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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Full circle: Conversion, repentance, forgiveness

Posted by Ron George on December 12, 2017

Epiphany, by Shelby McQuilkin

Three juveniles robbed me on Jan. 6, 1995 – Feast of the Epiphany, also known as the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

They accosted me as I was leaving work as a news writer for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. One held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me. They took my valuables, a stainless-steel Thermos, my wedding ring and my father’s 1945 Sun Bowl championship ring.

The police were prompt and effective. Before I  finished describing the crime to a patrolman, his radio crackled with the news that the robbers had been caught. I identified them a few minutes later. My valuables and Thermos were returned. It took several months for my rings to be returned – the robbers had swallowed them!

The robber with the knife went to state juvenile prison for a while. The other two were first-time offenders who pleaded guilty and received probated sentences. I testified in juvenile court at the trial of the knife wielder, whose mother promised that my rings would be returned; and, weeks later, they were.

I was glad it was over.

It wasn’t.

Eighteen months later, a woman called me at the newspaper with a tip: A violent juvenile street gang on Corpus Christi’s Westside had disbanded after converting to Christianity. Was I interested in doing a story? She was willing to put me in touch with former gang members.

It sounded worthwhile to me. My editors agreed. Yes, I said. Tell me when and where to meet these kids.

A little background: I was in my 13th year at the Caller-Times and had long been the newsroom’s go-to guy for religion-news stories. It wasn’t a fulltime assignment, but my journalism experience, seminary education and years of Christian ministry lent themselves to covering religion as news.

When the robbery occurred, I was somewhat estranged from the church; however, that changed about three months later with the death of my father-in-law. That’s altogether another story, except to say that it led me back to church, which then led to a spiritual reawakening in October 1995 (altogether another story, which I’ve told elsewhere).

By June 1996, Mary and I had laid ambitious plans for her to move to College Station, Texas, to work on a doctorate. I was to remain in Corpus Christi. She would return in about two years to complete her dissertation and resume her position at Texas A&M-Kingsville. After that, we’d see where it went. Those plans changed considerably; but, again, that’s another story.

So now comes the story of a violent street gang turning to Christianity.

Fear, Illusions, Change, by Julie Schumer

I began recalling this episode while reading Gregory Boyle’s Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, composed of heart-rending and humorous tales from his decades of ministry among the gangs of Los Angeles, Calif. It’s one of the few books to make me laugh aloud and weep just about every time I pick it up. I also appreciate Boyle’s theological insights gleaned from these barrio parables. (Here’s a previous post based on a talk he gave in 2007.)

We gathered on the back porch of the tipster’s house, which was known in the neighborhood as a safe zone from gangs.

She don’t let no colors get in here,” explained one of the former gang members, an especially violent young man well known to Corpus Christi police. “We call her, ‘Mom.’”

They ranged in age from 13 to 22: Nine young men, all of whom had “clicked in” to the gang by taking a beating. They had nicknames: Ice-C, Flesh, Money, Loww, Looney, Heartbeat, Little Loco and Duck. (The 13-year-old had yet to earn his nickname.) Their gang had been disbanded, but they still hung-out together.

We’re like family,” said one. “We love each other like brothers.”

Then there was Prophet, the first of the gang to convert to Christianity, who was almost killed by a shotgun blast to his face and shoulder that blinded him in one eye. He had chided his homies from his hospital bed about where the gang life would ultimately lead. It wasn’t long before the gang began attending a Westside storefront church. (Here’s the Caller-Times story.)

Here’s the part that didn’t make it into the Caller-Times.

Mom” had two sons who stayed out of gangs but befriended gangsters and let it be known that there was more to life than gang-banging. Both had arrest records stemming from a robbery they committed on Jan. 6, 1995, in the parking lot of the Caller-Times.

They had robbed me.

“My arrest opened my eyes a lot,” one of the sons told me. “I don’t do anything wrong anymore. I look back, and I’m almost glad I was arrested. I just had to learn the hard way.”

“These guys got me off the streets,” said the 19-year-old “second leader” of the reformed gang. “They taught me how to have fun, how to be a kid again.”

Gang of Youths, By Nicky Price

Mom told me her sons hadn’t slept well since the robbery. They were troubled by what they had done, she said, and longed to make amends. Would I be OK with that?

The brothers and I talked at the front gate of their mother’s fenced home. Their regret was palpable and tearful. They made no excuses. They blamed no one but themselves. They asked to be forgiven.

Of course, I said, with tears in my eyes. Thank you for having the courage to make amends. We shook hands. I went back to work.

It was over.

I wish I knew the rest of the story of all these men, and especially of Mom and her two sons. The odds were against everyone emerging unscathed from the neighborhood turf they claimed as their own in the mid-1990s. Police were skeptical that their conversions were real and speculated that most would return to gang life if for no other reason than self-defense. They had made many enemies on both sides of the law.

Our memories are, at best, a compressed view of real time; and, often enough, they’re skewed by how comfortably we wish to tell the stories of our past. Our lives, too, are compressed into so few years that there seems to be a universal human yearning for some species of immortality that will allow us to know and be known by the mystery of being itself and its span of eons measured as billions upon billions of years.

The best we can do, however, is live in the present and ponder the mystery of time in short bursts of memory and recollection – which is the bringing of time past into the present to marvel that anything happened at all.

Then, someday, it will be over; finally, and for good.

 

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