El Cholo – Part 2

By Rick Manzanares © Copyright

(Rick Manzanares is my good friend, an IT Leader/Senior Business Analyst at Hewlett-Packard, a former police officer, born-again Christian, and a solid father and husband. It was not always this way for Rick, however. This month’s guest post, El Cholo offers some unique insights from Rick’s past, “before Christ.”)

We robbed the store where I worked, sticking to our plan. I yanked all the cash from its box and fled the store. I met up with Javier later, and we counted the take – almost $3,000 in small bills – an amount I had never seen at one time! I felt very rich, elated at the prospects of buying my own lowrider and cruising all the way to L.A. in style!

Javier and I found a guy selling a 1964 convertible T-bird, one of my favorite cars. But, the owner refused our offer to buy it for $3,000 in cash, and demanded no less than $7,000. We hunted for another car the next day, but failed to find a lowrider for the money we had.

Meantime, my mother discovered my hidden “black book,” where I put away my friends’ phone numbers. She called each number in the book, asking for me. When she called the house where we had been staying, a dummy who lived there confessed that I was there. My mother demanded to speak to me.

When we spoke, I announced that I would never return home, that I was miserable. I told her that she was a horrible mother, and I did not want to live with her ever again. She agreed not to force me to live with her, but pleaded that I return the stolen money because my former boss was demanding she repay his loss. I felt dismay, knowing she had no way to pay that amount.

I had spent some of the money partying with my girlfriend the night before. So, I could only return $2,850. I handed it to my boss and apologized. Unexpectedly, he accepted my apology and insisted that I return to work for him! He fired Javier, assuming that he was a “bad influence” on me though, in truth I was the main plotter. Javier was merely licensed to drive, while I could not.

With unspoken reluctance, I accepted my boss’ offer and returned to work for him. Co-workers quickly forgave me, saying “We all make mistakes.” But, internally, I did not trust myself, considering myself as damaged goods and looking out solely for myself. I no longer cared about others. I’d sunk so low that I remember thinking, I have become an animal! Without hesitation, I could commit heinous, despicable acts, and feel no remorse!

In addition to street-fighting, I committed robberies and thefts during this period. Although I never attacked females, older men and guys my age were fair game. I mugged people at knife-point. And, I felt no sorrow or guilt. I took care of myself with no regard for what I did to others.

I stole again from my boss, but this time was caught in the act and fired immediately. This time, I sensed regret because he was one of few people to ever show me love and kindness. But I recognized that I should not be trusted to protect anyone’s but my own interests. I realized it had been a mistake to resume working for Mr. Winslow; it was only a matter of time before I stole again for self-preservation.

Home life worsened. My mother evicted me permanently after a verbal altercation, during which she called my girlfriend a foul name. I was visibly incensed. Mom dared me to admit that I wanted to hit her. I replied, “I felt like it.” She then kicked me out.

I moved in with my grandmother, who lived a block away. My grandmother was consistently good and kind to me and my siblings. She always offered an empathetic ear, was very motherly and loving – everything we wished our mother could be. We loved grandmother.

Months passed, and my mother asked me to move back in to help look after my younger siblings. I agreed, and things between us seemed to improve. I confessed to her that I could never hit her; she was my mother, and it would violate everything within me.

The familiar misery returned in several months, and I convinced one of my younger brothers to run away for good. We escaped one night. We took shelter with various friends, also applied to board in a group home in San Francisco. But, they required our mother’s consent, and we wanted nothing to do with her. I stayed at my friend’s house and, the next day, my brother and I agreed to meet at noon where we would plan the coming week. As I waited for him in a laundromat, my uncle appeared instead. My brother ratted me out.

My uncle said I would not have to live with my mother. He and my aunt had agreed to take me in and I could live with them in their home. I had been fond of this uncle; but thought he was a religious freak. He was kinder than my mother, so I agreed to move into his home.

Once I did, I negatively influenced my cousins. I introduced my eldest cousin to drinking and smoking weed. Then a female cousin moved in, also a “rehab case” like me. We got high together when my aunt and uncle would leave for church. As time progressed, I noticed that my aunt and uncle were deeply sincere about their faith, and had a genuinely loving relationship with each other. I had not witnessed an intact family and kind words exchanged among family members in years. It was refreshing to observe them now.

I attended church with them on occasion. They always asked to pray for me, but I declined saying, “No thank you.” They respected my wishes.

As I continued to drink, get high and indulge in other bad behavior, my girlfriend and I got into some serious trouble. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of that one.

Days later, I learned that the church youth group was going to have its first Teen Prayer Meeting. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask for prayer. I coaxed one of my cousins to attend and pray that the trouble I had gotten myself in would go away. To my relief, he agreed.

But as the day approached, I concluded that I was placing my life in the hands of a flaky, wish-washy Christian in my cousin, who was plainly compromised. I decided to “Man up,” personally attend, and pray on my own behalf.

At this time, I reflected on the cholo lifestyle and how it had infiltrated into my cousins, who now dressed like me and acted like cholos wherever they went. I was building a lowrider in my uncle’s front yard – a 1965 Bel Air.

We were bandana-wearing cholos.

I showed up to a Teen Prayer meeting in my cholo clothes and cigarette pack in my shirt pocket one day. I listened as goodie-goodie kids voiced how God helped them with different problems and how grateful they were for His help. This gave me a little hope that He might hear me.

Then, one of the older guys preached and shared a life story. I was mildly impressed because he used to be a street fighter, like me. I was never a bully, but I would always win.

He talked about how God changed his life and gave him a whole new reason to live. I noticed my hands were trembling. I could not explain why, as I wasn’t nervous or scared, and never experienced my hands tremble before. I got up and went to the restroom to look in the mirror and splash water on my face to “snap out of it.” The mirror told me I looked normal, handsome. I returned to the meeting room.

