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Doing Something Locally

(Centre) Prison lifer and football team captain McAndy Thomas accepts sports equipment donated by the visitors.

Cayman's schools, prisons, hospitals and churches, and the people who use them, have benefited from the work of spiritual and community workers - from Cayman's shores, as well as from overseas - last week.

The visitors were busy working alongside the local Do Something World-Cayman volunteers, in the interest of improving the lives of local people - especially the youth.

Cayman has seen a marked increase in the number murders, shootings, robberies, drug busts and other crimes over recent months, as well as increasing pleas from residents for an end to this behaviour.

The 100 American visitors took on beautification and construction projects; visited imprisoned men, women and youth; and held medical seminars. The intense schedule led up to the two-day Do Something World festival at Grand Harbour last weekend.

After busy days, the members even went out into neighbourhoods and crime "hot spots" at night, talking and sharing in a street ministry.

The guest volunteers, most of whom raised funds in order to pay their own way here, were a few of the 12,500-plus members of the Rock Church, which is a nondenominational body based in San Diego, California.

"Our latest initiative is called Impact 195, and it involves training our members to go out and minister to all 195 nations of the earth," said Tim Neisler, a member of the church's Gangs and Prison ministry team.

"We're all walking miracles that started with a simple prayer. While we have a strong church family, we're called to do more than simply going to church."

Each of the visiting members had a testimony, which they shared wherever they went. Tim, his colleague William Chapell, and other members once were "in the game." They made big money, served hard time, and now speak about their personal losses - and their salvation.

Saying it's unfortunate to know that in Cayman members of the same family are often imprisoned at Northward and Fairbanks, the visitors compared this to their own sordid pasts.

"As a child, both of my parents were drug addicts, and it soon came natural to me to become a user and a dealer," Tim said. "However, I was looking for something better, and I even walked into church high a few times."

Both of his parents eventually died as a result of drug abuse.

Hands in praise

During the Northward Prison visits, the inmates - including two men serving time for capital crimes, who used their 60 minutes of exercise time to speak with the visitors - responded positively to the messages of hope. So did the teenagers and youth in Eagle House; Caribbean Haven rehab clients; and the women in Fairbanks.

Most asked for individual prayers, and many made commitments to follow God.

As he helped to give out printed materials, footballs and basketballs, visitor Leo Garcia explained, "We're not just here to give gifts, but to manifest the love of Jesus."

A Northward lifer and captain of the prison's football team, McAndy Thomas, accepted the sports-equipment donation on behalf of the inmates.

He also shared the story of his own reckless life and conviction, but also of his prison conversion, which happened on his birthday in 1995 - and which changed his life. "I was in the first group of inmates baptised at the prison, but before that I'd led an aimless life," he said.

The Rock Church is led by pastor and author Miles McPherson. The ex-NFL star's life of hopelessness and drug addiction was, he has said, "transformed by the power of Christ's love."

He established Miles Ahead Ministries in 1992, from which grew the Do Something World initiative. Its focus is to reach the young and young-minded across the world with the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ. As part of this, the effort mobilises people to work year-round in communities, in order to make a difference.

Pastor Miles has just released a book, Do Something: Make Your Life Count.

A father and son enjoy the Do Something festival.

Pastor Al Ebanks chairs the Do Something World Cayman committee, which was supported by hundreds of local volunteers. Members worked on projects such as landscaping and beautifying the Cayman Islands Hospital and Frances Bodden Girls' Home.

"Any such initiatives to benefit the people of Cayman - especially the young and vulnerable - are most appreciated. I look forward to seeing the momentum continuing," added Chairman of Cayman's National Youth Commission Jenny Manderson.

For more information visit www.dosomethingcayman.com.

Sidebar: Willie and Angie Reach Out to Youths

Back home, Willie Chappell still shows off his lowrider cars, performs Christian rap, and hangs out in the lower parts of California - but these days, it's all in the name of his outreach of faith.

"Just because we follow God doesn't mean we can't be cool," he says, with a smile.

He and his wife, Angie, are members of the Prison and Gangs outreach team of the Miles Ahead organisation. Outside of their ministry work, they are a working-class Christian couple with three children, and they own a small business.

Willie and Angie Chappell played ball and shared testimonies with youths.

While talking with Cayman's youth and inmates, Willie and Angie looked back on their lives and shared their hearts.

"You're talking to an ex-criminal," Willie said. "I had no mercy, no fear, and no love in my heart. Most criminals hate it in prison, for there it's better to be feared than to be loved."

Coming from four generations of Pasadena gang members, he's "now trying to save the generations ahead." Showing tattoos of his family and friends, he said that when he goes out to speak, he takes with him nine of their obituaries.

Willie said he lived the typical ghetto lifestyle, and was trying to achieve the gangster dream. He made "bags of cash" on the streets. He also rapped and had a recording contract with MCA Records, which resulted in a gold album and rap videos - but all these things were countered by pain, death, and years behind bars.

Today, Willie has so many "points" against him on his rap sheet, he isn't allowed to visit prisons as part of his church ministry.

Speaking of the dark reality of crime and drugs, so often glamorised in modern music and culture, he said: "In the hoods, kids can't go into the stores, but buy their bags of chips through bulletproof glass."

John 15:5 Kept Me Alive is one of his latest Christian rap testimonies, which he shared with boys in Eagle House.

While he told firsthand of the harsh drug life for men, Willie also acknowledged that women in the drug culture suffer just as much - and often, more. "We know that female inmates are forgotten by people on the outside, often more than men are," he said.

In the US, the Miles Ahead ministry includes more than 90 programmes, with diverse and unorthodox methods such as Christian car shows, a quilting ministry, and a programme to help women in the adult entertainment business.

Sharing a story similar to Willie's, Angie spoke to the women at Fairbanks of her own times of trouble.

"I was crying out for attention, and just wanted to do bad things," she told them. "I remember going as a child to visit relatives in jail, and I eventually had to take to our young daughter to do the same thing with my husband - which is when we decided to try to escape from that life."

Their lives are now 180-degrees different; Willie and Angie are walking in the opposite direction from their former ways.

"I'm a plumber now," said Willie proudly, as he underscored the importance of pride, and the need for productive professions and trades, for young people. "My truck and my customers are waiting when I get back home, and back to work."

"Seeing him get saved and baptised was amazing to those around us - even though many thought it wouldn't last," added Angie. "We've now been together for 16 years, our marriage has never been better, and we have great friends. God has given us so many blessings."

(GIS)

For further information contact: Lennon Christian