Pacing back and forth in his prison cell, Leo D’Arcangelo was deeply disturbed—who wouldn’t be, facing what was ahead of him.
ON THE RUN
As a boy of eleven, he had picked a lady’s handbag on a crowded trolley car. That was the start.
Four years of stealing followed before his first arrest at fifteen in a Philadelphia department store.
Leo spent the next 14 1/2 months behind prison bars. Like most reformatories, attempts were made to rehabilitate him, but peer pressure from other inmates destroyed attempts at personal rehabilitation. While there, Leo learned the finer arts of forgery, burglary, and picking men’s pockets. When released from the above finishing school, Leo returned to his old neighborhood. His friends were now smoking pot. They willingly shared with him their treasure.
Pot became an every night experience in Leo’s life. Six months later, a friend introduced Leo to heroin. He knew the danger of becoming hooked, but again peer pressure took its toll. One Sunday morning four months later, Leo awoke and needed a fix, but had none. He knew he was hooked. Then began the seemingly endless arrests: First, for use and possession of drugs; then a few months later for picking pockets. Shortly after, in Los Angeles, Leo was arrested for use of drugs.
“I was picked up at my apartment by detectives who caught me using heroin. Given 90 days, I soon learned what it was to kick a drug habit cold turkey. Those days were pure horror.”
Brought back to Philadelphia for jumping bail on an earlier drug charge, Leo was sentenced to Holmesburg Prison. When released from prison he began using drugs and was arrested in Atlantic City on narcotic charges and jumped bail again. While living in New York City, Leo was arrested for Grand Larceny, and served one year on Riker’s Island. Just before his release from Riker’s Island, a detainer was lodged against him for forgery of money orders. While awaiting trial in Philadelphia, a detainer came from Atlantic City on charges of drug use and bail jumping. Things were really piling up, and Leo knew he was facing a heavy sentence. Throughout this period in his life, several people attempted to reach him with the Gospel of Jesus Christ without any apparent success.
THE LINE THAT CHANGED A LIFE
As he paced back and forth in a courthouse cell, he noticed a few lines crudely scrawled on the wall.
“When you cone to the end of your journey and this trouble is racked in your mind, and there seems no other way out than by just mourning, turn to Jesus, for it is Him that you must find.”
Leo’s first thought was to laugh because he had always thought religion was for fools and that Jesus Christ was a con-man who paid the price for getting caught—but those lines on the wall started him thinking.
“People have told me that Jesus Christ has the power to give me a new start in life. They said that all of this was possible because Jesus Christ came to suffer physical punishment in my place. (Mt 27:30). He went to the cross and died for my sins. The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20). God’s love was greater than my unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. All my life I have done things my way with total failure as the result. Jesus, I need your help. I’ve made a mess of my life and this is the end of my journey and all the crying isn’t going to change my past. Jesus, come into my life now. Help me make tomorrow different.”
For the first time Leo felt something besides despair. Back in his cell with a sentence of only 11 1/2 to 23 months, he eagerly read the Gospel of St. John given to the inmates by the local Christian Business Men’s Committee.
A NEW KIND OF HUNGER
“I was eager to know God’s plan for my life. As I began to read, I came to where Jesus Christ, God’s Son said, ‘I am the Light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.’ (John 8:12). Christ didn’t want me to stumble and fall through life; He provided His book, the Bible as my guide. I began to realize what a wonderful Saviour I had and that Jesus Christ is the only way to peace, joy, and a new life, in jail or out.” (John 14:27).
The Bible declares, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (I Cor 5:;17).
