WORTHINGTON -- When Cody James goes into jails and prisons to minister to the inmates, he can relate to what they are going through on the other side of the bars, because he's been there himself. A cycle of addictive behavior landed him there.

But today, James delivers a message of hope through his Cody James Ministries, taking the Gospel message of Jesus Christ to a variety of venues, including churches, recovery meetings and jail cells.

James' personal story of salvation begins at age 13, when he was reading a book, "Hinds' Feet on High Places," an allegorical novel about Christian life. At that moment, James says that he experienced the Holy Spirit.

But James forgot this spiritual revelation when he began playing music in bars at age 15, and then at age 17, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Eventually, he moved to Nashville, Tenn., where he launched a successful music career. He wrote songs for Loretta Lynn's publishing company, Coal Miner Music, and even traveled with Lynn. He also had music recorded by Pam Tillis and Mark Chestnut. One of the songs of which he is the most proud is "I Can't Hear the Music," a ballad about Lynn's relationship with her husband, Doolittle, inspired by something he said on his deathbed.

While his life appeared successful on the outside, James knew there was a void in his life, and he tried to fill it with alcohol, drugs and bad relationships. The one good relationship in his life was with his mother, who would always pull him through the tough times.

"She taught me Jesus by living an example," James said. "She never beat me over the head with the Bible but was always truthful. She showed me unconditional love."

When his mother became ill, James went to Missouri to care for her, and after a year, she died. With the one positive influence in his life gone, James' addictive behaviors spun completely out of control, resulting in incarceration and thoughts of suicide.

But when he was at his lowest point, a new revelation arrived: A voice spoke to his heart, saying, 'It was never your music anyway. It's Mine, meant for My glory."

While it was another defining moment in his spiritual journey, James admits that he heeded the voice grudgingly.

"It was not an overnight thing," he explained on his website, www.codyjames.org. "I was a tough piece of clay, one that required much kneading before a suitable vessel could even begin to be formed, but glory be to God that He is patient and loving. The Father has restored my life 10 times better than it ever was. He has delivered me from addiction, I now have a godly wife and three awesome daughters that love Jesus, and God has given me all new songs that he allows me to share with the hurting and lost people of this world."

James and his wife, Jamie, live and base their ministry in Andover, and they both have messages to share.

"With our once weak and struggling lives and worldly relationship, we had nowhere to go but down, and it was a fast descent," reflected James. "Our testimonies help us to connect with people with the same temptations and struggles we once faced -- drugs, alcohol, anger, to name a few -- but as God was eventually invited into our lives and became the centerpiece, we now have a strong partnership. Having God become the leader of our lives and talents has shown us that no matter what obstacle we are faced with, we can and will stand together as one."

As part of his ministry, James makes regular visits to jails around the state. Nobles County Jail Programmer Teresa Vander Plaats heard about his ministry during a professional event, and thought it would be a good program to bring to southwest Minnesota.

"He actually showed up at our jail programmers' conference," she explained. "He said that his mission was to go to all the jails in the state of Minnesota. I'm president of our (jail programmers) district, so I decided we should do it as a district, so he is coming down here, not only to Worthington, but Fairmont, Blue Earth County, Nicollet County, Faribault County."

James is scheduled to speak at the Nobles County Jail at sessions on both Saturday and Sunday, and Vander Plaats said that his message will be a good fit with the jail's treatment program, which is just starting up again.

"I've put up notices that he is coming, and a lot of (the inmates) can't wait," she said. "They're very excited about it."

In addition, Vander Plaats has arranged for James to speak during a local Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He will also give his testimony and share his music during the 10 a.m. service Sunday at Solid Rock Assembly, 1730 Diagonal Road.

"The ministry is about taking the songs and testimony God has placed in my life and having the opportunity to share them with the world," James explains on his website. "It doesn't matter where I go, whether it is churches, concerts, jails/prisons, recovery events, radio or TV shows, the message is always strong, having one thing leading it: Jesus loves us and came to free us. And when this message becomes real in our hearts and lives, we then have an obligation to pass it on. Not all are called to be missionaries or evangelists like myself, but we are called to be that light and disciples of the world, when and wherever we may go."

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