barrettCBI student Barrett was only sixteen years old when a phone call changed his life forever. Barrett and his mother had just arrived at their church on an otherwise normal Sunday when his mother, at the prompting of a friend, used the church phone to call a relative. Barrett watched as his mother, clutching the phone, learned the tragic news: a local gang had killed Barrett’s brother.

The pain etched on his mother’s face that morning gouged a terrible wound in Barrett’s heart. It was in that moment, standing in the church, when Barrett declared war on God, whom he blamed for his brother’s death. Barrett describes, “I promised to hurt people and hate people and be God’s enemy.”

From that day on, that is exactly what Barrett did: he was expelled from high school for drugs, committed robberies and even went as far as joining a white supremacist gang. “I was a slave to hatred,” he explains.

Eventually, Barrett’s reckless lifestyle landed him in prison for carjacking.

Prison life fueled Barrett’s all-consuming hatred. Yet, amid dabbling in witchcraft and reading anti-Christian books, Barrett could not deny the nagging feeling of God’s presence. “God would send Christians out of the blue to tell me that Jesus loved me,” Barrett reflects. “But my one and only motivation was hatred.”

Barrett’s cancer diagnosis while in prison changed everything. He was forced to examine his life and he was ashamed and discouraged by what he saw: “I understood that I had been a failure at life. I was convinced God hated me.”

Barrett was so discouraged and full of shame that he decided to discontinue cancer treatment—until he saw the pain that this announcement caused his mother. Her face wore the same expression as it did the day his brother died. Knowing his mother to be a strong woman of faith, Barrett decided instead to do something that would comfort her as he faced the possibility of death.

This “something” turned out to be sending an enrollment form to CBI. Soon, Barrett was taking CBI courses and reading the Bible, although, he explains, “I was not motivated by a desire to learn about Jesus; I wanted the certificates to send my mom.”

Yet, in spite of Barrett’s motivations, the grace of God was slowly beginning to work within his hate-filled heart.

At one point, as Barrett completed his CBI lessons, his white supremacist cellmate asked if Barrett really believed in Jesus’ resurrection. Barrett replied that he did, a remarkable response considering that he was still an active member of a hate gang. This confession signified that something was changing for Barrett, but his head knowledge had yet to transform his heart.

The news that Barrett’s mother had also been diagnosed with cancer renewed his anger afresh. One day, overcome with feelings of disillusionment toward God, Barrett found himself flipping through TV channels when he stumbled across a Christian program. He decided to watch the show, if only to mock the preacher.

But even as he tried to ridicule the program, the preacher’s words rocked Barrett to his core. Barrett was stunned by the radical message that God did not hate him, but offered grace to him through Jesus Christ. Suddenly, everything that Barrett had learned in his CBI lessons made sense in a whole new way.

That very day, Barrett confessed his sins and asked Jesus to change him. And the next morning, when he woke up, Barrett felt something new in his heart: “I felt peace, peace like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The war inside me was dead silent; the hatred had miraculously been removed.”

Now, as an active Tier 2 student, Barrett has relinquished the white supremacist days of his past. Instead of reading anti-Christian books, he now writes religious poetry and reflections about his journey. His feelings of hatred have been replaced with “something alive and hungry for God” inside his soul.

Looking back on his life, Barrett can now see that even in his most hate-filled days, God was with him all along, leaving grace, like bread crumbs, to guide Barrett back to Himself.

As Barrett humbly continues his journey of discipleship, he is grateful for the transforming love of Christ and for the many Christian servants that God has placed in his life to mentor him, like his CBI Instructors. In spite of Barrett’s troubled past, he is determined to continue sharing his story of God’s grace with others. “My life’s story is not very remarkable,” he says. “But God’s grace and mercy toward a person like me is very remarkable.”