God Turns Gang Member into LifeBuilder

The James Aquino Story

Raised in Daly City, Calif., just south of San Francisco, I am the youngest of five siblings. As a child my folks sent us to the Catholic Church though they never attended with us. When I was six years old my parents split up and Mom ran off with another man. I asked God why this had to happen to me but didn’t receive an answer at that time. Mom’s leaving weighed heavily on my heart. I tried to draw near to God. I joined the altar boys of the church and served there for two years. By the eighth grade I quit because of peer pressure.

Drugs and alcohol were a frequent part of my childhood. My Dad had to work two jobs just to pay the bills so there was no supervision in the home nor did he have time for us. Since I was the smallest son, my brothers beat on me daily even once stuffing me in the clothes dryer and turning it on! I remember telling dad what was happening to me! He simply advised me to stay away from the rest of the kids like the beatings were my own fault. He often called me “ugly” and “good for nothing.” He never disciplined my oldest brother although he was bad, very mean and eventually ended up serving eight years in prison! Never feeling loved in my own family, I was searching for acceptance! I stayed away from home whenever I could; I hated it there! I even ran away living on the streets for months at age 11. From the time I was 12 I was buying all my own clothes and necessities working 3 to 11 at a local gas station. Dad was always telling us, “I can’t wait till you all turn 18 so you can get out of my house.” He refused to support us properly.

After work I started hanging out with a local gang known as the ” FogTown Locos.” As part of the initiation they jumped me and beat me up. I felt I had to fight for my life. When the mayhem ceased they hugged me, bloody bruised body and all, and welcomed me into the gang. I felt loved and accepted for the first time!

By age 15 I was in and out of jail on drug charges and gang-related crimes. I was totally on my own as my father had moved to the Philippines with the woman he had married some years earlier. I continued as a gang member until age 29. By this time I had married, had children, divorced, had many relationships, and had become a dangerously unstable person, drinking, doing drugs, full of hate and packing a gun.

Then one day there I sat on the floor of my apartment drunk, full of speed that I had just shot into my arm, and with a pile of money. I felt so empty! Weeping I found myself on my knees with my .38 special snub nose in my hand. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so miserable. I had dope, money, alcohol, and girls. Still I wept deeply. I had failed in life and I knew it. Where was my wife and children? “Why?” I cried out to God. I raised the pistol to my mouth. It went into my mouth so hard that I cut my lips. I was going to kill myself. I cocked the hammer and started to pull the trigger, then a voice said, “NO!” Somehow at this moment I was thinking about my kids, how if I did this I’d never see them again. I dropped the gun and just curled up on the floor and cried like a baby! I remember saying to God, “If you will give me back my family, I will give all this up.”

Over the next two years I was in and out of jail, lost my driving privileges, and ended up homeless, penniless, and with few friends. I got in trouble with a gang and they sent members to kill me. They chased me to a friend’s house where I was cornered. I had no means of defence because I had sold my gun for drug money. I sat puzzled. What do I do? I was scared! I prayed for God to help me as the gang members outside cursed and dared me to come out. A voice in my head told me to call my ex-wife. When I told her my predicament she didn’t believe me at first but finally, with great reluctance in her voice, she agreed to come pick me up. My next problem was to get safely out of the house to our designated meeting place. I stepped outside and my friend slammed and locked the door behind me. Scared, shaking, leaving the house I held my duffel bag in front of me with my knife in my hand for protection and walked cautiously toward the street. I gripped the knife tighter, feeling that any minute a gang member would pounce on me. I cautiously looked around, but by some miracle they were gone, I didn’t know why or where, but I thanked God.

My ex-wife Anna picked me up at about 6 a.m. and thought I was tripping out on drugs. She took me to her house where I slept for about four days straight. On Sundays Anna attended church. One day I asked her if I could go to church with her. We went to the Solid Rock Church of God where I didn’t believe the things I saw and heard. People getting slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues; I thought was all fake. When Pastor Randall Bailey preached that day, he spoke of broken lives filled with drugs and alcohol. I looked at Anna and said, “Why have you been talking to this man about me?” She promised that she hadn’t but I didn’t believe her. I was so intrigued that I decided to return to church the next Sunday. Again the preacher was seemingly preaching right to me. I couldn’t believe it! This man that didn’t even know me was talking directly to me describing me perfectly. Afterward he called for those who wanted to be free from those evils to come for a special prayer of salvation. I just stayed in the pew frozen stiff and scared. I wanted to go but I didn’t want everyone looking at me. I said, “God if you’re going to save me, do it right here.” I prayed the sinners prayer right there in the pew. Well, He did save me because here I am telling my story.

Things began happening quickly after that. Anna got rid of her boyfriend. One Sunday soon after that the pastor preached on broken covenants with God! God spoke to my heart and said, “Remember when you cried out to Me and said, `if you give me back my family, I’ll give up all these things’ (meaning drugs, alcohol, guns, women).” I answered, “Yes, Lord I do.” God then reminded me that I needed to keep my word. I found myself at the altar weeping and asking God to cleanse me of drugs and alcohol!

I’ve been clean and sober now for about four years, God is good! Anna and I will celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary on May 12, 2000. My children are very happy. I’ve been teaching children for about three years now in the church, and have been involved with the worship ensemble. I was elected to the Pastor’s Council, and I’m the president of our local LifeBuilders chapter. Since I asked Jesus into my heart my life is changed forever! I have also had the opportunity to visit the Philippines and while there shared what the Lord has done in my life with my father, and also shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. He received Jesus into his heart that day. Bedridden for 14 years after a massive stroke, God kept him alive just for that purpose. The son whom he had never shown any attention was able to go to the Philippines and share Jesus with him. Incidentally, that day was my birthday. Wow! What a birthday present! That day my father and I laughed together, cried together and prayed together. My dad shared with me that he was proud of who I’d become and that he loved me. Praise God! God through His mercy has helped me become a true LifeBuilder.

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