Monday, July 22, 2019

The Power of Christ to Transform Our Broken Lives

Ricardo Cortez, 31, will be baptized during the Bridge Service at Emmanuel Enid, Oklahoma, this Sunday, July 28, 2019, publicly professing his faith in Jesus Christ.

I first told Ricardo's story with his permission a year ago.  Because he was a former gang leader in Los Angeles, I changed his name at that time.

Today, I retell Ricardo's story using his real name and issue you an invitation to join the celebration of Ricardo's baptism by either coming to Emmanuel Enid to attend the 9:00 am Bridge Service in person, or by watching it online.

On Father's Day, 2018, Ricardo was at Emmanuel for only his second time. He came with his girlfriend and their infant daughter.

After the service Ricardo sought me ought and said, "That (the message) hit me hard." He asked if he could talk to me.

I sat down beside this man I'd met only an hour earlier as he entered the building.

On the front row, with tears streaming down his face, after being assured that God's love extended to even him, this massive man bowed his head and asked for the Father's love to enter his life. Ricardo prayed, receiving Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Ricardo would later come by my office and tell me of some nightmares he'd been having since surrendering his life to Christ.

I asked Ricardo to tell me his story.

Ricardo told me that he never knew love as a child. "The only comfort I ever received was through my grandma. But she died when I was eleven."

It seems Ricardo's parents were in the habit of tying Ricardo to a chair with a belt and beating him with a hockey stick. "I know when I was nine, ten, and eleven, I did some things that made my parents mad. But the beatings I took were awful."

Ricardo was born and grew up in South Central Los Angeles.

To find acceptance and a sense of belonging to a family, at the age of 11, Roberto began hanging around older boys who were part of a gang called Florencia 13 (F13). The number 13 represents the 13th letter of the alphabet (M) which stands for Mexican Mafia.

Florencia is the most dangerous gang in Los Angeles.

At the age of 12,  Ricardo "jumped in" (gang slang for "joined") Florencia 13 by enduring 30 seconds of a massive beating by fellow gang members.

Usually, a person is given gang nickname when joining Florencia 13 (e.g. "Whiskey," "Trinny," BullsEye," etc.), nicknames that memorialize something about the gang member.

Ricardo was too young to have done anything notorious, so F13 didn't bestow a nickname at the time of Roberto's initiation.

But two weeks later that changed.

Ricardo was involved in a fight. "I don't remember much about it, but when it was over, I was on top of my victim, and when the gang members pulled me off I was covered in blood." Roberto said his fellow gang members said, "Dude, you went crazy. Your eyes turned red. Nothing could stop you."

They gave him the name "Demon."

He was 12 years old.

During the decade from 2000 to 2010, F13 was at war with the East Coast Crips. "It was all about drugs. South Central Los Angeles was a war zone."

At the age of sixteen, Ricardo got his girlfriend pregnant. She and the baby both died during delivery. "The deaths of my child and my girlfriend shook me. I understood death from gang wars, but why would a baby and a first-time mother die?"

Ricardo told me that a local Baptist church would often send "street evangelists" down to Florence Avenue to preach. "I would sometimes hear them say 'God loves you. God loves everyone.' After the death of my girlfriend and baby, I thought I needed to find out about this God who loves."

Ricardo went to the local Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles that next Sunday.

"When I went up the steps to enter the building, one of the street preachers, I think they called him a 'deacon,' stepped up to me and said, 'Where do you think you're going?'

"I'm coming to church."

"The deacon told me, 'We don't want your kind here.' I couldn't believe it. They'd been preaching on Florence that 'God loves everyone,' but they didn't want this one."

Ricardo told me he didn't have clothes to dress up for the church, and looking back, he probably looked like a gang member, and the deacon was only trying to 'protect' the church. But Ricardo was searching for God, and having been turned away by the people he thought could tell him about God, he determined to plunge even deeper into lawlessness.

Ricardo told me that a few months later he met the street preacher on Florence Avenue, and this time he put a gun to his head and told him had had to the count of three to leave the neighborhood or "I'll put a bullet in your head."

When Ricardo was a senior in high school (2005), devil worshippers who dressed in hoodies and all-black clothes told Ricardo he was "a vessel" and that their lord had Ricardo forever. "I'll never forget the strange coldness I felt and the voices in my head every time the Satanists came around me. They would always call me by my nickname "Demon" and told me I was "a vessel."

Ricardo climbed the ranks of F13. The United States federal government stepped in and through a series of raids to clean up South Central Los Angeles, Ricardo and several other F13 leaders were arrested and charged under the federal RICO crime act. Ricardo went to prison for several years.

"When I got out, I knew I had to leave Los Angeles, or I'd soon be dead."

When Ricardo got out of prison, he came to Enid.

He'd heard of a job opportunity at a local food manufacturing plant.

He met his girlfriend while working in Enid. They had a child together, and that's what precipitated the desire to attend church on Father's day.

"For the first time since I was sixteen, I thought I'd try to go to a church. I was a new father, and we couldn't think of a better time than Father's Day."

It was at Emmanuel Enid on Father's Day 2018 that Ricardo came to know Christ as his eternal Father.

Ricardo's life since becoming a Christian hasn't always a bed of roses.

As mentioned above, he's had terrible nightmares. He dreams of his friends who were killed in the streets of Los Angeles, three of whom died in his arms.

 He's had nightmares of the occultists telling him "You're a vessel." He wakes up during the night thinking about all the people he's harmed.

At times, as Ricardo has shared some of the details of his life, he's wept.

On one occasion in my office, I went over to Ricardo and hugged him before I prayed for him and with him.

