My name is John Pignataro, and I am called to jail ministry and free ministry training at the Christian Leaders Institute (Learn more about online Bible classes, Click Here). I was born to a family of believers in 1988 in Rockville, Maryland. I was dedicated at the Church of the Nazarene. When I was four, we moved to Lewes, Delaware. There I would spend my formative years until the age of twenty-two when I began working for the Washington DC Fire Department in 2010. I resided in the DC Metro area until 2021, when my wife and I felt God calling us to southwest Florida, where we now reside.
I didn’t grow up going to church. My parents “believed” in God but didn’t really enjoy making the weekly pilgrimage to the Father’s house. As I grew older, I began to question God’s existence more and more, leading to my becoming an atheist. I lived my life as a moral person, but as if it were my own and not the gift from God that it is. At age 15, I became a volunteer fireman. I rose through the ranks in Army JROTC, played for metal bands throughout high school, figuring, “I did all of this myself.”
On September 2, 2008, I was t-boned in my driver’s door by a dump truck that ran a red light. I should have been dead. However, miraculously, I walked out of the ICU two weeks later with no substantial long term damage. I chalked it up to coincidence. In 2010, I landed my dream job with the DCFD. In 2014, I received $1.2 in a lawsuit with the company that almost killed me. I bought a house, traveled internationally, bought a truck for myself and my father, and made sure my parents were situated well. I also invested a good sum.
Challenges and Finding God through Jail Ministry
Backtracking a bit, I met a girl in 2011 whom I fell in love with. I lavished her with love and gifts and took care of her family as well. She cheated with two other men before I caught her the third time. She told the police that I wanted to kill her (which was untrue) and that she feared for her safety. They arrested and booked me on a multitude of charges, held me without bond.
To break up the monotony of life incarcerated, I decided to go to a Bible study. An older man named Bob was our teacher. Bob had been a radio tech in the Korean war and stationed in Turkey. Besides informative Bible studies, he painted pictures with descriptions of the holy sites that he visited while stationed there. I looked at it as a history lesson (my favorite subject) that bolstered every account in the Bible, God’s Word.
During my pre-trial incarceration, I spent most of my free time in the Word. I prayed regularly and attended every Bible study that I could. After six months, I went before the judge and was offered a plea deal. I took it and was released to house arrest with the ability to travel to DC for work-related events (i.e., fighting to keep my job).
I began talking online with a woman whom I had met on a dating app. We went on a few lunch dates. She worked next door to the firehouse I parked at to meet my union representative. After a week, I had her over to my house and was very frank and honest with her about everything. She agreed to date me.
After three and a half weeks, my ex lied and said that I tried to contact her. They locked me back up in what I call my “Job” moment. It was a test to see if I would lean into God or turn away. I did the former, and the harvest was well worth the sowing season.
Incarceration lasted for another 8 months as I fought the new charges, which were ultimately deemed false and dismissed. In the end, however, I lost my job, but my new girlfriend of only three and a half weeks (now months) stood by me and picked me up when I was released.
Baptism, Marriage, and a Move
The week after my release, we began attending National Community Church in Washington, DC. My girlfriend and I were baptized on my thirtieth birthday by a pastor friend who was a volunteer fireman with me. Little did I know, he had prayed for me all of that time that I would come to know Jesus. We married shortly after our baptism in 2019.
We were active in our church and small groups and missions throughout the city. I was to go on a mission trip to Jordan in 2020 but for COVID. In September, we felt God prompting us to make a move to Fort Myers, Florida. He lined up a church, and my wife’s job transfer like clockwork.
Jail Ministry Call and Study at CLI
I came to the Christian Leaders Institute because I know that God wants to use me to reach others. I would love to start a jail ministry at our new church. Then, I can use my experiences of God’s grace and faithfulness to speak to those going through similar circumstances. I kept in close contact and walked with a recovering addict I met while incarcerated. He has been clean for two and a half years now after God put me at the right place at the right time to pull him out of an overdose.
My wife and I have been happily married for over two years, and I am a walking testament to God’s goodness and redemption. Thank you for reading this, and may God bless you and keep you.