Category Archives: Christian service

Reinhard Bonnke, powerful evangelist to Africa

reinhard bonnkeReinhard Bonnke, called the Billy Graham of Africa, died Saturday at age 79.

The German-American pentecostal evangelist recorded 79 million conversions to Christ in a lifetime of ministry that started in 1967.

Most of his outreach was in Africa, where he saw many miracles to help usher in souls to the Kingdom of God. No other Western evangelist spent more time in Africa.

“Those who knew him off-stage can testify to his personal integrity, genuine kindness, and overflowing love for the Lord,” said his successor, Daniel Kolenda, in Christianity Today. “His ministry was inspired and sustained by his rich prayer life, his deep understanding of the Word, and his unceasing intimacy with the Holy Spirit.”

billy graham to africaKenyan politician Esther Passari thanked him, at the announcement of his death, for his life of service.

“I spoke in tongues for the first time at Rev. Reinhard Bonnke’s 1988 crusade,” she said. “He picked me from the crowd and arranged a meeting where he prayed for God to use me. I send my condolences to his family and his congregation.”

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is Muslim, also eulogized the beloved evangelist, saying he “joins Christendom at large in mourning the passing of renowned evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke, 79, describing his transition as a great loss to Nigeria, Africa & entire world.” Read the rest: Reinhard Bonnke dies.

Hair-raising ‘Harriet’ includes positive portrayal of Christianity

LMKEBRX3HYI6THQCDVC4WPP2R4(spoiler alert) After several hair-raising chase scenes, armed runaway slave Harriet Tubman gets the drop on her former slave master.

Aiming her revolver, she steps out from behind a tree and demands Gideon Brodess, riding on horseback, to drop his rifle, which he does. But he tries to surprise her and pulls his handgun.

Harriet shoots his hand, walks over and grabs his rifle and trains it on him.

TEAZJN2ZXBDCPHCGKYDSIV7POI“God did not make people to own people,” she declares.

The fact that the biopic Harriet, in theaters now, portrays Christianity in a positive light is refreshing and rare from a secular production company from Hollywood. It would have been so easy for them to gloss over the ‘Black Moses’ connection to God in a rewrite that could have highlighted only feminism and race equality.

Harriet (played by Cynthia Erivo) decided to flee slavery in Maryland rather than be sold “down the river” and parted from her husband. Despite being illiterate, she successfully made the dangerous 100-mile journey to anti-slavery Pennsylvania.

A year later, she made the dangerous incursion back into Maryland to free her family. This became the mission of her life. Harriet Tubman, born Araminta “Minty” Ross, disguised herself, often as a man, to lead more than 100 slaves to freedom. She became notorious among white slave owners, who kept increasing the bounty on her head. Several riveting chase scenes are the fodder of this movie. Read the rest: Christianity in ‘Harriet.’

Malice becomes No Malice

No_Malice-304Deep down, Malice always knew that staying in his platinum-selling worldly music group would lead to his demise.

But Malice (his real name is Gene Elliott Thorton Jr.) found a new reason to live in 2012. He changed his stage name to No Malice and gave up millions of dollars. Today his career, which hasn’t seen much light since, got a boost with a feature on Kanye West’s new album Jesus is King.

“I was just letting the wind carry me left, right, swing, either which way in my life,” No Malice said in a HipHopDX video.

“I wasn’t fulfilled. To have achieved the American Dream and still not be fulfilled only frustrated me more,” he told CBN. “I wasn’t having a good time. And when I did have a good time, it was only to find out afterwards, I was in more misery.”

Born in 1972 in the Bronx and raised in Virginia Beach, No Malice was drawn to hip hop and R&B as a child. Unlike many kids in his neighborhood, his mother and father took him to church. Still, he managed to get into all kinds of trouble.

clipse-pusha-t-malice

Malice with Pusha T in Clipse

“Even with foundation and having a good head on your shoulders, you can still make some pretty decent mistakes,” he said.

He and his brother, who went under the stage name Pusha T, formed the group Clipse, which brass-knuckled its way into the rap game. At the time hip hop was just beginning to compete against pop with choruses and anthems, but Clipse broached untouchable topics, introducing a sub genre dubbed coke rap, filled with chilling hood depictions of trafficking and addiction.

It caused a sensation and opened new terrain for hip hop. Running and gunning, killing and cursing became the new trend. Lord Willin’ in 2002 debuted #1 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop album. XXL gave its coveted and rare 5-star rating to their 2006 album Hell Hath No Fury. They toured and collaborated with all the top artists.

gene thorton“Clipse blew my brain open in 2006,” wrote Nathan Slavik on DJBooth Net.

In 2009, when he hit the cusp of notoriety, riches and ever growing celebrity, No Malice suddenly pulled the plug and quit secular rap. How could he? How could he leave his brother, leave the fame, leave the riches, leave his fans?

