"Trophy of Grace"

I was raised by a mother that was a thief and a step-father that had murdered three people. My real father had left when I was two and I would never see him again throughout my childhood. My mother had serious emotional problems and my step-father was a man full of rage. I grew up under a lot of abuse. Through the years I endured being beat with straps, kicked, hit, slapped in the face, and being choked to unconsciousness. Once, my parents moved away because the child welfare authorities were investigating them. I grew up very angry and alone. I was one of the most out of control kids I have ever seen. I stole, I started fires, and I was constantly fighting. At the age of nine, I began riding a bus to church. While at the church I attacked another kid and beat him up, and I started a fire in the bathroom. They put me out of that church for a while. The pastor had a conference with my mom and me. At the end of the meeting, he asked me to leave and he said to my mom- “It’s too late for him.” Stealing was always my worse problem. I was stealing as early as I could remember. At the age of four (1972), I got my parents kicked out of our trailer park because I was running around and stealing. We then moved across town to live in a duplex. I was five years old when I got them kicked out of there for stealing everyone’s mail. We then moved to a bad area of Memphis. I was six years old the first time I got arrested, and it was for shoplifting after school. At the age of eight, I began breaking into houses, sometimes with my mother’s consent. I was out of control.

At the age of 11, I started visiting another church. I liked going there because there was a little store across the street. After church I would go to that store and steal candy. One time I was in that church and something strange happened. All of a sudden the presence of God came over me. I could feel Him. I could feel His love all around me. I felt such peace. At the end of the service, I went down to the altar and the preacher prayed for me. From that moment on I had a hunger for God deep inside. I began a real relationship with Him. Sometimes I would walk and talk to God. Sometimes I would tell Him jokes. Sometimes when I went to sleep at night I would pray. At the end of each prayer, I would blow God three kisses. For awhile, I tried to be good, but it all came crumbling down. I allowed the pain and the abuse to pull me back down. I refused to honor my parents because I didn’t think they really cared about me. By the time I was 14 years old, I was sneaking out of the house, stealing bikes, breaking into schools, stealing computers, and breaking into businesses through the roof. In my later teenage years, I was stealing car radios, 18-wheeler tires, and also doing every kind of drug imaginable to kill the pain in my life.    
Through all those years as a child, I hated myself and I wanted to die. I was bad and worthless and unworthy of love from anybody. I played my part well. I remember times where I would get slapped in the face by my mom and I would go crazy. I would start screaming and beating myself in the face as hard as I could. I would yell- “Do you think I care about myself, Hit me again!” Sometimes I would go and crawl under my bed and curl up in the corner and cry. I remember begging God to kill me. Once my father wrapped a bandana around my neck and started squeezing it tightly. He was calling me a punk and pulled it tighter and tighter. I passed out and busted my head on the floor. When I came to, he picked me back up by the bandana that was still wrapped tightly around my neck.       He drew me close to his face and we looked eye to eye. I didn’t say a word, but I will never forget what I was saying in my heart and with my eyes. “Do you really think I care what you do to me? You can kill me for all I care.”

In 1982, my mom was raped by two men and then she tried to commit suicide. It caused her to fall off the deep end mentally. The abuse at her hands got worse, and the teenage years were very hard. Once a family took an interest in me and their son had told them about the abuse. One night they took me to church, and we got home a little late because of their choir practice. As I got out of the car and went under the carport, my mom attacked me. She began beating me and slapping me in the head. I curled up against the wall and she kept hitting and kicking me. The people looked on in horror. I remember thinking- “Now that those people seen that, I am going to get some help”. Help never came, and those people just backed away from me. It just seemed like nothing worked out for me. My mom’s explosions continued. Time after time she would end up in my arms crying. She would always say, “Son, I am so sorry, this will never happen again.” All I could do was hold her and cry. I would say each time “Its okay mom, I know you won’t, its okay.” I felt so alone. I was always fighting for survival in my home and in the inner city schools I went to. Everywhere was a war-zone. I began to withdraw and became a very quiet person whom almost never talked. I held everything in. There was no one there for me, and as far as I was concerned God wasn’t there for me. I didn’t need God and I didn’t need anybody.