Released from prison, Leo earned his high school diploma and then went on to graduate from both seminary and college. Over the years, God has used Leo in evangelistic services in prisons, youth groups, and in churches on both coasts of the U.S.A. For the past 25 years he has been serving the Lord as Minister of Visitation at Bible Baptist Church of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
“I’ve described my past so that you might know that Jesus Christ has power to deliver from the bondage of sin. God’s Word states that you need a Saviour, just as I did. The Bible declares, ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Rm 3:23). Because we are all sinners we have separated ourselves from God’s fellowship. ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.’ (Ro 6:23). God’s love is so great that He sent His only begotten Son to become sin for you. (Jn 3:16). Christ suffered and died in your place. (Isa 53:4-6). He paid the penalty for your sin. You deserve hell for all eternity. (Rev 21:8). Your escape from this penalty is through accepting the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Jn 14:6). Ask Jesus Christ now to become your Saviour and Lord.
If you take this first step, He promises to change your life and set you free. (Jn 8:32) Begin immediately to read the Gospel of John found in the New Testament (King James Version). The Bible is God’s spiritual food for you. Your Christian development depends on feasting daily in God’s great love letter to you. Tell others about your new-found faith in Jesus Christ and find a church which preaches from the Bible.
—Taken from Journey’s End as told to Lee Heinze
As a child I thought there were only two groups of people, Catholics and Publics, because either you went to the Catholic school or the public school. Our parents religiously took us to church and provided us with a Catholic education. I made my first communion in second grade. I never really searched my heart before going to confession. It was difficult to believe anyone could remember each and every sin for a whole month before confessing to the priest!
As a ten-year-old I was chosen to carry the crown for the annual May crowning of a statue of Mary in our parish church. My Polish grandmother was a pillar in the church, leading several women’s guilds and societies over the many years. I often went along on bus trips to various trips and Catholic shrines. I can still hear the rhythm of a busload of Catholic women reciting the rosary in Polish.
For several summers our mom sent us three children to a week of Vacation Bible School at a nearby Baptist church. There we memorized Scripture and heard about the love of Jesus. I admired the sweet ladies that spoke about asking Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour, but I didn’t really understand.
My parents sent me to an all-girl Catholic high school my freshman year, but rebellion took root and I refused to return the next year. Instead, I attended a vocational high school and took up cosmetology. My peers became everything to me and I took up smoking both cigarettes and marijuana, drinking, rock and roll music, and a very immoral lifestyle. At age eighteen I became pregnant. A woman at work tried to share some Scriptures with me. She had left Catholicism and witnessed to me about the love of Jesus and about being born-again, but I was feeling very unlovely. I listened, but pushed it aside as something I should learn more about someday.
My boyfriend was from an Irish Catholic family and we decided to marry. Our priest had us take a written test to determine if we were compatible and the date was set. After the rehearsal everyone lined up for confession. I remember how mechanical it seemed to be. As each one left the confessional they would kneel down for a few minutes to say their penance and then join the rest of the group laughing and joking. I think I was the only one who didn’t go to confession. Somehow my heart was longing for something more real and deeper than what I saw.
A few years later my religious Catholic parents divorced after twenty-two years of marriage because my mother fell into an adulterous relationship. Our religion had not kept our family from this horrible break-up. Who could say my marriage would last? My mind was full. I did not want my two daughters to take the road of wickedness that I had traveled during my teens. I thought, “if the Catholic Church is the only Christian church, then why were my “Christian” grand-parents always angry and miserable? Why in ten years of Catholic education had we never opened a Bible, the Word of God? Why were the Catholics I knew essentially no different in life-style than non-Catholics?” In fact, some of my Catholic friends and I were the ones who went deepest into sin! I reasoned, “If I really received the Holy Spirit at confirmation, then why did some of my most wicked years follow? Did the Holy Spirit really dwell in me since confirmation, or was it all just a meaningless tradition?” God was causing me to look long and hard at these things.
George’s older brother was a born-again Christian. He talked about this being “the last days.” My husband called him a fanatic, but I paid attention. One day I picked up the Catholic Bible that a nun had given us as a wedding gift two and a half years before. Satan whispered in my ear, “You don’t want to look in there! Things in there will scare you!” I reasoned, “but if it is God’s Word, then I really should know what it says. God must have written it for a reason.” The argument was settled. I sat on the sofa for hours, day after day, reading the New Testament. I remembered what I had heard at Vacation Bible School as a child. I thought of what my friend from work had shared with me about being born-again and trusting in Jesus. I pondered what my brother-in-law had said about God’s Word. I knew this was right. I was a sinner, deserving hell, but Jesus died for me! How free I felt when I confessed my sin and my helplessness and received Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I was born again!
