From Chapter 1, “Gangsters in the Doorway” in Do What Jesus Did, by Robby Dawkins. [The first of two testimonies by Robby Dawkins. The second blog is Interrupted by God.]
This meeting took place at the end of 2011. It has now made national news that there were no homicides in all of Aurora in 2012. That hasn’t happened since 1946.
The door of our church swung open, and in sauntered two of the “princes” from the Latin Kings, the dominant gang in our city. Our church is located in the hub of East Aurora, Illinois, a Latin King hot spot. As they walked in, they simply squared up to me in greeting, hardly twitching a muscle. With a nod to the door, they began pointing out different bullet holes in the building and other scars recalling their past battles. This was a typical “Don’t mess with us” threat. When they walked into my church that afternoon, it was because our city was on a brink of an all-out gang war, and they were making it clear that I was definitely in their territory.
Aurora has a long history of violence, from its Al Capone days in the 1930s and ’40s to the ever-increasing gang violence of the ’80s and ’90s, when the gentrifying of Chicago’s urban slums squeezed whole neighbourhoods of lower-income tenants into our western suburb. The resulting pressure between warring gangs that were being channelled into smaller and smaller overlapping territories often boosted our homicide rate higher than Chicago’s. Thanks to exhaustive efforts by community leaders, churches and the police, the situation had finally begun to stabilize. Then the threats began. Outraged by an increasing sense of marginalization and a “lack of respect” from the police, the Latin Kings began issuing warnings that blood would soon flow in the streets. Several drive-by shootings occurred, and a repeat of history seemed imminent.
Alarmed, police began calling me. As a police chaplain I had mediated several high-profile situations in the past and had seen God radically work in the gang community. I currently had several major ex– gang leaders attending my church who had confirmed that a war was on the horizon. After talking with some insiders, I connected with an Aurora businessman committed to community-gang relations. He had grown up in school with one of the major Latin King leaders, and through this connection he often was able to serve as a liaison. He agreed to set up a meeting for me with two of the main leaders. They had street names like Diablo. I had seen their faces on the police station walls for years, and now seeing them framed in the church doorway with nothing but thin air between us sent a quick jolt down my spine.
One gang leader, Shotgun, was in his forties, a fiercely grim-faced man who seemed possessed by an obsession with death. (Shotgun is a nickname I gave him; I’ve changed some names in my stories to protect people’s privacy.) His second man, Diablo, was mainly silent but kept his eyes locked on me the whole time, watching my every move. A woman with them, Diana, had also come. She looked rough when she walked in and was a fiery talker. She had no problem letting me know who she was and what she was about.
I had two of my dear friends with me. Todd White was one, and Darren Wilson was the other. Darren was working on a documentary about the power of God.
Shotgun wasn’t too interested in introductions. He was doing most of the talking. In candid detail, he described for us a shootout that had occurred on the front property of the church and the killing that took place at the corner of our building. He was letting us know just who it was I was dealing with. Without being too specific, he let us know that “they” were about to do some damage in town. He told me that “some people” in the gangs weren’t happy, and if that kept happening, there would be blood in the streets. He said a lot of people were going to get “really jacked up,” and added, “If people aren’t careful, things are going to get really crazy around here.”
I had watched Shotgun before, in the park across the street. One afternoon he and a friend got out of a car and strolled into the crowded park. Within a few minutes, the other men in the park stopped what they were doing, walked over to shake his hand and his friend’s, then backed away carefully. The men took their families and left. Women pushed their strollers quickly out of the park, and twenty minutes later there wasn’t a sign of life on the block. This was a man who wielded fear in our community.
I looked at Shotgun now and thought about how much God actually loved this person standing before me. I told him squarely, “I know there’s the threat of a war, and that can’t happen.” The two men looked at each other. “Yeah, is that why you invited us here? To try and stop the war?” Diablo asked.
“No,” I said. “Actually, I asked you to come here so that I could introduce you to God.”
That was obviously the last thing they expected to come out of my mouth. Diablo looked at me with the strangest expression, then clutched his crucifix and said, “What do you mean? We know who God is!”
I studied him. “Yes, that might be true, but you’ve never met Him the way you’re about to. If you’ll let us, we’ll pray for you, and you’ll meet God.” I glanced over at the businessman and asked, “Could we start with you?”
