Former gang member recalls finding new direction

Tri-City HeraldOctober 24, 2012 

The gang leader saw the light — and then his world went black. Lying in a pool of blood in a dark street in Kennewick, Wash., Jesse Campos' last memory was the sweep of headlights and opposing gang members fleeing.

Beaten and slashed from weapons of broken glass, Jesse's night of misery only got worse as he awakened and staggered toward help. Pounding on apartment doors, its occupants peering from behind closed curtains, the wounded man left rejected blood-red handprints in his wake.

An all-night grocery store was his only hope. Lurching toward the doorway, the gangster stumbled inside, his appearance sending employees running in fear.

"I need help!" Jesse pleaded as management stepped forward into that long ago nightmare.

Today, the clean-cut man who tells me this story more resembles a warm teddy bear than an early 1990's drug-dealing gang member. He recalls how a dramatic life-changing moment set him on a new path, starting when a stranger assured him that God loved him.

"When you come to the cross from the other side," Jesse told me, referring to the dark life he had led compared to someone with a traditional lifestyle, "it's different."

That pivotal moment when darkness fled and his life filled with new purpose was an epiphany. Jesse realized he must escape his gang environment if he hoped to set a new course. With his parents' blessing and support, the former delinquent joined his brother to attend the Latin American Bible Institute in La Puente, Calif.

It was there, Jesse discovered a kindred spirit. A former "homie" invited him to attend a local church. Suspicious from being rebuffed at other churches, the new student hesitated. Still, the acquaintance encouraged him to give it a try.

"I'll never forget walking through those doors," Jesse reminisced, "and seeing hundreds of guys who looked like me, singing and raising their hands in praise."

(For this ex-gang member, it was as if God had given him a glimpse into his future — his purpose — although, he didn't realize it back then.)

There gathered together in this church was a tattooed and pierced congregation set free through faith in Christ — unchained from their former lifestyle. Like Jesse Campos, they had seen the Light.

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