What does it look like to leave a life of sin and follow Christ?
The turning point, John Turnipseed would say, is realizing that “Jesus Christ is real.”
For the former gangster and drug dealer, that encounter came in prison, after a lifetime of crime and violence.
Turnipseed’s story is proof that everyone is welcome in God’s kingdom — everyone who believes that Jesus Christ is real.
John Turnipseed suffered through a troubled childhood.
Although his family regularly attended church while they lived in Alabama, things changed once they moved to Minnesota.
Turnipseed’s father, who had been a deacon in their Alabama church, fell away from what faith he had and turned to alcohol for comfort.
John, his brothers, and their mother felt the consequences of this shift.
Turnipseed’s father became abusive and violent, beating John’s mother daily.
John and his brothers begged God to stop the abuse, praying for their parents more than five times a day, but there seemed to be no answer.
“I just felt that there was no God at that time,” John admitted.
Faith is hard in the face of unanswered prayer. John’s family stopped going to church, and his mother refused help from several different ministers.
She also refused to allow her sons to talk to counselors at school who might have helped them.
“I see that He actually did send angels to help but we did not grab the angels’ hands,” John confessed.
Instead of reaching out to those who could help him, John turned to local drug dealers and criminals.
He channeled his anger against God into violence and drug abuse, running errands for local pimps and cementing his place in the criminal community in Minneapolis.
As John grew up, he become more and more involved in illegal activities. Armed robbery, pimping prostitutes, and drug trafficking were only a few of his crimes.
He became addicted to drugs and gambling, falling deeper into the lifestyle each day.
John became a father and a stepfather, but nothing changed his criminal career. He repeatedly spent time in prison, setting the example for his son, Little Johnny, and his stepson, Roamel.
Both young men became gang members and drug dealers.
It wasn’t until one of them paid the ultimate price for their lifestyle of crime that John Turnipseed was forced to rethink his life.
John was in prison when he received the news that Little Johnny had been shot at a party.
The pain of losing his son made John turn back to God. He cried out to Jesus, begging for change in his life.
God answered immediately, freeing him from his drug and gambling addictions.
Christian mentorship helped John understand the Gospel and the power of Christ for salvation.
“Jesus Christ is real,” John confessed, and from then on, he was a changed man!
John left the criminal lifestyle, but stayed in Minneapolis, determined to live out his new faith in a way that would help others.
Once he was released from prison, he began working at Urban Ventures, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that focuses on ending the cycle of urban poverty.
The organization recognizes that poverty affects school achievement, parenting, health and nutrition, and many more areas of life for those in South Minneapolis.
Urban Ventures offers arts and sports programs, family outreach programs, and others.
John works as a pastor now, directing the Fathering Center at Urban Ventures. Through his work, he teaches men how to be effective fathers for their children.
And he’s doing all this in the very same neighborhoods he used to terrify as a gangster!
As someone who doesn’t have such a radical testimony of turning to Christ, I’m amazed by the work of God in John Turnipseed’s life.
Even though our testimonies are different, the core of our faith is the same: “Jesus Christ is real.”
Everyone who believes this truth is welcome to come to God, and that’s the message that John continues to spread.
John’s time in the criminal world affected countless lives, but he trusts that his work in Urban Ventures is helping to spread the Word of God now.
To learn more about John’s work, visit the Urban Ventures website.
Don’t forget to celebrate God’s work in John’s life and the lives of others! We truly serve a great God who can save all those He chooses to save.