Soon I realized that what I was reading in the Bible was not in agreement with what I had been taught as a Catholic. At first I was angry. I felt that the Roman Catholic Church had stolen something from me all those years by not instructing me in the precious Word of God. I recognized what a powerful grip the church still had on my family, especially my dear grand-mother. I realize now that these dear Catholics have been deceived, as I was, and they need Jesus to set them free.
Though I disagreed more and more with my church, because of my husband and our families I remained until after our third child was baptized. When we went to see the priest, I asked him about purgatory. He said, “we don’t teach purgatory anymore.” My 80-year-old grandmother still believed in purgatory! (Of course, the doctrine of purgatory is still very much alive in Catholicism.) I have no idea why the priest said what he did, but my husband and I were already convinced by then that infant baptism was useless. We did it to satisfy our families. Our conscience couldn’t take the hypocrisy anymore.
I started attending my brother-in-law’s charismatic church. Then my husband joined me. Two years later, he was born-again. Having come out of the coldness of Roman Catholicism, the atmosphere of this church and the love that flowed there was deceptively inviting. We stayed there another three years, but our eyes were opened to their reliance on dreams, visions, and “gifts” of the spirit, sometimes to the exclusion of the Word of God. Those who spoke of the application of the Word of God were labeled “legalistic.” Somehow we just knew that God’s standard for His holy people had to be higher than what we were seeing! (2 Peter 3:11). We were discouraged for a while until, through some tapes, God led us to a Bible practicing church where the people truly live for Jesus, hold up the standards of God’s Word and are looking for His coming. Our heroes are those who have gone to their death because of their testimonies of Jesus Christ and against heresies.
God, in His goodness, has given us nine precious children, whom we are totally unworthy to have. We are raising them according to the Word of God. My oldest daughters are now fifteen and thirteen and a half. When I consider where I was at their age, my heart rejoices at the mercy of God! They love Jesus and want to live for Him.
Satan is a liar. He wants us to think it is impossible to raise godly children in this age. It is a lie! Just believe God and don’t compromise with your children. I now can see why my life went the way it did. The foundation of my education was the traditions of men and not the foundation of Jesus Christ, the solid Rock. My foundation was only sand and when the storms of the outside world hit, it crumbled. But now I am on that solid Rock foundation. My life has turned around and our children, because of a right foundation, will not have to fall into sin like I did. I pray for my family daily and especially my dear grandmother, who is now eighty-eight. I can’t speak of Jesus in her presence, but I pray that she comes to trust in Him before it is too late.
God began my earthly life in Detroit, Michigan, 18, July 1926. At five years old I learned that I was Roman Catholic. Infant, Baptism, Catechism, First Holy Communion, the Confessional, and the Mass were a strong influence on my early years. By all outward appearances, I would have been considered a “good Catholic.” In my heart, I knew better. At the age of five, I discovered that my dear mother had Epilepsy. Seizures were frequent, making it difficult for her to attend church. My father was a Detroit policeman. He carried on a life of drinking from his teenage years. He was a very angry man and destructive when drunk. It made it impossible to approach Dad because I was afraid of him.
All of my religious training was left to my Grandfather who lived with us from time to time. He and I were up at the break of dawn and walked our mile and a half to the nearest Catholic church. Even at that young age I had a hunger for the things of God. Grandpa was a very devout Catholic. One day while returning from church, he said, “Jack, Jesus Christ is going to return when you are seventy-four years old.” Of course, this meant little to a five year old, but I never forgot those words. Life at home didn’t improve. At five years old I discovered that my father was not faithful to my mother. After seeing his actions with a woman in our automobile, I came home, threw my arms around the leg of my Mother and sobbed out, “Daddy has a girl friend.” Mother looked down at me and said, “I know it, son.”