“You can have it,” No Malice told DJ Vlad. He didn’t even let Vlad finish building the question. He cut him off with a tart reply that declared in no uncertain terms that he had no regrets and no remorse about leaving his former path. Read the rest: Malice becomes No Malice.

The X-Factor in Santa Monica Saints volleyball

X Factor on LCA volleyball teamXiovana Moraida doesn’t even want to call herself a volleyball coach. Her sport was soccer, and she was really good at that. She was team captain of Santa Monica College’s women’s soccer team in 2014. But she was pressed into it.

“I knew that if I didn’t step up and coach that there wouldn’t be a girl’s volleyball team,” says Xiovana, who goes by the easier-to-pronounce “X.”

Nevertheless, Xiovana has become the X factor behind Lighthouse Christian Academy’s resurgence into varsity volleyball after the sport was dropped out of the Saints’ offerings a few years ago.

On Monday, the Santa Monica Saints beat San Fernando Valley Academy from Northridge in five sets 25-19, 13-25, 25-23, 24-26, 15-13. LCA now has two wins and three losses.

Xiovana was born in Lodi but was raised in Lockeford, California.

santa monica volleyball christian high schoolStarting at the ripe old age of 5 years old, she played and loved soccer.

In 2013, Xiovana came to live in Santa Monica to live with her aunt for soccer while attending SMC. She was the captain of the SMC soccer team in her sophomore year (as well as being the captain of her high school soccer team). 

As Xiovana stayed in LA after college, she met her now husband Lucas Moraida. Lucas was from Arizona and was attending the Lighthouse Church. As her and Lucas began to talk more, X became a Christian and got more involved in the church. Read the rest of X-Factor in Santa Monica volleyball.

Stiletto stripper escapes to Jesus

Harmony dust.jpg“I didn’t know a lot about Christians, but I was pretty sure they didn’t like strippers,” says Harmony Dust.

Her mother was a cocaine addict and her stepfather was a drug dealer in Venice, California. They had a very violent relationship, she says on an I am Second video.

Harmony was also sexually abused throughout her life by multiple people starting at the age of 5 and was raped as a teen.

She began to write suicide notes and thinking about how’d she’d kill herself. She also attempted suicide.

When she was 13, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. Her mother did nothing to prevent it, even though she was aware of what was going on.

harmony-grillo“Not because she was horrible or bad but because she taught me what she learned when she was a young girl being abused,” Harmony says. “And that it’s my fault. If you didn’t wear tank tops or shorts that wouldn’t be happening. You should know that’s how men are.”

Her mother left with her boyfriend to Canada for three months and left Harmony and her brother with $20 and a book of food stamps to fend for themselves. Harmony stole from liquor stores so she could feed herself and her brother.

That summer Harmony became involved with an older boy from her neighborhood. “I looked at him and saw this knight in shining armor,” she says. “I no idea his intention was to exploit me.”

When her boyfriend proposed she make money for them both by stripping, she was opposed to the idea. Because he kept pressuring her, she reached out to her psychology professor as someone she could trust.

She thought the psychology professor would give her solid advice. Instead, he steered her toward the unsavory path: “I don’t see any problem with it,” he said.

“By the way,” he asked casually as she was leaving, “which club were you thinking of stripping for?”

Unthinkingly, she told him the truth and the lecherous prof showed up to watch her.

Even with these turn of events, she didn’t realize that her boyfriend was nothing more than a pimp exploiting her.

But once she got into the sex industry, she could never get out. Using the name “Monique” and a fake backstory, she would “hustle” to be the best and make as much money as possible. Sometimes clients crossed boundaries. She defended herself with a stiletto, smashing their heads.

Outside of the club, modesty was her dress code: baggy clothing and sunglasses. Read the rest of stiletto stripper comes to Jesus

God’s call. To cooking?

christian chefs internationalWhen God called Ira Krizo distinctly and undeniably to ministry, “there was no use waiting any longer,” he says.

So he immediately went to New York… to culinary school.

Yes, cooking.

Ira wasn’t called to the pastorate. He wasn’t called to the foreign field as a missionary. He wasn’t called into worship.

He was called to be a chef — a Christian chef. After all, God’s calling and gifting is to myriad areas of life, not just stereotypical “ministry.”

christian culinary academyToday, Ira is the president of Christian Chefs International, a network of believers who have almost as much gusto for gourmet cooking as the Gospel.

With 14 chapters active or pending in America and abroad, the Cannon Beach, Oregon-based non profit holds annual conferences and boasts a 1-year, non-denominational culinary school where they don’t throw knives at the students.

“In many secular kitchens I’ve worked in, I’ve seen the chef yelling and screaming all day long at people,” writes Ira in a devotional on CCI’s website. “I’ve seen chefs throw things; once even knives. Is that the best way?”

