From Gangster to Missionary

I remember seeking a father figure in my youth, someone who would teach me what it meant to grow up to be a man and a dad. Like most other people, I would look for these father figures on TV, in video games, sports, and music, searching for someone I could look up to be my guide and role model. But in life, a greater force always comes after you. For me, that force was my gang leader, who was looking for someone he could raise to become the next gang leader.

All of this began when I was in school and had just broken up with my girlfriend, who was everything to me.  Then, I met someone who asked me if I wanted to try crystal meth. I was about sixteen years at the time, and right in my house, I got into crystal meth and all the other stuff that came with it.

Since I was also searching for that father figure, one of the gang members I met began to adopt me, and since I looked up to him, I did everything he wanted me to do. They weren’t huge things in the real sense, but I always listened to him since I grew up not having a mentor.

Since I spent most of my time playing video games, he taught me how to engage people in a conversation, something I had never been taught before. He told me that asking questions was a sign of brilliance, so I began to ask questions during discussions. Then gradually, I learned how to iron my shirt as the gang members did. These were some of the basic things which he taught for a living, among others. But since he was a gang leader, what I was also learning was how to live life as a gang member.

There was a particular day when I overdosed on crystal meth, after which my nose began to bleed, and I passed out. My gang leader did all he could to stop the bleeding, pumped my heart to revive me, and did everything possible to stabilize me. I remember we had a heart-to-heart talk at the end of this ordeal. He told me he wanted to take me under his wing and show me how to live. This offer, amongst many others, touched me deeply since I’d never had a father figure growing up, and here was someone offering to become a father to me.

Much as it provided me with security, it got me neck deep into the gang – with its consequences. Gradually from being a straight-A student, my grades began to slip until I stopped attending classes altogether because I would spend all of my time with my gang. However, I hit rock bottom when I traveled to the Philippines to visit my real family I had never met before. What was supposed to be a two-week vacation was a “You aren’t going back to America until something changes about you” kind of vacation. I was stuck in the Philippines.

One event led to another. One night  I couldn’t get high after I had taken weed, smoked cigarettes, and even drank bottles of beer, and for the first time, I cried out to God, “God, if You are real, show me that You are real because I have forgotten what love is.” Strangely enough, that prayer was heard. That night I went to bed a different person and woke up renewed with a thirst for God.

One day, while in the club, this missionary rapped about his testimony of going from an Oakland, California, gang member and drug leader to finding his Father in heaven and being completely fulfilled. Being a rapper myself, I automatically tuned in. There and then, I reached out to him and asked what he did. He responded, “Come, follow me,” as Jesus did. But I didn’t know that at the time.

From here, this missionary took me to the slums where he worked, gave me a hammer, and told me they were rebuilding homes in that community and weren’t expecting anything in return. What amazed me was when these kids, who barely had clothes and food to eat, began to love me uniquely even though they knew I was a gang member, a school dropout, and a drug dealer. When I looked into their eyes, I knew immediately that this must have been Jesus’ love coming after me.

One week later, I gave my life to Jesus Christ and told myself I was through with my former life. I heard the Lord tell me that He would be my Father from now on. He would teach me what it meant to be a husband, a dad, and the person I had spent all my life looking for. From this moment on, my life changed dramatically.

The Lord told me at the moment of my conversion that He would send me back to America, commission me to reach other fatherless children, give me a wife, and send me back to the Philippines. More than ten years later, those loving prophetic words became a reality. Yet, the loving relationship I developed with my Dad in heaven was more important than God revealing His insights and plans for my life.

The world will always dictate to you what they believe love is.  You see this definition in the media, listen to it in music, and hear your friends speak about it. But knowing what love truly is from the Word of God is the absolute axiom of where we are to place all of our trust.

Read More in the “Missional Church Shift” Book by Tommy Manay

Available on Amazon books and Kindle

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