I want to share with you the testimony of one of my friends, Mike Sanders. I realize that me sharing his testimony doesn’t sound really exciting, but let me encourage you to think otherwise as I believe there is a lot for us to learn from it…trust me!
I remember him sharing this during one of our society chapels while attending college many moons ago (1985ish). So here it goes…I’ll write it as if he is saying it…
“I remember when I was four. My parents would often fight, so me and my two brothers and my younger sister would sneak off to the basement. From the safety of that room we could hear them screaming and yelling, throwing things around and when it was over we would usually find my dad gone and my mother weeping in the kitchen. We were too young to know any different, we just thought that all parents behaved like that. What it did do was keep us as kids close to each other.
We lived in a very rough section of Detroit. My father was a factory worker, so he didn’t have much money coming in, but we had our bunk beds and our back yard to play in. It seemed big back then, but truly, it was only 30 feet deep. My mom wouldn’t let us play in the front as the neighborhood kids were trouble…and she was right, because by the time I was 9 I had already smoked my first joint. That was just the beginning, and it was soon to get worse. My grades in school began to drop, but I didn’t care, the marijuana would cover any feelings of loss or guilt. Over the next few years I ended up spending too much time in the drug culture, helping sell it often as the money was easy and good and then one day I was asked to join a gang. Now, I won’t tell you the name of the gang, but when I did join the gang they beat me up and then welcomed me in, but there was one initiation requirement that still had to be fulfilled to prove your worth. I had to choose a store or a place of business and steal money from the cash register. I could hold them up, I could break in after hours, or find some other way of doing the job. Now, by this time I was 15 and able and willing to handle a gun, so I decided that I would hold up a gas station. It seemed like the logical choice a the time…quick and easy and I would be accepted into the gang. Well, without going into the details I did follow through, although somehow the gas station attendee set off a silent alarm which brought the police and somehow I was able to run through a field and through a housing project to get away…(we didn’t have the baggy pants in those days that wen to our knee) Fortunately, I knew that area extremely well and didn’t’ feel like it was a problem.
Well, once in I became active. A little drug sales here and a little coordinated stealing there. Soon I became the trusted coordinator of all the thievery in the area. We didn’t do it every night, or every week, but we did do it often enough. Sometimes it would be getting into homes when we knew people were away, and at other times it was the quick hold up. I now had a reputation within the gang, the girls looked to me as one of the leaders and I was enjoying life…sort of.
Yes, even with all the money I was getting, the girls and the power I had over people, there was still something missing. Now, somehow I knew that I needed to graduate from High School, so I did study enough to pass, but only just. Then that day I will never forget took place. It was a Friday night and one of the rival gangs decided that they wanted to teach us a lesson. I was standing on the front porch of my best friends house when a car came screeching by and multiple shots were fired. My friend was shot and killed in front of me and I was wounded in the leg. I was crushed and I was angry, but my leg hurt too much for me to do anything about it and I knew that I had to go to the hospital. Even so, in my heart, I was already planning my revenge.
Well, while sitting on one of the gurneys in the Emergency at William Beaumont Hospital I was approached by a man with a sash around his neck. Clearly he wasn’t a doctor, but even clearer he wanted to talk to me. At first I endured his introduction and words of concern and care for my injury. Then he asked me a very important question… “Mike, if you were to stand before God and ask him why you should enter into heaven, what would you say?” No one had ever asked me that question, but I was a little confused. Why would a complete stranger approach me in gentleness and ask such a spiritual question at a time like this? The most our family did as it related to church was to go for BINGO or for the yearly festival where we typically got drunk. But there was something powerful and attractive about talking with this man about the Bible. I really didn’t understand much of what he said, but I do remember thinking that maybe, if there is a god, that he would not be pleased with my life.
That question continued to bother me and, even though I couldn’t explain it, over the next few weeks it would stare me in the face while I rested my head on my pillow at night, or at other times when I was alone. I began to change my feelings about who God might be. I still ran around with the gang (as best I could with the injury), doing the things that would get me into trouble, but the question and the subsequent questions from that question would always be in the backdrop of my heart. It wasn’t until one particular Thursday night when I was arrested for disorderly conduct, after some rival gang members strutted into our turf, that a seriousness about life gripped me. As I sat there at the police station the Officer attending to me, who had a hard shell, noticed that I was tender. He asked me what I was feeling and it all came out – The loneliness, the struggles, the words that were shared just over a month earlier. He put his pen down and began to talk to me, not like an officer, but like a big brother. He looked me in the eye and asked the same question that the man in the hospital asked. It was clear that something bigger than me was going on.
I don’t know why, but this officer came by my house the next day, not as a police officer, but in civilian clothes to simply talk to me. He told me of a great God who sent His Son to die in my place when I deserved that death myself because of my sin. The bits and pieces began to all come together like a jigsaw puzzle and I saw myself in need of God and His forgiveness. That day, with those simple truths I prayed to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.
That was two years ago, and now I am preparing to serve God as a Pastor. If you would have asked me five years ago what I would be doing today at 22 I can tell you with a certainty that preparing for the ministry would not have been anywhere near the radar. But God can take people from the worst of lifestyles and draw them to Himself.
Now, there is something more that I need to share with you about my life and even what I am doing today. Everything that I have said over the past 20-25 minutes is a total and complete lie except for my family. I didn’t grow up in Detroit. No, I grew up in a pretty middle class suburb called Clarkston. My parents were a godly example. Certainly they had their difficult moments, but they would work through their emotions and seek to glorify God through their struggles. I wasn’t saved late in my teenage years, I came to know the Lord when I was six. It was real, heartfelt, and there was a radical change in my life that took place. I haven’t lived a life full of sin and excitement, but have instead sought to live for the Lord and grow in maturity to be like Him all through my teenage years.
So, the reality is, my testimony is rather boring according to man’s standards. But, it is the truth and is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to parents who wanted nothing more than for their son to learn to love the Lord with all his heart. I serve a great and powerful God who convicts me when I sin, warns me through the ministry of the Word and Holy Spirit when I am considering compromising my walk, and who is purposeful to grow me where He wants me to grow. I wouldn’t trade that testimony for one that is filled with sex, drugs and excitement. I am, and have been most of my life, a child of God, saved by grace, pursuing His will. I thank God for that legacy.
Now, I know, I know…that was rather mean of me to have you wade through all that stuff simply to make a point. But, my friends, it is a point worth noting. As I look at my life and where I have been and what I was before Christ, my pendulum swings quite far toward the first example than to Mike’s true testimony. I don’t share that part of my life often as it opens the door to sensationalism, but I have been in difficult situations invoving gangs. I have had switchblades held at my chest, walked away from being pulverized by a rival gang, literally run for my life from a group of pursuing gang members… That’s all true, its all exciting, but it is all unnecessary except for some special situations.
I am first and formost everyman – a sinner condemned – but now a child of God through salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He gave on the Cross. I want to boast in Him, not in what my life was like before He entered.