one heck of a bar room brawler in his day, but Christ had made him like “gentle Ben”. Then the pastor, Howard Coffey, gave a message on how God created us to have a loving relationship with and to have fellowship with. I listened, and then the worship team started singing “in the Spirit” (spontaneous songs).
I tell you, through my eyes, the room was filled with fog. In the scriptures it talks about the cloud of glory of God. In my eyes it was thick as a Florida morning fog. Afterwards I was standing outside the chapel with the pastor’s son Billy, his daughter Mary, Elaine (one of the worship leaders), a lady named Audrey, and a lady named Rebecca. They asked me, “What did you think”. I responded, “It was cool, but I still like to party!” Elaine kind of slapped her cheek in disbelief because she had seen my inside with my hands raised. She said, “What, you aren’t born again”? I said, “Nope.” She said, “Don’t you want to be?”
At that point, my whole life flashed before me in seconds. I knew then my way wasn’t working. So I responded, “Yes”. After that, we all walked out in the middle of the gravel road under a street light, held hands, and prayed. Being raised a Catholic, I knew how to go to confession. However, instead of a fake, non-contrite confession, I let it all out. All the affairs, drugs, cursing, and other sins. I bet the folks praying with me had their eyes rolling behind those closed eyelids. I asked Jesus to come into my life and change me. When I opened my eyes, I knew two things; Jesus was alive, and he was Lord. One day I was walking in one direction, and the next I was walking in the opposite direction; anti-God to loving God. I tell people that Jesus lovingly stepped on my neck and said, “You give up, because your way isn’t working”. I am so glad He redeemed me.
I know now that the Holy Spirit placed the desire to learn guitar in my heart. I had always tooled around with drums, not guitar. However, I bought a guitar and Tom Barrett gave me lessons. I know now that the Holy Spirit led me to Tom and the Sonshine Shop. I was Tom’s genuine behavior and infectious laugh that caused me to go up to the “Lord’s Mountain” and then my life was forever changed (for the better of course). I began fellowshipping with Tom’s church in Sylva called “The Lighthouse.” After a while, I felt God leading me to move to the “Lord’s Mountain” and help with the chores and upkeep. I stayed there from 1976 until 1978. I got married, had a daughter, and moved down to Waynesville, NC to get a job. In 1979, I began attending Western Carolina University. I went year-round, and graduated in 1982 with honors. I have been a believer since May 28, 1975 at 9:12 PM. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.
NOTE: Hooty included the following update that he sent out to all his friends. Please pray for him and his wife Zada as they move into a different phase of their journey with the Lord...
As some of you may be aware, Zada and I have sold our home in Maggie Valley, North Carolina and moved to a life plan community named Wesley Woods of Newnan in Newnan, Georgia. Zada was diagnosed with FTD (Frontotemporal Dementia) about two years ago. As her primary caregiver, I found it becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a home and give Zada the attention she needs will battling this insidious condition. She is still Zada, the sweetheart, and she is very good natured. She laughs a lot too! However, she has lost most of the ability to converse, and I have to help her with getting dressed, bathing, and with normal functions like using the bathroom. If you are a person who prays, we would appreciate your prayers.