May 19, 2015

Newly Baptized Ex-Gangster Convinces South Pacific Gangs to Reconcile

Call it the power of a Spirit-filled evangelistic series.

A newly baptized Seventh-day Adventist believer has used his influence as a former street gang leader to bring three local gangs together with community leaders in a reconciliation ceremony in Papua New Guinea.

For many years gangsters intent on controlling their various territories had restricted the movement of the 50,000 residents of Popondetta, capital of the South Pacific country’s Northern Province. Hostility between the gangs was fed by violent clashes and long-lasting grudges.

But Sam Oivo, the leader of one of the gangs, learned about Jesus and was baptized as the result of an evangelistic series held in the city last year. He decided that he wanted to right old wrongs and give other gangsters a chance to enjoy a better life.

“With the support of the Popondetta and Bangoho Adventist churches, Mr. Oivo gathered more than 50 gang members, mostly young men, for a reconciliation ceremony within his old Goruta Street territory,” the South Pacific Adventist Record reported Monday.

Representatives from each of the street gangs made public apologies for the many years of trouble they had caused one another as well as for the problems they had created for their families and communities. They pledged to forge new and better relationships with one another and acknowledged that their consumption of alcohol had contributed to ongoing tensions.

Community leaders and members congratulated the young men on their decisions and encouraged them to support one another as they left behind high-risk behaviors.

Traditional reconciliation ceremonies in the region require planning and resources beyond the reach of most gang members. But, as is the custom, compensation money changed hands at the ceremony.

Oivo challenged the gangsters to accept God’s way of simple forgiveness and suggested that church would be a good place to learn more.

He also thanked the women of the Popondetta and Bangoho Adventist churches for providing food that was shared at a peacemaking meal.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the gangsters had accepted Oivo’s invitation to attend church. Oivo worships on Sabbaths with his wife and children, whom he recently led to Jesus.

A version of this story appeared in Adventist Record.