Ira recommends humbly confronting head chefs who abuse their authority. He suggests chefs use the Biblical model: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-18 (NKJV)

Even reality TV programs depict the outbursts of rage that occur under pressure when chefs are striving to meet the demands of their patrons.

Under the title “Christians in the Kitchen,” the CCI website offers devotions for cooks that include ethics in the kitchen, being content (restaurants typically experience a high turnover of staff) and being “prayed up” for the pressures of the job. One encourages disciples to be “sourdough Christians,” with analogies per ingredient. Read more about God’s calling to cooking.

Neo Nazi wooed out of hate by black Christian lady

unlikely friendshipAn African American drove Michael Kent into a neo Nazi hate group, and another one pulled him out.

“I hurt a lot of people,” he says tearfully in an “I Am Second Conversations” video. “I hurt a lot of kids when I was a kid. Their parents were coming after me.”

Michael’s sojourn into racism began when he was 12 years old and struck up a budding friendship with a black boy in Erie, PA.

“I got me a black friend. No animosity or nothing. We were as thick as thieves. We got along great,” Michael recalls. One day he was invited to his house.

“I don’t want that blue-eyed devil in my house,” his mother declared.

His friend was never allowed to talk to him after that. “My first encounter with racism was that day,” he says.

“It was over,” Michael recalls. “You guys don’t like accepting me no matter what. I was discriminated against, and it was like, ‘Why?’”

neo nazi to christianBy the time he was 15, he started cooking up methamphetamines and getting involved with neo Nazis, even working closely with the higher-ups. He began passing out hate pamphlets and participating in marches on the state capitol.

Later, when he had a child himself, he understood why other parents had tried to protect their kids.

“These people I freaking hurt and I destroyed their lives, they were just trying to protect their kid,” he says. “I cried like a little baby the day my son was born because I know that if anybody hurt my kid, I’d kill them. That’s when I knew I had to walk away.”

What really helped him get out of the neo Nazis was a female African American probation officer, who visited his house in Pinal County, Arizona, unaccompanied. Because of his violent involvement with the skinheads, all of his previous probation officers — white officers — took pains to show up with a wingman.

“Not even people of my own race showed up at my house alone,” Michael says. “I gained a lot of respect for her that day.”

Tiffany Whittier’s job was to check for parole violations after his release in 2006 for drugs and weapons charges.

But Tiffany, a committed Christian, went beyond the call of duty and reached out to Michael with some heart-to-heart life coaching. She urged him to tear down the Hitler paraphernalia decorating his walls. He complied with everything, worked his job and paid his fines. He got swastika tattoos covered up.

Inside, his heart was melted by the kindness of Tiffany.

“Why did you believe in me?” he asked her. (“I Am Second Conversations” adds a twist to the usual testimonial videos of a person seated in a white chair. In these, two people talk face to face in two white chairs.)

“Why did you want to help me to change? You put forth more of an effort than anybody I’ve had in my life. Why? Not even people of my own race wanted to help me.” Read the rest: Neo Nazi renounces hate thanks to black Christian 

Either way — as a communist or a Christian — he ran from cops

julio moraleja pastor in Spain

Julio Moraleja at left

Julio Moraleja ran from the cops when he was a communist in post-WW2 fascist Spain, so running an illegal underground church when he converted to Christ was no big deal.

“I just ran really fast,” says Julio, who became a Christian during the repressive, anti-Protestant government of Francisco Franco. “We hid from the police. They never caught us.”

In Spain, Franco infamously stamped out evangelical churches, suppressed freedoms and tried to drive born-again Christians out of the country.

But the crackdowns on house churches, the raids and the secret police did not intimidate Julio, who was accustomed to subversive activities as a communist factory worker trying to overthrow the capitalist dictatorship.

Julio Moraleja Arias (Spaniards use both the last name of Dad and that of Mom), now 67, was raised in a family who believed in atheistic communism.

“For me, the world needed a social change that only could be carried out through the communist philosophy,” Julio says.

julio moraleja converted to christ under franco regimeHis father, who fought in the Spanish Civil War with the Communist Youth, was arrested and the usual death sentence routinely given to communists was commuted to life imprisonment. He served 11 years in jail before his release.

In spite of Franco’s crackdown on communists, Julio became a card-carrying communist. He got work in the Chrysler automobile factory and began to agitate to form a labor union and propagate communist ideals.

A friend, José Aguilar, who was Christian, began to explain to him another way to save the world: Jesus.

“Logically, I didn’t pay any attention to him because I didn’t believe in God, since communism is based on scientific atheism,” Julio says.

But he received a cassette tape from Julio, partly to humor the man.

The following Saturday he had nothing else to do, so he played it out of curiosity.

“As I listened to the tape, something began to move in me and I didn’t know what was happening,” Julio remembers. “The message pierced my soul. When I finished listening, I was broken.” Read the rest of running from the cops.

