Gilbert Gomez was one of the cool kids at his high school in Bakersfield, California. A class clown, he was popular and made friends easily. “I still have the pictures from when I was crowned semiformal king,” he says.
Gilbert’s teachers encouraged him to stay out of trouble and follow Jesus, and Gilbert’s parents took him to church every Sunday. But his parents worked long hours. And Gilbert started hanging out with other kids whose parents also weren’t home. That's when he was introduced to drugs and alcohol.
A DOUBLE LIFE
Drug use escalated into criminal behavior quickly. When he wasn’t at school, Gilbert was breaking into cars and selling drugs. He got involved in a gang.
“The way I lived, I knew it was wrong,” says Gilbert. “I was living a double life.”
For years, Gilbert was in and out of juvenile detention centers and having run-ins with authorities. His mother worried about where he was and what he was doing on the streets.
“My mom used to tell me that she didn't want to answer the phone because she thought it was going to be the police asking her to identify her son’s body,” Gilbert recalls.
Gilbert’s rebellious life screeched to a halt at age 21 when he was arrested with multiple charges, including weapon possession, substance abuse, and attempted murder. He was facing up to 30 years.
During the trial, the dealer Gilbert worked for turned in evidence against him. The betrayal of trust brought Gilbert to a dark place.
“Everything that I believed in crumbled,” he says. “I was taught ‘You never tell on your family’ ... that if you stay loyal to this way of [gang] life, that it would always have your back.”
'If you stay loyal to gang life, the gang will always have your back. '
GILBERT’S CHOICE: THE GANG OR JESUS?
One day, while shackled and alone in the jail restroom, Gilbert was overcome with fear about prison. Suddenly, he remembered all of the people in his childhood who told him about God. He cried out in prayer:
Oh God, if You're real, show me You're real. Please forgive me, for I don’t want to live like this anymore.
Lord, I don’t know what I'm supposed to do; I just want to change.
He started learning how to live as a follower of Christ. It wasn’t easy to be a believer in prison, and he needed all the encouragement he could find.
He remembers reading in the Bible one day, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24, NLT)” and, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31).”
Soon after, prison gang members pulled Gilbert aside and asked if he was going to be loyal to Jesus or to the gang. Gilbert explained that he could only serve one master. He wanted to serve the Lord only and not the gang life.
“They told me, ‘Okay, then you’re on your own, man. If these other enemies hurt you, we’re not going to help you.’” Gilbert simply replied, “Well, if God is for me, who can be against me?”
The men let him go without a fight. At that moment Gilbert felt a peace that he had never felt before. He returned to his cell and read Proverbs 16:7, “When people’s lives please the Lord, even their enemies are at peace with them.”
‘Lord, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do; I just want to change.’
LIVING A CHRIST-CENTERED LIFE
Out of prison, Gilbert is enjoying family life with his wife of 14 years and their three children. He serves in the children’s ministry at his church, knowing those kids will remember his words—just like he still remembers the positive influences from his youth.
Gilbert is also back out on the streets with drug addicts, only this time to share the story of God at work in his life.
Now in his 40s, he remembers thinking he’d never even make it to 21 years old. “So many times I could've been killed,” says Gilbert. “I got shot at. I got stabbed. I think it’s by God’s grace and mercy I’m here today.”
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