One sunny winter day we found Justin, outside an apartment complex and dizzy with fear. He shifted and jerked, his head moving with every sound of wind, every crack of twigs, and his brown eyes darted from one balcony to the next. He didn’t trust. He couldn’t trust. Even the feet beneath his legs were wobbly as he motioned for us to sit. I’ve never seen someone so attuned to their surroundings.
After taking a seat on the semi-warm concrete ledge he told us of his past. Justin was alone, and at the age of fifteen truly believed was starting a family. But that’s just it—why today his palms were sweaty, his head twisting with every dart of a breeze—it turned out to be a counterfeit.
Gang life, thug life, all of it, was to pretend there was a family, to have everything that equals happiness so close to the real thing that it tricked him, and he wasn’t about to do it again. He taught me that Satan is the great counterfeit. He takes lies and makes them look like truth. It can feel so convincing, but what Justin came to find—can actually be the exact opposite, leading further away from the truth.
We taught him of God, we showed him prayer, we answered his questions, eyes still darting, still unsure, and that’s when he taught me; what it means to be a Gang member- gang leader, and someone who works in the dark.
He listened and in that was scared, I wasn’t sure why, but then he said it “How do I know this isn’t a counterfeit?” One foot up and ready to leave, to run, to wander in the streets of Colorado Springs without a home, gang, or family. He was in hiding from starting one of the largest gangs in America. Something that began so innocently, looked so similar to what he did not have, and had become the epitome of evil.
This was something he told us he KNEW he would go to hell for, and amongst the catching rays of sun that disclosed his identity, he was racing and sweating for the death, which could soon follow such an appearance.
But there was something inside Justin greater than fear, it was the desire for faith.
When you leave a gang you don’t just leave and start over, if you’re like Justin, you know too much, you’ve done too much. If you leave, your “family” will find you and kill you. He didn’t want to die, he knew somewhere inside that he would pay for the murders, the rapes, the bloodshed, robbing, violence, which for a 19yr. old was quite a record.
As he listened to our story it brought back the memory of starting the gang; a family, a home, counterfeit.
What an interesting way for me to learn. He knew exactly what the world held for him, where it would lead him, what it had promised, and there was nothing left.
We gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, invited him to read it (he had about a 1st grade level after teaching himself to read), and we would meet again, same place, with a set date and time. The visits with Justin were beyond converting, from the power he said he felt from the Book of Mormon, to his kneeling, weeping prayer of repentance to God proclaiming “All I want is you now, all I want is you.”
He found the real thing, the opposite of counterfeit—Peace.
When I see counterfeit today I am reminded of Justin and the seriousness of where that path leads. It may look “intellectually stimulating” or “liberating” even “transcendent” but where is it really leading? Is it a “family” or is it really a “gang”?
A distraction leading away from the peace of being tied to God. Freedom that is an illusion, that takes no searching and struggling for, a path leading away from what is most dear and precious—God’s family.
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