What pro-lifers need to do

special needs childrenI was embarrassed. After debating abortion for decades, I heard FOR THE FIRST TIME an important pro-choice argument. I pride myself on listening to other sides. Maybe I wasn’t listening up to the level of my pride. Have you heard it? Here it is: Pro-lifers do nothing to help special needs children and at-risk youth. They don’t let a Mom choose, and then they don’t help her when she’s stuck.

It stung. I was caught. Was I all talk and no action?

But after a day of meditating on this legitimate claim, it slowly crept over me: I AM doing something for the less fortunate. I teach for at a small Christian school where at-risk youth attend. I teach with no pay (although in some years, I have received salary). I am silencing the argument that conservatives ban abortion and shun helping needs.

christian high school los angelesSo I am writing this post, not to the pro-choicer (whose opinion we treat respectfully) but to the pro-lifer: YOU NEED TO PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS and help with special needs and at-risk people. If you can’t volunteer for some program, make a donation. If you don’t know where, I suggest my school, the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. You can make a tax-deductible, one-time or monthly gift to help teachers like me continue doing what you can’t.

Jordan Sheppard just graduated. His mother left the abortion clinic waiting room, hearing the voice of God telling her He would help her with her child. She didn’t even know God at the time.

overcoming adversity into goalBy his own appraisal, Jordan says he’d been dead, in jail or en route to one of those options. He was falling into all kinds of trouble. His mother walked the streets late at night looking for him when he was in middle school. Then she looked for a place to enroll Jordan where Christians could help her, a single mom, raise her man. Today, Jordan has plans to join the Marines. We are super proud of him. You could be too if you take a stake in this ministry.

Malawi: God inspired impoverished prodigy to harness technology for his people

William-and-the-WindmillWilliam Kamkwamba was born amidst famine and poverty on a farm in Malawi, but with God’s inspiration he fabricated a primitive windmill to bring electricity to his house.

His ingenuity caught the eye of international organizations that opened doors for him and William graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014.

“With a windmill, we’d finally released ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger,” the resourceful youth told the Malawi Daily Times. “In Malawi, the wind was one of the few consistent things given to us by God, blowing in the treetops day and night. A windmill meant more than just power, it was freedom.”

William’s improbable journey from farm subsistence in Africa to international mover and shaker in technology education begins with his father, a rough fighting man who settled down after he received Jesus into his heart.

KamkwambaWebChristianity marked their household as much as poverty. The only boy among six sisters, William shouldered the burden to help his family survive. When rains skipped 2001 and famine clouds gathered, William had to drop out of school in 2002 because the family couldn’t afford the fees.

William dutifully toiled the soil, but he never let go of his hunger for learning and frequently visited an internationally-supported library near his home, where he found a couple of books about energy that piqued his curiosity. One was called Using Energy and How it Works.

As he thumbed through the pages with diagrams, he understood the basic mechanics behind magnetism for generating electricity in a turbine and a windmill. He was a tinkering kid who once disassembled his father’s radio because he thought there were little people inside that he wanted to talk to.

He was not able to reassemble the radio, so when he asked permission of his father to disassemble his bike to build a windmill, his father was resistant. Eventually he prevailed on his father and began to collect scraps of junk to fashion his windmill.

Like Noah building an ark, William became the laughingstock of the townspeople, who watched the formation of his quixotic windmill, resembling a modern art assemblage in the famine-stricken plains of Africa.

But when William brought light to his house in Mastala Village, a section of the country unreached yet by government’s electrification projects, villagers no longer laughed at him.

“When I was making all these, some people were mocking me that I was going mad but I had confidence in what I was doing because I knew if it was written in the books then it was true and possible,” William remembers. “When I succeeded they were impressed.”

He charged car batteries throughout the day, which then were used to light houses or power radios in the neighborhood.

Encouraged by his first success as a 14-year-old inventor, William next devised a plan to build a larger windmill to pump water during the drought. He received donations from outsiders to help his project.

After his second triumph, the town was no longer at the mercy of darkness or drought. Read the rest of William Kamkwamba Christian.

Rough biker went to church to confront people, was confronted by Holy Spirit

IMG_0553By Lortourme Hang’andu —

As a biker in the 1960s, Joe Campbell always carried a gun with him. He had gotten into many fights and stolen from people. He needed to be ready for anything.

“I carried a gun around,” he said, “because of the amount of people I had wronged.”

His life was a chaotic mix of violence, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other biker gang activity in Illinois, and he knew it “would destroy my marriage,” Campbell says.

When his wife Connie got saved, Joe didn’t immediately join her. In fact, he mocked her and constantly hounded her to return to their former sinful lifestyle.

After six months, Connie invited a church couple over for lunch and when they skipped out on the date, Joe got mad — mad enough to go to the church of 25 members and find out why they were a no-show. (At the time, Joe and Connie didn’t have a landline phone to call and find out.)

