My gang & drug days didn’t keep me from God’s call

By Anthony Banks

I say I’m from West Helena, Ark., but when I was growing up it was actually two cities—Helena and West Helena. I guess you could say I started like any other adolescent. I grew up with a good home and good values, but I wanted to grow up and do my own thing. I got out with the wrong people and started doing the wrong things. However, even as an adolescent, I realized I possessed a leadership skill.

Going through school I wasn’t so rough. I was just a regular class clown. When I was going into 12th grade, I dropped out of Helena-West Helena School and moved to California with my sister. I was going to school and I wound up living this life in the Crip Empire. I became a Crip.

I messed up some things in our house and wound-up leaving California in December 1989. I hopped a bus December 21 and went back to Arkansas. By mid-January, I was in jail, and I spent three months and 19 days in prison.

That was where I had my first vision of God’s divine intervention. I went to the prison church service every Sunday, and I remember one Sunday I asked the chaplain to pray that I make the board and to get out. About a minute into the prayer, he stopped praying. 

I didn’t know what was going on. I was on my knees with him standing over me. When I looked up, there was a bright light shining so bright above me. I could not stand to look at it. The voice from the light was telling me what was going on—that I was getting out of jail. But the voice also said, “If you keep living this life of sin, all you will see is death.”

The person I was, I only paid attention to the part where I was getting out of jail. I did get out about two weeks later, and I went back to the same things—even more than what I had been doing. Until 1993.

{ The voice from the light was telling me what was going on—that I was getting out of jail. But the voice also said, “If you keep living this life of sin, all you will see is death.” }

I had my second intervention with God. This time it was his still, small voice. I was talking to God out loud, and he told me what he wanted to do. He wanted me to go to schools and talk to children about a boy who had been in jail and in gangs, and things he had been through. And I told God, “No. Who am I?”

When I was in prison, I had read the Bible and began to see the Revelation. I remember reading in the Bible, “Even your best is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). I thought, Why would they listen to me? I’m a filthy rag. God and I were having this tug-of-war, which I found out I could not win, but he did this miraculous thing.

I was in the car and kept refusing to do what he said. So I’m driving, and all of a sudden my car stopped. It was almost like the transmission went out because I was still hitting the gas. I recognized clearly that God was doing something. I said, “Ok God, whatever you want me to do.”

The car started moving again. By then I had passed the school, so I put the car in reverse and backed back and I went inside. I met the principal, and I had only talked to him a moment before he said he knew why I was there. I found myself talking to kids at this elementary school and later found myself talking to every school in Helena-West Helena.  I would always pray and ask God that the words coming out would be his and not mine.

Once I remember putting together a 30-45 minute speech to be more prepared when I spoke. I worked on this thing for hours and hours. At the time, I didn’t know how God was using me. I had this two-three page paper in front of me and realized I did not look at that paper one time.  God had just given me so much to share with those children.  I was being videoed, and I watched it later and thought, This is not me. That’s my body, but is that me?

The Struggle to Find Peace 

I did this for a few years, but I went back to the streets again and started back dealing with drugs. One night I went to work, and guys came to my house to get drugs. Come to find out, one of those guys was robbed and killed. When I came home the next day, I was told the police wanted me to answer some questions, but I wasn’t about to go up to the station. When you are dealing with drugs, you do not have any peace.

A few days later, nine or ten police officers filled my window. I thought about running out the back door. I was panicking, but then a voice said, “Calm down and open the door.” The police told me they were looking for a guy who lived next door. When they left, I realized this life wasn’t for me.

Nevertheless, three people came to buy drugs from me one day. I knew them, so the last thought on my mind was that they would rob me. I did not have any more drugs, so I told them I had to go pick it up. They offered to take me to the spot where I pick up, but they started talking what sounded like another language. I finally understood what was happening—they were robbing me.

They started yelling and telling me to give them the money, and then their shotgun went off at my feet. I had already given them my money, but they still held the gun 8-10 inches away from my face. I thought, Well they’re going to kill me anyway. One guy knew me from prison in 1990, and I had beat him up pretty bad. So I gave up, put my arms down beside me, and closed my eyes.

As I was closing my eyes, he had the gun pointed right at me. I heard the “click,” and I opened my eyes again. The gun had not gone off. God allowed me to escape, but I was still thinking I was tough.

I got off the streets and tried to change. I had getting back in church on my mind. LT Sims, a deacon at Second Baptist Church in West Helena, encouraged me to come to church. He had been talking to me for a couple years about coming to church. I had in my mind that I would go to Beautiful Zion or Second Baptist. So I decided, Whichever church is on my mind that morning that is where I am going. I got up and went to Second Baptist the next morning, and that was my home church until God called me to Turrell.

But before I came to Turrell, some lies were told about me and I was arrested. I was so angry because this could have cost me 25 years to life in prison for something that I did not do. That’s what brought me to the cave. However, that is also where God brought me out of the cave.

God’s Plan

I had nowhere to go, so I got to hear God and hear him right. He came to me and here’s what he told me: he had another plan. I know God stepped in because he gave me the mind of Christ. That is what I want people to understand when they read my story—God had another plan.  He took a whole lot of dirt and he made me a whole ‘nother man.  I am so glad God had another plan for my life. If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about the plans you got for your life.

My wife did not know what was going on, so she called my brother.  When he came down the hall to see me, the power of God’s spirit knocked him back. He said he could see the Spirit of the Lord all over me. The Lord was showing me that he had been calling me. When he had me speaking at schools in 1993, he was preparing me and setting the way for me to talk to his people.

Then it was like he took me through a re-enactment. It was like I was there when they nailed him to the cross. I asked, “What is it you want from me? What do you want me to do?” and he said, “Tell your pastor that you’ve received your call and wait for his instructions.” 

{ The Lord was showing me that He had been calling me. When He had me speaking at schools in 1993, He was preparing me and setting the way for me to talk to his people. }

When I opened my eyes, I saw what was going on around me. My brother was on his knees, crying. He said, “You’ve received your call. Now go tell your pastor you have received your call and wait for him to instruct you.” I told him that he just confirmed what the Holy Spirit had spoken to me.

Evidence came forth that proved my innocence of the charges that were pending against me, and I was exonerated.  

I received the call to be sent in 2013. After this, my pastor put me on “a watch.” In January 2015, I preached my first sermon. People were opening their doors and asking me to preach. I reflected back to the streets and how I knew then that I was a leader.

Later I talked to Bro. Willie Jacobs (Church Planting Strategist for the ABSC) and my pastor Jarvis Smith, and we prayed about a church plant in Turrell, Ark.  Last January, Bro. Jacobs took me down to look at this church, the church that became Second Baptist Turrell. Turrell is the kind of town I was raised up in. I came out of a place like this with gang banging, drugs, and poverty.

They gave me keys to the building, and we started Bible study in April. I knew the Spirit was saying we needed to move forward with a church service, so I talked with Bro. Jacobs and my pastor. The older crowd did not want to get out at night because it was somewhat rough, but I said, “With all due respect, I understood it is not the popular thing to do. However, I have to do what the Holy Spirit is leading me to do.”

We had our first service May 1. Even though we discussed going back to just having Bible study, let’s just say we have had services every Sunday since. To God be the glory!

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