Later, I got out of school and ran from my parents as fast as I could. I got married but it quickly turned bad. I began getting into stealing worse and worse. By the time I was 21, I was a professional burglar. I began fencing, learning alarm systems and breaking into safes. Later, I began to travel all around the United States. By the time I was 22, I was wanted in four states, but I didn’t let it slow me down. I always managed to get out of trouble. Through the years, I was arrested over 30 times and charged with 18 felonies, but I never had to go to jail or do prison time. Whatever I had to do to slip through the cracks I would do. This meant buying my way out of trouble by stealing large amounts of money. The heavy criminal activity and travel continued through 1994. At that time I was in deep depression. I hated myself. I couldn’t stand to look at that man in the mirror. Driving the brand new sports car and having material things did not help. You could never understand why Jesus was crucified between two thieves, unless you have been one.

I tried to change my life many times and every time I failed. I would always fall back into the traps. I became angrier and angrier with myself. I blamed it on God and my environment. But I still had the pain and the rage. One night, in an angry rage, I chased four men away from my apartment with a gun. Shortly after that, I threw a brick through someone’s windshield in a road rage incident. I was out of control. The bad marriage came to an end when I caught my wife with another man. I deserved it and I had done the same things, but this caused me to spiral down even further. I felt that same feeling of being all alone, just like when I was a kid. I went into deeper depression. I had six nervous breakdowns within the next year. I couldn’t handle the pain of my life. I used to say “I’m the king of pain.” I just wanted to die. I wanted to commit suicide, but the only thing that held me back was my three beautiful daughters. I didn’t want to leave them those demons. Many times, I came close though. Some nights I would take my pistol and point it at my heart and dream of pulling the trigger. “Just Do it. Do it.”  The perfect ending to a broken hearted life, a life full of pain. Bullet through the heart!                                                                                                            

Sometimes I would unload the gun and dry fire it. If it wasn’t for my love for my children, I would have taken that miserable life out of this world.

In January of 1997, I was arrested in Southaven, Mississippi for burglaries involving expensive communications equipment. The equipment came out of businesses that had been burglarized in six different counties across Mississippi and Tennessee. When I was taken to the police station, one of the officers said that I was trash and that they had me this time. He said that I had been under investigation for a long time and that they knew all about me.  They told me with my record, I was going to go to prison for a very long time. In my pride, I laughed. (I had always been the one every one had called “Untouchable.”) I told them I was not going to tell them anything. I made a statement that - “I would write them a letter after I had beaten all these charges.” I was later charged with possession of stolen merchandise, grand larceny, bringing stolen items over state lines, and burglary in five different counties in Mississippi and Tennessee. Total bonds were put on me at almost a half million dollars. After a couple of weeks in jail, the punk with the big mouth was humbled. I could see that I wasn’t able to get out and do a cross country trip to buy a big money lawyer this time.    

I had just gotten back with my wife again and had tried to work it out one last time. Within weeks she asked for a divorce. I hesitated on giving her the divorce so her father, who was a former pastor, came and visited me. He said I was worthless and I would never change. He said that the best thing that could happen to my kids was for me to go to prison for a very long time, and he told me he was praying for that to happen. He had also pulled out a letter that I had written. It had some type of information in it that pointed to my guilt. He said if I didn’t give his daughter the divorce he was taking it to the police. I was forced to sign an old divorce agreement, which I did. It too was deserved, but it still hurt very badly, especially coming from someone that was a man of God. I had no one in the world. No letters, no money, no help, no love. I could have just gave up and quit, but thankfully God had already started to move.

I had already begun crying out to God for mercy, and had finally broken. For the first time in my life I stopped making excuses for being a thief. I had always said “I was born in a den of thieves” or “I am a victim of my environment.” I finally admitted the truth to God. That despite my hard life I had always had choices, and I chose to do all the horrible things I did. I pleaded with God. Only He knew the pain and hardship I had endured in my life. One night on my seventeenth day in jail, on January 21st, 1997, I was alone in a lock down cell, in the Desoto County Jail. I got on the cold hard floor and I began crying out to God for mercy. I didn’t want to spend many years in prison and walk out when my children were grown. Then God spoke to me in a voice that I could hear on the inside. He said “Everything is going to be alright”- He was going to have mercy on me. Immediately, I began to weep for joy. I knew that voice. Within weeks, miracles began to happen. I was sitting at a table in the jail when a man came up to me and sat down. He began talking to me about his past. He stated to me that he had a friend in the FBI. He asked me if I knew anything about any murders or drug money. I told him no and I shrugged it off. The next day he asked me again. He said, “It can help you”, but I said no again. Then I let a sentence slip out of my mouth, - “Well, this guy did tell me once that he had burned this lady up in a fire.” I caught myself and said, “I know he was just probably lying.” He asked me, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yeah it was nothing.”
Years earlier, Wayne Dunn, a man that had worked for me in a landscaping business came and cried on my shoulder. His story was that he had burned this lady up in a fire. He did it for some other people that were trying to cash in on a million dollar life insurance policy. He was addicted to crack cocaine and had received approximately five thousand dollars. I felt sorry for him. I really didn’t know what to do. Thinking that the other people had taken advantage of him and they were probably rich and could buy their way out of it, I did nothing. I hid it in my heart so that I wouldn’t have to think about it. I never remembered it again until it slipped out that day. The next morning the man came to my bed and told me that there was someone on the phone that wanted to talk to me. I answered the phone and said “Hello.” The individual said that he was an agent with the FBI. He said he knew which case I was talking about and they were sending someone to talk to me. I thought- “Oh No.” Later that evening an investigator from the District Attorney’s office came and got me out of my cell. I was told that they knew about this case and had been investigating it for years. I told them that I really couldn’t say anything. I learned that the woman that had been burned up in the fire was from Horn Lake, Mississippi and that her name was Mrs. Young. Her friend, Linda Leedom was the suspect and known conspirator that had hired someone to set the fire. They just didn’t know who so an arrest had never been made.

