Tag Archives: conversion

God’s gangster: former yakuza is now pastor

yakuzaAs a teenager, he was lured into a Japanese crime syndicate known as yakuza, and after surviving several violent episodes and prison experiences, God began to get his attention.

“I admired the yakuza for what was visible only on the surface,” Tatsuya Shindo told CNN. “They have lots of money, spend their money lavishly, and play glamorously. The bad guys looked so cool in my eyes. I was a child. I didn’t think too deeply.”

Many of the estimated 50,000 yakuza fall into a life of crime because they come from broken families. The yakuza cultivate a sense of family, of belonging and of loyalty.

But if there were issues that seduced him to the mob life, the harsh realities began to pummel him.

“People were killed in power struggles,” he recounted. “People’s legs were shot. A guy who was doing drugs with me died of intoxication. Suicides happened. Sudden deaths. I’ve seen many deaths,” said Shindo, 45. “I saw my henchmen get stabbed to death.”

He got addicted to crystal meth. He crashed his boss’s car while driving under the influence. As a result, his pinkie finger was cut off with a chisel, which is a form of penance in the syndicate. For a first offense, the wrongdoer must cut off the tip of his left little finger and give the severed portion to his boss.

160222022016-japan-life-after-yakuza-ripley-pkg-00001721-exlarge-169Shindo’s body is covered by tattoos, which make him an outcast in Japan. Many yakuza have full-body tattoos, which are still “hand-poked”, with homemade tools using needles made of bamboo or steel. The painful process can take years to finish.

Crime members cover their tattoos in public, but when they play cards with each other they often remove their shirts to show off their creative designs.

Beginning at age 22, Shindo was arrested seven times and imprisoned three times, according to CNN.

He saw his mob boss killed and friends die of overdoses. After his third prison sentence, he began to question the “lavish life of the yakuza” he once imagined. He finally decided it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

During his final 10-year prison sentence, Shindo began reading a Bible in solitary confinement.Read the rest of the article written by a Chinese student at our Santa Monica school.

Just days before daddy-daughter dance, her dad died

kirby-minnick

Ten-year-old Kirby Minnick’s divorced dad was coming to visit her in America in only four days – but he never made it. Kirby found out after school her dad succumbed to a heart attack in London.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to see him again. He’s never going to walk me down the aisle. He’s never going to be there for my wedding,’” Kirby said in a YouTube video. “I ran upstairs and locked the door. I remember feeling so much pain and agony. I remember asking God, ‘Why? How could You do this to me? You’re a monster, God. Why do You hate me? What did I do wrong? This isn’t fair.’ I hated God.”

The bitterness of his untimely passing was compounded by flyers at school just days afterward inviting all girls to attend the daddy-daughter dance. As she looked at the flyer on her school desk, she burst into tears. Her friends asked her what was wrong.

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“My dad just died four days ago,” she cried.

“Eventually, I became like, ‘Ok God, let’s just forget this happened, like whatever, and move on,’” she said. “I began building up walls. I was so mad at God. My depression came back. I was so hopeless. I wouldn’t let people into my life. Eventually I kind of shoved everything into a corner in my mind.”

She fixated on suicide every night. But during the school day in Dallas, Texas, she pretended everything was okay.

“Whenever I went to school I was like the happiest kid,” Kirby said. “I was pretending to be that way. It was a mask that everything was okay and nothing was wrong. I let no one know.”

She traipsed in and out of therapy, blocking entire months and years of her childhood. At first the counseling was to help her overcome her parent’s divorce. Then it was for her dad’s death.

In eighth grade, a classmate began bullying her with passive aggressive behavior, eliciting in her a flood of insecurities.

“I thought I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t smart enough, nobody loved me. I wanted to kill myself,” Kirby said. “I had this journal, and I would write in it every night, ‘I wish I could kill myself. I just want to die.’ Suicidal thoughts took over my life.”

But every time she resolved to carry out her plan, a voice in her head held her back: Just one more day, the voice intoned.

At a Christian summer camp before high school, she was going through the motions, singing the songs she sang every year at the camp. Her mom had heard about the camp and sent her hoping it would help.