IMG_0554But instead of confronting the couple for standing them up, Joe got confronted by the Holy Spirit in the sermon. At the altar call, the lanky, longhaired, rough and tumble character responded to the invitation for salvation.

At 29 years old, he didn’t immediately feel any different. But Jesus had come into his heart at that moment in 1971.

The next day, two of his friends came to visit and asked him if it were true, according to word on the street, that he “got religious.”

Yes, he said.

They invited him to their normal routine of parties, but instead of using and abusing drugs, Joe witnessed to all his old friends. He was a changed man.

This was the 1960s, a time when it wasn’t uncommon for churches to hold revival services every night for a month. Joe’s church was in the midst of one of those extended revivals, and he attended faithfully.

After a month, he poured his Jack Daniel’s down the drain and disposed of his drugs. Nobody knew about his stash, so nobody told him he should do this. It was simply the Holy Spirit who convicted him, and he spontaneously responded.

“I didn’t have a real problem turning away from the drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It was just such a powerful experience that my wife and I just walked away from.” Read the rest of biker to Jesus.

Tobe Nwigwe went from football greatness to rap greatness

tumblr_plh6b0hx461r6ccbh_540Tobe Nwigwe’s dreams of making the NFL pulverized when the top-ranked linebacker suffered a career-ending foot injury. On lengthy bedrest, with no one visiting him, his crutches out of reach, his left leg in a full cast, the University of North Texas MVP and captain had to Army-crawl to the bathroom. That’s where, lying on the floor, he broke down.

“Tears were coming strong down my face,” he says on a Behind the Artist video. “I was on some real carnal stuff with God, like ‘Why would You do this to me. I didn’t kill nobody. I ain’t robbed nobody. I’m bad, but I’m not as bad.’ It was at that moment on the bathroom floor that God was like, ‘You have lost your identity in the game, and you have purpose in your life outside of your circumstances and your situation.’”

The injury represented a major reset for the man who once thought “you have to suck at football” to need to devise a Plan B. Today, Tobechukwu Nwigwe helps drifting youth avoid gangs, violence and drugs by discovering their God-given purpose.

maxresdefault“If you would’ve asked me what my purpose was back in college, I promise you I would’ve said something like, ‘Hit the league, money, cars, clothes,’” he says. “I literally got to the lowest of the lows because the only thing I ever dedicated all of my time, effort and energy to was football and when that was gone, I literally had to rethink life. I became like a monk as it relates to the study of purpose. Once I was able to cut off the mania of the world, I was able to figure out who I am and what my calling is and what my natural gifts are.”

His hip-hop has blasted through the stratosphere with millions of views on YouTube. Tobe is the T.S. Elliot of rap. Elliot was the most heralded poet of the 20th century who led readers to “certain half-deserted streets.” Tobe takes his listeners to the SWAT — South West Alief, Houston, the roughest of slums where he “dropped a bullet” in the fourth grade and got treated like “King Arthur with his sword raised.”

tobe nwigweTobe evokes the poignant experience of being a poor child of immigrant parents and fighting to survive in much of his music. He was a “hard-headed” kid who smoked weed, listened to Biggie and snuck out at night, to the chagrin of his mom, who prayed for him and counseled him. They were five kids in one room.

Tobe discovered he was good at football and won a scholarship to North Texas, where he ranked #5 nationally in tackles and reading defenses, a good foundation for an NFL career. The dream was coming true until his teammate fell on his foot, causing the “best worst injury of my life,” he says.

“It ended my football career. It made me think of who is Tobe outside of the Tobe the football player,” he says. “I had to realize that before I was in the sport, I had a purpose. It was a blessing in disguise.”

He planned to recover from the injury and try out for the NFL, but “God shut almost every single door to football and halted a whole bunch of stuff in my life until I made a conscious decision to let my little dreams die and move in the direction with the non profit organization,” he says.

The injury brought him close to the God of his parents, and the God of his parents brought him to his purpose: a non profit that he launched in 2016 called TeamGINI (from “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?” — Igbo for “What’s your purpose?”) which brought “edu-tainment” to high schoolers. If there is no meaning to life, all the kids would fall into “the trap” — rap speak for a hood out of which you escape only by jail or a casket. By imbuing their existence with purpose, it is hoped kids will choose college and meaning.

It was a stroke of genius born of his own “monk-like” quest to find his own purpose. And it led him to stage two in his life: he linked up with motivational speaker PhD Eric Thomas, the “hip hop preacher.” ET, as he goes by, was making waves in Texas encouraging African Americans to dream big. On a fluke, Tobe called him and got him on the line.

“We don’t have any money right now,” Tobe told the man he watched “religiously.” “But as soon as we have some money, we want to have you come.”

ET declined the speaker’s fees and came for free. What he saw surprised him. Tobe moved the high school kids at the event as a warm-up for ET. Reportedly, ET had never seen anybody move the crowd in that way.

