Category Archives: Christian service

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.

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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.