By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
COOKEVILLE — Jimmie Simpson can relate to folks who have addictions or life controlling issues. For about 15 years, he struggled with alcoholism.
People might understand his drinking and taking drugs. When he was 2 years old his father would give him alcohol to drink. When he was 15 years old, he began drinking steadily.
After high school Simpson enlisted in the U.S. Navy and he quickly found that drinking and taking drugs were accepted.
Then, while in the Navy, he lost his grandmother who helped raise him, his mother, and two brothers, including one who committed suicide while in jail, and one who died of an overdose. Simpson’s remaining brother refused to have any contact with him and he and his father did not speak for six years so he had no family left.
“I spiraled downward” he said, and even “played around with drugs.”
After serving in the Navy for 10 years, Simpson transitioned to the National Guard in 1998. He returned home to Cookeville to attend Tennessee Tech University where he continued to spiral downward.
He remembers he would have a bottle of liquor on his night stand by his bed so he could take a drink first thing in the morning and the last thing he did at night. In a normal day he would drink about a fifth (of a gallon) of Jack Daniels, Simpson admitted.
He realized he needed to clean himself up and stop drinking, he said, but he was a “functional alcoholic,” so he didn’t.
Spiritually he also felt he was okay. While growing up he attended a church where he was baptized at age 13 so he thought he had “a free pass” in life spiritually. Yet he felt the need for a stronger relationship with God and tried countless times to “quit drinking and drugging.” He attended church sporadically but was left with the impression that he had to clean up his life before God would help him.
But everything changed on Jan. 23, 2000. He “walked into church still drunk from the night before.” As he listened to the sermon from Ephesians 2:8-10, for the first time he finally realized “that my salvation absolutely had nothing to do with what I could do. …” He practically ran down the aisle at the invitation and surrendered his life to Christ.
“I walked out sober and I haven’t looked back,” said Simpson.
Twelve-step programs for alcoholics are fine, but he believes in “the one-step program — Jesus. …
“Jesus transformed me and that was the last day I drank.”
Soon Simpson and his fiance, Andrea, whom he later married, began visiting Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, where they became active members and Simpson became close to Jimmy Arms, pastor at that time, and realized God was calling him to the ministry. Arms gave him some advice that he took to heart — Wait for God and He will make it clear what He wants from your life.
In 2004-05 his U.S. Army National Guard unit was called to Iraq for a year. Simpson preached his first sermon in Diyala, Iraq, and “pastored” his first church — conducting worship services for the U.S. civilian contractors working there.
Now senior pastor of West View Baptist Church in Cookeville, where Simpson has served for about four years, he has seen his experiences being used by God. The church has developed a partnership with Teen Challenge, a Christian addiction program which includes residential housing. Last August West View started Hope for Life, a recovery program for people with addictions and life controlling issues such as addiction to pornography. Hope for Life meets each Sunday afternoon at 4:30-5:45 p.m.
West View Baptist is situated well for this ministry, as the church sits in the middle of one of the most economically, socially, and spiritually depressed areas of Cookeville, explained the pastor.
Another approach of West View, which draws about 70 people to Sunday morning activities, to help its neighbors is to work with University Heights Baptist Church, Cookeville. For three years West View’s members had prayed, knocked on doors, shared the gospel, and provided food and clothing to the neighborhood.
Then they agreed to let University Heights use its van to transport children from the neighborhood to University Heights. The church saw 13 children make professions of faith in 2015.
“It’s not about us at West View, it’s about the kingdom,” said Simpson.
“My life was radically changed (by God). I want to see that for others.”