From Gangster to a Pillar of the Community

Liz Hartwell

Sanjay Rao was once a gangster. Now he is a respected business owner who shares with people in his community about Jesus.

“I was a hard gangster. Many crime departments know me,” said Sanjay, “Now they are seeing me as a different person, because of Jesus. Jesus has given me a wonderful life.”

Losing All Hope

Sanjay grew up with three younger brothers. He excelled in school and prayed occasionally. Often, he saw his parents fight at home because of his father’s drinking. He saw his mother work hard to provide for the family.

Then one day, during a heated argument between his parents, Sanjay’s mother’s sari caught on fire and she died two weeks later. Sanjay was shocked when he got the news at school.

Soon afterwards, Sanjay’s father also died, leaving Sanjay and his three brothers not only orphaned, but homeless.

The boys looked for shelter at tourist sites but were driven away by police. “Sir, I lost everything,” Sanjay said to one police officer, “We have no hope in our lives.” But the police didn’t help them.

During the rainy season, Sanjay prayed, “Please stop this rain. We have no place to sleep.” But the rain didn’t stop. The boys feared robbers and drug addicts who roamed the streets.

Finally, Sanjay and his brothers found a place to sleep, thanks to the kindness of a local gangster.

“The man gave me a place to sleep there. That place was a broken place,” said Sanjay, explaining that prostitutes and thieves also stayed there. “We were sleeping in the middle of all of them,” said Sanjay. The other children gave him cigarettes and he started to smoke at age 13. Sanjay also began getting into fights with others and became a local gangster.

Finding Hope Amid Desperation

Sanjay continued this hard life, even after he married Patricia. Barely able to provide for his wife on a meager salary, Sanjay considered committing suicide along with Patricia after they had their first child.

As he and Patricia were making plans to end their lives, Sanjay heard a voice, “Go to your room and close the door.” Sanjay went to his room, cried and prayed, “If there is any God, let me know. Then I can follow the right way and we can live.”

Sanjay spotted a dusty Bible in his room. He prayed and turned to the ten commandments and read from Exodus 20, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.”

“I read it … and I found Jesus there,” says Sanjay.

Little by little, Sanjay began to pray, and God changed him completely. Eventually, after the birth of their third child, he truly surrendered to God.

“The world rejected me. Family rejected me. Friends rejected me. Jesus selected me as his son,” says Sanjay, smiling.

Responding to God’s Blessing

Gradually, his financial situation improved. Sanjay became a contractor, earning enough income to provide for his family. In 2015, he started a building, painting and waterproofing business.

He thought to himself, “God is blessing me. I want to do something for God. What shall I do?” So Sanjay began to share his testimony in his community daily.

“Every day, he is doing God’s ministry. He’s sharing his testimony. So many people have come to Jesus,” said his wife Patricia. She says he is now a completely different person.  

One of his employees recently became a Christian. Clients ask Sanjay about his faith and also ask for prayer, even sharing personal requests.

“Whatever religion someone may be, I will speak to them and share Jesus with them,” said Sanjay.

Through his involvement with the local Campus Crusade for Christ ministry LeaderImpact, Sanjay has found many opportunities to share his testimony. He joined a business group, has attended conferences and participated in ongoing outreach programs. He was asked to share his testimony at a large Campus Crusade for Christ youth conference in June.

In both his business and personal ministry in the community, Sanjay has committed to taking every opportunity to bring God glory. He said he hopes that his personal testimony of God’s transforming work in his life will speak to anyone who has no hope.

What opportunities do you see in your life to bring hope to people around you?


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South Asia

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