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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Sentenced to a Second Chance

By John W. Kennedy
Sept. 15, 2013

Kevin Belcher grew up in a housing project in Dallas, the youngest of four children raised by his single mother, Artherine. By the time Belcher came along, his father had left the family.

“From an early age my mom taught us to put faith, hope and trust in God no matter what the circumstances looked like,” Belcher recalls.

Yet Belcher never heard a clear presentation of the gospel — until sitting in a jail cell facing 99 years behind bars.

Despite his broken childhood and youth, Belcher spent seven years in the army after graduating from high school. From there he became security director for an oil company. At the same time, he connected with former friends.

“I learned survival mode coming up in the hood,” Belcher says. “I knew a lot of the wrong people.”

Belcher launched into a seven-year binge of daily cocaine, alcohol and PCP use. Although he says he managed to quit cold turkey, Belcher didn’t completely walk away from drugs. He began selling them to others instead.

“It became very lucrative,” Belcher says. “I didn’t intend to become that type of person, but the quantity of money I made turned it into a career.”

Then one day police kicked in the door of his house and busted him. Even though he had an AK-47 assault rifle in his hand, officers didn’t fire. In retrospect, Belcher believes his mother’s prayers kept him from being shot.

For the next year, Belcher lived in a jail cell. Before Belcher’s court date, Autherine asked a jail chaplain to pray with her son. The chaplain did so, and gave Belcher some Christian literature about the way to salvation through Jesus Christ.

Belcher had attended church as a boy, but no one had ever suggested a need to invite Jesus into his heart. After the chaplain prayed with him, Belcher’s whole mindset changed from resigned defeat to hope. Belcher says he went to the bargaining table and negotiated with God.

Many people have uttered some version of Belcher’s “If You get me out of this situation, I’ll serve You faithfully the rest of my life” petition. But when Belcher escaped the heavy punishment due him, he kept up his part of the covenant.

“God had to lock me up to set me free!” Belcher says. “Jail was a still place where I could hear God speaking to me.”

In his cell, Belcher says he read the Book of Romans. He says the Holy Spirit inspired him to write a confessional letter to the sentencing judge, Keith Dean. Belcher faced a maximum 99-year term on multiple drug delivery and weapons charges. In the letter, he admitted all his wrongdoings. Belcher says he urged Dean, a state district judge, to send him somewhere he could learn about Jesus.

In 1995, Dean honored the request, sentencing the then 33-year-old offender to 18 months in a Teen Challenge program in Dallas.

“I didn’t deserve another chance,” Belcher says. “The judge granted me mercy.”

“I’m a big believer that life is full of little windows of opportunity,” Dean says. “I gave Kevin a chance, and he did the rest. I knew if I didn’t give him a chance he wouldn’t be successful.”

Dean figured sending Belcher to a penitentiary wouldn’t have benefited the former drug dealer or society. However, Dean warned Belcher if he ever appeared in his court again he would impose the maximum penalty.

The Teen Challenge experience changed Belcher’s life forever.

“God knew exactly what I needed to be transformed for real, and He ordained my steps in a new direction,” Belcher says. “It took Pentecostal power to change a joker like me.”

Within three months Belcher became an intern at the facility and at six months he joined the staff, certified to teach curriculum.

“God worked out a pretty good deal for me,” Belcher says. “I was actually getting paid while doing time.”

Belcher stayed beyond 18 months working for Teen Challenge. In 2000, five years after being sentenced, Dean granted Belcher an early release from probation, wiping the conviction from his record.

By then, Belcher regularly returned to jails and prisons ministering the gospel.

“Kevin quickly proved his commitment by searching the Scriptures,” says Paul D. Ecker Sr., executive director of TeenLife Challenge of Dallas. “He let the Lord work through his life.”

In his 20 years as a judge, before and after he encountered Belcher, Dean sent dozens of offenders to Teen Challenge. (Next Sunday, Sept. 22, is National Teen Challenge Day in the Assemblies of God.)

“I’ve never met a finer person than Paul Ecker,” Dean says.

Eventually, Belcher spent 12 years in full-time ministry with Teen Challenge, rising to dean of students and then program director.

In 2007, he invited his neighbor, the director of human resources for the city of Dallas, to a Teen Challenge banquet. The neighbor, impressed with the program, offered Belcher a job as human resources hiring manager for the city of Dallas.

Belcher has found jobs for several men who have gone through the Teen Challenge program to work for the city. The work ethic instilled in the men has resulted in several promotions.

“Through his character and determination, Kevin has made it possible for dozens of Teen Challenge graduates to work for the city of Dallas,” Ecker says.

During his career, the now-retired Dean handed down more than 100 prison sentences for capital crimes. He had the power to permanently alter Kevin Belcher’s life. But Dean has no regrets for making a different choice with Belcher; he saw unusual potential in the man who was willing to admit his guilt.

“Kevin has affected countless lives,” Dean says, “because of what he did with a second chance.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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