“I was like singing, ‘Lord Jesus, blah blah blah,’” she said. Suddenly, God really showed up. Click here to read the rest of the story.

Tortured for converting from Islam, Egyptian lawyer had Daniel experience

Reverend-Majed-El-Shafie-Like the lions in Daniel’s den, the ferocious attack dogs meant to torture Majed El Shafie in his Egyptian jail cell refused to do anything to him. They sat placidly, and one even licked his forehead – to the rage of the guards.

“These dogs are trained to listen to their masters,” El Shafie told Sid Roth. “But there is no higher Master than the Lord Jesus Christ.”

majed el shafie torturedHow did El Shafie, a remarkable law student, wind up on the wrong side of law? First, he converted to Christianity from Islam, a big no-no in Egypt, which defines itself as officially Muslim. Then he founded a pro-Christian legal aid organization with thousands of members. But the last straw was he wrote a book expounding his ideas.

On August 15, 1998, the government came after him. “At 1:30 in the morning, I heard a knock at my door.” El Shafie said. “Five officers came and broke the door. They took me to the police station behind the Parliament. They told me, ‘We know who you are. We know about your book. One thing we don’t know is who is rest of your group.”

abu zaabal prison

The feared Abu Zaabal torture prison in Cairo

Since El Shafie refused to name his associates, the police resorted to torture. They escorted him to Abu Zaabel prison in Cairo, known in the Middle East as “Hell on Earth,” where he endured seven days before nearly dying, El Shafie said. He recovered slowly in a hospital.

El Shafie was born into an influential family in Cairo of lawyers and Supreme Court justices. But he learned of the injustices of Egyptian law in his first year at law school, when there were up to 7,000 prisoners languishing in Egyptians jails whose only crime was being a Christian.

“From my knowledge, if there is persecution, it means the enemy is trying to hide something.”

His friend very discreetly dodged the question and instead offered him a different book, one “that answers every question he could have.” In the pages of the Bible he discovered a justice, love and forgiveness he had never known before.

Providentially, he first opened the Scripture to John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery. “Judge her according to the law of Moses!” the Pharisees cried out to Jesus.

“Whoever of you is without sin, cast the first stone,” Jesus replied.

“The only one who could cast the first stone was the Lord Jesus because He was the only one who had no sin,” he observed. “But He didn’t. He told the lady, ‘Go and sin no more. I forgive you.’ This was my first time to see true forgiveness.” Read the rest of the story.

‘The answer to my guilt was not denial but forgiveness’

Intellectual atheist from France comes to Christ. A sticking point was “Why did Jesus have to die?”

I supposed it would be a lot of fun to be an atheist, all that sin with no guilty conscious. But once you know the truth, you can’t run from it. Plus, knowing God is better than any sin.

Don’t get me wrong. I sin. I’m human. I’m not a Christian because I don’t fall into temptation. I am a Christian BECAUSE I fall into temptation. I need a Savior. So do you.

David Bowie became a Christian?

david bowieIn the months before he succumbed to cancer, David Bowie, the moré-smashing hedonist who resonated with a generation of young people, reconsidered the God he flouted most of his life as a rocker iconoclast.

As his life ebbed away quietly in the grips of end-stage liver cancer, there were signs the 69-year-old titan of rock and rebellion found peace with the Creator.

“He reassessed everything when he was terminally ill a year ago,” a family friend told the Sun UK. “He concluded there was something greater than all of us, and that may be some version of what others might call God. This was probably quite comforting. He certainly wasn’t scared of death.”

david bowie christianWhile he mostly abused drugs and lived like a libertine, Bowie searched through Buddhism, Satanism and Nietzsche’s existential philosophy for the balm to the raging angst in his soul. At one point he quipped that he had even tried to make a religion out of pottery and finally settled on singing as his faith of choice.

Still the London-born glam rock pioneer was searching. In an interview in 2003, he recognized he could never utterly reject faith. “I’m not quite an atheist,” he said. “I’m almost an atheist. (But) all the clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God.” Found out if it’s true: David Bowie Christian?

Helen Shapiro, star from yesteryear, comes to Christ out of Judaism

Shapiro-and-dressOnce more popular than the Beatles, Jewish-born singer Helen Shapiro believed all Christians were anti-Semitic after a boy at school accused her of crucifying Christ.

