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Holiness in the Hood

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

What good can come out of the warzone in Albuquerque, New Mexico? I lived my whole life in the inner city—a kaleidoscope of South Central Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia; El Paso, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Living in the hood was a lifestyle—from the food and music to the sirens and gunshots. A life of pure survival.

My mom is full-blooded Laguna Indian and was left by her parents as a baby in an abandoned house on the reservation. She ran away at the age of 13 years old and had me when she was 15. My mom was an alcoholic by that time, and I was born a sick baby. My dad was 16 years old and very abusive to her. Both of my parents abandoned me at two months old.

My grandmother raised me (my dad’s mom); we were poor and lived in an area in Albuquerque called the “warzone.” It was a community of poverty, single parents, drugs, and alcohol. I started getting molested at the age of five years old. By the time I was 13, three different family members were sexually molesting me—two of which were women.

I remember I was so excited when I finally got to meet my dad for the first time at ten years old. He came from California, was a Jehovah’s Witness, and played lead guitar like a pro. He took me and two of my cousins to my first concert ever—Iron Maiden. I remember that night vividly. The smell of weed as a fog of marijuana smoke hung in the air, wild fans headbanging in the mosh pit, the adrenaline rush of intense music pulsing in my chest, the crowd parroting each word at the top of their lungs, flames spewing up from the stage as the band jammed out. I absorbed every moment of that electric night.

After the concert, my dad took my cousin Karen and me back to my grandmother’s little apartment in the hood. There was a pallet made on the living room floor for all three of us; Karen laid in the middle, and I laid on my side facing the wall heater. The magical memories of that concert brought the heater’s flames to life, reminding me of the thrill that accompanied each burst of flames on the stage. With a swoosh sound every few seconds, the hot glow would intensify and then dim like a dragon’s breath.

The heater was not the only sound I heard that night. As I lay quietly watching the fire lick the walls of its restrained domain, crocodile tears slid down the contours of my cherub face. I wanted to escape the nightmare that was happening behind me, but I was too afraid to move. The following morning there was no shame, apologies, nor promises—except my promise to Karen that I would not tell anyone about the violated trust and trauma we experienced. Secrets stayed in the family, no matter how vile. This man I waited to meet for so long… tried to have sex with my cousin Karen in front of me.

Betrayal tends to lead to even more brokenness, so my life turned in the wrong direction, as a spirit of rebellion reared its ugly head. I started hanging out with the neighborhood kids. When my grandma called for me to go inside, I ignored her and started running away from home. The group that seemed to care about me, accept me, and include me were the local thugs, dope dealers, prostitutes, and gangsters.

It was not much longer before I met a young man. He was a little bit older but made promises of love and took me under his care. Every girl needs to feel beautiful, cherished, and loved. He made promises that my heart longed to hear and I thought would fill this emptiness inside. He invited me into his motel room on the main street in Albuquerque. He had this whole concoction laid out on the motel table and said, “Jenee, if you love me, try this.” He said all I had to do was inhale as he lit it. It seemed like such an easy request.

I needed to keep up my tough and fearless façade, but I secretly would have traded my soul to feel wanted and loved.

This was my first hit of crack cocaine at the age of 11, and a long journey of destructive choices and overwhelming darkness was about to begin.

I started stealing, selling dope, jacking cars, and living on the streets. I was on New Mexico’s Most Wanted at the age of 16 years old. I saw my cousin shot dead after I was hit in the head with a gun. At the age of 19, I was facing a sentence of 10-to-life after being arrested by the FBI. I ended up doing state time for attempted murder that was then dropped down to an aggravated battery charge with great bodily harm. Once released, I was a menace to society again and even began to break the street codes that I was once loyal to.

I started crying out to God: “Where are you? Are you real? Do you hear me?”

I pulled into the handicap parking space at the local Walmart. With me was my three-year-old daughter, the twelve-year-old babysitter, a twelve-pack of beer, and a bottle of vodka. I hurried into the Walmart and stole my six-month-old a baby bottle. When I came out of the store, my car was surrounded by police officers. In fear, I remember going to the back of the parking lot, falling to my knees, and asking myself, “What am I doing?” I walked back to my car, and they asked if this was my child and car. I said “yes,” and off to jail I went (and rightly so). God hit me like a brick wall that day. That was my wake-up call.

My boyfriend at the time called his sister-in-law, who was a bonds lady, to bail me out of jail. The following day when I was released, I called a woman named Debbie Vanhook. She was a third-generation Nazarene. On a couple of occasions, I had reached out to the church she attended. One time was to get a turkey and another to ask for prayer after a three-day drug binge. That is when she took my contact information.

I had said the “sinner’s prayer” a dozen times prior to this moment; being in jail as much as I had, you learn this prayer. But somehow this time was different. I called to see if she would come pray with me. She said “yes” (however, she tells me today that she was certainly hesitant and afraid in that moment). I am sure when she and her husband, Tim, walked through my doorway, the demons went on high alert and scattered out of my apartment. Debbie said to me, “Jenee, I am going to pray with you, and then I want you to repeat this prayer after me.” As she began to pray, I started to cry, and the flood gates of my soul opened. It was as if every piece of filth, refuse, and muck that I had collected during my life was being washed clean with my tears. I was so tired of living like this. I had two daughters and did not want to leave them because I knew what it felt like to be abandoned. However, I also did not want to keep them as a mother addicted to drugs. So, this day I was desperate—so desperate I prayed as I had never prayed before. I sobbed as if someone had died. I believe to this day that it was me—the self-will—who died that day. The old was gone; the new had come. I stood up and was miraculously delivered from a 19-year drug addiction and lifestyle.

Five months later, I had to go to jail for 30 days. During those days in jail, the Lord sanctified me wholly as I surrendered my past, present and future to Him. The message of holiness was made real to me. I knew that was what I had been desiring this whole time, and it was what God wanted for me. No more darkness, no more bondage.

I was not only free from the slavery of sin, but I was set in His throne room as His child.

I never wanted to be separated from God again. I hungered for righteousness; I was thirsty for His Word. I heard God say to me, “Jenee, quit stealing and go get a job like everyone else.” You see, I was a hustler; it was how I survived most of the time. But in Ephesians 4:28 it says, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work doing something useful with their own hands that they may have something to share with those in need.” Then the Lord told me, “Jenee, quit cussing.” I had a bad, toxic mouth and spewed filth with practically every other word. Ephesians 5:4 says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” So, even my speech changed. I heard the Lord say, “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.” I had now been set free from everything that held me captive and stood between me and God. I had been made holy.

I was called into ministry, and I knew the Lord had called me to teach that there was deliverance and freedom through the God’s plan of entire sanctification. I am currently the lead pastor of an urban core church plant in the inner city of Kansas City and have seen many saved and sanctified. My family and I serve as missionaries to the urban core of Kansas City and across America. There is hope for the hood and a hunger for holiness there.


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