The Right Job for the Wrong Reasons
By David DiCicco and Rob Hull
The 700 Club
I wrote a poem. “At the age of twelve I was demon possessed. I pleaded for God, ‘Please put me to rest.’ Gained a reputation like the gangsters of old, so confused deep inside with big holes in my soul.”
Joey Perez grew up in the shadow of his father’s violence and crimes. What I saw my father do and how people respected him, I wanted to be just like him. By the time I was twelve years old I already had three adult crimes.”
His father despised Joey’s behavior and disciplined him severely. “He chained me up by my neck one time and stuck me in the basement for three days. When I was in that basement, chained up by my neck I started hearing voices in my mind and I said I’m gonna kill my father by the time I’m eighteen – from that age on, I started committing real serious crimes.”
Juvenile homes, probation and time served in a government correctional program did nothing to dispel Joey’s criminal ambitions. By his mid teens, Joey had risen to power as the leader of Philadelphia’s midtown Zulu gang. “I was so full of anger and hatred; by the time I’m fifteen I already had about eleven attempted murders. People I shot stabbed and everything, gang and drug related.”
“One day I was stabbed seventeen times, gang war; three on my heart, four on my neck, ten on my back. Not one time the knives penetrated my flesh. Three guys stabbed me seventeen times.”
But being a gang leader offered him no solace. “Everything I did haunted me day and night. I never had peace. In my dreams people were shooting me and stabbing me. I would cry out. I wanted to change, but I already had that mentality there was no hope. There was no solution. I would take guns and put it to my head I had no fear of blowing my brains out. I wanted to kill myself so many times. The only way I figured I was gonna find peace was in the grave like everybody else.”
By the late seventies, Joey’s operation expanded into drug dealing. “I had 32 drug dealers. I had a gang of two hundred and fifty guys. I’m making a lot of money. I’ve got my younger sister selling drugs, friends of mine selling drugs but I never had peace.”
In order to avoid the suspicion of the police, he worked at an auto parts warehouse. After a short time there, he met Cozzy, one of his supervisors, and a former mafia soldier. “He said ‘Joe, do you know that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins?’ And I said, ‘Man you mean to tell me you’re one of those religious people?’ I said, ‘Look man, I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in the devil, and I sure don’t believe in Jesus. So I don’t want to hear what you got to say.’”
Cozzy constantly encouraged Joey. Every day he and several other Christian workers prayed for Joey. “I would look at them, they smiled that’s all they had to do, and that agitated me inside, because I couldn’t understand why they were always so happy. Their faces were always glowing. They had this peace I didn’t have. So I started envying what they had. I wanted what they had. I didn’t know how to get it.”
Joey’s bitterness towards them grew. One day at his workstation he plotted to kill seventeen co-workers. As I was thinking this way, all of a sudden it was like thunder. I hear a voice calling me from above, but it was like thunder. And He called me by my name, ‘Jose!’ When He called me, my whole body jerked. Five minutes later… ‘Jose!’ It called me the second time. When it called me the third time, it was like the wall, the concrete wall turned into a movie screen and I could see my whole life. A man from behind me, a voice of thunder, every time He spoke I would just shake and my whole body kept shaking. And He was showing me my life; why I was never shot, why I was never stabbed, why I was never killed. Then all of a sudden He stops speaking and I started vomiting. I felt sick.”
Joey left the factory. But later that day he went to a street corner to confront his drug dealers named Izzy. Izzy owed him money. “I threw him against the wall, and I’m arguing with him. People are screaming and begging for mercy for his life, when all of a sudden I’m thinking it’s the cops when they pat me on the shoulder.”
“When I turn around it was a little old lady standing right there. She said, ‘Young man, those are tracts. I was in my church praying and God said come to this corner, there’s a man here that He’s calling by name and He’s gonna use him for his glory. That man is you. Jesus loves you!’ and I flew back. All of a sudden she said, ‘Jesus loves you.’ And I flew back again. It was like somebody hit me so hard. I forgot about killing Izzy. I forgot how in the world I got to that corner. Man that night I was so confused I couldn’t even sleep that night.”
Back at work the next day, a co-worker saw Joey was troubled. He invited him to a church service that night. “i said, ‘Look, if I don’t receive Jesus as my Savior, I’m going to kill all ya’ll Christians tomorrow. This is it! I’m gonna kill all ya’ll Christians tomorrow.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You ain’t gonna kill nobody. Today you will receive Jesus Christ.’”
On his way to the service, Joey cried out to God for a sign. “I want You to say, ‘There is a man with a blessing from the Lord. And that man is José.’ If You say this no rain, no snow, no fire, no devil, demon, nothing will stop me. I’m going to receive You.’”
At the service, Joey grew restless and decided to leave. “That young girl stopped the message. Twenty minutes into the message she stopped, and she yelled out and said, ‘Tonight, there is a man here with a blessing from the Lord, and God is gonna use that man for His glory and thousands and thousands of people will be saved.’ And she said, ‘That young man’s name is José.’ And when she said that and I turned around. ‘You said, ‘Young man that if God called you this way, no rain no snow no fire, no devil, demon, nothing was gonna stop you. I’m gonna receive you.’ I started running to the altar. When I got there, my body was shaking. I mean I could feel somebody inside of me. And I just kept shaking and I’m crying out, ‘God, I am a sinner. I shed blood.’ I’m crying. I’m weeping and I started shouting, ‘I’m free. I’m free. I’m free.’”
Joey finally had the peace he longed for. “I slept so good that day when I got home I woke up late to go to work. I walked in there and I said, ‘Cozzy, I received Jesus as my Savior.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Wow your whole face is glowing!’ And Cozzy came and hugged me and started crying.”
“I was free that same day – that same day. I was full of the Holy Spirit, everything. Never went did drugs. Never went back for the drug money.”
Today Joey pastors a church in Philadelphia and has shared his story around the world. His heart remains in the streets - to reach people with God’s love. “I love what I do. I can’t talk about none other than Jesus no matter where I go. He’s everything to me, because He understands me better than myself. He had given me a peace I never had in my life.”
“Jesus called me three times by my name, cleansed me with his blood, took away my shame. Started a new journey with the Lord who loved me, gave me peace, love and joy, could have had all this when I was just a little boy.”
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