Engulfed in Fire

Teena Myers

By Teena Myers

Wade’s parents ran a successful business, which employed much of their extended family. Wade and his siblings were well behaved and excelled in school. Neither drug nor alcohol abuse found access into their tight-knit clan. He had a good life until his parents questioned the validity of Christianity and embarked on a quest to find the truth.  

 For the next nine years, he experienced a host of philosophies and Asian religions. The discontent in his parents’ lives created a cancer that destroyed the foundation of Wade’s happy home. His parents divorced when he was fifteen. Everyone went his or her own way, leaving Wade to fend for himself on the streets of Honduras. 

“By the time I was seventeen, I gave up on God,” said Wade. “What was the point of being ‘good’ when my family lived a good life and it didn’t keep us from being torn apart? I decided my parents never should have married and I never should have been born. If there was a God, I was too insignificant for him to care about.” 

Wade moved to Tegucigalpa to open a computer school. Lacking equipment and financial backing, the business failed, but he made close friends during the venture. When local gangs harassed his friends, they realized the necessity of helping one another. “We didn’t intend to start a new gang, but that is what we became,” said Wade. “We were different. We had drugs and street fighting, but we also had brains. We designed our gang to protect ourselves from other gangs and from the police.”  

The city of Tegucigalpa had a zero-tolerance policy for gangs. The police beat gang members without reprisal. Sometimes gangs disappeared without explanation. Wade and his friends took advantage of government connections and applied for credentials as GEDE, a group organized to assist in disasters and emergencies. The credentials gave them access to military training and permission to carry weapons. 

“At the time, there were a lot of mudslides causing disasters. The government would call us to assist in rescue operations, but it was just a cover. Privately, we joked, ‘We are specialist in disasters; we make the disasters.’ The credentials gave us privileges other gangs didn’t have. If we fought a rival gang and the police showed up, we showed them our credentials. They let us go and arrested the other gang. That made us a popular gang to join. Ironically, the gang we formed for protection carried a high price. Our popularity also made us a target of the other gangs. I couldn’t leave home without arming myself.” 

Wade’s mother returned to Honduras when he was nineteen and settled on Isla del Tigre (Tiger Island), also known as Amapala. Her neighbors gave her gospel tracts and asked her if she had ever been born again. She was reluctant to receive their message but consented to read the Bible they gave her. As she read the scriptures, she found the truth that religious indoctrination had failed to impart. Jesus is humanity’s Savior. He alone is the way to God. She prayed with her neighbors to be “born again.” Shortly thereafter, she began attending Brigades of Christian Love, a Pentecostal church founded by Swiss missionaries. 

“My mom sent me letters about being ‘born again’ and speaking in tongues. We had been through so many other spiritual things; I wrote it off as another religious fad. One day, I received a Bible in the mail. She had highlighted everything Jesus said in red. The enclosed letter said, “Please read the Gospel of John.” Reading the Gospel was like reading a history book. It meant nothing to me.” 

As the economy in Honduras worsened, Wade’s mother seized the opportunity to separate Wade from his gang. “Go to the states and live with your brother, she said. “You can get a job there and return to school.” Wade knew his mother was right. His business ventures had failed, and it was increasingly difficult to cover expenses with his low-paying job. 

“I figured if I went to the states and worked for a while, I could save money to buy computers. When I returned, I could reopen the computer school, and my gang would be the biggest, baddest gang in town. In addition to the other benefits our gang offered, we would own a business.” 

His friends arranged a party to show their support of Wade’s new venture. A week before the party, his mother called. “Wade, you will be leaving for the states soon, and I don’t know when you will be back. I’d like to spend time with you before you go. My church is going to a youth camp near Tegucigalpa. Why don’t you come for a few days? There are more than four hundred young people attending.” 

The large number of young people captured Wade’s interest. He held the position of recruiter in GEDE. His labors had increased the gang from the original seven to a hundred. He wanted to spend time with his mother, but he also saw a field ripe for harvesting new recruits into his gang. 

Early Monday morning, Wade drove his motorcycle onto the campgrounds and saw a former gang member. He followed him, thinking the man would help recruit others. Wade was confused to learn the man had converted to Christianity and wasn’t interested in rejoining the gang. 

Wade spent the rest of the day evangelizing for the dark side to no avail. He walked into the evening service frustrated over his failure to recruit anyone and sat next to his mother. The congregation began singing songs about fire coming from heaven and praying God would send his fire to burn in them. Wade associated fire with hell. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, looked for the exit, and then looked at his mother. 

“What kind of church is this? I don’t want to be in the fire.” 

She assured him they were only singing about the Holy Spirit and his power. 

After the service, a young man escorted Wade to a cot in one of the cabins. He lay down for a fitful night’s sleep. The morning light that shone through the cabin window could not dispel the dark depression clouding Wade’s mind. By late afternoon, he abandoned his evangelistic plans, walked up a nearby hill and sat on a log. His position on the hill gave him a view of most of the campground. His eyes traveled from a group playing basketball to another group sitting in a circle talking and laughing. Other groups were praying, and some strummed guitars, singing praises to God. 