Before I reached the age of ten, I began to drink, first because all of the Dumas’ did, and, secondly, because it gave me a sense of superiority and a way to escape the misery of home life. At the age of fifteen, God saved me from dying of acute alcoholism. Many unhappy experiences in the home, plus my own inclination to evil, brought on terrible guilt because of the hurt I was causing my mother. The confessional was my only outlet, it seemed, however, the results just barely got me through Sunday mass, and then I lapsed into depression, cursing, gambling, self-pity, and drinking. After all, I reasoned, the Catholic church and the priests did the same things.
God put it into the hearts of my parents to move across town to the East side of Detroit where new homes were being built. After settling into this area, a young preacher came to our door and invited my mother to church. Her immediate reply was, we are Roman Catholic, and with that, she shut the door. Mother prayed every day for God to change things. While going to the store one hot summer evening, she heard singing. It was coming from a “store-front” church. God moved on her heart to go in and rest her sick body. After the singing, a message was given. The young pastor asked if there were any prayer requests and if anyone was sick. Mother raised her hand. She was invited to approach the front and to kneel at the long red altar. The ladies knelt around her. As they prayed for my mother, they asked her if she had ever asked Jesus to save her. She admitted that she couldn’t remember ever doing that. So she did and WOW! What a change! She sang Bible choruses when she felt weak and fearful. She witnessed to everyone, She had a faith and a peace that she never knew before. And Scriptures were tacked to the door.
This testimony of my mother had to be told, because she brought me to Christ. God gave His “full on” attention to me (Eph. 2:1-4). Mother insisted that I meet these church people. The way she described them to me, I was certain that they were from another planet. It was during the summer of 1942, before my seventeenth birthday, that I gave in to my mother’s constant pleading. I met a peculiar people whose genuine love and concern for me drew me back to those meetings several times. I wanted what they possessed, that which gave them and my mother such peace and radiant joy.
An out-of-town evangelist came to this small store-front church. He had a LOUD voice, but just what I needed to break through this darkened, stubborn heart of mine. After three weeks of that message of salvation, it came through loud and clear that Christ Jesus was to be my personal Saviour. How the devil fought that decision.
Following the message one evening, this godly evangelist put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “Jack, do you want to receive Jesus into your heart to save you from your sins and hell?” I answered, “Yes!” That night Jesus came into my life and I was “saved.”
I never again attended a Catholic church. They had withheld the way of salvation from me. Certainly had I continued in the Roman Catholic Church I would have remained blind to the true way of salvation and certainly would have ended my life as a drunk, a sinner, on my way to a Christ-less eternity. After trusting Jesus Christ, the only way of salvation, many things began to change in my life. I lost two-thirds of my vocabulary, smoking and drinking disappeared, growth and maturity in Christ was evident, and the Word of God was my steady diet. Not long after Mother, my two sisters and I became Christians. My father also received Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour.
At age twenty-three, God called me to a Bible school. After graduating, I enrolled in the University of Detroit. I was ready for them with questions those Jesuits couldn’t answer. After receiving my M. Div. at Northern Baptist Seminary, I entered the Naval Chaplaincy. It was certainly a privilege and blessing for God to use me in spite of some of the terrible hangups I carried into adulthood. After twenty-eight years of military life, God allowed me to pastor three churches. There has been much fruit through the years — all to glory of God! All truth will be revealed in the Day of Jesus Christ. Preserve, O God, what You accomplished in this poor soul of mine, and I shall praise You throughout all eternity and serve You until eternity grows whiskers or while the years of eternities roll. (Phil. 1:6; Prov. 3:5,6; Heb. 7:25, etc.) To further show the graciousness of my God and Father, in 1947 He gave me a good Christian wife, Bette, five beautiful children; four daughters and a son, John, who is a missionary in Romania.