So he signed Tobe to be part of his motivational speakers team.

Then, team members found his Facebook page and watched a video of him free-styling. It was a video made with the family that was only meant to be fun and funny. ET thought Tobe had talent and wanted his ministry to branch out into the music of the community. ETA Records was born with Tobe as their first artist.

It wasn’t long before Tobe outgrew the team. He began uploading new music every single Sunday. His then-girlfriend, Ivory, would twist tufts of his hair on the couch as he would sing. The set was called “getTWISTEDsundays.” LaNell Grant, the kid sister of a high school football chum, produced the beats. Read the rest about Tobe Nwigwe, from football to rap.

Raised in Appalachian family fighting culture, he found peace with God

usa_today_10392817.0Once, Cody almost sliced off his brother’s finger with a knife. On another occasion, his brother punched his ear so hard, it swelled and became a “cauliflower ear.” Another time, they took their squabble outside city limits where they wailed on each other for 45 minutes. This is how Cody Garbrandt became an MMA champion.

But he almost lost a battle with depression until the same brother intervened.

“I almost hung myself,” Cody says on an I am Second video. “He busted down the door and came in and saved my life. He gave me the biggest hug and sat there with me and cried with me. He said everything was going to be all right. That day was a changing point for me in my life. That brought us even closer, you know, attending church together.”

cody-garbrandtCody grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Ohio in small towns where people are as proud of their hometowns as they are poor in the economically depressed areas of Uhrichsville and Denison.

Fighting is a way of life there — especially for the Garbrandt family.

“From both sides of my family, we were fighters.” Cody says. “We had a last name to uphold. Oh you’re from Garbrandt clan or the Mease clan. You don’t mess with those guys.”

He watched his uncle fight, while his grandfather, drunk in the stands, fought with a spectator.

With his brother Zach Garbrandt

“We’d just be sitting there watching it,” he remembers. “That was normal for us.”

Since fighting was “normal,” Cody and his brother Zach made grappling a normal part of sibling rivalries.

“Out of the womb, I was fighting over the bottle,” Cody jokes. “Zach was my fierce competitor. My brother was always bigger, stronger, faster, meaner than me growing up, so that’s why I was always quick to fight: I had something to prove.

“Me and Zach, we fought so many times in our lives. We had some pretty violent fights.”

Once when Zach provoked him to punch him, Cody grabbed a knife in the sink and slashed him, nearly cutting off his middle finger.

0_1218_SPO_LDN-L-UFC-GARBRANT-HG13“I remember he looked at me, wrapped his finger in a paper towel, punched the stove and shattered the whole glass stove and went back to bed,” Cody remembers.

In their last fight, Cody was 17; Zach, 18.

“We ended up fighting over a Subway sandwich,” he recalls.

After Grandma intervened to stop, the brothers jumped in their cars and drove to “the pump house.”

“That’s where we would take out-of-towners to fight,” he says. “We would take them out of city limits where cops wouldn’t go.”

The fight lasted 45 minutes.

“It was always a knock-out, drag-out fight with Zach,” he says. The fights were so fierce it was possible someone might die.

“My knuckles were all cut up, my lip was bloodied, my teeth were all busted up,” he says. “I hit with a right-handed, overhand right. He had the stanky legs like he was walking in potholes. He looked at me with this crazed look, like, ‘Alright, awesome. Cody finally hit me with a nice shot that hurt me.” Read the rest: Cody Garbrandt’s toughest fight.

When the voodoo lords tried to kill him, Nestor Kouassi had to pray and stand up to them

nestor kouassi christianity vs voodooNestor Kouassi had seen the voodoo priests and witches do unutterable things: make statues move, bury people alive who later come out of the jungle, send bird spirits to kill enemies.

So when he accepted Jesus in 1997 and started what became a high-stakes spiritual battle with them in his town of Houndjohoundji, Benin, it was a fearful thing.

“A lot of people didn’t like it that we were calling with fire and praying all night,” Nestor says. “They threatened us they would kill us. They make false accusations. Anything to get us in trouble.”

Nestor got introduced to the gospel even when there wasn’t a single Christian church in his village of 1,400 people. His nation, Benin, is renowned for being the worldwide birthplace of voodoo. Even the name of his village was a satanic incantation.

voodoo ritualPeople feared the voodoo lords. Christianity couldn’t crack the town.

But then one Christian, a certain Mr. Lawson, when he came to visit his mom in town from time to time, would preach and share the gospel with anyone who wished to listen.

“We would mock him,” Nestor remembers. “People would insult him.”

Then his best friend, Cyrille, accepted Jesus to get cured of a nasty, prolonged stomach pain. Cyrille was a “rough man” who would steal and fight for nothing, so when Nestor saw an authentic change in him after two weeks, he became convinced.

