Notorious Former Gang Leader Should Be Dead. Instead, He's Preaching and Baptizing Others


The story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is one of the most memorable stories in the Bible, especially for young believers.

Saul, who later became Paul, was known for persecuting Christians, quite literally “breathing threats and murder against the disciples” (Acts 9:1 NIV). Yet after the Lord appeared to him and he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he went out and “preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).

People were so shocked by this transformation that they wondered if he was the same person. I’m sure that Rene Level Martinez from Leisure City, Florida, understands that reaction.

To say that Martinez had a challenging upbringing is a bit like saying the Pacific Ocean is a decent sized puddle. It hardly captures the scope of things.

“I lived a very crazy life,” he told Fox News. “I was gang affiliated from the 80s to 2012, (and) I’ve seen a lot of people die in front of me and I’ve been through a lot.”

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Martinez’s mother was involved with Santeria, a syncretic belief system with some bloody practices. At one point, she sacrificed an animal over him when he was only a child.

Things changed for his mom after a suicide attempt led her to convert to Christianity. But Martinez thought that her new straight-edge life and constant prayers for him were crazy.

As a teen, he joined a gang called the Latin Syndicate and ended up landing in the slammer for attempted murder. He was on a collision course with the grave until he became a father.

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Realizing that gang life would rob his daughter of her dad, he turned to mixed martial arts and then to underground hip-hop. While he was recording his music in 2013, he had an amazing experience.

Martinez was in his garage when he says he heard the very voice of Christ. It said, “I spared you for such a time as this.”

“I saw my whole life flash before my eyes — when a gun was jammed in my face, when a bullet whistled by my ear,” Martinez said. “I almost died five or six times, and all my friends that died.

“God set me free for a reason. I repented right there.”

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On Aug. 10, 2016, he was baptized and immediately began evangelizing. “I came back to the streets I used to terrorize but I’m giving them life now,” he told CBN News.

“Now I’m giving them Jesus. I tell them, ‘Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’

“A lot of people come to Christ cause of my testimony, and I’m just honored to be used by God. It’s a privilege and honor to be used by him.”

Martinez is now looking to start a church and help lead people from prison and gangs to the Lord.

“No matter what situation you’re going through, no matter how hard you think life is, there’s a way out,” he told Fox News. “Because there’s a lot of people that didn’t wake up today, that are dying right now, and you have a chance to come out of the darkness right now and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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