Delivered from the Depths
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Just after turning 16, Jacqueline became pregnant, dropped out of school, and married a man who turned out to be abusive. In her sixth month of pregnancy, her husband beat her so severely that she lost the twins inside her womb. Doctors told her she had become sterile due to an infection that developed in her pelvic region.
At 17, a decade-long dependence on heroin began. Getting high — on cocaine, morphine, heroin, barbiturates — became her reason for daily existence. To obtain drugs, she became a seasoned liar. She advanced from petty theft to armed robbery. Jacqueline, now alone in the world, resorted to prostitution in order to obtain money to buy drugs.
Repeatedly, Strothoff went to jail for short periods. She also had multiple unsuccessful stints in nonsectarian rehabilitation centers.
She missed her parents’ silver wedding anniversary celebration because she had gone to a hospital in an effort to obtain methadone, a standard treatment to relieve addiction. After a doctor refused, she managed to pilfer a syringe from a medical cart and shoot up barbiturates in a restroom. Upon being discovered — slumped over a toilet with a needle still in her arm — she had turned blue and hovered near death.
Strothoff recovered, but her brush with fatal overdosing didn’t stop her drug obsession. She became so familiar with the Physician’s Desk Reference that she passed herself off as a pharmacist’s assistant with help from a fabricated résumé. Immediately after securing a job, she would empty the narcotics cabinets and be back on the streets before being discovered.
Overdoses occurred over and over. In 1972, she went on an overnight binge with her boyfriend Michael and didn’t realize until morning that his lips had turned blue, white foam encircled his mouth, and he had stopped breathing. Strothoff phoned a friend, who came over and confirmed that Michael indeed had died. Strothoff didn’t want to call police, because she believed they would confiscate her drugs. So, with her friend’s help, she decided to dispose of Michael’s body. The friend worked on a construction crew and buried Michael’s body with a bulldozer on a job site.
Eventually Strothoff confessed her involvement during a therapy session, but she received only probation for “illegal disposition of a dead body” rather than a prison sentence.
NADIR OF ADDICTION
The lowest point for Strothoff came in 1974. By the age of 26, already addicted for more than half her life, she as she shot up drugs in front of her younger brother she asked if he wanted to try. She injected 19-year-old Roger with cocaine. He convulsed and died in her arms.
Jacqueline later went into one of several stays in a mental institution. Her road to salvation began after she read the book Please Make Me Cry! by Cookie Rodriguez, who had experienced her own marvelous transformation from heroin addiction to healing through Teen Challenge (now Adult & Teen Challenge U.S.A.), a ministry of U.S. Missions.
“When I finished the book I knelt by my bed and prayed, God, I don’t know if You’re real, but please do for me what you did for her,” Strothoff remembers.
Soon she enrolled in New Life for Girls, a center in York, Pennsylvania, co-founded by Rodriguez, a Teen Challenge graduate. There, she connected with Rodriguez, who prayed for her deliverance from drugs. Strothoff sensed God healing her. She has been alcohol- and drug-free ever since. She says the Teen Challenge program worked because Jesus and the Holy Spirit are part of the solution.
“I realized I was not so much a drug addict as a sinner who needed God in my life,” Strothoff says. “I fell completely in love with the Lord. I couldn’t put my Bible down.”
Strothoff graduated from the faith-based recovery program in 1976 at the age of 28. She went on to found the Teen Challenge women’s home in Providence, Rhode Island, 26 years ago.
In 1979, Jacqueline married Robert Strothoff, whom she met at Twin Oaks Leadership Academy, a Bible school in Lindale, Texas, started by Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson. Robert, who had a similar drug-marred background, started the Teen Challenge Providence men’s home and later directed the Greater Boston program.
Despite doctors declaring her infertility as a teenager, Jacqueline gave birth to a son, Justin, in 1980 and a daughter, Chelsea, in 1987. Bob died unexpectedly two decades ago of a heart attack at 48.
Jacqueline worked for Teen Challenge in Providence for two decades and started In His Presence Ministries with her husband. She is an ordained AG evangelist who has mentored countless girls and young women.
These days, Jacqueline — the oldest of six children —is providing full-time care for her aging parents, 94-year-old father Charles Shultz and 90-year-old mother Faith Shultz. She is grateful for God’s divine intervention in her life.
“I’ve often thought about why God protected me during my criminal life,” Strothoff says. “I lived dangerously, and not just from the drug overdoses. I watched people get killed, I was beaten and left for dead. I was gang raped. I lived on the streets.”
Most of her drug peers either died young or wound up in prison for lengthy stretches. Strothoff has gladly put her life on hold in order to provide comfort, care, and assistance for her parents, who have been married 73 years. Her mother and her siblings had nothing to do with her for years because of the fatal overdose of her brother Roger.
“The only person who didn’t give up on me was my father,” Jacqueline recalls. “He tried to help me repeatedly, always coming to my court appearances, always visiting me in the hospital.” Reconciliation with her mother began when Jacqueline graduated from the Teen Challenge program. She says she is honored to care for her parents at this stage of their lives.
“I feel like I’m the person who robbed them the most,” Jacqueline says. “Nothing will bring my brother back, but I get a simple joy and satisfaction in obeying the Lord in doing this.”
MENTORED BY MOM
Meanwhile, Chelsea has followed in her mother’s footsteps. Since January 2019, Chelsea has been executive director of the Lioness and the Lamb Women and Children’s Home in Garrison, New York. The facility, part of the Walter Hoving Home — a sister organization to Adult & Teen Challenge — offers a yearlong faith-based residential recovery program for pregnant women as well as women with one or two young children. The home provides highly structured daily programming that includes spiritual discipleship, life-skills training, educational opportunities, and employment guidelines on how to become a productive member of society.
Chelsea is an anomaly in that she never used illicit drugs or engaged in sexually promiscuous behavior, yet she has tremendously relatability with women addicts.
“I attribute that to my mom, who is a tangible example of a wrecked life that has been transformed,” says Chelsea, who attended the University of Valley Forge. “I really understand I would not be alive if not for Teen Challenge and how God used that ministry as a vessel to save my parents.”
Chelsea says Jacqueline is her best friend.
“My mom is my hero,” Chelsea says. “She is the closest human I know to Jesus.”
Chelsea first heard her mom’s testimony at the age of 13 on a Focus on the Family broadcast in 1998, shortly before her father died.
“I didn’t believe she had been a prostitute and a thief,” Chelsea says. “The woman who raised me in ministry 24/7 was not the woman she was talking about.”