“He completely changed,” he says. “I said, ‘If this guy can change, there must be a God. I want to get to know that God.’”

HoundjohoundjiBut Cyrille didn’t remember the “sinner’s prayer.” So they just read the Bible together 4-5 hours a day. After one week, Nestor was born again.

“Something happened in my life, and I knew that I knew that I knew that I had met the man Jesus,” Nestor recalls. “It felt like a liquid fire going through my soul, and all of my fears of witchcraft and voodoo disappeared and the river flowed from the inside.”

The nearest church was seven miles away. When they couldn’t attend service there, they devoured the Bible together. After two weeks, they were inspired to share their faith.

“We could not hide it anymore. We took to the streets and wanted to share with people our new discovery: Jesus of Nazareth, woo!” he recounts, relishing the memory.

The power of Jesus began to be proclaimed and demonstrated with healing miracles in town, and the town chief and ruling class — all priests and witches of satanic magic — didn’t like the competition.

“Our preaching was met with hostility like you’ve never seen before,” Nestor says. “What made them furious is that we would pray for people and they would get healed. People would say, ‘If you’re sick, go to the Jesus guys.’”

V4Another friend, Valentin, converted and the three friends read the word and ministered in the streets together. But nobody else dared cross the powers of the town and join their group, even though they viewed them favorably.

The prayers of Nestor and his friends began to disrupt the voodoo power, he says. So the witches attacked them.

“They didn’t want real Christianity. It disturbed them,” Nestor says. “They wouldn’t be able to operate anymore. If we’re calling upon Jesus, there is a power struggle. The witches cannot operate when we are calling upon Jesus.”

The witches had a technique they called a “spiritual gun,” and the victim target of their incantations would writhe in pain from what felt like shards of glass cutting his insides. But the gun didn’t work on Nestor and his buddies, he says.

The priests had a special “founder drum” that when they beat it and pronounced their incantations, lightning would strike the targeted victim even when there was no thunderstorm. Again, it didn’t work.

For six or seven years, the arm-wrestling match continued. Nestor was going to high school in the biggest town in the area nearby, Grand-popo. He would face off with the voodoo priests on weekends and vacations.

The voodoo festivals began to misfire. Things didn’t work. The supernatural tricks fizzled. The town was abuzz with the goings-on.

“People began to question the witches’ power,” he says. “They said, ‘These Jesus guys must have something.’ They were scared. They listened to us, they admired us, but joining us was a real problem.”

Tensions were rising and the threats were increasing. When the chief witch threatened Nestor’s mother with her son’s death, Nestor went to confront him. He found all the witches together in their afternoon gathering in the public place.

“They told us they would reduce us to nothing. I told them nothing would happen,” Nestor remembers.

“In this battle, you will definitely see Jesus,” he responded to their threats. Find out what happened in this power struggle between this new Christian and voodoo witches and priests in Benin.

Barely — miraculously — escaped from rebels in Sierra Leone

pa gbino

Pa Gbani

When the Sierra Leonean rebels swept through Kabala torching houses and government buildings, Pa Gbani decided not to run. In his room, he read his Bible, prayed and waited for the inevitable.

As a detective at the police barracks, Pa was among the targets as 30 rebels trained by Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gadaffi doused buildings with gas and fired rocket-propelled grenades during the 1994 attack.

church kabala sierra leone

Pastor Ralph’s church Kabala, Sierra Leone, circa 1994

Miraculously, the fire died down before reaching his room. In fact, the same thing happened for everybody in his church.

“Nobody was killed or injured or had property loss that was in our church,” says Pastor Ralph Bowen, a missionary from Santa Monica at the time in Sierra Leone. “God just protected them. It was a day of miracles.”

It was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all over again.

One church member hid in a banana tree. Two guys lay quietly on top of a thick wall hidden in the dusk. Pastor Ralph had the good fortune to have a vehicle, in which he fled with his wife and a few disciples.

ralph bowen missionary africa

Pastor Ralph and Brenda Bowen

At one point on the road out of town, a total stranger came out to him and warned him to head down an alternative route. The rebels were ahead, he warned. Ralph found out later it was true.

There were an estimated 50 deaths in the rebel attack on Kabala.

The deliverance of the American missionary’s church members was extraordinary because they weren’t known for caution. The fact of the matter is that Ralph and his street-preaching disciples courted danger as a result of their boldness. Read the rest of the dramatic details of American missionary under attack by Sierra Leonean rebels in 1994.

Saudi admired Bin Laden until he compared Bible to Koran without prejudice

al fadi fan of obama bin ladinAl Fadi was proud to be a Muslim born in Saudi Arabia, the center of Islam. As a teenager, He was so proud that he even wanted to join the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and die for his convictions under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden.