I told Ricardo that "Christ who is in you, is greater than he who is in the world." I shared with him that Jesus has made him a promise that "the work I've begun in you, I will continue to completion."

Ricardo told me that the unconditional love he's felt at Emmanuel is difficult for him to accept.

Emmanuel Enid has purchased a Bible for Ricardo.

We had our local Christian bookstore engrave a new name onto the cover of Ricardo's Bible.

Before I tell you the new name on the Bible's cover, allow me to share Emmanuel Enid's new focus since 2015.

Some of the changes that have occurred have been tough for some traditional church members. Traditions have ended. Church began looking different.

But it was intentional.

We decided to focus more on culture in need of a personal Savior instead of church members in need of pleasurable satisfaction.

We determined to reach sinners in need of Christ more than saints in need of comfort.

We decided to become missional.

Instead of begin a church that says "come and see," we are doing our best to be people who "go and tell" the Good News to a community and show people our love by what we do to enhance our community.

Oh sure, we do have one modern service on Sunday morning (REFUGE) where people dress down, the lights are left down, and the speaker doesn't talk down.

But that's not an important change.

We have other services that look and feel like a traditional church, but the spirit is just as warm and accepting as in our modern style worship services.

What we're seeing are changed lives.

We've seen women trapped in prostitution come to know the love of Christ. We've seen meth addicts turn their lives around and become greeters at our Refuge service. We've seen men who dress up as women and women who dress up as men. We have prisoners coming every Sunday, and some are bringing their families to Enid after they get out of the Department of Corrections to be a part of Emmanuel.

We love people and trust Christ to change people. 

We're sharing the love of Christ because we believe only "the love of Christ constrains us." 

Nobody changes to get God's love, but everyone changes after experiencing God's love.

This Sunday Ricardo will be baptized. He's asked us to introduce him by his new nickname.

The new name engraved on his Bible.

Ricardo will not long be known by his street name Demon.

Ricardo's new nickname - the name engraved on his Bible - is "Petros."

Petros is the Greek word for Rock.
"Upon this Rock, I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail."

Welcome to the family, Petros.

You told your story to the clerk who engraved Petros on your Bible. Her husband contacted me and told me that he and his wife will be in the service when you are baptized. 

That's the way to tell others of Jesus. 

You'll still make mistakes in life, but remember 
"We are confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until  the day of Jesus Christ."  (Philippians 1:6).
By the way, if anyone chooses to ride one of the golf carts that bring people from the furthest reaches of Emmanuel's parking lots, be sure to check and see if the nice young man driving you is Ricardo.

He's joined our Welcome Team at Emmanuel. 

We love taking people who once worked in the kingdom of darkness and making them servants in the Kingdom of Light!

Tis truly amazing grace. 


Bob Cleveland said...

I guess the really surprising things is that we're surprised that God still does things like this. And one thing is abundantly clear: Only a Living Lord could reach down and bring about such a change in someone's heart.

I know it's really God bringing about such increases as this one, but isn't it a real thrill being along for the ride?

You and the church are doing Good Things in Enid, my brother. Please keep on!

Tom said...


I remember the Blog where you told this story a years or so ago.

My response then was to offer up a prayer of Blessing for Ricardo, That he would grow into a stronger relationship with God as he continues to press further into God's loving embrace and His purposes. That God would continue to Draw him and his family, however extended that may/will be, to Himself.

It is Good to hear of these testimonies of the struggles of people as they come into relationship with God/Jesus.

May the Lord Bless him and his family and keep him and his extended family safe unto Eternity comes along.


Christiane said...

this is what the Gospel is all about :)

Rex Ray said...


This was and is a great story of the Holy Spirit changing evil into good.

I’ve never heard anyone explain or teach on the meaning of one Paul’s last Scriptures: 2 Timothy 4:16.

“The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. May it not be counted against them. (NLT)

“At my first answer no man stood for me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” (KJ)

“And they stoned Stephen…Lord, lay not this sin to their charge…” (7:59-60 KJ)

Christiane said...
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Christiane said...

Thank you for this strong Christian witness, WADE and God Bless the good people of Enid Emmanuel Church.

" . . . go forth, as missionaries, to bring the message of the Father’s tenderness, forgiveness and mercy to every man, woman and child "

(Isaiah 61:1)
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to
the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release from darkness to the prisoners"

"He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you.
As the Father hath sent Me,
I also send you."
(John 20:21)

Blanca said...

Who but God???!!!

Rex Ray said...


I apologize for writing about Paul. I didn’t read your post because I thought it was just a duplication of an old one. I printed it for Judy to read because the old one was good. I read it about ten minutes ago.

So his nickname “demon” has changed to “Petros” and he will be baptized next Sunday. That’s about like “Saul” changing to “Paul”.


Rex Ray said...

I've printed 20 copies for prayer meeting tonight.

Bob Cleveland said...

I need to remind myself daily that it took just as much grace to save me, and transform my life, as it did Ricardo.

Praise God!!

Christiane said...

I need that same grace daily in my own life.
May God have mercy on all of us together.
Thank God that Ricardo and his family will find a 'home' in the Church and that the Church may be for them 'sanctuary' in the true sense of the word. God Bless the people who have reached out to him and may the Good Lord help them to bring the peace of Christ to many more souls who suffer. Even the holy Name of 'Jesus' is a prayer. May we all say 'Amen'.

Christiane said...
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Christiane said...

Dear Blanca, I loved your spot-on comment!

"Amen" is my heart-felt response to it.

there is a beauty in the Testaments the Holy Gospels of Our Lord, a beauty that speaks to us of the One Who surrounds even the most hopeless of cases with compassion and does not give up nor abandon, but Who nourishes and gently protects what is fragile and will grow only in the light of Christ