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A Future Transformed

A Future Transformed

FALL/WINTER 2020    |    3.5 MINUTE READ 
KATELAND VERNON, STAFF WRITER


The man standing at the front of a school assembly encouraging students not to get involved in the gang lifestyle seems like a walking contradiction. After all, he used to be a leader in a local neighborhood gang in Stockton, California. He tells students not to touch the drugs he was once in charge of selling. But what seems like it should disqualify Napoleon is actually what makes him the perfect person to speak on the topic. After all, he once sat where those students sit today.

Growing up, Napoleon admired the local drug dealers and gang members. “They had the nice watches and cars,” he shared in an interview. To be recognized and noticed, Napoleon and many of his peers thought they had to join a gang. And, in many cases, the gang lifestyle was all they knew. “My grandfather was a shot caller in a prison gang,” Napoleon stated. “My father was a shot caller here in a Stockton gang. My mom was also part of the gang. This was the household, the neighborhood, I grew up in.” And he knows his experience is that of many of the students he now wants to reach.

Three photos of a young Napoleon at the Center with a song book, with a Bible, and bowing his head in prayer.

A young Napoleon sings, reads the Bible, and prays at The Center.

When Napoleon was ten years old, he learned about The Center, a ministry in Stockton that provides a place for youth in the community to engage in alternative activities and learn about the hope that Jesus offers. Napoleon visited The Center but didn’t fully commit to a lifestyle change. By fourteen, he had become a gang member and was arrested for the first time. It would take more than that, though, to make him leave the path he was on.

Napoleon steadily worked his way up into a leadership position in his gang. But one day, the trap house Napoleon was in charge of—where drugs were being sold—was seized by the police. Napoleon was arrested and found himself in prison. He had always assumed this day would come, because it was a fate shared by many of those he looked up to; being in prison, however, was harder to come to terms with than he had expected it would be. This, he had thought, was where his journey would end. That’s when he discovered God had been pursuing him all along.

Letters from Bob Margaron, the World Gospel Mission global worker who directed The Center, began to arrive at the prison. As Napoleon read Bob’s words, he realized that Bob and his wife, Lisa, had never given up on him. When he was younger, he used to slip out the back door and run down the alley whenever he heard Bob was coming over to visit his house. “I knew Bob was going to give me a lecture,” he said. “I was not trying to hear that.” Now, alone in prison, Napoleon clung to the very words he used to run away from.

Napoleon standing in front of a courthouse

Napoleon’s life looks very different than he expected it to.

Ministry hadn’t always been Bob’s life. His life experience included alcoholic parents, domestic violence, homelessness, and a drug addiction that started at the age of eight. Like Napoleon, Bob didn’t have high hopes for his future; in fact, he had always thought he would die before he turned sixteen. He spent a lot of time in and out of jail and eventually attempted suicide. God protected him, though, and Bob determined to seek out transformation and a new future. He met and married Lisa, and together they began working at The Center.

Bob’s past experience made him the perfect person to reach Napoleon. “We didn’t give up on [Napoleon’s] family,” Bob said. “We continued to love on that family. And as a result, God transformed that family.” While Napoleon was in prison, Bob and Lisa continued to minister to his mom, who eventually traded her substance abuse for a relationship with God. As a result, when Napoleon was released from prison, he “had a safe home to start over,” he said.

Following in his mother’s footsteps, Napoleon gave up alcohol and drugs and left the gang life. He developed a relationship with Jesus Christ and underwent a complete transformation. He now views it as his calling to help transform the community he grew up in. He wants to share the hope he’s found with the kids who find themselves in the same shoes he was once in. The impact he’s making in the neighborhood hasn’t gone unnoticed. One of the leaders in Napoleon’s former gang informed him that the gang members have seen what he is doing, and they respect it. Because of his former reputation, many of the neighborhood kids still look up to Napoleon. God continues to use Napoleon and his history in novel ways to reach those who believe they are slated for a grim future.

Bob and Napoleon standing next to a table, representing The Center at the “Mission Possible” conference.

Bob and Napoleon represent The Center at the “Mission Possible” conference.

Through Bob and Napoleon, and others like them, God is showing entire communities that He can open doors for them. He can provide a way into a better future, one full of an abundant life that often seems out of reach. And He is using people from these communities to break the cycle of substance abuse, violence, and helplessness. He’s allowing them to take the hope they’ve found into their homes and the surrounding neighborhoods. And with that hope comes lasting transformation.

ACTION STEPS

PRAY: Ask God to give the community of Stockton strength and guidance. Pray that He will open the hearts of gang members and their families to the hope that God provides.

GO: If your heart is to serve in an inner city, perhaps God could be calling you to Stockton. Plan a short-term experience volunteering at The Center to help transform lives and hearts for Christ. Join what God is doing in California, and see if He has something more for you.

GIVE: Partner with The Center’s efforts to share Christ’s light and hope with the community of Stockton.


Global Worker Bio: Bob and Lisa Margaron have been serving in Stockton, California, for nearly thirty years. Their work at The Center and local schools is a way for them to bring the hope and love of Jesus to the youth in the area.

The Call (Fall/Winter 2020)

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