CHRISTIAN NEWS ARCHIVES
Seminary student becomes
'Gangster Disciple' for Christ
By Travis Hilton
WAKE FOREST, N.C. -- Imagine yourself knocking on an apartment door in a drug-infested neighborhood and then hearing the distinct sound of a gun being cocked on the other side. Your heart races as you wonder if the next person you see will be your last.
For Chad Roberts, that thought did cross his mind this summer as he ministered in a government-sponsored housing project noted for gang related activity in Gary, Ind.
Roberts was one of 20 summer missionaries from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., who participated in a joint church-planting mission supported by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board and state Baptist conventions.
Roberts worked alongside Etim Udoh, a seminary student from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo. Udoh had served as a church planter and pastor in Nigeria for 42 years before enrolling at Midwestern.
Southeastern students enrolled in the "Praxis" program spent 10 weeks ministering across several states. Under the program, administered by George Braswell, professor of missions and world religions at Southeastern, students earn eight hours of academic credit by fulfilling reading and research requirements.
Roberts, a 23-year-old master of divinity student from Statesville, N.C., described the atmosphere where he and Udoh served as "tense." Reportedly, about 70 percent of the residents in the "run-down" housing project were either unemployed, addicted to drugs or both.
"I saw a gun the first day I was there," said Roberts. He had joined a "pick-up" game of basketball, not realizing he was playing with gang members. During the game, he saw a young man concealing a pistol in his belongings. "My heart raced," Roberts said, "and I just began to pray that God would take away the fear."
Roberts said he later learned he had been playing basketball with a notorious group of rabble-rousers called the "Gangster Disciples." A drug transaction that interrupted another basketball game suddenly didn't seem so strange.
"The person I was guarding on the court just walked over and made the transaction," Roberts said. "If you would have told me before that those were gang members, I probably wouldn't have (played basketball with them). In the daytime they appeared to be just average guys. I had a preconceived notion that you could not approach gang members, but it turns out that you can."
Playing basketball "created more visibility and gave me an opportunity to learn their names," Roberts said. His anxieties and fears lessened as his prayers increased; meanwhile, gun sightings became an everyday occurrence.
Roberts recalled another experience when he and a fellow minister visited a notorious drug dealer's apartment. "When we knocked, we heard the distinct sound of a pistol cock through the screen door," Roberts said.
The man who came to the door was called "Tiny." "Tiny carried a pistol in a shoulder strap most of the time and was always watching his back," Roberts said.
A notorious drug dealer in the neighborhood, Tiny was known as the "Mayor of Ivanhoe." Roberts said Tiny listened attentively while he shared the gospel with him, but he had to leave suddenly before Roberts finished.
Roberts said he never got another chance to share his faith with the 22-year-old suspected drug dealer. Tiny disappeared after becoming a suspect in a shoot-out with police.
Roberts said he got frustrated early during his summer ministry when people didn't attend Bible studies they had committed to attend. "But then I realized they had very little understanding of what it means to follow through," Roberts said.
Most of the young men Roberts worked with did not have a father involved in their life. Commitment was a concept foreign to many of the young men. Roberts said he a met a 22-year-old woman who was a single parent with five children, a situation not uncommon throughout the neighborhood where he led Bible studies.
Despite the frustrations, Robert said, God remained faithful by helping him score a major victory on the basketball court where he met a 22-year-old man named Fred. Fred became a frequent visitor to their makeshift office in a nearby apartment, provided by the local housing authority, and eventually gave his life to Christ in his mother's church.
Two days after becoming a Christian, Fred joined Roberts in sharing the gospel with people. "Fred and I spent time sharing the gospel with young potential gang members under a shade tree," Roberts recounted. A total of 36 people from throughout the neighborhood made decisions for Christ during the summer.
Roberts said he was thankful to God for answering his prayer to be "stretched and taken out of my comfort zone," while protecting him in a potentially dangerous and hostile environment.
"This summer was something that by myself I couldn't pull off, but God blessed my efforts and he really was in that outreach," Roberts said. "It was a true work of God there that people would receive the good news."
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