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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gang warlord turned hero

We think on 1950's America as an idyllic, simpler time. A beautiful slice of life immortalized in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Ignored in these nostalgic pictures are life among the poor in the ghettos.

Nicky Cruz was a teenager in 1958. A native of Puerto Rico, his parents sent him to live in New York with his brother when he was fifteen. It was difficult adjusting to a new culture, and a new language in a city that had little care for those who didn't fit the Rockwell portrait.

Nicky had a hard time in school, and was thrown out. He later joined a gang called the Mau Maus. Named after an African tribe, they prided themselves on ruthlessness. Over time, their membership grew and Nicky became president. War was waged on the police, and neighborhoods lived in fear.

In his book, "Run, baby run" Nicky recounts how he was driven by hate. A hate so palpable, he sensed it everywhere he went. He combated the hate with violence. His gang committed robbery and rape among the citizens while waging war on other gangs in the streets. No drug, no rumble, no sexual encounter was enough to quell the hurt inside him that hate firmly planted.

His life was changed when he met a minister named David Wilkerson. After three years of running the Mau Maus, Nicky met a slight, odd looking man who found the right words to reach him. The word of God. Nicky recounts restless nights when Wilkerson's simple message turned over in his head. He had to do something about this preacher. Wilkerson threatened all he built, his only family.

The Mau Maus went to the preacher's rally with intent on disrupting it. Instead, Wilkerson asked Nicky and three Mau Maus to take up a collection for the church.
Was he crazy?
It was the first time Nicky felt trusted and though he knew stealing the money was the "right" thing to do, something stopped him. He took the money to the preacher instead.

He was changing.
It was scary to change. He was in control as president of a gang, and he had a degree of respect. When God began to impact his heart, he had something he never had before.
Self respect.

Hate began to die as he learned more about God. The change in him sparked a change in others.
Imagine the shock when Nicky and his fellow gang members went to the police station to turn in their weapons!

Nicky went on to Bible college and married a sweet girl named Gloria. Together, they have dedicated their lives to youth all across the world. Nicky has given talks in Denmark, England and all across America.
His book is required reading in at least three countries.

I got to hear him speak last Saturday.
His words were not those of a polished orator, but of an honest man with heart.
He was able to reach out to both teens and parents with a positive solution that would better their lives forever.

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