From gangs to God

Steve (Not his real name) is a budding rapper who found himself ensnared by the chains of the gang lifestyle, feeding off of the euphoria created by the “respect” he felt he earned by stealing cars, breaking into homes and selling drugs—basically doing whatever it took to please the older members of his gang “family.” Those delusional chains gripped him tighter and tighter until he finally was arrested after running away from home, lying to the police and facing a number of criminal charges—all at the age of 15. After spending six weeks in the Oklahoma County Juvenile Detention Center, also known as the Berry House, Steve now is awaiting a probation hearing. But, a couple of weeks ago, this soft-spoken resident of the area known as The Flats in Oklahoma City got a reprieve from a source he never once had considered; and it came while he joined with thousands of other teens in singing a song in the R.A. Young Tabernacle at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center. Steve’s journey to a transformed life actually began about 10 years ago. Ernie Tullis, pastor of Oklahoma City, Tri-Church, recalled when he and his sons would drag two basketball goals out in the street, “and the whole block, including Steve, would come out and play ball. “Later, I lost track of him for a couple of years. He just wasn’t around. Then,  three weeks ago, I saw him mowing my neighbor’s yard. I walked over to him, greeted him and we started talking. “I said, I haven’t seen you in a while and his head dropped and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve kinda fallen into some things.’ “He began to tell me about gang-banging and selling drugs, being shot at, shooting back and that sort of stuff. He told me, ‘I’ve got to stop doing the wrong things.’ I told him trying to stop doing the wrong things is like putting  Band-Aids on a decapitation; it’s exhausting and it doesn’t work. What we have to do instead is put the good inside you, and the good will replace the bad.” Tullis told Steve he needed to meet Jesus, and invited him to attend camp with the group of 16 other youth his church was taking. “It was the third night of camp when he walked over to me at the end of the worship set and said, ‘Something’s going on, this last song we’re singing, I’m not singing it, I’m just moved to tears from the inside out. I don’t ever cry, I’m strong, I’m tough,’” Tullis recounted.  “I said, let’s take a walk.” The two of them sat outside the tabernacle and Tullis asked Steve what was going on. “He said, ‘I don’t know, I just know something’s happening on the inside.’ “I said that’s God’s Holy Spirit within you and this is your chance; this is your chance to put the good in you that will displace the bad, because God is saying, ‘Steve, I love you so much that, if there was only Steve in this whole wide world, no matter what you had done, I still would have sent My Son, My one and only amazing Son, for you, just you.’” Steve pondered the immense significance of that reality, then asked Tullis, “Well, what do I need to do?” “You need to pray and receive the gift of God’s Son,” Tullis answered. “He said, ‘I don’t know how.’ So, I said, that’s cool, we’ll do it together. So, we leaned in,  grabbed each other’s hands and just began to pray.” Steve’s prayer that day went like...

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