Only Jesus Christ is Saviour. Only the Bible is God’s Word! (John 14:6). Receive Jesus now. Trust Him to be your Saviour. He is the Lamb of God for sinners slain. Forget the head-knowledge. Speak to Jesus Christ from your heart. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power (or authority) to become the sons of God.” (John 1:12). Salvation is a free gift. The costly price is paid by God. It cannot be earned. With humble thanks, receive that gift by faith. (Eph. 2:8-9).
In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” After many years as a Roman Catholic, I became convinced that my church is not in this way, and is not the truth and the life. That means that the Catholic Church is not in Christ! I wished to be in Christ. That is why I left the Roman Catholic Church and its priesthood.
According to tradition, the apostle, Thomas, was martyred in South India in the year 52 A.D. There is also a tradition that a merchant from Syria, Thomas of Cana, came to Kevala in 345 A.D. with 72 Roman Catholic families from which my family descended. Whether or not these traditions are true, I was brought up by my parents in the most strict discipline of the Roman Catholic religion. I was educated in Roman Catholic schools, adhering to all the rituals of the Catholic system. During my schooling I was attracted to the beauty of the mass and other ceremonies where the priests wore beautiful vestments. After graduating from high school, I was told that my vocation was to become a priest like my late uncle, Reverend Matthew, my father’s brother. Yes, I joined the seminary and after philosophy and theology, was ordained to the priesthood. I was a priest from the year 1972, December, administering the sacraments daily. Gradually, my faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the validity of various practices such as infant baptism, auricular confession for the forgiveness of sins, veneration of images of saints, and worship of Mary as the Mother of God began to shake and I became spiritually unhappy, even miserable. The unbiblical dogmas such as the infallibility of the pope also disturbed me. I continued in such a state of mind, knowing fully well that I could be ostracized, persecuted, and even physically harmed by the Roman Catholic community and that with the blessings of the other priests and the bishop. However, the Lord, in His mercy, gave His special grace for me to learn of Biblical truth through my friend from India, Dr. Simon Kottoor, who now lives in San Jose, California and is a born-again, ex-Roman Catholic priest. He opened my eyes to the Word of God and sent me gospel tracts and books from Mission To Catholics International, Inc., in San Diego, California. The director, Bart Brewer, is another ex-priest and a great friend of Simon. The testimony of his conversion from Roman Catholicism after serving as a Carmelite friar for many years, is described in a book, Pilgrimage From Rome. This book touched my heart and gave me courage to flee from the darkness which encircled me for years.
I arrived in Bangalore two years ago and settled down not knowing what to do, but giving myself entirely into the hands of Jesus, who died for me. Dr. Brewer introduced me to a great man of God in Bangalore, Dr. Jacob Chelli. He is the director of Berean Baptist Bible College and Seminary here. This Biblical ministry surpasses every other ministry for the salvation of souls through the Word of God. Dr. Chelli became my “light” into the Word of God and I got fully convinced of the need for receiving believers baptism as commanded by Jesus in Mark 16:15-16 and John 3:3, 5, & 7.
Praise God, on July 6, 1997, Dr Chelli baptized me, and also my wife, at the Bible college chapel. Oh! What a glorious victory for us in the Lord. We do not care for anything now. We leap for joy for the grace and light we have in us now. The words of Jesus in Luke 6:22 & 23, give us added strength, courage, and consolation to face all the forces against us. (By the way, the Lord, in His love and mercy, gave me a partner for life when I left the Roman Catholic system. Her name is Mercy. She too was brought up in the strictest discipline of a Roman Catholic family, but was not spiritually happy with all the man-made doctrines. She took many lessons in the Word of God and, as I said, was baptized along with me. Our first child, Lance, was born October 23, 1996.)
Please join me in thanking God for the grace bestowed on me and my family. I praise God that we are new creatures in Christ. May God grant us His abundant grace to be faithful in living for Him and serving Him. As we do, please pray for the conversion of Roman Catholics to Biblical Christianity.
