Encounter with stranger brings thankfulness

By Lucy Luginbill, Tri-City HeraldDecember 1, 2012 

RICHLAND, Wash. -- An attitude of gratitude can enter an unsuspecting heart at any time or any place. Jesse Campos remembers the exact moment he was touched by a stranger -- and the thankfulness he has felt ever since.

It was the early 1990s in Tri-Cities. Already this high school grad showed the signs of a rough life, the hours spent with rebellious friends taking its toll. More than once he had experienced the slice of a knife, the pummel of fists, and the lights of an unexpected police car. It came with the territory: turfs were to be defended, colors worn with crisp pride.

"The boys" 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. By the time he was out of his teens, the path was set, the door to a promising future slammed shut.

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

High on drugs late one night, the stench of alcohol permeating the air, a longhaired and bearded Jesse stood with his woman inside the local Target store. Automatic entry doors opened wide as the burly Latino waited in line. A diminutive man entered.

"It was like I couldn't take my eyes off him," Jesse recalls. "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 then 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 fianc broke up with him -- a woman deeply devoted to Jesse and without even the remotest possibility of leaving him -- then this would be proof that God was real.

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 broken young man fell to his knees, tears streaming as he cried out, "If you can use me, God, use me!"

At the crossroads that intersected with the Christ of Calvary, Jesse Campos' life changed.

Today, with Bible college behind him, and years of experience working in youth outreach through M.A.D., Jubilee Youth Ranch and Teen Challenge, 40-year-old Jesse is the founder and program director of F.I.R.M.E. (Finding, Impacting, Redirecting gangs through Mentorship and Education www.firmeoutreach.org).

Pastor Jesse, as many of the teens call him, often reflects on the day a stranger cared enough to intervene in his life.

"I'm thankful because if it hadn't been for him stepping out of his comfort zone to reassure me of God's love, to plant the seed of hope," Campos said with a catch in his voice, "I probably wouldn't be here."

The poignant memory that shaped an attitude of gratitude still lingers within his heart. It's one he strives to pass on to others through God's healing touch.

* Lucy Luginbill is a freelance writer, Tri-City Herald blogger and member of Columbia Community Church in Richland.

Questions and comments should be directed to Spiritual Life editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricityherald.com.

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