Ted Rondeau tells the story like it’s the plot in a television crime drama or a scene from a movie like Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a chronicle that rivals any Hollywood script — young, romantic dreamers running from the law with plenty of dramatic conflict.
But the story is the candid account of a transformed life – Ted’s. It’s a testimony of how God worked in a dramatic way to bring a defiant teenager to a saving knowledge of Him. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that the trim 47-year-old businessman with short-cropped hair, lively hazel eyes, and dressed in a sharp golf shirt and crisp khaki pants has lived anything less than a life on the straight and narrow.
The turning point was Christmas Day, 1978, in a lonely jail cell in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla. “I mark that as the day of the invasion of the Holy Spirit into my brain,” says Ted. He’s now been married to his college sweetheart for more than 25 years, is the father of two grown daughters, and enjoyed a successful business career before entering full time ministry with Grace Brethren International Missions.
Ted characterizes his upbringing in inner city Cleveland as “totally Christian illiterate.” He had no knowledge of anything remotely religious. By the time his parents divorced when he was 12, he had joined a gang and regularly clashed with the law.
His best friends were brothers, Bob and Mike. In the summer of 1978, Bob was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. While in the hospital recovering from his injuries, the young man accepted Christ as his Saviour as a result of the ministry of a hospital chaplain.
“He came back and shared his testimony. He said, ‘If you don’t get your life right with Christ, something bad is going to happen to you.'” Ted remembers thinking the words were a curse.
By this time, the “heat” was getting close, Ted recalls. With several outstanding warrants for his arrest, he and a 15-year-old runaway girl stole a car and headed for Florida after Thanksgiving. He remembers the trip for its contrasts – an under-aged couple, driving a stolen vehicle, and living on the run while talking about obtaining “real” jobs, getting married, and having a house on the beach.
A Birthday on the Beach
In Florida, they celebrated Ted’s 18th birthday on the sand at Daytona Beach. Five days later – on Christmas Day on the other side of the state – a knock on their motel room door changed his life forever. The police had found him and they were calling his name through a megaphone.
He recalls it like it was a scene in Miami Vice, the 80s television show about two Miami cops.
A semi-circle of armed police officers focused their weapons on his door. “They backed me out of the room, hands on my head, handcuffed me, and put me on the pavement.”
And his teen-aged companion? “I never saw her again,” he says.
The police took him to the city jail. It began what he now calls one of the “most amazing” days of his life.
Since it was a holiday, he was placed in a cell by himself and left alone.
“I don’t even think they fed me,” he recalls. What he does vividly remember are the thoughts that flowed through his mind.
“I’d been in jail before,” he said. “It was no big deal. Normally, I’d be thinking how to escape, how to get myself out of it.”
But this day was different.
His first thought was the conversation with his friend Bob. “It’s his fault,” Ted remembers thinking, recalling the words that he thought were a curse. “He did this to me.”
“I Need Change”
With each reflection came a new concept. Throughout the afternoon, Ted’s thoughts moved from “how could Bob do this all the way from Cleveland?” to “maybe there’s something to this God thing.”
By the end of the day, Ted found himself on his knees in his jail cell. “Whoever you are,” he says he told God. “I want what Bob’s got. I don’t want to go out like this. I need change.”
He credits God’s miraculous intervention for grabbing his attention. “I never would have been thinking those thoughts,” he says, admitting, “I was not paying attention when Bob witnessed to me.”
With no church background, he did not know what to do next. In the local jail, he attended Catholic communion, the only religious service available, because “Bob would want me to.”
Facing robbery charges in Daytona Beach, he was transferred to the county jail there. There, he began to attend a Bible study and Sunday morning worship, because “I knew that Bob would want me to do that.”
But he admits he had “hardly changed in personality and character” as the result of his decision to follow God.
In Daytona Beach, the jail ministry was led by a retired Southern Baptist pastor, Rev. Sanford Oaks. After one service where Ted had been disruptive, the minister told him not to come back until he had memorized John 3:16. When Ted did, the chaplain handed him another verse to learn. It was the beginning of a six-month discipleship program with the Rev. Oaks.
Rev. Oaks was the first in a long line of men who Ted says have invested their lives in him. At Apalachee Correctional Institution (ACI), he found chaplains David Pipping and Grace Theological Seminary graduate David Ring, who both helped him establish deep roots in his new-found faith.
“There was an awesome core group of believing men there,” he says of his prison experience. “It was the best experience of (Christian) body life that I’ve ever had.”
He served his three-year sentence at ACI in northern Florida. Today, he knows he’s broken all the stereotypes of convicted felons by not re-offending. And he continues to be amazed at God’s grace.
“Nothing I enjoy today was deserved,” he admits. “I shouldn’t even be alive!”
He lives daily in the truth that there are no first or second class citizens in God’s family. “No matter how good or bad a person has been, we are all equally blessed as redeemed children of God.”