SELINSGROVE — As a teenager, a health scare nearly took Justin Nester’s life and a life of partying nearly destroyed his future.
Through it all, music has always been a part of the 26-year-old Millville resident’s life, but now, he uses the medium to share his story and encourage others who might be going through similar difficulties.
“I want to use my story and music to help encourage other people to keep fighting,” he said.
At age 14, doctors discovered Nester had a brain tumor, and he was given a 13 percent chance of surviving surgery, which lasted 26 hours and involved three surgeons.
Originally from Bloomsburg, Nester’s family moved to Reading to be closer to the hospital for the many appointments Nester would have. He was a freshman in high school at the time.
“I’ve always been a people pleaser,” he said, “so moving from the small town of Bloomsburg to Reading was a pretty big difference, and I got sucked into the wrong crowd.”
“I had gotten myself hooked into the partying with the drinking and experimenting with different pills and marijuana.”
And by the time he was 17, he had gotten three different girlfriends pregnant, each of them having a miscarriage.
In the midst of it all, he said, “I had a moment of clarity, that this wasn’t the life I wanted to live, especially if I was going to bring children into the world. It was not the person I wanted to be with my future family.”
Nester had always attended church, he said, but it was only because his parents made him. Now, at 17, he sought a deeper understanding of spiritual things and approached his youth pastor to explain the trouble he found himself in, and that he wanted to change. With his counseling and the support of his church, he said, he got clean and has been clean for nearly 10 years now.
Using music performance, he began to open up about his story when he realized the drug problem, especially the heroin epidemic, that was sweeping Central Pennsylvania.
“I meet somebody at every show I do that had some sort of interaction with drugs,” he said. “They’re trying to get clean, or somebody was cutting.”
“I know somebody needs to hear what I have to say,” he said. “If I can show people how I got through my darkest nights, I might be able to help somebody else get through theirs. That’s my motivation to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Elaine Herrold, who is organizing the gospel music concerts held in the parking lot of Selinsgrove Church of the Nazarene this summer, said she hopes Nester’s performance will encourage people in the community who have experienced so much tragedy through drug overdoses.
“My concern is for those who are experiencing this drug situation,” she said, particularly “our young people.”
She sees so many of them trying to fill the void in their lives with drugs, and she wants to show them a better way.
“Those of us who have filled that void, we know the only way is to give our lives to the Lord. They don’t understand what they’re missing.”
Nester labels his music as alternative rock/pop. A lot of what he performs is Christian music, he said, though “I don’t play typical worship songs.” It’s more like Christian rock music, with even some secular rock, pop and hip hop that contains positive messages.
“You can pull a positive message out of every song that I play,” he said, adding that it reflects how he views life now.
“There have been multiple times I should have died overnight,” he said, “with all the drugs and alcohol I consumed. Not a day goes by that I don’t take life seriously anymore. I take every day as a blessing. I know some people don’t get that chance.”
During Wednesday’s concert, Nester will also be holding a release for his new CD, “White Lies”. Portions of the proceeds from every show on this new tour, he said, will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Danville.
Currently attending nursing school, Nester said he hopes to do more shows once he graduates in December.