From gun smuggling and selling drugs to helping organize the Festival of Life 2007 in Chiapas, Mexico
Garrett Graupner tells his extraordinary story
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
|Some of those who responded to Christ on the first night of the Festival of Life 2007 in Chiapas
(Photo: Christian Rios)
TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, CHIAPAS, MEXICO (ANS) -- Earlier this year, Garrett Graupner helped to organize a unique love invasion of the once troubled Mexican state of Chiapas by 400 American Christians, who worked alongside some 700 Mexican believers from over 100 local churches, and saw a total of 9,478 people at all events make commitments for Christ.
Called the Festival of Life 2007, the week-long outreach which ended Sunday night, March 25, was led by San Diego pastor, Mike MacIntosh who preached for the final three nights of the Festival in a soccer stadium in the capital city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez to a total aggregate crowd of 66,000. Some 5,229 responded to the invitation that MacIntosh gave to for people to give their lives to Jesus Christ.
But behind the scenes was a man with an incredible story and Garrett Graupner took some time out of his busy schedule to share it with me in an interview for my Front Page Radio program on KWVE 107.9 FM, which will be broadcast this Sunday, September 9 at 5:00 PM.
He began by talking about his early life.
"Well, I was raised in a home where my Mom was a Christian and my Dad wasn't and my Mom would do her best to get us to church," he said. "When I was in second grade at a First Baptist church in Northern California, I gave my life to the Lord. My Mom then moved away from that church to the foothill area of Sonora, California and, as Psalm One says about the company that you keep, you kind of reap what you sow. You are warned not to sit with sinners and if you hang out with sinners, there's going to be problems.
"What happened to me was I got introduced to a group of friends and my parents moved into a church that wasn't teaching the Bible. So these friends were into drugs and I just kind of hung out with them for a couple of years and before you I knew it, I was sitting with them and partaking in what they were partaking. My life was very tumultuous after that to say the least.
"I went away to college and started selling hard drugs. I was introduced to a group of very bad people and ended up getting into really heavy crime; everything from credit card fraud, to gun smuggling, to counterfeit stuff and selling kilos of cocaine. The people around me were killers and pretty much psychopaths. What happened through it all is that my life got worse and worse and I got more and more steeped into my sin.
"This started when I was twenty. I was also in a rock band at the time. My band was doing really well in the early eighties and my drug business was doing well, so I dropped out of college. I was making way more money than a twenty year old man should be making and my life got crazy for quite a few years. For a while, sin was fun. Nothing bad happened to me. It seemed like whatever I wanted, if I touched it, it turned to gold.
"I had a house right on the beach in Newport Beach, California. But my Dad saw what I was into and started getting worried and scared for my brother and me. Then my Dad gave his life to Jesus and started praying for us.
"At that time, my life took a turn for the worse. I was addicted to methamphetamine and I was also manufacturing it. I was running around with an extremely rough crowd; murderers and extortionists. You name it and they were into everything you could possibly imagine.
|Garrett Graupner in Chiapas
"One night some guys tried to kill my brother. They were chasing him down a road and he called me on his cell phone and I grabbed my gun and went out went out to meet them. My Dad was in the car with us. I was shooting a machine gun and they were shooting pistols and I pretty much blew their car to pieces, with five guys inside. I shot the front windshield out, the back windshield out, and they began driving away from me after they saw what I had. They had a bunch of stolen tools in their trunk and I blew out tail lights, front and back. Gunfire hit the visor and the dashboard, yet amazingly the stolen tools blocked a lot of the bullets and not one person the car was hit. The cops showed up and that's when my Dad decided it was time to really give his life over to the Lord and he began praying for me, and he had the whole church praying as well. Eventually, God started honoring my father's prayers and my life went the other way.
"I was 31 when I recommitted my life to Christ. I'd been arrested eleven times, but I was making so much money that I had good lawyers and could bail myself out and fought my cases. But I believe it was the Lord who protected me the whole time.
"My brother ended up going to prison, but he's now out and is a born-again believer as well. He was on the mission field for a while and now he's moving up to Northern California to build houses. My whole family is saved. So the prayers of the righteous father were effective. My sister has also become a believer, and her husband, who we thought would never come to the Lord, has come to the Lord. So He's honoring the prayers of my father. His whole family - my sister, my brother and I - are all involved in the ministry. My brother-in-law is a worship leader at his church as well, so God's doing so much."
Garrett explained how he made his recommitment to God.
"When I was arrested, they were offering me a prison sentence. I took off on the run and I moved to the mountains and, as I said, I was moving a lot of guns at the time. They started finding my guns at different crime scenes, and could track the guns back to me. So I had to hide in the mountains. The police would come by my Mom's house every day looking for me and kind of harassing the family. So one day I snuck into a hospital where my Mom worked, and when she saw me, she started weeping and God just reached down and touched my heart. She said, 'I can't take it any more. I don't want to see you. Don't come around us until you're ready to clean up your life.' I said, 'What do you want me to do?' and she replied, 'I want you to go to rehab', and so I agreed to do so. My Dad came and got me and I went into rehab, and there I gave my life back to the Lord in weeping and tears for about two hours. After this, the Lord miraculously delivered me from drugs and alcohol.
"When I went to court, the whole church congregation signed a statement for me saying that I'd been going to church over the past nine months. I ended up only serving ninety days inside. It was just miraculous and the Lord was gracious. On top of that, I was able to serve my time in a work camp, which allowed me to stay at home and go to work eight hours each day. So instead of doing a year and a half in prison like I was supposed to do, the Lord had me in a place where He used me. I had a couple thousand hours in community service to complete and I started doing it at Calvary Chapel in Marin County. I moved in with a couple of the guys in the worship band, and the growth was really rapid.
"Nine months later, I was on my way Calvary Chapel Bible College, where I spent a couple of years, and then went over to Austria."
Garrett is now an assistant pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego, California, and the director of the Festival of Life ministry of the church.
I then put it to him that he had gone from a life of crime to serving the Lord. I wondered if his past helped in organizing these Festivals.
"Well, I definitely have street smarts which, coupled with the spiritual gifts of discernment, understanding, and wisdom, is very helpful in what I am doing now," he said. "I should be dead by now. I can look back on my sinful life and see how God protected me. So I guess being able to think quickly on my feet and make decisions quickly, while trusting the Lord in them is important. Also, relationally, I think I know the people that are being honest with me and the people who aren't. My past has equipped me to do this ministry today."
He is now married and so I asked him to talk about his wife.
"I'd love to," he said. "I have a beautiful wife, Bethany, and my little son Phinehas (inspired by Numbers 25:6-13). He acts like he's thirty-two, but he's a year and a half old and I guess he's a replica of me, so I don't know how good that is; and then our little baby girl is in the womb and she is on her way."
For Garrett Graupner, he can look back at his incredible life and say that God has brought him through all of his difficulties to prepare him for his unique ministry in organizing the Festivals. And now, the only weapon he uses is the Bible!
For more information on the Festival of Life, go to http://www.horizonsd.org/ - www.horizonsd.org .
Note: I'd like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Source: (ANS) http://www.assistnews.net/" eudora="autourl - www.assistnews.net