I still couldn’t snitch on anyone. To me the police were always the enemy. They were the ones that put me against the wall as a kid because I had gone crazy after a beating from my mother. They were the ones that had pushed me down from the back and put their K-9 (dog) on me for practice, leaving scars that I still have today. They were the ones that had sprayed me in the face with pepper spray when I was already cuffed, and also falsified police reports to cover the reason I needed 12 stitches over my eye. I just couldn’t do it. Also I had a sense of loyalty to people. I had been in some pretty serious situations and never broke. There was no way. The investigators asked me to tell the story without telling the name of the person, so I did. They knew by all the details that I was telling the truth. They let me go back to my cell for the night to think about it. That night I thought hard about it. I was sitting at the end of my bunk and I began to pray about it. I told God that I couldn’t do it. Then God spoke to me, and this is what He said. “Not only did I cause this all to happen to help you, but I also caused this to happen to bring these people to justice. And you better not stand in the way of it.” Chills went up my spine.

The next day the investigators came and got me out of my cell again. We sat down with Mr. John Champion, the assistant D. A.  Mr. Champion said that he could reduce all the charges and cut me loose to Tennessee and he could sign papers to the fact. I told them that I would tell them all that I knew, and I didn’t even get it on paper at the time. I did not care about it because I knew that God was in control of everything. I told them everything I knew. I told them that when they confronted Wayne Dunn about it, he would tell them everything because of the weight he was carrying. When they brought him in for questioning, he admitted everything. He implicated Linda Leedom and they were both arrested and later convicted of capital murder and arson. The investigation later brought out the fact that Mrs. Leedom had taken out a life insurance policy on a relative with Downs Syndrome in Savannah, Tennessee.  She was in the process of trying to hire someone to murder him, but the break in the case helped to prevent it.
I was cut loose from Mississippi and sent to Tennessee to face charges all across the state. Many more miracles happened at every jail I was at. I went from jail to jail watching God do the impossible. Papers were lost and bad decisions were made. Judges would sometimes change their mind at the last minute. No jail could hold me. Eventually all the charges were dropped or reduced. Revival and the presence of God followed me to every jail I went to. The Lord used me to lead many men to Him. I walked out of jail eight months later. I would never serve another day. God did exactly what He said He was going to do.

Back in the Desoto County Jail, where the miracles began, I knew I was going to get out, but that brought a lot of fear. I was still in deep depression. I was a broken and shattered person. What was I going to do when I got out? Would I go back to my old ways? I was born a thief after all, and I had tried so hard to change……. so many times. But I really didn’t want to live like that any more. I met an individual in the jail named Antonio Williams that started preaching to me. He said if I started seeking God, reading my bible, and praying that God would bless me. He even said that God had to, because it was promised in the bible, and God could not lie. I had never really gotten into reading the bible, but I picked it up and started devouring it. A few days later God gave me a scripture that has become the scripture for my life. It was Jeremiah 29:11-14. “If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me and I will deliver you out of all your captivities.”

