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CBN.com Ralph Marinacci was used to living a real life Good Fellas.
“My mother, Grandfather, and Grandmother came from Calabria in Italy,” he says. “And when Grandpop came from Italy, he was a member of the Black Hand Gang… It’s similar to the Mafia in the United States. Through a series of events they lived with us in Camden, New Jersey.”
That made for a crowded home. “In my house there was Grandpop, Grandmom, Uncle Albert, then my brothers Al, Anthony, Frank, Ralph, Emanuel, Lucy, Violet, Angelina, and Esmarelda,” he recalls.
Ralph saw other neighborhood families spending time with each other, loving life.
“The Italian mother makes a big pot of spaghetti,” he says. “And then invites neighbors. There’s a lot of singing, talking, and drinking. But we never had that.”
What he did have were the most unusual grandfathers in town. One was in the Mafia, and the other…
“My father’s father really was a practicing witch. I’ve seen him put his hand on a piece of ground, and it's still barren today.”
The combination of these influences tainted the family. “My brother Anthony was a gang leader,” he says. “He was the leader of the 40 Thieves in Camden, New Jersey. He used to carry an Italian stiletto.”
There was constant fighting. "It was a pity. My father never did a thing; he was scared. Who knew Grandpop or where he was? We never knew who he got his orders from.”
So Ralph found an escape -- music. He was good enough to earn an honest living in his group “The Sophisticates of Rhythm.”
“Music was my god,” he says. “I would not give up music for anything.”
At home Ralph’s grandmother sought a way to stop the violence in the family. A neighbor, that was a family friend, advised witchcraft.
“She said, ‘The reason your brothers are fighting [is] the evil spirits.’ And she put packs of salt like teabags on every door and window. We wore salt patches on our underwear.
“The witch said, before the evil spirits get into your home at night, they had to open the pack and count every grain of salt. That’s why I bought a two-pound of salt. Who in the world is going to count the grains in two pounds of salt?”
The family did everything the neighborhood witch said. “Four sisters wore necklaces of garlic so evil spirits wouldn’t harm them. We would put a clove of garlic on a saucer and put them on every windowsill.”
But nothing ever changed, until one day when a stranger that was heaven-sent knocked on the door.
“…She said to Grandmom, ‘I want to tell you how Jesus changed my life.’”
Ralph’s grandmother listened as the woman talked about the peace found in Jesus Christ. That afternoon, Ralph’s grandmother prayed to receive Christ as her Lord and Savior.
Afterward, Ralph couldn’t even recognize his own house. “I looked around and said, ‘Mom, where are the salt bags?’ She said, ‘Ralph, we don’t need the salt bags. That’s the devil. I put all the junk in a bag, and when the witch come, I wouldn’t even let her come to the door.'”
Ralph resisted this ‘Jesus,’ but saw his family begin to change.
“One night I came home and my big brother Frank had his hands up crying. He was hugging my sisters and my mother. I never saw that. We never hugged. We never kissed. We never said good night. We never said sorry. We never said pardon. It was just fear that kept love out.”
All of the Marinaccis were coming to Christ.
“Albert and Anthony who fought now were embracing. What’s happening? I don’t understand this. I came home another night, and my grandfather, the Mafia, met Jesus. The leader at that time said, ‘Throw him out.’ You see they recognized something. You can’t fake this salvation.”
Ralph felt like an intruder in his own home. “Where the salt bags were they had scripture verses all over the house. They took pictures down of the family and put scripture verses on the windows. They put scripture verses in my bass violin, in the guitar, wrapped it around the banjo. I said, 'These people are crazy.'”
He’d had enough and confronted his family.
“I said, ‘You ought to get off this and stop talking about religion.’ My brother Tony says, ‘Ralph, look how I was; look how I am. Look at Albert. Look at your grandfather. Look at your father. Look at your brothers.’
"I think the Holy Spirit started to convict me and, October 3rd, 1939, I went home, and I got straightened out.”
More than 60 years later, the Marinacci brothers are great friends. Ralph has traveled the globe spreading the Gospel.
“Because one woman -- one woman dared to knock on the door.”
While Ralph’s story has impacted millions with the gospel of Jesus Christ, his family legacy is especially significant to me, because I know him as Grandpop.
He’s not a pastor; you may call him an evangelist. He calls himself a “witness.”
“Christians say, ‘Well, I wasn’t called to be a minister,’” Ralph says. “Yes, but Isaiah 43:10 and 44:8 and Acts 1:8 says you are witnesses. A witness tells what happened. Don’t preach, don’t theologize. Just tell people how Jesus came into your life and what a wonderful change happened.”
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