Most of the testimonies in Challenger were written for publication. This one, however, was part of a letter requesting literature. Certainly it will touch your heart as it has ours. Please pray for this lady, whose name is withheld for obvious reasons.
My husband and I were both born and raised very devout Catholics. I became involved in the Catholic Charismatic movement and taught CCD for 10 years. At one point I began asking God to help me appreciate the Eucharist more because something was lacking in my heart. After praying like this for years, I never grew any closer to Christ and still felt a void.
Then, I bought a Catholic “One Year Bible.” I began to read it like a novel from Genesis to Revelation. I couldn’t get enough. I saw God as such a merciful, loving, yet just God. I began to see things we did in the Catholic Church (devotions and shrines to Mary and the saints) as the same things God punished His people for in the Old Testament. I asked God, “Could it be that we do have idolatry in the Catholic Church?” The more I read, the more I understood. One day I tried to discuss growing doubts about our church with my husband. I thought he would have a receptive heart. Instead, he hit the roof with anger. He gave me all the old Catholic answers to doubts about the church. I knew them all. I had also used them in the past. How shallow and false they sounded now. . .
My husband called his mother and my mother. He told them I was listening to the devil and would they please talk to me. His mother asked who did I think I was to think that God could reveal things from the Bible to me? At that point, I had never doubted the “real” presence or literal body and blood in the Eucharist. After about a year, though, I questioned how we could think that we could make a piece of bread and call it God, then lock it up in a safe at the end of the Mass. The first time I did not go up to receive Communion, my husband asked me out loud in church why I didn’t go. He said he married a Catholic and his wife was going to stay Catholic. For the next year, I went to Communion, saying, “in memory” instead of “Amen.” The time came that I couldn’t swallow the host. I spit it into a Kleenex. Then, I decided to stand up for Jesus no matter what my husband did. I refused to go up for Communion. After all, Jesus died “once for all” and “without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.” What a mockery the Sacrifice of the Mass is! The Catholic Church doesn’t believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ!
My husband has taken me to so many classes, RCIA and videos by Scott Hahn, etc. He’s had me read testimonies of people who have converted to Catholicism. He has subscribed to anti-fundamentalist magazines, bought books on the Church Fathers and what they believed, etc. He can’t understand why nothing works on me. I told him I prayed for three years for God to change my heart and let me embrace the Catholic Church again—if it does hold the truth. But, if anything, God has revealed to me through the Scriptures how Jesus fulfills all our spiritual needs. My husband says I have betrayed him by not remaining a devout Catholic. He has been very hateful to me—threatened divorce, destroyed things that remind him that he is married to me, etc. I know God has called me to love my husband no matter what he does or says to me. We have six children, and I know God’s will for us is not divorce. Once he asked me how I could sweep all the things he’s done to me under the rug and pretend they didn’t happen. I was able to share how God healed my broken heart one night and filled me with a love for my husband that replaced the fear and hate that was beginning to grow in my heart. He won’t allow me to go to any church now. I stay in God’s Word and listen to Christian radio.
The stories in “Far From Rome” contain the same truths God has shown me. It’s exciting that others have learned the same things. My husband believes he is “born again” because he was baptized Catholic as an infant and that he has received the Holy Spirit because he was Confirmed. What deceit in the Catholic Church! The Sacraments replace the “real” and living God! He hates the phrase, “knowing Jesus personally” and mentioning God’s Word as Authority. Once he removed all the Bibles from our house. Now because of Medjugorje two are back!
Some of the family is only staying in the Catholic Church to avoid hurting others. They see the tears shed over my leaving “the faith.” My sister promised Mother she would never leave. I asked my sisters-in-law if they believed all Catholic doctrine and they both said, “of course not.” One is beginning to break away and the other is trying to spread the truth while remaining in the church. What a wicked hold Roman Catholicism has! I understand what knowing the truth and the truth shall set you free means and praise God He revealed His truth to me now rather than later in life. I have shared it with my children so they now understand the Gospel.