By Zachary Anderson
“The power to grant pardons and clemency is one of the most profound powers granted to the President of the United States. It embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance.” —President Barack Obama
I grew up in church and have known about the Lord most of my life. My dad was a Christian man who loved the Lord. We started attending First Free Will Baptist Church of Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1979. I was saved June 2, 1991, but in high school I decided to walk away from the Lord and indulge in all that a sinful life offers and promises a young man. Sin offered comfort and pleasure for a season along with many regrets, mistakes, and bad decisions. I would justify my sin by comparing myself to others: “At least I’m not like that guy. I’m not doing drugs, drinking alcohol, or getting into any real trouble.” In reality, sin promised me the world, but it took everything from me.
Finding Freedom in Prison
In 2000, I made a decision that would change the course of my life forever. I allowed my greed and lust for the things of this world to land me in a federal prison camp. I had never been in any real trouble and now I would be spending 15 months in prison. In that moment my life instantly changed, but not all of that change was bad. In fact, looking back at it now, it was that series of events that led me back home to the Lord.
While in prison I made the decision to dedicate my life to knowing the Lord. God began to water the seeds that had been planted in my heart years earlier by my father and Pastor Tim Hall. I started to study the Bible for the first time in my adult life and pray with a purpose. Not long after, I rededicated my life in total submission to Jesus Christ. What happened next was only by the work of God. He surrounded me with men who were like-minded, and together the Lord used us to accomplish amazing things. I started a men’s prayer meeting that began with three men. After a few weeks, we were running 20-30 men, including a few guards. Yes, guards! They would come by the room and hear us praying. On several occasions they entered and asked us to pray for them.
After meeting with the chaplain, God allowed me to start a men’s Bible study on campus, which was led by my fellow inmates and me. Through this ministry we were able to witness the salvation of several men. It was during that time the Lord impressed upon my heart the passion to preach His Word. I didn’t know in what capacity, but I did know I wanted to preach the Word of God for the rest of my life. After a time, the chaplain approached me about preaching the Easter service for the inmates! Can you imagine that? An inmate preaching the main service? God allowed that to happen. When my time in prison ended, I was able to pass on those ministries to faithful men.
New Man, New Life, New Ministry
When I returned to First FWB Church in Owensboro, I knew very quickly that my calling was youth ministry. I wanted to spend my life ministering to and reaching out to young people. Pastor Hall and my church family allowed me to preach and teach. This allowed my calling to grow and mature in time. Before long, I knew I wanted to become the youth director of my home church. I am so happy to be doing that for which I was created. I am grateful to my home church for giving me a chance and supporting me from day one.
In 2005, I met a wonderful Christian woman named Lauren and married her the first chance I got! She has worked by my side in ministry and has helped me to become the man I am today. Lauren had always felt called to adopt so we started looking into that process. We were drawn to the country of Ethiopia and began the adoption process. After doing some research, we learned that my federal conviction would disqualify us from adopting internationally. The government website on international adoption reads, “The laws of the United States prohibit a U.S. citizen from adopting a child from abroad if he has any type of felony conviction.” I was distraught, but my wife said it was in God’s hands and that we should press on.
We filed for the adoption, had our home study, filled out the proper papers, and waited patiently. God blessed us, and our adoption was granted October 1, 2012. In October of 2013, our son, Solomon Ray Dawit Anderson, came home. He is the joy of our lives! There is nothing our God cannot do.
Seeking a Pardon
Being a convicted felon, people tend to think the worst about the circumstances surrounding your crime instead of asking you about it. There are times when people hear I am a convicted felon and their expressions and body language change toward me. However, my testimony has been an asset to me when I work with troubled teens. I am so glad God sends the broken and hurting to us because it gives me a chance to be transparent and share my testimony of redemption. No one is broken beyond repair (Psalms 147:3). Yes, I have a past, and yes, Christ has redeemed and pardoned my past, present, and future.
On the negative side, however, a federal felony can bring the loss of your civil rights. As a consequence of my past mistakes, I was no longer able to vote or bear arms. Also, when you have a felony conviction, it can be difficult applying for a job and other opportunities. Two years ago I filled out an application to be a part of the citizen’s police academy. The sergeant called me and said, “Zack, I’m sorry to inform you that you will not be able to be a part of the program because you have a felony on your record.” I decided then that I would see what my options were in getting my record cleared.
After some research, I found out the only way to have my record cleared was to be granted a presidential pardon, and only the President can grant a pardon of this nature. A presidential pardon is extremely rare and very hard to obtain. There are a lot of requirements, paperwork, and hoops to jump through to have it filed properly. Most never get past the application process and you cannot apply again for two years. I was defeated in spirit before I even started, but after talking it over with my wife I decided to go for it. What did I have to lose?
The FBI Arrives
In 2015, I filled out the application, listed references, notarized papers, and sent all paperwork to the Office of the Pardon Attorney in Washington D.C. I received a letter from their office stating they had received my paperwork and I would hear a decision within the next year, one way or the other.
Several months passed, and I had all but given up on this almost impossible journey. Then, one of the character references I listed on the application called me and stated that the FBI had contacted him and wanted to meet. I called the other references and they had also been contacted by the FBI for interviews. Finally, they called me. I met with the FBI for an in-depth interview going over my history, finances, and my conviction. They told me they had never had a pardon application come across their desk. They interviewed my neighbors and other friends about my character. All of this was quite nerve-racking.
The FBI interviews took place the first of August. In December, President Obama announced he had pardoned over 80 people. I rushed to my computer, only to find I was not one of the people pardoned. I had put everything in God’s hands, and His timing is perfect. I decided to wait and file again in two years, but my beautiful wife said to me, “Zack, Obama does not leave office until January 20. Don’t give up.”
A Full Pardon
I was sitting in my office at the church on January 17, when my desk phone rang. A lady on the other end asked to speak with me. She said, “My name is Casey Potter, and I am calling from the White House. I am one of the attorneys in the Office of the Pardon Attorney. It is my joy to let you know that the President of the United States has decided to grant you a full and unconditional pardon this morning! You will receive a letter from the President confirming your pardon and some papers to sign and send back to us. All of your civil rights will be restored, including your right to vote and to bear arms.” I was humbled by God’s awesome power, grace, and mercy.
God can use whatever and whoever He wants to accomplish His will. He paid the ultimate price by sending His Son to die in our place so we might be pardoned from our sin. Then He moved the heart of the President of the United States to pardon my earthly conviction because He loves His children, blesses them, and rewards those who diligently seek Him. Our God is an awesome God! I have been forgiven and restored by His incredible grace and mercy. He did not give up on me, and today I have the pleasure of serving Him and telling others about His amazing love. I give all glory to God and His Son Jesus Christ. Today, I can stand and say, I have been twice pardoned!
About the Writer : Zachary Anderson has served as youth director at First Free Will Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, for the last 12 years. He and his wife, Lauren, have a four-year-old son named Solomon. Zachary has a passion to see young lives transformed by the power of the living Christ.