This businessman attends our church now, but at the time I didn’t know him well at all. He’s a tall, well-built businessman who heads up the Latino business network in the area. He may have been from a mildly Catholic background; I wasn’t sure. But whatever his beliefs, clearly the last thing he had expected us to do right then was to pray. He seemed especially surprised to suddenly find himself at the center of it. Thankfully, he agreed to go along with it, though I realized that if this didn’t go well, he would probably never meet with me again. I intentionally wanted to start with him because he was the leader of our meeting and the gang leaders trusted him. What he experienced would help legitimize it for the others as he encountered the reality of God and what He was about to do.
We began to pray, “Lord, we bless my friend.” I knew he had had an accident years earlier and had suffered back trauma ever since. As we prayed, I recalled this and felt led to pray for healing. The suffering from his back injury was something he struggled with on a daily basis, and his attempts to find ways to numb the pain had negatively affected his life. I asked him if his back still hurt, and he confirmed that he was in pain at the moment from both his back and his shoulder.
I told this man in front of the others, “God is about to make Himself real to you and completely heal your back and take away the pain.” We prayed, commanding his back to come into alignment and be fully healed. After a few minutes we asked him to check his back. I could feel God’s presence in the room.
He started to move and twist, his eyes widening in disbelief as he realized that not a single twinge of pain or discomfort remained. He said out loud, “It’s gone! I can’t believe it. It’s been years since I’ve been without any pain.” He sat there perplexed. “I don’t understand where it went.”
His childhood friend, Shotgun, looked at him. “Are you for reals, man?” (Yes, for reals, not for real. For reals is a very typical phrase in poor urban areas; I hear it in my church every week.)
The rest of the meeting the businessman was silent, his face half hidden behind his hands as he seemed in deep thought, considering what had just happened. He told me later that he felt heat and electricity come over his whole body when we prayed for him. During the rest of the meeting, he didn’t try to stop us or intervene in anything else we did, although later he told me it was way outside what he felt comfortable with.
Diablo had been leaning forward and staring at me the entire time, rocking back and forth a little in his chair. From experience, I could tell already from a few things that had happened that he actually was demonized, but I could also see a look of great hunger on his face. It seemed as though what had just happened with the businessman had peeled a layer off Diablo’s defensive mask. He seemed a little softer and I saw desperation in his eyes, almost like, “I don’t know what this is. It scares the hell out of me, but I just have to have it. . . .” His desperation was reaching past the barrier wall— past the dark stronghold of fear and destruction that had defined his life.
We turned to Shotgun and I asked, “Can we pray for you next?” I also asked him if he had a daughter. I sensed the Lord telling me that He wanted to heal Shotgun’s relationship with his daughter.
Shotgun answered, “Yeah, I have two daughters. Neither of them will even speak to me anymore.”
Then I asked him if something was also going on in his back. I sensed the Lord wanted to heal that, too.
He confirmed, “Yeah, I was shot in the back a while ago; it’s still always in pain. One of the disks was permanently messed up.”
My friend Todd White, who was sitting next to me, also asked Shotgun if one of his legs was shorter than the other.
“Yeah, that’s right.” He nodded slowly, as if a bit mystified by what was happening around him.
Todd asked if he could take Shotgun’s shorter leg in his hands, and he spoke to it: “Leg, get out here! Bones, muscles, skin, grow right now.”
The leg shot out as we watched. Diablo’s eyes popped open, and he stood up to check it. Everyone was stunned.
“Yeah, it’s straight now,” Shotgun confirmed. His back pain was also completely gone.
I looked at him with so much love. “You know, what God just did with your back, He wants to do with your entire life.” The guys looked at each other, and it was as if something had broken in the room. Diablo was next. I sensed God prompting us with a word of healing for his torso area, and Todd said he felt God highlighting Diablo’s stomach in particular. Diablo lifted up his shirt and showed us scars where he had been shot in the stomach. A huge chunk was missing where the wound had been. We prayed for the pain to leave and for complete healing to occur in his stomach.
Diablo’s eyes widened, and he grabbed his stomach. He said he felt heat and electricity there, and that he had felt it all over him since the moment he first walked in the door.
We explained that what he felt was often a manifestation of God’s presence that comes bringing healing. Todd then began praying for Diablo’s scarring to disappear. Honestly, we couldn’t tell much of a difference afterward, but the two gang leaders swore it had changed and said it was about 50 percent gone. Shocked, they were stunned into silence. Their posture was completely different from when they had come in; the hardened arrogance, cursing and threats that had surrounded their entrance were gone.
