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Wade Moody: Engulfed in Fire
By Teena L Myers
Wade Mateo (Matthew) Moody was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico to a good family. In the early 70's they moved to Los Angeles where his parents ran a successful business, which employed much of their extended family. Wade and his brother were well behaved and excelled in school. Neither drug nor alcohol abuse found access into their tight-knit family.
Wade was six years old when his parents questioned the validity of the Catholic faith and embarked on a quest to find the true religion. For the next nine years, he experienced a host of philosophies and Asian religions. The discontent in his parent’s life created a cancer that destroyed the foundation of his happy home. After they relocated to Honduras, his parents divorced. Everyone went his or her own way leaving fifteen-year-old Wade to fend for himself.
“By the time I was seventeen, I gave up on God,” said Wade. “What was the point of being “good” when my family lived a good life and it didn’t keep us from being torn apart? I decided my parents never should have married, and I never should have been born. If there was a God, I was too insignificant for him to care about.”
Wade moved to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, to open a computer school. Lacking equipment and financial backing the business failed, but he made close friends during the venture. When local gangs harassed his friends, they realized the necessity of helping one another. “We didn’t intend to start a new gang, but that is what we became,” said Wade. “We were different. We were involved in drugs and street fighting, but we also had brains. We designed our gang to protect ourselves from other gangs and from the police.”
The city of Tegucigalpa had a zero tolerance policy for gangs and its citizen’s had limited rights. The police beat gang members without reprisal. Sometimes gangs disappeared without explanation. Wade and his friends took advantage of government connections and applied for credentials as GEDE, a group organized to assist in disasters and emergencies. The credentials gave them access to military training and permission to carry weapons.
“At the time, there were a lot of mudslides causing disasters. The government would call us to assist in rescue operations but it was just a
cover. Privately we joked, ‘We are specialist in disasters; we make the disasters.’ The credentials gave us privileges other gangs didn’t have. If we fought a rival gang and the police showed up, we showed them our credentials. They let us go and arrested the other gang. That made us a popular gang to join. Ironically, the gang we formed for protection carried a high price. Our popularity made us a target of the other gangs. I couldn’t leave home without arming myself.”Wade’s mother returned to Honduras when he was nineteen and settled on Isla del Tigre (Tiger Island) also known as Amapala. Her neighbors gave her gospel tracts and asked her if she had ever been born again. She was reluctant to receive their message but consented to read the Bible they gave her. As she read the scriptures, she found the truth that religious indoctrination had failed to impart. Jesus is humanity’s Savior. He alone is the way to God. She prayed with her neighbors to be born again and encountered a living God. Shortly thereafter, she began attending Brigades of Christian Love, a Pentecostal church founded by Swiss missionaries.
“My Mom sent me letters about being “born again” and speaking in tongues. We had been through so many other spiritual things, I wrote it off as another religious fad she was involved in. One day, I received a Bible in the mail. She had highlighted everything Jesus said in red. The enclosed letter said, “Please read the gospel of John.” Reading the gospel was like reading a history book. It meant nothing to me.”
As the economy in Honduras worsened, Wade’s mother seized the opportunity to separate Wade from his gang. “Go to the states and live with your brother, she said. “You can get a job there and return to school.”
Wade knew his mother was right. His business ventures had failed and it was increasingly difficult to cover expenses with his low paying job. “I figured if I went to the states and worked for a while, I could save money to buy computers. When I returned, I could reopen the computer school and my gang would be the biggest, baddest gang in town. In addition to the other benefits our gang offered, we would own a business. I made arrangements to live with my brother in New Orleans.”
GEDE arranged a party to show their support of Wade’s new venture. A week before the party, his mother called. “Wade, you will be leaving for the states soon, and I don’t know when you will be back. I’d like to spend time with you before you go. My church is going to a youth camp near Tegucigalpa. Why don’t you come for a few days? There are more than 400 young people attending…”
Wade didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. He held the position of recruiter in GEDE. His labors had increased the gang from the original seven to a hundred. He wanted to spend time with his mother, but he also saw a field ripe for harvesting recruits into his gang.
