The kind words that halted revenge killing

The kind words that halted revenge killing

Former gang member Paul Ogunyemi has revealed how kind words from a stranger halted his plans to murder one of his rivals.

Walking through central Manchester seething with rage, Paul (pictured above) vowed revenge on the man who had assaulted his girlfriend. 

Suddenly, someone appeared in front of him holding something in his hand. Paul went to grab a leaflet from the stranger. 

As he stormed off, he was thinking about what the stranger shouted: “Jesus loves you and died for you.” 

Remembering that encounter, Paul, now 60 and chaplain at a prison in the East Midlands, recalls how those three words – Jesus loves you – hung in the air around him. 

“I wondered how anyone could love me,” he explains. 

“I had just decided to murder a man. How could a nice guy like Jesus love that?” 

Despite his young age, Paul was no stranger to violence and crime. He was only 11 when he was first arrested for shoplifting. He turned to pick-pocketing, stealing from unsuspecting people at concerts and football matches. 

Aged 16, he was a member of a Manchester gang which mugged people taking shop takings to a night safe. He moved up to robbing security vans. 

Eventually he was sentenced to three years for robbery, with 14 months spent in the notorious Strangeways prison. 

His violence moved up a level. His weapon of choice became a sawn-off shotgun.

The war between Manchester’s gangs in the 1980s and 90s is well documented. Paul was at the heart of it. One night, he sprayed a rival gang’s pub with gunfire. He survived being shot at twice, but other members of his crew were killed. 

At the height of this violence, Paul’s girlfriend was attacked. His fury was almost boundless. Walking through central Manchester, he plotted revenge, swearing to murder the man he accused even if it meant life in prison. 

That was when the stranger told him: “Jesus loves you.” 

Paul, then aged 23, now remembers: “I thought if I died that night, if I got murdered, what would Jesus think of me? What redeeming features would he see? Why would he give his life for me? 

“I heard the Devil tell me Jesus didn’t love people like me. I was evil. I couldn’t change. I was kidding myself. You’re a hopeless case, Paul Ogunyemi. Admit it.’ 

“No, I told the Devil: I need to look into this.” 

“Why, Paul? You are a lost cause.” 

“No, that man said Jesus loves me.” 

“That man doesn’t know all the evil things you’ve done. There’s no hope for you.” 

“But he said Jesus died so I could be saved.” 


The conversation continued until Paul arrived home. Wrapped in fury, doubt, frustration and a desire for something more than crime and violence, he began punching the walls. He was taken to Withington Psychiatric Hospital and threatened with being sectioned, but was released from custody. 

In the taxi ride back to his home, Paul spotted a bright light amid the November gloom. It was coming from a church. Telling the driver to pull over, he walked into the church, where members of a youth group meeting that evening welcomed him. Noticing his distress, they asked if they could pray for him. 

“You can’t help me. Only God can, if he exists,” Paul said quietly as he walked down the aisle. Falling to his knees, he prayed for perhaps the first time in his young life: “Jesus, you need to help me or I will kill or be killed.  I believe you love me. I believe you died so I can be saved. I need to be saved.” 

Paul explains: “I felt God’s love and forgiveness pour out on me. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. It was real. It was the love that stranger told me about, and I knew then that Jesus loved me.” 

That same week, Paul bought a Bible and later met a friend who invited him to attend his church. More recently, he started training as a prison chaplain and is now one of a chaplaincy team at an East Midlands prison. 

Every day Paul meets young men just like he was four decades ago: “Many young men want to talk about God. They are amazed when they hear my story. I tell them how my life was changed. It boils down to one thing – Jesus loves you.”

From New Life Newspaper issue 342


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