Gangster Man to Man of God

Mission September 19, 2013

If you saw him on the train, he might be the type you’d avoid. Shaved head, tattooed knuckles, intense gaze. The seat next to him — empty. But if you took that chance, if you sat in that empty seat, you would hear an amazing story—a challenging, gritty, redemptive story from a man unashamedly in love with his Savior.

You’d be surprised to hear how he helps little old ladies and picks them up for church and how he goes around the neighborhood servicing people’s cars to show them that love. He sets and packs up all the equipment at his church and loves to “labor for the Lord.” And he’s ready to share his story with anyone who’s willing to listen.

“It’s really the Holy Spirit who convicted me to get out of my hiding spot,” he says. “Satan had me in a hole for years, but I praise God, I’m opened up and able to be real to people and also be real about my feelings.“

But before the Holy Spirit convicted him, Jay Fa’alogo spent years being convicted by the law.

Born in New Zealand in 1974, Jay’s parents split up soon after he was born. His mother suffered a breakdown so Jay and his brother, Ray, were cared for by their grandmother until, at about 5 years old, they were shipped off to Australia, to an acquaintance of the family to get a better education and a better life. Instead, they ended up in a three-bedroom house with up to 30 islanders brought over to work for the woman who took them in.

“I stopped going to school at 15, started hanging out with the crowd. I was stealing cars and breaking into shops.

“I’d just do anything to fill the void that was missing, as a young man.” Here Jay pauses. 

The void. Dark, deep and insatiable, it was consuming Jay from the inside. It started with a child, lonely and longing for a family, longing to belong. It was compounded by the beatings and sexual abuse from his guardian. 

“Any little thing and she would beat us with extension cords.” 

Little wonder he ended up in the juvenile justice system. “My father and stepmother came looking for us. They got us out and we moved back to Samoa.” But it was too little too late for Jay. 

“I didn’t feel the love for them because it had been so long. I didn’t really know them so they sent me to America to my stepmother’s brother. I planned to join the military.” 

Another fresh start on another continent—only the void came with him. At about 17, Jay began to work. 

“I made a couple of friends through work and they asked me if I wanted to be blessed.” Not knowing the street lingo in America, Jay wasn’t sure what they meant so he asked them. “They said ‘You want to be in the family.’ To me this was cool. Growing up with no family, I felt like this was family, we became tight.”

Turns out Jay’s new family was a gang and Jay became an enforcer, a foot soldier, selling drugs and taking orders. He began to use—heavily.

But the gang was like family; he would take a bullet for them and he knew they would take a bullet for him. 

“Life was rough but I was trying to get the American dream of having money, looking good, driving nice cars and also having power, as in, no one messes with you or they’ll get it back. I wanted all that.”

But it was never enough. He kept chasing more and eventually the law caught up with him. His house was raided at 4 a.m. one day and he was thrown into the federal penitentiary for immigration fraud. 

“In there it was kinda rough, time stood still. Prison sucks.” With a wry smile, Jay shakes his head. “I thought I was a tough guy going in there, but inside it was a totally different story. You’ve gotta live by the rules.” Jay had to join a gang inside the prison. For his protection, he joined the Mexicans (his wife is Mexican). But it wasn’t the kind of life he wanted.  

“I started reading the Bible but wasn’t solid. The only time I needed Jesus was when I was in trouble.” Jay was in and out of prison, breaking his probation with drug use. Before his last court case, in 2005, he prayed: “God if I get out, I promise I’ll change.” He won his case but didn’t change. 

He was still struggling with drugs, violent towards his wife, Lisa, and his marriage was breaking down. He had had enough of life and was ready to leave the woman who had stuck by him during his dark times. 

“I’m fed up with this,” he thought. “I need changes in my marriage, I need changes in my life.” 

On the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia, Jay’s brother, Ray, was being encouraged by the Xcell church plant he had recently joined, to pray for his family and friends. Jay and Lisa were on the bottom of Ray’s list of 10. After all, they were so far away and so far from God, deep in a world of anger, gangs and drugs. But God “flipped the script.” In God’s Kingdom, the last shall be first. 

Jay found himself in Australia for his grandmother’s birthday. His brother invited him to a men’s group at Xcell church. At first he thought it was silly. But slowly things changed. He moved back to Australia and Lisa came too. They attended a “Conquering Conference” and they were baptised, their lives changed.

Neat story right? Only that’s not the end of Jay’s journey.  

After 13 years of trying, Lisa got pregnant. Jay told everyone how it was a testament to God’s glory. Then she lost the baby. That was a dark time. The doctors told them they couldn’t have another baby. They almost walked away from God at that time but they somehow pulled through and in the same month the next year, Lisa got pregnant again, this time giving birth to a healthy baby girl. Jay told the doctors and everyone else about God’s miracle. “That’s why I believe man can go so far but God’s power can go beyond.” 

He wants his daughter to grow up to know God. “My prayer every morning is ‘Lord, please help my daughter not to be like me but to love you.’ I still struggle with teaching her the ways of the Lord and how life is because as a young man I wasn’t taught. I praise God what he had planned for our marriage and our life because we weren’t ready to have kids back then but now I think He said we’re ready.” 

For Jay, his journey requires daily recommitment and the Holy Spirit’s infilling. He still struggles with losing his temper and was suspended from the church leadership team for a short time as he battled with it. But he’s not bitter. “I got pruned,” Jay says with a chuckle. “So I could have some good fruits. Cause if you’ve got rotten fruits man, ain’t nobody gonna pick that…” His laugh is full and loud this time, and it dances in his eyes. “The leadership saw my fruits weren’t growing and the roots weren’t solid so the brothers told me to step down for awhile, start growing again and ask the Lord to prune you. We can’t have rotten fruits so the world sees rotten fruits on us. They’re already eating rotten fruits.”

As he looks back, Jay can see God’s hand in his life. He should have died many times. He’s been shot at, blown a hole in his stomach through a drug overdose and been electrocuted during a robbery, but through it all his life was sustained. Now he gets excited to share his new life with people, even going back to the juvenile facility he was once locked up in to share his testimony with the inmates. 

“You need to wake up with the Lord and go to sleep with the Lord,” he says. “Sometimes I want to give up. I just want to walk away and go back into the world but my heart will never do that. Even though I fall I will always come back. I will never give up on the Lord, after what He has done in my life. He gave me a new name.” 

Jay’s surname, Fa’alogo means listen or obey in Samoan. He who has ears, let him hear.

Originally published by RECORD.