I knew what that was saying. It was saying that no matter what your problems were, God would deliver you and change you if you began to seek Him. I began seeking God with all my heart. I went to church services in the jails every time, whether I felt like it or not. There were some days that I would sit and read the bible for 12-14 hours. It became my pain medicine and my reason for hope. I began learning to pray, I memorized over 120 scriptures, and I stayed in constant worship. As I began seeking the Lord, the rewards started coming and God started showing me things. One day God showed me that little church where He touched my life when I was eleven years old. He also showed me a lot of the horrible things I had done. God gave me a vision where I could see myself at my worst. At that particular time I was out on the West Coast doing things that were horrible. The Lord spoke to me- “I was always with you.” The tears fell like rain. As bad as a person as I was, He still loved me unconditionally and He had never left my side. What do you do with love like that??? All I ever wanted was to find real love, AND IT WAS WITH ME ALL ALONG.

God was turning me inside out. I kept seeking harder and harder. God kept rewarding me more and more. At the end of my eight months in jail I was in Memphis, Tennessee. Sometimes when I was working I would sneak into a closet to pray. I remember begging the Lord to change my life and to bring good out of all the horrible things I had done, and all the pain I had been through. I would ask Jesus to make me a WARRIOR for Him, and to put me on the front lines. I would plead with Him in tears, to use me to help broken people, criminals, drug-addicts, alcoholics, homeless people, elderly people, and orphans. My life wasn’t much at that time, but I still laid it before Him. The day came for me to be released and I was scared. I didn’t have anybody. I didn’t have money, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have a home or even anybody to pick me up.

I wanted to go and pick up my children to spend some time with them. I had dreamed of taking them to church that next day. When I got out the temptation to steal, to take care of myself, fell on me like a ton of bricks. I thought-“No way”. I walked up the street to a Burger King and went and got on my knees in a bathroom stall and started to pray. “Please Lord, help me. Don’t let this happen. Please.” When I got up the strength just wasn’t there. I called someone to come and pick me up for a score. I began walking to go and meet him. I knew I was pathetic. I had only been out of jail for a few hours and I was already messing up, after all God had done for me. I was thinking this God stuff doesn’t work. I had really tried with all my heart, but it had not helped me one bit and I was still going to end up in hell. Anger started boiling inside me. I looked up into heaven and I started to curse God. Instead I started crying, and I said- “I may end up in Hell, but I will still praise You from there”, and I took off running. I hooked up with a friend and I got a ride borrowed on the promise of money. I went and picked up my little girls and took them to my sister’s house for the night. After they were put into bed I went to go do my thing. Later on that night I was driving with stolen merchandise. I felt so sick. I yelled out loud- “I don’t want to do this”! Shortly thereafter, I passed a police officer and he made a quick u-turn and the chase was on. I ditched the vehicle and got on foot. The officer in pursuit got out and tried to chase me. When he jumped the first fence with me, the wire went right through his hand. Other police made the scene and were chasing me everywhere.

Eventually I got away. I was running through wooded areas and I came out right behind a church. Police were still combing the area. I went to the back door of the church and prayed “God please let it be unlocked”. It was, so I went in and locked the door. I went down to the altar and got down on my knees and wept bitterly. The pain and self-hatred inside of me was so great. I wanted to throw my hands in the air and give up. I knew I could hit the road and go make $20,000 in a week, but the thought sickened me to my core. I lay down at the altar. I was muddy, I was bloody, and I had sin all over me. All I could feel inside of me was-“Don’t Give Up”! I slept at the altar all that night and took off early. I walked miles and miles to my sister’s house where my children were. I stared at them while they were still asleep. They deserved so much better than me. I was supposed to have taken them to church that morning, but I was all cut up and sore. We later all got in the floor of the bedroom and sang “I love you Lord.” Religious people have a hard time with this, but the presence of the Lord was there. I could feel him in the room.

I dusted myself off and tried again. I said-“I will never do that again.” I prayed that God would lead me to a church that would help me to be everything that He wanted me to be. God led me to a church that I immediately knew was home. About a month later, I fell in my sin again. I still didn’t quit.  I just believed that one sweet day God would deliver me, that one day I would not be that person anymore. I kept going to church and hanging in there. Shortly after, I fell again and it was hard, but I didn’t give up. Pretty soon a few months went by and I was standing strong. Those were some hard times. Times of lying in the floor and fighting temptation so hard that my body hurt, but I fought through the suffering. Pretty soon, four months had passed, then six months, then a year. Before you knew it, it has been 18 months, then 22 months. One day I’m driving along and I get the revelation.” I AM NOT A THIEF ANYMORE”. God had changed my life with His love and Mercy. There were many, many tears of gratefulness poured out on that day.