When I looked at Diana, the Lord showed me some of the spiritual weight she had been under.
I told her, “You’ve been having demonic visitation at night, hearing voices and having terrible nightmares.”
The brassy, outspoken Diana dropped her head down to her chest and started nodding quietly. We also sensed that the Lord wanted to heal her from the stomach trouble and digestive problems bothering her. She confirmed that she was suffering in those areas, too. I told her, “Diana, God loves you and wants to heal you. We can pray for you, and all those problems can leave right now.”
We started praying and commanding the demonic spirits that had been attacking her to leave in the name of Jesus. As we took authority and bound them in the name of Jesus, Diana began sweating profusely. Suddenly she doubled over in her chair as if pushed, and she gasped and let out a huge sigh of air. With that, a heaviness seemed to lift off her, and her face looked different.
We asked her if she had felt something leave, and she nodded. Then we told her, “This needs to be sealed up so that it can’t return. The only way that can happen is if you want to accept Christ.”
Diana nodded and agreed she would do that.
We looked around the table, and I said, “That goes for all of you. If you want to pray right now and give your life to Christ, He will continue to heal you and set you free in every area of your life.”
They all nodded and said yes. I asked them to repeat a prayer giving over their lives to Jesus and making Him their Lord. Shotgun especially, who was standing behind Diana, was almost shouting the prayer, passionately asking God to forgive him for every sin he had committed.
All four of them— the businessman, Shotgun, Diablo and Diana— ended up coming back to join our church on Sunday morning. They’ve also started new relationships with people in the community. Today, Shotgun in particular is a changed man. When I met him before, he was driven by the spirit of death. Whereas before he looked completely angry and hollow eyed, today he glows with laughter and joy. He is the first one to tell jokes and welcome newcomers to our church.
Diana has not missed a Sunday in church since that day and has become an outspoken advocate for Jesus to everyone she knows. She brought her entire family to our church. Shotgun and Diablo brought some other men they met on the street into our church for prayer, and those men also decided to leave their gangs and follow Christ. For weeks afterward, I would get calls from these former Latin King leaders telling me that they kept experiencing the presence of God everywhere they went— when they woke up, in the shower, when they were eating, all the time. One of them told me, “Robby, this is the best stuff in the world.” Crying, he called to say, “I don’t know why, but when I think about how Jesus has changed me, I can’t stop crying. I want the world to know how much Jesus can change people!”
Needless to say, there never was any gang war after our meeting, but both Shotgun and Diablo are still somewhat haunted by their reputations. Every time they show up on a Sunday morning, cop cars begin circling our church. Yet these men continue to praise God, grow in Christ and bring more and more people into relationship with Him. It’s interesting how God works.
At the end of our meeting when everyone had accepted Christ, I looked at these guys and said, “What just happened here will change this city.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was giving a prophetic word. This meeting took place at the end of 2011, it has now made national news that there were no homicides in all of Aurora in 2012. That hasn’t happened since 1946.
Another twist to this story is that we started the church fifteen years ago in Diana’s sister’s living room! I remember her sister, Bobbie, asking us back then to pray that Diana would come to Christ and turn away from the life she was leading. Fifteen years later, I had the privilege of leading Diana to Christ when she walked through the door that day. Yet Diana and I did not know our connected history through Bobbie until afterward.
The results of our meeting with the gang leaders became an awesome testimony in our community. It was part of a long series of changes we’ve seen God bring since we moved to Aurora to plant the church. Many times, it has been an uphill battle. Numerous break-ins have occurred at the church building, and I’ve had my car stolen several times— twice by members of our church. At different times over the years we’ve struggled financially, and it has been difficult growing a community of people as committed to the vision as we are. There have been pain and hard times— but in the midst of it all, we’ve seen incredible breakthroughs time and time again. God has been at work healing, transforming families, restoring marriages, providing jobs and ultimately changing the Aurora community. He has made it a place of hope where people from different parts of the country and even the world come to be trained and equipped.
Dawkins, Robby (2013-06-15). Do What Jesus Did: A Real-Life Field Guide to Healing the Sick, Routing Demons and Changing Lives Forever (Ch. 1). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.