Wade drove his motorcycle onto the campgrounds early Monday morning and saw a former gang member. He followed him thinking the gang member would help recruit others. Wade was confused to learn the man had converted to Christianity and wasn’t interested in rejoining the gang. He spent the rest of the day evangelizing for the dark side to no avail.
He walked into the evening service frustrated over his failure to recruit anyone to his gang and sat next to his mother. The congregation began singing songs about fire coming from heaven, and praying God would send his fire to burn in them. Wade associated fire with hell. He looked at his mother, “What kind of church is this. I don’t want to be in the fire.” She assured him they were only singing about the Holy Spirit and his power.
After the service, a young man escorted Wade to a cot in one of the cabins. He lay down for a fitful night’s sleep. The morning light that shone through the cabin window could not dispel Wade’s depression. By late afternoon, he abandoned his evangelistic plans and walked up a nearby hill where he found a log to sit on. His position on the hill gave him a view of most of the campground. His eyes traveled from a group playing basketball, to another group sitting in a circle talking and laughing. Other groups were praying and some strummed guitars singing praises to their God.
Suddenly, Wade felt jealousy sweep over him. “I think I converted sitting on that log, because I realized they had what I had been looking for. I tried to fill the emptiness in my life with everything I could think of and surrounded myself with a gang for safety. At the end of the day, I was just a scared kid living in fear that any minute someone would crash through the door and kill me. God seldom speaks to our ears. He speaks directly to our heart, and I heard his voice clearly that day. The Christians had something better than I had. As I walked down the hill, I wanted to join their gang.”
Wade knew he had to leave, so he could attend the party GEDE had planned for him. He wasn’t leaving until he walked down the dirt floor to the altar in the roughly constructed shack without windows or air conditioning serving as a church. He found a seat near one of the two light bulbs illuminating the building. “Turn to John 14:6,” said the preacher. Wade opened the Bible his mother had given to him and read, “I am the way the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the father, but by me.” Another light flipped on dispelling the darkness, not in the dimly lit church, but the darkness in Wades mind. At the conclusion of the message, he ran to the altar and prayed Jesus would accept him into the Christian gang. He could hear his mother shouting and screaming for joy in the background.
That night, Wade lay on his cot quietly forgiving those who had hurt him. “As I forgave my Mom, my Dad, and anyone else I could think of, I
Wade returned to Tegucigalpa and walked into the hall that had been rented for his party. As he milled through the eighty-five members that were present he heard. “What happened to you?” He turned to see who was talking. “You look different,” someone else said. Wade didn’t understand what they meant. “Your face, there is something different about your face.” Then Wade realized they were seeing the new person he had become, and he was a lamb among wolves.
The president of the gang silenced the room and said to Wade, “Tonight is your night. Anything you want is yours. You say it. We do it.”
“I want to form a circle,” said Wade.
The crowd quickly formed a jagged circle and joined hands. “Are we going to fight each other?”
“No. As my last official act before I leave, I want us to pray.” The music stopped. Jaws dropped. Foreheads furrowed wondering if their ears had betrayed them. Some stared as though an alien from Mars had invaded their midst.
Wade swallowed; his mouth dry. He suddenly realized that he didn’t know how to pray but had to finish what he started. “Yesterday, I accepted Jesus as my savior, and I want to pray for you. Jesus, please do for them what you did for me. Amen.” Wade walked through the stunned crowd and out the door. He mounted his motorcycle and drove a few blocks up a hill where he stopped to see what would happen next. Leaving the gang was like leaving the Mafia. It’s not done without consequences. He watched the lights in the hall flip off one by one, as gang members exited and drove away.
Fear gripped Wade. He drove around the city, wondering when they would catch him. He finally pulled in front of his apartment. The lights were on and the vehicles of the gang’s leaders were parked nearby. Wade parked his bike and resigned himself to his fate.
