The Thief Who Found Joy

The radical power of Jesus Christ changes lives.

by Dennis Jackson as told to Muriel Larson

I was walking down the hall, minding my business, when some of the guys grabbed me and dragged me, cursing and struggling, into Major Brooks’ office. “We’ve got the thief, major!” one of them yelled.

The major looked at me sternly. I knew he could throw the book at me and that I could spend a long time in jail. The major dismissed his men and said quietly, “Sit down. What is your name?”

I looked at him in surprise. “My name’s Dennis, Sir.”

“Where are you from, Dennis?”

“Chicago.”

He talked to me like that a little more, then said, “Now Dennis, you realize that I have the authority to send you to jail?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“No one likes a thief. The men in this unit certainly don’t, and they’re pretty sore about the things you’ve stolen from them. If I turned you loose right now, I doubt very seriously if you’d make it to jail.”

I squirmed anxiously and looked at the floor. “Yes, Sir, I know that.”

“Dennis, why did you steal?”

What could I tell him? My whole way of life flashed before me — and it was ugly.

Gang fights

I grew up in the slums of Chicago. My father was in prison, and my mother was a drug addict. From the time I could remember, I had to fight just to live. It was a tough neighborhood, and unless you were good with your fists, you might not survive.

At the age of ten, I joined a street gang, and I learned everything there was to know about fighting. We would get into fights with other gangs, and I became good at using my knife. Then one day we got into a gang brawl, and it was like fighting for my life. I lashed out at one guy, and here came another one. I got that one right in the gut. He fell at my feet.

Signing up

I could hear sirens. We all ran for the alleys. Several of the opposing gang had seen me stick that guy. If the police picked them up, they would finger me for sure.

What can I do? I wondered. When I got to the next block, I saw the answer. “Join the Air Force,” a sign read. I ducked into the office, signed up with the U.S. Air Force, and soon was on my way to an entirely new life.

But I was the same thief I’d always been. I started going through the personal things of the other guys and helping myself. Now I had been caught!

The way to happiness

I looked up at the major. “I guess I’ve been stealing all my life, Sir.”

“Would you like to tell me about it?”

Hesitantly, I told him my life story.

The major asked me if I was happy, and I admitted I wasn’t. Then he told me that when he was a teenager, he also lacked real happiness. But he found it through receiving Christ as his Savior. The major showed me in the Bible how Jesus Christ had died for my sins.

“No matter what you’ve done, Dennis,” he said, “Christ loves you, and He can save you from your sins. He can change you, too!”

I shook my head. “No, He can’t change me. I don’t believe it.”

“Why don’t you try it and see?”

Radical salvation

I fell to my knees in the major’s office and asked Jesus to come into my life and save me. Then something wonderful happened. I jumped up, clicked my heels, and yelled, “Wow-ee! Major Brooks, this is great! I feel different!”

“Well, Dennis, it sounds as if the Lord has really answered your prayer and saved you!” Major Brooks exclaimed. “But you can’t go by how you feel. You can get drunk and feel good, but the next day you wouldn’t. Salvation isn’t based on how you feel. It is based on what Jesus said He would do, and you can count on Jesus keeping His Word.”

Then the major showed me 1 John 5:13 in his Bible: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (NKJV).

I started attending the major’s weekly Bible study. The major decided to give me another chance.

Strong arm

One night after Bible study, I said, “Major Brooks, a lot of the men in my unit need Jesus.”

“Bring them to our Bible study,” he suggested.

Later I told him about Curly. “He’s the meanest man I ever met!” I said. “He really needs Jesus!”

“OK,” the major said. “Bring him in.”

So that night I put a hammerlock on Curly and took him to Major Brooks’ office. “Curly, you get in there,” I ordered. “You sit down, and you listen to Major Brooks. And you get saved now, do you hear me?”

“Dennis,” the major said, “that’s not exactly the way you go about it.”

I forced Curly to sit down, but he started to get up. So I grabbed him, and we began wrestling on the floor. Finally, I got Curly down and began banging his head on the cement. “Now, Curly,” I said, “you are going to get saved!”

“OK, OK!” Curly yelled. “I’ll listen!”

Radical outreach

Using his Bible, Major Brooks showed Curly God’s way of salvation. “Jesus can change your life, Curly,” the major said.

Then I saw tears rolling down Curly’s cheeks. He knelt and asked Jesus to come into his life and forgive his sins.

I jumped up and down with joy. “Major Brooks!” I exclaimed. “This is great! I know some more guys like Curly!”

Later that night I knocked on the major’s door again. Holding two friends by the napes of their necks, I said, “Now you guys get in there and get saved!”

A short while later they, too, received Jesus as their Savior. In all, that week I managed to bring to the major eight men who needed Jesus Christ. They all started attending the Bible study, and they helped many others come to Jesus.

Transformation at home

After my discharge from the service, I went back to Chicago and confessed to the police that I thought I had killed another boy when I ran with the gang. But it turned out that I hadn’t. I led my girlfriend to Christ and married her. I also won my mother and fifteen members of my old street gang to Christ. After attending Bible school at night, I began working full-time for Jesus, seeking to reach other street gang kids for Him.

If He could transform my life, He can do it for anyone!