“Iron Sharpens iron as one man sharpens another.” This proverb highlights the importance of male relationships in the developmental process of men.
Kenneth grew up in a dysfunctional home with an abusive father… until he shot and killed him at age 13.
Ken had witnessed his father beat his mother on a regular basis growing up. Many times he tried to intervene only to be beaten up himself. One day, at age 13 he had seen enough. While his father was beating up his mother he went and got his dad’s handgun and waited for him to come out of the room. When he did he took his life.
Thinking his mother would have been grateful he had saved her life, imagine his confusion and disappointment to see his mother spit in his face in the courtroom and tell him that he had ruined her life. In that moment, Ken developed a hatred for God.
Ken has spent 31 of his 48 years of life in California Youth Authority and State Prison. In the absence of a father’s love and direction he was taught by inmates to be a racist and how to hate to survive.
For twelve years Ken’s mother would not visit him, answer his phone calls, or letters. No one from the outside world came to visit him. Then Ken’s life took a strange turn when he got a call from a man named Melvin Cunningham.
While Ken was serving time for killing his father, Melvin married his mother. When Melvin heard about Ken being in prison he made a phone call and said he wanted to visit him.
When Ken got to the visitation table he told the gentlemen he must be at the wrong table. The man asked if he was Kenneth. Kenneth said he was indeed. The man said, “then I’m at the right table. My name is Melvin Cunningham and I married your mother.”
Ken responded, “that can’t be, you’re black!"
Ken struggled with this meeting given the other men in the room would see that he was talking to a black man and in prison you are divided by race.
“Indeed I am, but I’m here to get to know you anyway.” Melvin was determined to get into Kenneth’s life. After his visit he told him he’d be back again next Saturday. On the third visit Melvin brought out a small pocket bible and read Ken a verse. Ken told him to put that book away and don’t ever bring it out again.
Melvin told him he was a follower of Jesus and the Bible was the truth that sets men free. Kenneth wasn’t having it. But Melvin continued to come to see Kenneth every Saturday for three years. Kenneth was impressed with Melvin’s commitment to get to know him and his non-judgmental attitude.
Kenneth was eventually released from prison at age 25. He would go back again after another violent assault on someone else. But Melvin had made his mark.
A year ago, Kenneth found his way to the Union Rescue Mission. He didn’t have an interest in Christ nor the one-year recovery program. He just needed a place for a month or so then he’d move on. But… God had a different purpose in guiding Ken to the URM.
God won him over. He remembers hearing the bible narrative about Joseph and how he kept his faith even while incarcerated and Ken could relate to that life.
He met some of our graduates and observed how guys like Red, James Han, and Joe Hernandez came back to the mission just to encourage the men in the program and take them out to coffee, dinner, or a ball game. These men were making their mark in his life just like Melvin.
When Ken met a man from Pacific Coast Church at the Iron Man Conference. He and Craig got into a mentoring relationship and it turned into a valuable friendship.
Kenneth graduated the Christian Life Discipleship Program today. He is now a coordinator for one of the chaplains, helping men succeed in their pursuit of sobriety and Christianity.
Kenneth and I have had many wonderful talks since he’s been here at the mission. This week he told me, “Nobody can tell me that God ain’t real. I was completely lost, now I feel clean and content in Christ my savior.” He keeps his original, but outdated ID card around his neck because it reminds him of where he came from and the group that he originally was assigned to called… NEW LIFE!
Pray for Kenneth as he continues to pursue Christ and the transformation that is taking place in his life. Kenneth is an example of how men who invest in other men, and never give up on them, can eventually be used of God to see the transforming power of Jesus.
Would you like to be a mentor? We have men waiting for your response. Ladies, we also have women who could benefit from such a relationship. Please pray and ask God if this might be a ministry God might call you to as well.
Post-Script: BTW… Melvin passed away this past year… but four months before he died, Kenneth was able to tell him that he had been found by Jesus and was a new man.
Here's a special message for Craig but also a glimpse into the life change you support when you give to Deed & Truth:
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