The leaders polled the room, asked each kid what God meant to them. Most had positive things to say. When my turn came, I said, “To be honest, I had attended their church a couple of times and nothing changed; I still drank, smoked, got high and chased girls. So I wasn’t sure if God was real or listened to people. I told them I was raised Catholic, so I believed in God but that He was distant and couldn’t be concerned with me – a tiny ant in a vast universe.

The preacher guy said, “No you are very important to Him. You are priceless and of great value to Him. He died so I could have a better life, eternal life in heaven.”

I said, well I’ve prayed before, but I have not changed.

He said we would pray again tonight and if I meant it, God would show up. I said, “Ok, whatever.”

The time came to pray. I said silently, “God, if you are real like these people say you are, then touch me. Change me. If you are not real, nothing will happen and I will leave the same. I will never ever step into another church for as long as I live.”

Others began praying for me. The leader had me pray for Jesus to come into my heart. I repeated his words and, for the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable. It’s unexplainable. I didn’t feel capable of trusting anyone or opening up to them. However, I could feel that my heart was wide open, for that split second that God might be real.

Then it happened.

My legs collapsed, and I fell back, onto the floor. I was not unconscious; I could hear everyone. I had not fainted; I simply could not stand. As I lay on the floor, I felt no fear; I felt safe yet bewildered. What was happening to me? A sudden feeling came as though something was cutting my torso from abdomen to chest! But there was no pain. Imagine someone running a finger up the center of your chest. No pain, just slight pressure. However, I could feel that darkness, hatred, hurt, bitterness, pain was leaving me – as though strings or roots were being pulled out of me. It didn’t hurt, but I could feel the tug. I was shocked. Then, a warm, soothing fluid – like hot soup on a cold day – was poured into that same wound. But it was overwhelming love. It overtook me like a wave and I began to sob like a baby. It was an inconsolable, gaping cry. I did not want to cry, but I could not control it. I must have cried non-stop for 10-15 minutes. It seemed like an eternity. The worst part was that there were girls in the room. I had a rule – Never cry; but never cry in front of girls, ever!

Now, my reputation was ruined.

In a while I was able to stand. I got up and the youth prayed for other kids. I tried to join in. As I stood and thought everything was ok, I felt my legs giving out again. I fell back a second time.

This time, there was no shock, but anticipation. Though my eyes were closed, I experienced ecstasy. Through my eye lids, a brilliant light appeared as bright as the sun. I opened my eyes to see if someone was shining a flashlight on my face. No, only the ambient light from the room was on, and nothing directly pointing to me. I closed my eyes and could feel the light and heat of this brilliant light in front of me. All I could think was that God was trying to show me the brilliance of His presence. I was convinced God was real, and proving it to me that night.

Minutes later, I was able to get up. I experienced two visions. Two images played in my mind, but they were brilliant and never to be forgotten. The first vision was of the same group standing in a circle praying together. All were dressed in white robes, and I was among them. I knew not what it meant, but I saw it. I told the other kids what I was seeing, and they all cried. God is here! After a while they wanted to pray for me again because they knew God had done something to me and wanted to seal the deal with prayer. As they prayed, the second vision came. Next to my left foot was a tiny man, screaming at me. He was very angry. I looked and laughed thinking, “What’s his problem?” Then I heard the Lord speak to me, “That is Satan. He is angry because tonight he lost his hold on you. You have power and strength over him.” I was awestruck by that revelation!

I went home and told my aunt what happened. She was elated, explaining how long she had prayed for me to come to God. She said that one time when I had run away they had telephoned a national prayer line. At that time the person on the other side of the phone prophesied that I would one day become a preacher. I recalled my aunt telling me that years earlier, and I had laughed and scoffed at her then.

Now that I had become a Christian, it was a possibility.

Overnight, my values changed. The desires to drink, smoke and use drugs was completely removed from me. I could not believe it. I trashed my cigarettes.

Next day my uncle from Concord came to visit. I told him all that had happened the night before, and he committed his life to Christ that moment in my bedroom! He knelt and repeated the prayer I recited the night before. Although an alcoholic for years, that day he gave up drinking.

The following day, I returned to San Francisco to tell mom and grandmother what had happened to me. They were excitedly happy. Finally the proverbial black sheep was no longer a rebel.

I became a rebel for Jesus. I started to preach on the streets in the Mission District where I had grown up. I talked about Christ to cholos that I had known for years.

Several months passed as I walked with the Lord, and constantly learning His ways. One day, I was walking down a street, and noticed that, at the other end of the block, was an elderly woman walking toward me. She looked up and, upon seeing me coming, she looked frightened and immediately crossed the street to avoid passing me. I was pained because I knew she had nothing to fear. In that moment, the Lord spoke to me, saying “You need to represent me. Those clothes you wear mean something else; they reflect what you used to be.” I knew that I did not want people to fear me. So that day, I went home and tossed all my ‘cholos’ clothes into the trash. I bought all new clothes, form-fitting and not resembling the cholo lifestyle at all.

I noticed that people now responded differently to my presence.

Another lesson soon followed. I began urging my brother to change from his cholo clothing too. I said we were both attending church, and needed to leave the past behind us. I laid into him pretty good, preaching my righteousness. He replied by blurting he hated me! I was taken aback, shocked by his response. Immediately, the Holy Spirit spoke to me saying, “I asked you to change your clothes; when did I instruct you to impose that on others?” “What I say to you is for you.” “Your brother is not yet where you are. I work with everybody on their own time clock.”

That is when I learned to keep revelations meant for me to myself, and not to impose it on others. Often, it could do harm, not good.

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