Something great happened at the church that God led me to. On the third Sunday that I was there, people were shaking hands at the beginning of the service. When I shook a man’s hand that I recognized, but I couldn’t quite place him. Then it hit me. This man is my real father. In case you missed it, it was on the third Sunday at that church. The #3. I did not know this man all my life, but I had gone and met him when I was 22 years old. At that time he was a truck driver in Missouri. I had looked him up trying to fill a void. It didn’t fill the void and it only made me angrier. Shortly after we met, we did not talk again, until this day. After church, I asked him what he was doing in Mississippi. He said that he had moved to Memphis years earlier and that he had just gotten married to his new wife, in this church. I knew it was God’s hand. It was hard for me to receive because I was still hard and distant. I didn’t even know this man, nor trust a soul in this world. But, slowly we began to build a relationship. He helped me to get a car, a house, and to start a lawn care business. He and his wife were there for me when there wasn’t anyone else. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have made it.  
After my life had changed, I settled into the Christian life, but still struggled internally. I had always said “If I could only quit stealing.” But I found out that there were a lot of other things in my heart that I needed to take care of and be healed from. I went to church, but I would sit in the back. I just didn’t feel like those people. I didn’t feel worthy enough or good enough. I didn’t want to hang around Christians, or speak in front of people. I had no desire to ever be in the ministry or especially ever become a preacher. I just wanted to do some little things. One of the first little things I did was adopt this elderly lady at a nursing home. I asked the office to give me someone that never gets a visit, and then I adopted her. I would go and visit her every month. It was a good feeling to actually do something good. This woman was a dear sweet lady, but her family didn’t care enough to visit. She said that I was the only one that ever came. We became very good friends. Once she started crying and said “Thank you for being my friend.” I got teary eyed. She later told me I was such a good person. I thought-“If you only knew the truth.”

A couple of years later God started to stir me. With everything that He had done for me I didn’t want to be just a struggling Christian. I wanted people to see Jesus in me.  After two of my friends had life changing experiences they also got on fire for God. God laid it on my heart to start a bible study ministry and to reach out and help people. We started it in October of 1999, and called it Warriors Bible Study.  The ministry started growing and people started joining with our efforts. We started a free tape ministry and began giving away thousands of powerful testimonies from people whose lives were changed by the grace of God. We began a nursing home ministry where people adopted patients. We organized gift drives for poor children and began ministering in the county jail. We also began feeding the homeless, doing street ministry and organized Thanksgiving Dinners for the poor. Because of all our ministry efforts, we started to grow. People kept coming to us for help. At times I would let a person stay with me. After awhile it seemed that there were always people living with me, that I was trying to help. In October of 2000, we started a structured program because of the great need in the area and it grew quickly. Before I knew it there were five people from our neighborhood coming to my house because of alcohol or drug problems. Our program consisted of discipleship training, group meetings, bible studies, prayer and personal counseling. All designed after the same program, that God put me on, when I cried out for change. Jeremiah 29:11-14. “Seek the Lord with all your heart and you will find Him, and He will deliver you from all your captivities.”  Soon more people were coming for help and I couldn’t turn them away.  I was forced to move out of that house because it just wasn’t the place for 20 men. We moved to a large home in the country and later on to other larger facilities as we continued to grow.
Today, the Warriors Center has grown into a phenomenal ministry and continues its frontlines battle with a 67 bed recovery program located in Memphis, Tennessee. Our programs include a one year long term Residential Recovery Program, a 28 day “Spiritual Boot Camp” short term residential recovery program, and an Out -Patient Substance Abuse Treatment Program licensed by the State of Tennessee. In addition, we have recently started a program for women called the Breakthrough Center. Warriors Center is also leading the charge in community outreach with its “Give Back” community service teams that operate weekly homeless feeding programs, “Under the Bridge Ministries”- a homeless camp outreach, nursing home ministries, community repairs & restoration, as well as taking part in mission trips to Mexico, Honduras and Haiti.

We have seen God restore many broken lives and continue to be amazed by His mercy.  With God All Things Truly Are Possible. It has been great to see God use my life and this ministry to touch so many others. God has done awesome things in my life, but I’ll never forget that broken little boy that God reached down and touched. I’ll never forget that broken man that God had mercy on. God has raised me up to be a “TROPHY OF HIS GRACE” and it is my greatest desire to bring Him the glory for all He has done for me. Jesus truly does save!

Thanks for reading. May God Bless You!

David Vincent(davidvincent03 [at] gmail [dot] com)
Executive Director
Warriors Center

Copyright © 2002 by David Vincent