Editor’s note: Here are two stories recently shared by the King County Youth Chaplaincy folks, who have their annual benefit on Sept 29. Both are really powerful, but I wanted to call your attention to the second: From Gang Member to Peacemaker, because we’ve been sharing prayer requests for Victor in the ENews, and I thought it would be fun for us to have a fuller picture of the young man we’re praying for. May these stories encourage and challenge you today. –Nan
From the Streets to the Path of Righteousness
DeSean was known as “Hot Boy” because of his quick temper and his notorious street activity. When I met him in the detention center a few years ago when he was a 15-year-old boy, he wore an angry look on his face. His reputation and behavior from the block followed him into juvie as he got into fights and other trouble, letting his inner rage get the best of him.
DeSean shared much of his upbringing with me: his move from Chicago to Seattle, his unstable home life, and his undertakings as a gang member. He often expressed thanks to still have breath as he recalled times when death got very close. I remember asking him, “Why do you think God still wants you alive?”
“Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.” Even at 15, DeSean was a deep thinker.
In subsequent conversations, he expressed a desire to change. “I don’t want to be ‘Hot Boy’ no more,” DeSean stated. He then began to transform. Just before he was sent to a long-term prison, he achieved honor level, the highest tier in juvie that allows for privileges, such as extra snacks and going to bed later.
I eventually lost touch with DeSean, but never forgot about him. I put a daily reminder in my phone to help me remember to pray for him.
A few months ago, I reconnected with DeSean at a group home while I was visiting another young man. I didn’t know if it was DeSean at first–it had been over two years since I last saw him. But we soon recognized each other and got to catch up.
As I visited him over the following months, I saw no signs of “Hot Boy”. Conversely, I saw and still see one of the kindest and most generous people I know. One afternoon, when he brought some pizza back to the group home, he made sure all the other youth got a slice, even though it meant fewer slices for himself.
A few weeks ago, DeSean saw a distraught youth with a broken CD player. DeSean approached him, put his hand on his shoulder, and said with genuine compassion, “Don’t worry, I’ll buy you a new one.”
When I asked DeSean if he would want to perform a rap at our fundraiser, without hesitation, he replied, “Yeah.” Because he had to work that night, we shot a video of him and played it at our event.
It feels good knowing God loves all
cuz all the stuff I done I shouldn’t have love at all.
Thank God that I found you . . .
my life ain’t perfect,
but one thing I know for certain,
is that I’m worth it.
Don’t be a follower,
be a leader . . .
guide yourself into the path of righteousness.
As I watched the video, I was reminded of God’s power to transform. I praise God for transforming DeSean from “Hot Boy” into the man he is destined to be.
From Gang Member to Peacemaker
As chaplains, we get to witness God do some significant, transformative work in our youth. One such youth is Victor, an intelligent, friendly, and very humorous 17-year-old. Though he has been incarcerated for over ten months now, he generally maintains a positive disposition. Victor is a completely different person now than the one who was wreaking havoc as a gang member.
In his words: “I used to think I was God. I thought I had it all. I thought I was invincible.”
“But when I came into juvie, I lost it all, I was broken. I had to put my pride aside and ask for help. I turned to God. I read the Bible, specifically the story of Job, and it moved me. I really appreciate talking with the chaplains and really like the church services; I look forward to it every week.”
“Now I have faith and hope. Me and God, we’re rockin’.”
Additionally, Victor now sees himself as a peacemaker and has taken to heart Matthew 5:9, where Jesus states:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
He often stands up for youth who get picked on and also prevents guys from getting in trouble by helping them keep their cool. Victor recently recounted how after talking another youth out of fighting, the other youth said, “Because of you, I won’t fight that dude.” Victor recalled, “I was so happy and proud when he said that.”
God has transformed Victor. “I wasn’t even thinking about Jesus before this. Now, I know he is here for me, and I’m putting all my faith in him.