Finding common ground with spiritual savants


Amos Mak,

The man’s name was JK and he claimed to be a preacher speaking the truth of God. He had walked into the court area on Cal State East Bay’s campus around noon on a recent Wednesday to preach what he believes to be the truth of man’s sin and the need for repentance. He was joined by his wife Evangelista and his brother Kevin.

This is part of a regular routine for JK and his wife and brother: they come to the campus at the beginning of every school quarter through inspiration from the heart and to make their voices heard, or in their words, preaching. They have repented and are “born-again” Christians but do not belong to a denomination. They do not follow a particular theme or underlying ideology in their message and are spontaneous in whatever topic they chose to preach. And the topics they choose to preach — theology, current events, or moral behavior often cause a huge stir with the student audience on campus.

“You are all like spineless jellyfish, floating meaninglessly through life,” JK yelled at the crowd that had gathered on that warm Wednesday. He contorted his body wildly like a dying fish on land. “I am here to tell you the truth, and that we all have sinned and can only find redemption through Jesus Christ or we will all burn in hell!”

Despite the urgency in his tone, many students did not concede to his advocation. A number of them sped past and ignored him, but several others shouted back before continuing on their way.

A crowd gathered around him and listened to what he had to say. I was sitting at one of the nearby tables with another student who watched and smirked at the one-man show.

“I’ve seen them appear on campus for at least 15 years. The always pick this place because they know it’s made for public speaking,” campus police officer Michael Elder said. “They’ve been doing this for a long time and it can get a little tense but it has never escalated into physical violence, at least not to my knowledge.”

Corporal Elder and a few other police officers were there to ensure the safety of the students but also to protect the right of free speech. I watched JK cry out that ISIS claimed responsibility for the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1 and that Islamic belief leads to jihad. He made long, tip-toeing strides and said “tick, tick, tick,” with each footstep as if he was strapped with a bomb. I expected an explosion of outrage but there was only a collective moan and cries of racism and bigotry from the crowd.

“How can I be a racist?,” JK asked rhetorically. “My wife is black. Maybe it is you who is racist for perceiving me to think I’m a racist.”

I approached the African American woman standing next to him to confirm if what he said was true, and she said they had been married for 19 years. Compared to the loud antics of her husband JK, Evangelista stood by him with quiet dignity. She supports his spiritual mission.

“We proclaim the Word of God and allow students to read the Bible for themselves and interpret what they believe as truth,” Evangelista told me. “They must seek it out with the innocence of a child. Many will resist but they can find the truth if they have the heart to believe.”

During our discussion, JK switched roles with his brother and took out a video camera to record their activities. Kevin didn’t make as many visual gestures as JK, but his message was essentially the same: non-believers need to follow the Word of God to be saved from damnation. JK then asked me what my name was. I told him my name is Amos, and he remarked that it was a Biblical name. I replied that I was a Protestant.

My response prompted Evangelista to ask if I gave myself completely in repentance. I told her I was baptized but the answer did not satisfy her so she asked again if I had truly given up all my sins and repented. It surprised me by how much they disregarded my religious background and were so focused on my conviction to my spiritual belief. I said I grew up in a Christian family and my day of repentance had happened in my early teens, at which point I became fully committed to my faith.

I could still hear Kevin shouting about worldly desires associating with human sin as I walked away and it reminded me of the Biblical prophets from the past. They too were considered as strangers, outcasts, and controversial by the public. And just like them, these “born-again Christians” live out their faith with passion, vigor, and authenticity.

As a fellow Christian, I sympathize with their drive to spread the gospel and their right to speak freely. But I wouldn’t preach to provoke listeners and risk turning them away. Truth is important, but is also important to treat others with grace and respect.

Despite the urgency in his tone, many students did not concede to his advocation.