I will never forget the day the gospel took me to BadGuyville.
BadGuyville was like being on another planet. Who needs a rocket to take you to Mars when you can land there in your own backyard? BadGuyville was my Mars. I had never been there before. It was strange and the rules were different. Totally naïve to that fact as I walked into the funeral of a former gang member whom I had just led to Christ a few weeks prior. I sat down in that Masonic Temple like a fish out of water and my minister collar on. By way of a godsend, an elderly lady from my parish accompanied me. Her name was Bella.
It was my first time on planet Mars. Bella and I arrived nice and early. We found decent seats and had no clue what we were in for with no idea where we had landed. The bad guys then began to slowly trickle in, one by one, until I was glued to my seat and scared stiff to move. How did I know I was in BadGuyville? If you’ve ever seen a gangster movie, you know immediately who the bad guys are because they look like bad guys! Well, Shawn’s funeral was littered with these characters, perhaps up to one hundred and fifty of them! Bella and I can only wildly guess how many of them were armed.
The funeral stories were bizarre and the men held a vocabulary of vulgar words I had never conceptualized forming coherent sentences. They spoke English, but it was the language of a people who had no reference point to God and therefore no proper working definition of what was good. Even at a funeral God was absent from their thoughts and their numbness towards death could be heard in their casual, vibrant chatter prior to the funeral’s commencement. They told gut wrenching stories about the chaos of their lives, time in jail, Shawn’s life on the streets and drugs and prostitutes. Shawn’s best friend, Jerry, saved his life one day when Shawn failed to pay a debt of $20. To be “discrete,” Jerry simply told us, he dealt with the bad guys and there was a lot of blood when he left.
These stories only scratched the surface. Bella and I were in BadGuyville for real and we had never been there before. I sat silent, stunned. I hadn’t known Shawn very long but I had led him to the Lord just weeks before he died at age 44 from a drug overdose. We had met at my part time scale job at a food waste dump where I weighed the kind of trucks he drove. All I knew about Shawn when I first met him was that he asked me out for dinner with the promise that he didn’t have a criminal record. Strange invitation to dinner, I thought. But then, I suppose I was a strange candidate for a date. “Look,” I bluntly stated, “I can’t date you. I can’t date anyone who is not a passionate follower of Jesus.” I was odd. I have to admit. But we agreed to be friends and dinner was on.
Was my move controversial? Absolutely! Was it safe? I wasn’t worried about safe. I had the gospel on my mind! We could talk about Jesus! And since when was the gospel safe? Surely the crucifixion wasn’t safe and neither was picking up my cross to follow Jesus. I threw caution to the wind. Was it foolish? Yes and no. But it was how I got to know Shawn and how Shawn got to know Jesus.
We conversed salvation’s story, rehearsed God’s redemption love, repentance plain and simple, sins forgiven, guilt removed, righteousness and eternal life in Christ. It was the same old story with the same old saving affect.
Shawn made it to church once, but the days I knew Shawn were short. On the last day I saw him we were at work: me in the scale, him in the truck. There he admitted aloud his conversion confession. Shawn had been praying, “Yes to Jesus.”
BadGuyville was uncomfortable, but in some ways, it was also familiar. In Badguyville we were just people, people who sinned, loved and lost. Yet, it was also in Badguyville that I couldn’t escape the haunting reality that I come to the same cross as my backyard gangster. At that same cross I receive the same forgiveness for my terrible offenses against God and others. Where would I be without Jesus? And where would we all be without the gospel? May God give me the courage to tell the gospel story again and again and again.
[This article was first published in The Light Magazine, used by permission]