As soon as Wade stepped into his apartment, one of the leaders said, “Are you really a Christian? Did you really do that?” The agitation in his voice increased Wade’s fear.
“Yes,” said Wade. “I love you guys, but I can’t live like this anymore.” Two of the leaders leaped to their feet, cursed, and left in anger. Four remained. Wade braced himself for the beating that was sure to follow.
One of the four gang leaders said, “We want to know Jesus too. We don’t know what happened to you, but we want what you have.”
Wade sighed with relief. “You just need to tell Jesus you want him in your life.” Wade and his friends talked late into the night. Before they left, he promised to bring them to church on Sunday.
Wade’s thoughts returned to the camp. Returning on a motorcycle without headlights would be dangerous. Thoughts about the camp
“Who is it?” a timid voice whispered.
“Wade? Wade!” An echo of “Wade is back” reverberated throughout the cabin as sleepy campers realized their prayer had been answered.
Wade stood at the locked door listening to the joy erupting within. He pounded on the door again. “Guys let me in.”
When someone realized the object of their joy was standing outside, he unlocked the door and Wade walked into a flood of love. They hugged him repeatedly and wept,” “We’ve been praying for you to come back.”
Wade remained at the camp the rest of the week. He wanted to follow Jesus but didn’t know how. His mother suggested he pray that God would guide him to a pastor who could disciple him. Wade prayed and felt drawn to Pastor Marco.
“I would love to disciple you,” said Pastor Marco, “but the discipleship course is a one year course. I am leaving for Costa Rica in a month.”
“I’m leaving for New Orleans in three weeks,” replied Wade.
“Do you have a job?”
“If you are willing to quit your job, I will pick you up at 4 a.m. Monday. I’m going to cram one year of discipleship into three weeks.” Wade agreed to the pastor’s terms.
Before the disciplining course began, Wade had a promise to keep. He returned home. Sunday morning, the gang leaders arrived with fifteen gang members. All of them wanted to attend church. “When we walked into the church,” said Wade, “the people parted like the Red Sea when Moses raised his staff. I thought they were being nice and giving us their seats.” Wade smiled. “They were afraid of us. At the end of the sermon, every gang member went to the altar to receive Christ. I told them they were in God’s family now and needed to find a pastor to disciple them like I did. I’ve kept in touch with them through the years and all of them are still committed Christians. Most became pastors.”
Pastor Marcos arrived at Wade’s apartment promptly at 4 a.m. For the next three weeks, Wade rarely left the pastor’s side. While the pastor visited his congregation members, Wade read the lessons and the Bible. As they traveled to the next home, the pastor questioned Wade about the material. When the church needed painting, Pastor Marcos leaned out the window and read the lessons to Wade as he painted. Most nights Wade stayed at the Pastors home because it was too late to bring him home. “I loved every minute of it,” said Wade. “He gave me the whole year in three weeks, and then baptized me in water.”
Wade arrived in New Orleans, Tuesday, January 6, 1984. He withdrew a slip of paper from his wallet and telephoned a man he had met at the youth camp. That evening, the man brought Wade to Canal Street Assembly of God. The pastor had recently started a Spanish Church; Wade loved the church.
“I found a job at a restaurant and began seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit. At the youth camp, we’d sit around campfires worshiping God. The leaders would pray for kids, and the kids would speak in tongues. I had tested their sincerity when I tried to recruit them, so I knew what they had was real, and I wanted it. The Spanish church at Canal Street also placed a heavy emphasis on receiving the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the power of God would fill the building, and we’d all end up on the floor, unable to stand in God’s presence.”
Three months later, Wade’s job schedule at the restaurant changed forcing him to work on Sundays. He was distraught, but needed the income the job provided. His shift ended at 4 p.m. and the Spanish service usually concluded at 4:30 p.m. Every Sunday Wade rushed to church on his motorcycle to spend the last ten minutes of the service at the altar praying for the Holy Spirit.