Envy flashed in Wade’s heart. “I think I converted sitting on that log, because I realized they had what I had been looking for. I tried to fill the emptiness in my life with everything I could think of and surrounded myself with a gang for safety. At the end of the day, I was just a scared kid living in fear that any minute someone would crash through the door and kill me. God seldom speaks to our ears. He speaks directly to our heart, and I heard his voice clearly that day. The Christians had something better than I had, and I wanted to join their gang.” 

Wade knew he had to attend the party GEDE had planned for him the following night. But he wasn’t leaving until he walked down the dirt floor to the altar in the roughly constructed shack without windows or air conditioning that served as a church. He found a seat near one of the two lightbulbs illuminating the building. 

“Turn to John 14:6,” said the preacher. 

Wade opened the Bible his mother had given to him and read, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Another light flipped on dispelling the darkness, not in the dimly lit church, but the darkness in Wade’s mind. At the conclusion of the message, he ran to the altar and prayed Jesus would accept him into the Christian gang. He could hear his mother shouting and screaming for joy in the background. 

That night, Wade lay on his cot, quietly forgiving those who had hurt him. “As I forgave my mom, my dad, and anyone else I could think of, I felt engulfed in fire from my head to my toe. It felt like lava flowed through my veins. The next day, my mother told me it was the Holy Spirit. In retrospect, if I had not had that experience, I don’t think I could have done what I did at the party.” 

Wade returned to Tegucigalpa and walked into the hall that had been rented for his party. As he milled through the eighty-five members that were present, he heard, “What happened to you?” 

He turned to see who was talking. “You look different,” someone else said. 

Wade didn’t understand what they meant. 

“Your face, there is something different about your face.” 

Then Wade realized they were seeing the new person he had become, and he was a lamb among wolves. The president of the gang silenced the room and said to Wade, “Tonight is your night. Anything you want is yours. You say it. We do it.” 

“I want to form a circle,” said Wade. 

The crowd quickly formed a jagged circle and joined hands. “Are we going to fight each other?” 

“No. As my last official act before I leave, I want us to pray.” 

The music stopped. Jaws dropped. Foreheads furrowed, wondering if their ears had betrayed them. Some stared as though an alien had invaded their midst. 

Wade swallowed; his mouth dry. He suddenly realized he didn’t know how to pray but had to finish what he started. “Yesterday I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and I want to pray for you. Jesus, please do for them what you did for me. Amen.” 

Wade walked through the stunned crowd and out the door. He mounted his motorcycle and drove a few blocks up a hill, where he stopped to see what would happen next. Leaving the gang was like leaving the Mafia. It’s not done without consequences. He watched the lights in the hall flip off one by one as gang members exited and drove away. 

Fear gripped Wade. He drove around the city, wondering when they would catch him. He finally pulled in front of his apartment. The lights were on, and the vehicles of the gang’s leaders were parked nearby. Wade parked his bike and resigned himself to his fate. 

As soon as Wade stepped into his apartment, one of the leaders said, “Are you really a Christian? Did you really do that?” The agitation in his voice increased Wade’s fear. 

“Yes,” said Wade. “I love you guys, but I can’t live like this anymore.” 

Two of the leaders leaped to their feet, muttering curses as they stormed out of the tiny apartment. Four remained. Wade braced himself for the beating that was sure to follow. 

One of the leaders said, “We want to know Jesus too. We don’t know what happened to you, but we want what you have.” 

Wade sighed with relief. “You just need to tell Jesus you want him in your life.” 

Wade and his friends talked late into the night. Before they left, he promised to bring them to church on Sunday. 

Wade’s thoughts returned to the camp. Returning on a motorcycle without headlights would be dangerous. Thoughts about the camp persisted, so he locked his apartment door and made the two-hour drive to the youth camp. At 4 a.m., he knocked on the cabin door, where he had laid on his cot the previous night engulfed in the fire of God. 

“Who is it?” a timid voice whispered. “It’s Wade.” 

“Wade? Wade!” An echo of “Wade is back” reverberated throughout the cabin as sleepy campers realized their prayer had been answered. 

Wade stood at the locked door listening to the joy erupting within. He pounded on the door again. “Guys, let me in.” 

When someone realized the object of their joy was standing outside, he unlocked the door. Wade walked into a flood of love. They hugged him repeatedly and wept. “We’ve been praying for you to come back.” 

Wade remained at the camp the rest of the week and then returned home to keep his promise. Sunday morning, the gang leaders arrived with fifteen gang members. All of them wanted to attend church. 

“When we walked into the church,” said Wade, “the people parted like the Red Sea. I thought they were being nice and giving us their seats.” Wade smiled. “They were afraid of us. At the end of the sermon, every gang member went to the altar to receive Christ. I’ve kept in touch with them through the years. All of them are still committed Christians. Most became pastors.” 

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