How a “bad kid” made a surprising turnaround
When Zach Hughes was expelled from school, his family worried for his future, but they had faith God could give him a new start
Watch Zach Hughes short video and read the story behind the story ...
Zach Hughes was sitting in Spanish class on a regular spring day when he was pulled out of class by a police officer and the principal, and walked down the hall to the principal’s office.
Confronted about selling drugs, he denied everything.
“No, sir, I don’t know what you’re all talking about.”
But Zach couldn’t hide from the video that showed him selling pills and weed to students on school grounds.
He was expelled in the spring of 2015, his sophomore year, and a couple months later he got a DUI and a suspended license.
It all confirmed his mom’s worst fears — that he was heading down a destructive path.
We would get into all kinds of stuff — drinking, going out partying, stealing stuff from stores, not going to class.
Zach with his mom and sister preparing to depart for the Gauntlet.
Years before, Zach’s mom, Jerrie, had turned to prayer to ease her worries, knowing only God could save her son from a wasted life and worse.
She’d noticed him hanging out with the wrong crowd in middle school, but she had no idea just how bad things had gotten.
“We would get into all kinds of stuff — drinking, going out partying, stealing stuff from stores, not going to class, doing what we wanted to do, not caring about anybody else or about what was going to happen to us,” he says. “We thought it was cool.”
Zach’s mom had seen her life, the life of her daughter, Charlie Page, and her son-in-law, Gabriel, all changed by God at NewSpring Spartanburg.
So she took the step of signing up Zach for Gauntlet, Fuse’s week-long summer camp for students in Daytona Beach. Jesus changed thousands of students’ lives every year. Why couldn’t he do the same for Zach?
Zach blew off the idea of going to Gauntlet when she mentioned it.
“No way I’m going,” he protested, every time she’d bring it up. Then he would just as quickly forget about it.
But a week before the Gauntlet, Zach mom’s found a unique way to persuade him.
One day, Zach stepped outside his house to find his pride and joy, a lifted Ford F-150, gone.
His mom parked the truck at the house of a work friend and gave her the keys.
“You’re not getting your truck until you get back from the Gauntlet,” she told him.
People would be like, ‘You're not a good kid. You were bad. How are you changed now?’
Zach with his brother-in-law, Gabriel, who led him to Jesus.
Zach went. How bad could it be? he told himself.
Zach had a blast at the beach, but he was unmoved by the spiritual aspects of the trip. That was his attitude anyway.
“It didn’t interest me. I didn’t think anything about it.”
He was particularly annoyed by the students he knew from school. They’d badger him constantly about whether he’d met Jesus yet, as if they’d gotten an advance script for another one of God’s crazy turnaround stories they’d heard so many times before.
“I would just ignore all the questions,” he says, about whether he got saved, whether he felt anything, or if the service moved him.
Zach was determined not to play the part, even if there were moments where God’s grace — the offer of total forgiveness — amazed him.
The most awe-inspiring was the night when, for the better part of an hour, more than 1,000 students streamed forward, alone and in groups, to commit to following God in every area of their lives.
Something moved me during the service … I don’t know what came over me.
Zach with Gabriel and his sister, Charlie Page, at Gauntlet in Daytona, Fla.
From Bad to Worse
But when Zach got back from Gauntlet, he picked up his truck and rolled on with his life like Gauntlet or the expulsion never happened.
His brother-in-law, Gabriel, was the only person he was allowed to go out with, so on Wednesdays Zach let Gabriel take him to Fuse, and they’d hang out on most other days, too.
They were forced even closer when Zach started living with Gabriel and his sister a few weeks before Christmas.
Zach was thrown out of both his parents’ homes when he was caught selling weed at his dad’s house. They were at a loss about what else to do.
At a Christmas church service he attended with Gabriel, Jesus finally got Zach’s attention.
“Something moved me during the service,” Zach says. “I don’t know what came over me.”
When Zach got home, he asked Gabriel to lead him in prayer to ask Jesus into his life.
“I felt like I needed Jesus because he could forgive me for everything I've done, and no else could do that for you.”
I've been written off as a kid who is never going to do anything with his life.
Zach pictured on the day of his baptism at NewSpring Spartanburg in February, 2016.
A Clean Slate
Zach soon moved back in with his mom — and he wasn’t giving her the usual attitude.
“My mom was praying for me for the past two years, and she felt like it was a prayer answered.”
The turnaround was as dramatic as the script his fellow students had once imagined, but no less real for it.
“I stopped smoking weed immediately. I didn’t want to lay around any more. I wanted to hang out with better people.”
He began to read the Bible and to enjoy learning about God and what He wanted for Zach’s life. He hung out with friends who loved Jesus, including one of the students from his room at Gauntlet 2015. And he would go out to eat and talk about the Bible with a mentor who offered to guide him on his new journey.
“The fresh start that I had with meeting Jesus, this clean slate, was awesome. I was like, ‘Dang, I did a lot of dumb stuff whenever I didn’t know Him!’ It was really good for me to live without the guilt and everything.”
His 180 was complete when he was allowed to return to school that spring.
“People would be like, ‘You're not a good kid. You were bad. How are you changed now?’” I would be like, ‘Nothing else than the grace of God.’”
Even his dad had struggled at first to believe Zach really could be changed so fast. Zach’s relationships with both parents improved dramatically.
“Now he tells me he's proud of me all the time that I'm doing so good.”
Now I’m living for Jesus instead of the world — just making it more about Him than about me
Zach working on a car at the auto repair shop where he works part-time.
A New Future
In the summer of 2016, Zach returned to the Gauntlet with the same leader and some of the same students he’d roomed with the year before.
“I was there for the right reasons. I was ready to grow even more with my walk with Christ, and I was really excited about it.”
His attitude was a mirror image of the surly teen too cool to care.
This time, he jumped confidently into the spiritual conversations he’d previously shut down, and he helped lead one of the students to Jesus by answering his questions about what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus.
When he came back from the Gauntlet this time, he started leading a group at Fuse, too, teaching them what it’s like to follow Jesus.
“Now I’m living for Jesus instead of the world — just making it more about Him than about me,“ he says.
Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed is Zach’s passion for trucks and four-wheeling. Zach’s got a part-time work in an auto repair shop, and he’s kicking around the idea of studying mechatronics and robotics at a technical school.
He doesn’t know what his future holds with Jesus. But he’s confident that his story won’t end the way he had once imagined it — either dead or in prison, just like what has happened to two of his close friends.
“I've been written off as a kid who is never going to do anything with his life, and now I’m really excited to see what’s to come.”