Shapiro got an early start in music fame as a teen and stormed through England’s top rankings in the 1960s. In 1961, the 14-year-old released her first hit “Don’t Treat Me like a Child,” which peaked at number three on British charts, according to an ASSIST News story by Charles Gardner.

In 1963, the Beatles were actually an opening act for her when they played together on tour. The Beatles’ first big hit “Please, Please Me” hit number one on that tour.

Shapiro-today-300x213Shapiro also rose to the top of the charts with “Walking Back to Happiness.” Though she sang it, she didn’t really find true happiness for another 28 years.

As she rose to fame, she felt empty and cast around for something to believe in. Dabbling in New Age philosophy, she visited clairvoyants and spiritists.

By her late teens, her career as a pop singer began to decline. As beat music rose in popularity, along with newer female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, and Lulu, Shapiro seemed old-fashioned and characteristic of the bee-hived, pre-Beatles, 50s era.

In the 70s and early 80s she performed in stage musicals and jazz concerts. She played the role of Nancy in the musical, Oliver! in London’s West End and made appearances on British television.

By age 40, Shapiro stopped believing New Age notions and doubted the existence of God.

Then someone gave her the book Betrayed by Stan Telchin. As a leader of a Jewish community, Telchin was aghast when his daughter became a Christian. Feeling “betrayed” by her, Telchin embarked on a mission to demonstrate Jesus was a fraud by using the Old Testament.

Instead, he proved to himself beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus was the genuine Jewish Messiah. The prophecies in the Jewish Scripture, he discovered, pointed invariably to Yeshua-Jesus.

“Isaiah 53 was about how He took our sin. I was gobsmacked,” Shapiro told Assist News. “And Daniel prophesied that the Messiah had to die before the temple was destroyed. It all seemed to point to Jesus.”

Read the rest of the story.

The beauty of children

kristinapimenovaTruly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven — Matt 18:3 NIV.

Children have joy. They make friends. They forgive. The love life. They’re trusting. They’re not cynical. They don’t know pride. They are innocent.

Have we become so sophisticated that we are out of touch with God?

McAllen pastor started life as a fighter and an addict

san antonio crime | changed by ChristWhen his father died of a heroin overdose, an embittered Roman Gutierrez vowed to do the same.

“I’m gonna stick a needle in my arm, God,” he uttered, as quoted in the biography Twice Dead. “The same way You killed my father, You can kill me.”

At age 11, he fulfilled the vow and jabbed his arm.

Roman grew up on San Antonio’s west side, where drugs and violence were pervasive, the child of a broken home. He was sexually abused at age seven. He became a fighter and a partier who lived recklessly because he hated life.

The rage following his dad’s death was only compounded by the fact that he received the news when his dad was supposed to pick him up for some father-son time. His was a life void of love.

His first arrest came when he and friends broke into a local convenience store late at night to steal alcohol. Since they heard no alarm, they carted off case after case. Eventually, a patrol car pulled up and nabbed the youngsters.

While in juvenile hall, he busted a kid’s nose for mocking his father’s death and seven months were added to the original six-month sentence.

Read the rest of the story and his conversion here.

John Donne: from rake to Christian

john donne

from wikipedia

My Norton Anthology can’t comprehend a true conversion, so it tends to explain John Donne’s experience with Christ in purely economic terms. He was born Catholic and as such was ill-favored in the new, Protestant England. In order for him to land some well-paying jobs, he needed to convert.

There is probably some truth to this. But on the main, it duffs the most dramatic shift in literature. Donne goes from erotic seduction poetry to striking poems about a passionate love for Christ. The dramatic turn-around in subject matter cannot simply be explained by the ludicrous fishing-for-better-employment theory. An insincere poet could not write so feelingly.

This is what the world does. Because they don’t understand a religious experience, they spin it off as some other sort of phenomenon.

Teaching poetry in Christian schools

I teach English at a Christian high school, but I loathe the Christian books because they cudgel the poor kids over the head with boorish didactic works which make kids’ eyes glaze over. But with the Norton Anthology, I had to encourage students to employ their analyzing capabilities and to “read between the lines.”

Do you understand conversion?