A.J. Reed considers himself a living, breathing, walking, talking miracle.
He is still here after twice trying to kill himself, first by taking an overdose of pain medication, then by shooting himself in the face with a shotgun.
The 22-year-old Mr. Reed travels and delivers his testimony about how he grew in faith and changed his life.
"People ask if I regret what I did,'' he said. "My blindness, my speech impediment, my facial disfigurement - it's all for the glory of God.
"I don't want my eyesight back. I'd rather live now in Jesus Christ than live how I was. People can look at me without saying a word and say, 'If he can make it, if God is with him, why can't I?'
"Some people are praying for miracles and this and that; sometimes you got to just step out and be a miracle."
Mr. Reed will be the keynote speaker at Youth Explosion 2007 at Padgett Farm in Burke County. The free event started Friday and will resume from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.
Also featured will be Christian hip-hop singer Canton Jones and former Harlem Globetrotter Melvin Adams, both of whom will deliver messages for youths.
Mr. Reed found himself in trouble early on. His parents divorced when he was 5, and he later rebelled by drinking, hanging with the wrong crowd and making bad grades.
At 13, he was arrested for trying to rob a store. His behavior worsened as he covered up his inner hurt and shame from being looked down on by his teachers and peers, and so he decided to live up to his troublemaker label, he said.
Filled with depression, he tried suicide. The shotgun blast nearly seven years ago cost him his eyesight and left him disfigured.
Doctors told his mother that he wouldn't make it and that if he did, he would be in a permanent vegetative state.
"I asked doctors why I lived. They said it was because of my health, but that didn't sit well with me," he said. "I knew healthy people who died from car accidents."
While recovering and undergoing some of his 36 reconstructive surgeries, Mr. Reed began going to church regularly with his brother.
"Little by little, things started making sense," he said. "The stories about Job, Joseph - all the persecution and stuff they went through, and they were content.
"I prayed and prayed and decided to submit to God because I didn't know what to do with it."
He and friend Dennis Hurst started the A.J. Reed Outreach Ministry to reach troubled young people, especially those considering suicide.
"I am his Paul and he's my Timothy," said Mr. Hurst, the executive director of the ministry. "The underlying element is that A.J. lived, that God kept the cognitive part of his brain."
Mr. Reed agrees when Mr. Hurst says that without the test, there is no testimony. The hardest thing he lives with today, Mr. Reed said, is guilt - of having been a bad role model and of what the shooting put his family and others through.
Leslie Padgett, the owner of Padgett Farms, said the youth event is the culmination of a year of prayer. For 18 years, he has used his 610-acre retreat as a ministry for small youth and church groups, but has been asking God how he could "open it more and do more to glorify him" by reaching more youths, he said.
Mr. Padgett said he saw Mr. Reed on television and felt he would be perfect to speak at his "crusade for salvation."
"God didn't let him die," Mr. Padgett said. "God reached him and is using him in a mighty way to reach young people."
Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Youth Explosion 2007 WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. WHERE: Padgett's Farm, 1700 U.S. Highway 23 S., Waynesboro, Ga. COST: Free INFORMATION: (706) 829-2517 or (706) 554-1242