“I really admired this man to be able to leave the wealth of his family for the sake of proving that, ‘I’m here to fight and die for the god that I worship,’” Al Faid told CBN. “I knew that if I were to go die for the cause of this fight to promote Islam, that’s the only time my sins would be forgiven. I would not just go to Heaven but to the highest level, to paradise. So why not go for what is guaranteed, and that is to die?”

But his parents forbade him. By the time he was 16, he memorized half the Koran and led prayers in his local mosque. He was learning the branch of Islam called Wahhabism, a strict version that also generated a large number of extremists and terrorists.

Al Fadi Jihadist Christianity“Maybe the version of Islam I had learned was a little bit twisted in its teachings,” he said.

When he completed his engineering degree, his father encouraged him to get a graduate degree in America. He was accepted to the University of Arizona. But at the same time, he was nervous. “There was the danger that I might be drawn away from the path that I was taking, the rigid Islamic path.”

He decided he would not just resist temptations in America; he would actively proselytize and bring people into Islam.

At the university, he got involved in a language and cultural orientation program. The purpose was to improve his English and ease his transition to America. He was hooked up with a volunteer family that took him under wing, talked to him and would help him understand the cultural differences.

He decided to start his proselytizing mission with this family. But they were Christian.

He had been taught that Christians in America were morally weak. But this family showed a strong sense of values and character.

al fadi wahhibi muslim“It was very baffling to me because I asked myself, ‘Where did they get this moral value from?’ I had been taught that their Bible was corrupt. But I felt like a spiritual midget compared to them.”

He was further mystified by their selfless concern. When he graduated, they took off work to attend his ceremony. God began to soften his heart.

“I started to realize that Islam was not the religion I grew up thinking it was,” he admitted.

When he landed a job in America, he found that a co-worker was also a Christian. The tug-of-war of competing faiths started again, and Al Fadi was again impressed by his Christian testimony.

“Why is it that by following the prophet Jesus, he was transformed?” he recalled. “Yet I was following the best of the prophets, Mohammad, and I was still feeling the same inner ache. I began to realize that Jesus was the source of the change.”

The downfall of his faith came when the Twin Towers fell down. Jihadists hijacked jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center skyscrapers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

The cold realization that he once aspired to be like them suddenly hit him.

“To watch people willing to go that far, to take with them hundreds of lives… These are innocent people. They have nothing to do whatsoever with a war,” he said. Read the rest of how this Muslim converted to Christianity when he compared the Bible to the Koran.

Pastor prayed and fasted for neighborhood, one ‘hooligan’ responded

Nigeria missionariesBy Lortoume Hang’andu —

Bitwell grew up in Lusaka, the red-soiled capital of Zambia. Along with his friends, the fatherless teenager assaulted people to fund his drinking habit. They also engaged in hooliganism at the local soccer stadium and fought rival fans.

His mother, a Christian, tried in vain to control her son.

Then a pastor moved in across the street and fasted for seven days for the neighborhood. The Spirit moved on Bitwell’s heart. At 24, he was tired of endless crime and alcohol, so he began attending church.

“I wasn’t really converted,” he says. “I just went to church.”

Then Bitwell got struck with Cupid’s arrows. He saw Mary walking to the store and struck up a conversation with her. Mary was a more serious Christian and refused his advances. He persisted, and Mary laid down an ultimatum: Either he go to church seriously or give up hopes for her.

Bitwell still drank, but he worked hard to hide it from Mary. The first time he went to Mary’s church, he was hung-over. Three years later, they were married.

Back to AfricaSeeking a better life, Bitwell and his wife applied for and were granted a tourist visa to visit a friend in Chandler, Arizona. Bitwell flew to the U.S. three months before his wife.

He was on a layover in New York on 9/11 when the Twin Tower terrorists struck and he was grounded at the airport. Eventually, Bitwell took a Greyhound bus to Chandler to join his friend, a zealous believer at the Door Church.

Bitwell accepted an invitation to attend church. He never heard preaching like that before. After hearing moving sermon after fiery sermon, he decided he needed to get serious about God. With his wife at his side, he gave his life to God and was born again.

Pastor Joe Campbell became a father figure to Bitwell and Mary. He gave them a car and was constantly checking up on them. They matured in the Lord and participated in ministry for four years.

One day, Pastor Campbell called them into his office. Would they go back to Africa to pioneer a church? They belonged to a group of churches that focuses on church planting.

It was no light matter. They had overstayed their visa and were “illegal.” If they left the country, under current rules they would not be granted a visa to America for at least 12 years.

“God called me to go,” Bitwell says. “When I was in America, God provided for me. So I thought that if I went to Africa, God would still provide for me.”

Jesus says to count the cost. For every Bitwell, there are hundreds of illegal immigrants who get saved, called, and decide not to return to their home countries. The American Dream often holds greater sway than the dream of ministry. Don’t miss the surprise ending of pastor returns to Africa.

Tammy (Lortoumi) is Pastor Mike Ashcraft’s student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Los Angeles.