May 19, 2016
By Matt Morrison
“I thought I’d be in Pakistan the first time someone I disciple dies for his faith. Not Houston, TX.”
Ryan remembers his first conversation with David on the Houston streets. He was there to meet with his brother but encountered him instead. Ryan began sharing the Gospel with him, it became apparent that David was already a believer – and a motivated one at that. Before long, David decided to join Ryan in spreading the Gospel around the neighborhood. His mother even commissioned her son to Ryan.
In the months that followed, the two began sharing Christ and growing together. They even started a small church in a nearby apartment complex. They were making progress, David was maturing, and God was being glorified in their lives.
AN INDIAN HONEYMOON
These are the encounters that Ryan and his wife, Allison, live for. Before they met, they each felt a call into missions. For Allison, it was a call to serve overseas. For Ryan, it was right here in the United States. After only two months of dating, Ryan proposed to her, trusting God to work out the details.
“We went to India on our honeymoon just to see if God wanted us to move there,” Allison explains.
That week, they met an Indian pastor who was furiously planting new churches across his community.
“We felt like we had walked into the book of Acts as we saw thousands of new believers and churches planted,” she remembers. “From that moment, we were all in.”
Ryan and Allison quickly discovered that the pastor had been trained by e3 Partners and was working in tandem with the ministry’s field staff. When they arrived back in the United States, they joined e3’s staff and got to work in Houston.
“We would have chosen anywhere but Houston,” they recall. “But Houston chose us!”
As part of the e3 USA team, they work with partners across the United States to launch new churches in apartment complexes and community centers among unreached groups that would never darken the door of a traditional church building. These churches are intensely focused on spreading the Gospel and following the commands of Jesus, leading to more believers and congregations in surrounding neighborhoods. This makes relationships like Ryan and David’s special. They can easily be the catalyst to new movements.
But overnight, David disappeared. Ryan went weeks without hearing from him. He stopped answering his phone and was never home.
“I thought he didn’t want to be my friend anymore,” Ryan recalls.
Shortly before leaving on a training trip to Florida, his phone rang. It was David.
They quickly arranged a meeting to catch up. That’s when David finally opened himself up. Just months before their first encounter, he had been a leader in the Houston chapter of the Bloods. He accepted Christ just two months before meeting Ryan, leaving him in a particularly dangerous situation.
The Bloods, originally founded in Compton in 1972, has swelled to a national street gang involving 7,000-12,000 members. The chapters, known as “sets,” function in a tribal structure built on undying loyalty to the leaders. Membership is a lifelong commitment and publicly leaving the gang is an often fatal decision.
When David decided to follow Christ, he quietly stopped attending the weekly meetings. In that time, he led four of his brothers to the Lord, who then tried to share Jesus with the entire set. Unfortunately, faced with death threats from the leader, they all renounced their faith.
In anger, they brought the fight directly to David’s doorstep.
“You denounce Jesus now or you die,” they demanded.
When he refused, several members showed up that night, guns blazing. They shot up the entire apartment but David and his fiancée escaped into hiding. Knowing the Coxs had just celebrated the birth of their first child, David cut ties to protect them from the violence. But he wasn’t done.
When David reemerged, he faced four of his former brothers. God softened their hearts and allowed David to pray with them. Even the leader who sentenced him began to open up.
“I know I tried to have you killed,” he confessed. “But I have no hope outside of this.”
Today, David continues to live for Christ under constant threat. He and his wife now join the Coxes and other young couples across Houston and the United States living out the book of Acts, engaging the unreached in their own backyard.