Gary Messado's lifestyle had changed so dramatically that his college roommate called the Jamaican's parents to report that something was wrong with their son.
The roommate informed them that an older neighbor was influencing Gary to the degree that it affected his social activities.
His parents were aware of some of Gary's bad decisions. At age 14, he had started smoking marijuana, drinking and indiscriminately sleeping with girls. He was unfulfilled; he searched for more. He investigated "spirituality," and learned more about the Jamaican religion Rastafarianism, but decided it wasn't for him.
His parents had hoped that by sending Gary to a boarding school in Canada, he'd not only get a good education, but would change his lifestyle as well. He didn't. Upon graduating from high school, Gary moved to Georgia to study at Morehouse College, the only all-male historically black college in the United States. He lived off campus, which made it easier for him to participate in his immoral, and often illegal, activities.
Gary even occasionally visited strip clubs with his friends and roommate. A few times, sensing the women's human value, he pulled aside one or two of them and suggested, "You're worth more than this." But at that point Gary didn't realize the value of his own life. So even in feeble attempts, he wasn't really able to bring about life change. But he was about to learn what his own life was really worth.
The Neighbor who Changed Gary's Life
At his apartment complex, Gary met a neighbor who was divorced and unemployed. The man couldn't land a job in Atlanta because of a criminal record, and his son was in foster care. But despite the circumstances, Gary's neighbor seemed at peace. He told Gary that his relationship with Jesus gave him purpose beyond his seemingly hopeless circumstances, and it intrigued Gary. "He spoke about the Lord in an experiential way," remembers Gary. "He had what I was looking for—a real relationship with God." Gary soon accepted Christ as his Savior.
He quit marijuana for good. He also stopped going to bars and strip clubs. Instead he stayed home and read the Bible for hours. This dramatic change in behavior is what merited his roommate's phone call to Gary's parents.
"When the roommate called about Gary's Christianity we were very taken aback as we did not understand," remembers Gary's mom, Jennifer, "and we were unhappy with the person who was influencing him in the faith at the time." His roommate had painted such a negative scene of Gary's new life that his parents were concerned.
Eventually they saw his decision as one of the best he'd ever made.
The Call at Kingston
Gary graduated with a degree in accounting and moved back to "paradise," as he calls his native Jamaica. He set out to pursue a master's degree at the University of the West Indies in the capital city of Kingston.
Soon, he met Dirk and Carrol Richards, staff members with Cru. They were trying to rally students together at three different campuses in Kingston to lead spiritual movements.
Just after beginning graduate school in October 2005, Gary explored his school's clubs exposition, and a friend introduced him to Carrol. "Nice to meet you," she said, then readily got to the point. "I'm looking for some serious Christians, no jokers, but people who are serious to reach their campus for the Lord. I don't want a club; I want a movement."
Gary remembers, "Her words grabbed something in my stomach," as he connected with her vision to reach the campus. As he became involved with Cru, Gary's faith strengthened, and Dirk and Carrol helped to train Gary in evangelism. His leadership skills also grew through local training events.
A year later, in September 2006, the budding Cru group of 10, which they call Campus Kairos (kairos is Greek for "God's special time"), needed a new leader. Gary took the mantle as president.
Leading Campus Kairos
The 22-year-old and seven other leaders now meet weekly in a garden filled with trees and tropical flowers near ruins on campus. It is situated in a valley with the peaks of the Blue Mountains to the north. There, they pray and discuss how they can influence their peers for Christ and how to encourage them to influence others.
"Gary is an outstanding leader," says Carrol, whom the students affectionately call "Auntie Carrol." "He's good with people, takes an initiative and is committed to seeing the campus change. What I couldn't get the students to do, he gets them to do."
And he does it naturally and out of the overflow of his love for God, and because of his own radical life change.
For instance, since Gary, like the majority of students, commutes from his parents' house daily, he stops at a guard booth for a parking pass. Since Kingston, like Jamaica in general, has a high crime rate, the security helps cut back on car theft. Recently, Gary found out that one of the guards was having a birthday, so he gave the stranger a Christian CD as a gift. Now, the guard's face illuminates every time Gary appears, and the two often chat.
Another day, a girl stopped Gary on campus and asked for a donation for her organization. "What's it all about?" he asked. As she explained, he reached into his pocket and gave her several Jamaican dollars. Then he invited her to the Campus Kairos meeting later that day.
Forty students attended that meeting—the most ever. Gary gave a talk about true love—"the kind that doesn't leave in the morning." As he divulged some about his own promiscuous past, the students sat riveted. All eyes were on him. Gary segued into the gospel. "Gary's serious about the Lord and not afraid to talk about it," says Dirk. Later, a student acknowledged on a comment card that she became a follower of Jesus as a result of listening to Gary.
Influence, Education, and the Future
Most Jamaicans might say that they are Christians. But when pressed, there's little depth and many misconceptions about what that truly means. Gary and his friends are trying to change that, even reaching beyond Campus Kairos. He met with the vice president of another Christian group on campus to teach him how to tell others about Christ. "That's a strategic person to empower as he has influence into his campus ministry," says Gary. "Imagine if all the Christians were stepping out and sharing their faith on campus. Jamaica would be won in no time."
All day long, Gary practices that kind of stepping out. Two months prior, while studying well past midnight in a gazebo on campus, Gary and his friend, Andrew Wildes, spotted a young woman also studying. Gary walked over to talk to her about Christ.
Gary explained his faith to her, yet she said she couldn't believe Jesus died in her place. It was too foreign of an idea.
"It really challenged me," says Andrew, who also serves with Gary on the eight-person leadership team of Campus Kairos. "Everything we discuss, all our conversations lead back to God."
Even Gary's humor is about his faith. Like the night when Gary was driving his friends to practice the Christian reggae song they created. Gary's car seats five, but since there were six in his car, Andrew hopped in the back and joked about his spiritual growth; "I'm working on my humility."
Gary caught his friend's eyes in the rearview mirror and said, "Hey, Andrew? About that humility thing, want to wash my feet?" Everyone laughed.
"Gary prays for a balanced victory—academically, socially and spiritually," says Andrew.
Even Gary's professors note his influence. His Advanced Management Accounting professor, Michael Roofe, notes, "Gary's a good student. He isn't just a taker of knowledge, he's a giver."
With his personality, ethics, education and skill, Gary could easily slip into the corporate arena. But he might go a different route. "Auntie Carrol is heavily trying to recruit me [onto the full-time staff of Campus Kairos]. It's something that I am praying about," says Gary. "My passion is for ministry ever since I got saved. It's what I am driven to do."
No matter what he does, his life has been so transformed by Christ that he will undoubtedly introduce more people to Him.