Pastor's 'Soul Winning' Legacy Lives on in Family

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It's been called a story of a life well lived -- how one man's decision to live for the Lord transformed his family and millions of people around the world.

Jesse Odell Grooms lived for 86 years, but according to his son Mike, life really didn't begin for the elder Grooms until he gave his life to the Lord at about age 25.

"When he got saved, he did like a 180 degrees and he just fell in love with the Lord and winning souls," the younger Grooms recalled.

Mike thinks back on how life was with his dad.

"My earliest memories... would be getting up early in the morning and my dad prayed. He got up early in the morning to pray. I'm talking like 4 or 5 o'clock."

"And my dad didn't believe in talking quietly to the Lord," he added. "He talked loudly to the Lord."

God transformed "J.O." from a New Orleans gambler to a soul winner. His commitment to tell people about Jesus at times kept him away from his own wife and five children.

"During my teenage years, I really questioned about God, and I would say I became an atheist," Mike told CBN News.

"The biggest thing that brought me to Christ, no doubt, was the fact that my dad was not a hypocrite," he added.

Mike grew up to become a pastor. All of J.O.'s children eventually served in full-time ministry. But the story doesn't end there.

A Simple Strategy

In 1969, J.O. wrote a scripture memorization book titled Treasure Path to Soul Winning. His little red book catapulted his ministry to the global level.

"He felt if people were to win souls, they needed to know the word of God," Mike said. "He really believed you shouldn't just use a simple two or three steps to get a person to pray a prayer. You need to share the word of God."

And share, he did. J.O.'s ministry led him around the world, including to Russia, Nigeria, South America and the Philippines.

God especially laid the country of India on his heart.

"He said, 'Who's going to tell those millions of people in India about Jesus?'" Mike said.

J.O. knew his time was short and the plan to pass the torch to his grandson Jonathan was in the works.

"It always appeared that God had his hand on Jon in a special way, even as a child," Mike said. "He's one of those kids that just really was compliant, loved the Lord [and] had a heart to serve God."

Passing the Torch

Now, as the 31-year-old leader of J.O.'s international ministry, Jon's style couldn't be more different. Where his grandfather was bold and loud, he's quiet and unassuming.

"It's a great honor in a lot of ways, but also an overwhelming task," Jon told CBN News. "And it's just one of those things that I have to go to God and say, 'God, you are the One. Give me the strength, the courage, the boldness to be able to fill the shoes of someone like my grandfather.'"

J.O. Grooms went home to be with the Lord last year. But his legacy lives on in 16 different languages through the Treasure Path.

There's also Global Partners in Peace and Development, Jonathan Grooms' humanitarian organization. The group has helped people from Haiti to orphans in India.

"The greatest need of any of these people who are hurting... when you look into their eyes that the greatest need that they have is the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," Jon said.

Recently, Jon and his wife Heidi took their two young sons on their first mission trip to India.

"One of the most special times was when our little 3-year-old Elijah stood before a group of about 40 orphan boys and he began to sing 'Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World,'" Jon recalled. "And it was my desire that he would really know what he was singing. And that God does love those little boys and girls."

"[Our] heart is to let our boys know [and] future children that God may give us, is that our time here on earth is so short, and that we must live every minute for eternity," he added.

Jon does just that -- like his grandfather did.

"I can look at it as yes, there's a lot of pressure put on me to do these things for the Lord," Jon said. "But it's not anything that my dad's called me to. It's not anything that my grandfather has called me to. This is a calling from God."

*Originally aired on July 29, 2011.

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Dana Ritter and John Jessup

Dana Ritter and John Jessup

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