Unusual 'angel' encounter changes gang member

Tri-City HeraldOctober 19, 2012 

Can someone be touched by an angel? Can an unexplained incident change the course of a person's life?

In the fantasy world of television, the Touched by an Angel character, Monica, often appeared to people to offer guidance and hope at a crossroads. But can that same kind of inexplicable event occur in real life?

This story may hold the answer.

Jesse was a hardened gang member in his Pasco, Wash. community. More than once, he had experienced the slice of a knife, the pummel of fists, and the lights of an unexpected cop car. Turfs were to be defended, colors worn with crisp pride. Hanging with the "homies" was an opportunity for respect, a feeling of family.

It wasn't that Jesse didn't have a family — a God-fearing one, as a matter of fact — but the young boy early on chose a different lifestyle. Friends knew how to be cool, smoke the dope, drink the booze. They knew where the action was--and for Jesse, it wasn't within the doors of his father's church.

The innocence of the late 1980's changed as California gang members infiltrated the neighborhood and stole the hearts of youth — kids like Jesse. By the time his 1990 high school graduation passed, the path was set; the door to a promising future slammed shut.

But there is never a shut door that God can't open.

High on drugs late one night, the stench of alcohol permeating the air, a long-haired and bearded Jesse stood with his woman inside the local Target store. Automatic entry doors opened wide as the gangster waited in line.

A diminutive man entered.

"It was like I couldn't take my eyes off him," Jesse recalls as he relived the moment in a recent interview. "I was fixated on this guy."

And then it happened.

As their eyes locked, the fellow stepped directly into Jesse's space, patted him on the shoulder and said, "What's up, Chief? Jesus loves you."

Stunned and filled with anger — a rage Jesse had felt when hearing his parents' tearful prayers — he turned, but the stranger was gone. Nevertheless, the memory lingered.

Hours later, sober and alone in his room, Jesse laid out a test for God: If his fiance broke up with him — a woman deeply devoted to Jesse and without even the remotest possibility of leaving him — then this would be proof.

The phone call came like a knife to his heart. Weeping on the other end of the line, his future bride told him she couldn't love him anymore. The relationship was over.

Devastated and in shock, this gang member fell to his knees, tears streaming as he cried out, "If you can use me, God, use me!"

How God has in the years that followed is a story for another day. But at the crossroads that intersected with the Christ of Calvary, Jesse Campos' life changed.

It happened when he was touched in an out of the ordinary way. Some might say by an angel.

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