Growing up with parents who divorced when he was only 3 years old, Mike L. Badolato learned to be two different people — depending on which residence he stayed — in order to receive the affirmation he craved.
Mike began smoking marijuana the summer after 5th grade. By 8th grade, he gained access to more potent drugs, including ecstasy, hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, and his favorite, cocaine. He also drank alcohol, including a white Russian cocktail, which he could guzzle at school because of its chocolate milk appearance.
“I wanted to drink and drug as soon as I woke up,” recalls Badolato, now 32. “I didn’t know sobriety was an option.”
Unsurprisingly, Badolato didn’t show much interest academically. Nevertheless, he excelled on the soccer field. A knee injury during his senior year sidelined him, however. He then became addicted to a prescribed painkiller. His excessive drug use resulted in being expelled from school.
“I spiraled out of control in less than a year,” Badolato remembers. “I was a full-blown heroin addict using a needle.”
When he incurred the wrath of drug dealers for nonpayment, Badolato knew he needed a new environment, fast. So he moved to Fort Myers, Florida, where his dad lived. He found work in a restaurant — as a bartender. Easy access to potent beverages resulted in Badolato entering a series of short-term detoxification programs. All proved unsuccessful. He landed in jail briefly for felony drug possession.
“I figured I would die a drug addict,” Badolato says. “I’d never known anyone who got sober.”
Badolato planned to end his life with a heroin overdose. But a lit cigarette caused the bed he rested in to catch fire — just as his roommate arrived home to extinguish the flames and save Badolato from his stupor.
“God saved my life — even though I didn’t know Him,” Badolato says.
After the interrupted suicide attempt, Badolato went to a detox center for a fifth time. At the center, a young man from Adult & Teen Challenge spoke one day, sharing a sports-injury testimony that had paralleled Badolato’s life. The speaker also talked about how Jesus had changed his life.
From the detox center, Badolato went to the Southwest Florida Adult & Teen Challenge center in Fort Myers in February 2014. A little over a week into the program, he sensed the presence of God touching him.
“He changed me in an instant,” Badolato says. “I woke up the next morning with joy, much different than the joy of winning a soccer championship.” He hasn’t taken an alcoholic drink or ingested a harmful substance since. He completed a 14-month program at the center, then finished a 2-year internship at the Adult & Teen Challenge in the Washington, D.C. area.
“Mike proved his heart was right and his passion for the things of God was clear,” says Lehmann, 62. “He did not let the drug abuse or failures of the past define him.”
Badolato went on to spend four years as youth pastor at the megachurch, marrying Shari Carew in June 2017. Shari, whose parents immigrated from Sierra Leone, worked as a youth assistant at the church. Before that, Shari worked as a missionary associate with Project Rescue, helping sex trafficking survivors in Spain. Mike and Shari have a 3-year-old girl, Aiella, and a 1-year-old boy, Alessio.
With Lehmann’s blessing, Mike and Shari stepped out in April as a full-time AG evangelist. They want to focus on helping Christians to rekindle their faith. Lehmann, who also is assistant superintendent of the AG Potomac Ministry Network, plans to invite Badolato to conduct services annually.
“I know he will preach the Bible and move the church forward,” says Lehmann, who serves on Badolato’s ministry board. Badolato’s speaking schedule is full into next year.
“Our biggest heart is awakening and revival for the body of Christ,” says Badolato, who has been ordained with the AG since May 2021. “If we can get people passionate about spending time with Jesus, they will get passionate about seeking the lost.”
Top Photo: Mike and Shari Badolato are parents to Alessio adn Aiella.
Bottom Photo: Mark Lehmann (left) officiated the wedding ceremony of Mike and Shari.