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Presenting the Gospel to the Ghost Town gang

 

FB Ellijay

Jon Jones, right, and seminary student Jacob Jones, left, prepare Roger Anthony for baptism. The act was a display of servant leadership for Anthony, a gang leader of the Crips, as many of his men looked on.

BELIZE CITY, Belize — Many churches sponsor mission trips, but few go into gang-infested cities in foreign countries. First Baptist Church in Ellijay dares to be different and is seeking to plant a church in the midst of the nation’s only major urban area.

Belize City does not exactly top the list of tourist destinations in Belize. In fact, many visitors choose to bypass the country’s historical capital. This may be because the nation’s main attractions are natural and nautical, rendering superfluous a prolonged visit to its only metropolis. An additional explanation is that the city has a bad reputation for poverty and crime.

The very things that repel most people provide an attraction to First Baptist Ellijay’s mission teams. Belize is a poor country, primarily Catholic, and has little industry other than tourism. Its geography, being immediately south of the Mexican southern border with over 150 miles of coastline, makes it a gateway for drug traffic into Mexico and ultimately the U.S.

 

Encountering the complicated

Belize City, primarily due to the poverty and drug trade, has become a haven for organized gang activity and is the sixth most likely place on earth to die from a gunshot. It’s per capita murder rates are among the highest in the world. Most murders are of young men and are the result of gang violence.

To complicate matters, the family structure in Belize City is one of absent fathers and unwed mothers with large families. There is a marked absence of godly male modeling, resulting in unruly male children and young women with very low self-worth.

Josh Moyers, youth pastor of the Ellijay church, had been to Belize as a freshman in high school and had a lack of peace about the dash-in-dash-out approach he had experienced. When he became the student pastor at First Baptist he had a vision to lead his students into missions with the intent of focusing on one particular neighborhood in Belize City – a place called “Ghost Town” where gang activity was commonplace.

Moyers’ passion to impact Ghost Town for Christ eventually began to permeate the entire Ellijay church. Jon Jones caught Moyers’ vision and soon both men were fully engaged in the Belize mission venture. For the past two years, Josh handed over the leadership of this mission focus to Jon and his wife, Debra, and their children, Tori and Taylor. Jon and Debra have since adopted a young Belizean daughter named Kiana. The adoption process involved Debra living in Belize for a year with Jon making visits as often as possible.

Jones recently reported, “When we were in Belize in the winter I noticed that God was softening the heart of Roger Anthony, a gang leader.

FB Ellijay

First Baptist Ellijay deacon Brett Minter, center, prepares to jump from a waterfall as Sam Rogers climbs his way up. The group of men from the church spent time mentoring, witnessing to, and discipling several gang members during their time in Belize.

“Anthony, leader of the Ghost Town Crips, came to me and introduced himself as we were hanging out with our kids on our first day there.

“To put it simply, Roger had been watching us work with the kids, seeing us be deliberate, consistent, intentional, and unafraid to move freely about Ghost Town. He had asked the kids what we were teaching them. He had even noticed that most of our team members were coming back consistently.”

Jones continued, “After our introductory conversations, he asked, ‘What about us? What about the men? Do you ever do camps for men our age?’

 

‘Right where you are’

“He explained that he had kids of his own, a wife, had lost friends in gang shootings, and that he was excited about the prospect that things could be different in his neighborhood. He expressed guilt about the things he had done in his life, including two murders and nine prison sentences,” Jones said.

“But Roger also indicated that it was complicated. He said, ‘I am the leader of the second largest gang in the city and people have expectations of me. I am in a position I cannot just desert.”

Jones told Anthony, “God wants to use you right where you are.” During the week the two men stayed in contact and at their last meeting Roger Anthony prayed to receive Christ into his heart. The prayer took place under a gang house where they had found shelter from a torrential downpour of rain.

Such an attack would generally prompt retaliation when a gang maliciously assaulted a rival gang, but Anthony’s newly found faith inspired him to return good for evil.

Anthony immediately asked Jones to make a special trip back to Belize to provide some kind of retreat for his fellow gang members so they could also hear about God’s plan for their lives.

In May Jones and nine other men went back to Belize for the purpose of providing a “Belize Community Leadership Retreat” for Anthony and his fellow gang members. There were 19 men who showed up.

Tim Harrison, one of the ten men on the mission in Belize, wrote, “I couldn’t wait to start loving on the ‘Ghost Town Crips’ in Jesus’ name. We pulled up into their neighborhood in a bus and watched as they piled on yelling to their neighbors out of the widows as we pulled away and headed into the safety of the rain forest.

“Soon after arriving at Hummingbird Lodge, a rustic hostel surrounded by mango and palm trees, we passed out Bibles to the men and divided them into small groups that had two leaders each.

“Over the course of the weekend we heard their stories. Six of the men in attendance had been wounded, some severely, from a grenade attack that killed one of their friends. Others shared their ongoing burden and regret of having taken someone’s life.

“In our sessions we took our time working our way through the Gospel, starting with God (and His holiness), and man (and his sinfulness). We introduced Jesus as the solution to our problem in session two, and focused on our response of repentance and faith in session three.

“On Saturday afternoon, after our discussion of faith and repentance, twin brothers who had been celebrity drug dealers in Belize drove out to share their testimonies of being rescued from their addiction to the highest level of the drug-dealer lifestyle. The men were completely engaged with their message of God’s miraculous deliverance and redemption.”

FB Ellijay

Deacon Brett Minter, facing camera, leads a Bible study discussion with a group of members of the Ghost Town Crips as First Ellijay member Taylor Jones, left, looks on.

Jones announced, “God had prepared their hearts and 13 of the 19 men accepted Christ, took their first communion, and were baptized in a jungle river two hours outside of Belize City.”

 

Under attack

Just weeks after the retreat, the men whose lives God had touched came under Satan’s attack by a rival gang – the Bloods. Roger Anthony was hosting a graduation party for his daughter when gang members opened fire on those in attendance. One of Anthony’s relatives was wounded in the gunfire. In fact, two of the men who accepted Christ received gunshot wounds in the Bloods’ attacks since the retreat.

Rafael Cruz was seriously wounded and Anthony took it upon himself to raise the money for his surgery, because in Belize physicians must have the money prior to performing operations.

Anthony was interviewed by a local television reporter and asked, “Does this mean war?”

He replied, “No, this doesn’t mean war.” Such an attack would generally prompt retaliation when a gang maliciously assaulted a rival gang, but Anthony’s newly found faith inspired him to return good for evil.

Anthony wrote Jones a letter explaining, “I know God has a purpose for me and I will fight to stay alive to try and fulfill His purpose, because I know as a leader I will be able to make a change in my ‘hood for better. I know God made me to serve Him and His Son and to help [lead] people to Him.”

As this article was being written Jones and 26 others were on their way back to Belize in hopes of securing land in the middle of Ghost Town for the planting of a church.