About 20 members of a Port Elizabeth Northern Areas gang yesterday committed themselves to following the example of their former leader who recently made a decision to turn his life around and follow Jesus.
The young members of the Bad Boys gang made their decision after a meeting with a group of church representatives which included former Western Cape gangsters. The meeting, which took place in the Bad Boys headquarters — a derelict, debris-strewn house in Kleinskool Extension 36 — was set up by former gang leader Geronimo Lottering, 24, who committed his life to Christ during a dramatic encounter a week earlier with a group of Christians, including police offiers, who were taking part in an anti-crime prayer walk in the crime-plagued area. Since his turnabout, Lottering has been spending time with Pastor Tyrone Strydom of Dominion Ministries, Port Elizabeth and members of a visiting ministry team from Cape Town.
Curious community members yesterday watched through the empty windows and doorway of the broken-down house as Pastor Alfonso Schilder of Mount Hope Kingdom Life Church in Mitchells Plain, and his three team members engaged with the attentive Bad Boys members. “We were once tik addicts but look what God has done in our lifes,” said team member Cedric Davids.
During the meeting the gang members said they wanted to turn away from crime, violence, drugs and alcohol and to seek a new life with the help of God. They said their greatest need was employment. They said they were keen to accept the church representatives’ offer to build a relationship with them, their parents and to explore practical ways to empower them to live constructively. At the end of the meeting Strydom led the young people in a prayer of commitment.
In an interview Lottering recounted his conversion experience during the street encounter with the prayer walkers on the previous Saturday. He said when Strydom began to proclaim the Gospel to him and his friends “the Holy Spirit came on me and my knife started to burn in my pocket”. Lottering, who was known to police as one of the biggest trouble makers in the area, surprised the prayer walkers by handing his knife over to Strydom. He was followed by another gang member who handed over a stick of dagga. Yesterday Lottering said if the prayer walkers had not come into his life on that day he is sure he would have ended up in jail again soon.
“I now feel a joy in my life. I want to work for God and help the community,” he said.
Schilder, whose church runs a drug recovery home in Mitchells Plain, said he and his team happened to be PE to run a conference at Strydom’s church. During his youth he had been a member of the notorious Hard Living gang. In 1984, at a time when his life had been empty and spiralling out of control, he heard the Gospel for the first time when a street evangelist visited his neighbourhood.
“It made such an impact on me that I searched for the preacher and knocked on his door when I found out where he lived. I gave my life to the Lord in his lounge and from that day I knew that I wanted to be part of the solution for people caught in the lifestyle I was in.”
He said he started a gang outreach, just using his own testimony and a video of the “Cross and the Switchblade”, which somebody had given to him. Later he felt God call him to become more equipped and he completed a 4-year theology degree and went into the ministry. In 1998 he was invited by the United States Embassy to participate in a drug and gang outreach in San Francisco. While in the US he worked with NGOs and formulated concepts which he later started using to help communities in the Western Cape.
Schilder said he believed there was hope for the young people from Kleinskool who had just prayed to start a new life, provided they were willing to actively pursue the opportunity that Strydom and his church were offering to them.