One Sunday, Wade rushed out of the restaurant and into a downpour. He was drenched when he reached the church, but didn’t care. He sloshed his way to the altar. Most of the congregation had already left. The pastor, deeply moved by Wade’s dedication, laid hands on Wade and prayed. “It was awesome,” said Wade. “The same fire that engulfed me at the youth camp engulfed me again. This time I spoke in tongues.”
Shortly after Wade received the baptism in the Spirit, he found a 9 to 5 job at Tulane University. Free to attend services again, the church became his life. Wade filled his evenings with Bible studies, street evangelism, visiting the sick, or working with the youth. Every Sunday, a young woman from Ecuador and her son Willie, sat in front of Wade at church.
Wade liked Shirley but had reservations about developing a serious relationship with a divorcee who had a child. One day, he expressed his concerns to a friend. “Ask the Lord to confirm that he has chosen Shirley to be your wife,” replied his friend.
Wade prayed for a sign so he would never doubt that God had chosen Shirley to be his wife. As he prayed, he heard God say, “This will be the sign. Before the end of the year, I will baptize Shirley in the Holy Spirit.”
“I thought the sign was perfect. No one but God can baptize us in his Spirit. I would not have to wait long, because the end of the year was seven days away. Of course, I tried to help God. The following Saturday night service, I encouraged Shirley to go to the altar and pray to receive the Holy Spirit. Nothing happened. After the Sunday afternoon service, I suggested she try again. Nothing, but we still had the mid-week service. She didn’t receive the Holy Spirit that night either. The following night, we had a home group meeting. At home group, we discuss the Bible and have refreshments, but no one is baptized in the Holy Spirit at those meetings. We had one more church service before the end of the year, and I thought surely she would speak in tongues then.”
Wade and Shirley sat in the circle at the home group meeting. The leader opened her Bible to begin the lesson. “The Lord is telling me I need to pray.” The leader shut her Bible and looked at Shirley. “The Lord says I need to pray for you.” The leader laid her hands on Shirley, and Shirley spoke in tongues. Wade could not contain himself. He wept and shouted for joy.
“I had told no one about the sign God gave me. After the home group, Shirley asked me why I had such a strong reaction when she spoke in tongues. I proposed, and we have been happily married for twenty-six years.”
Wade and Shirley had served the Spanish church for ten years, and felt their time there was finished, but didn’t know where to go. They went to an English speaking church, but Wade’s heart longed to minister to the Spanish people. He shared his burden with the pastor, who gave him use of a facility the church owned in Bridge City. His congregation had grown to fifteen, but they all lived in Kenner.
Wade moved his congregation to a facility above a Latino restaurant in Kenner and incorporated as an independent church. He quit his job at Tulane and started an airport shuttle service to give himself a flexible schedule. Several years later, the restaurant closed, and they could not find another affordable place to meet.
“I wondered if my ministry was over. Shirley and I attended the Spanish church at Victory Fellowship on Airline Highway while I sought the Lord for direction. One day, Pastor Bailey invited me to lunch and asked me to pastor the Spanish Church. The current Spanish pastor was a missionary and wanted to return to the mission field. I accepted the position and spent the next seven years on the staff of Victory Fellowship. It was a wonderful experience. Shirley and I learned a lot about big, strong ministries.”
The Spanish church grew to eighty members under Wade’s leadership. In 2005, his entire congregation fled to the Assemblies of God
“We restarted the Spanish church in a facility Victory Fellowship purchased on Broad Street with five people counting my family. Eventually, fifteen of the original eighty members returned. Most people who attended at the Broad Street facility were transitional people looking for work. The attendance fluctuated wildly. I knew we needed to be in Kenner, closer to the Hispanic community. Then I learned the gym owned by Inspire Church in Kenner was for sale. The site was perfect.”
Wade resigned his position at Victory Fellowship and moved his congregation to 211 Waldo Street on October 1, 2010. Three months later, they officially became Iglesia VIDA Assemblies of God and are in the process of purchasing the gym.
Wade and Shirley have been married for 27 years. they have been members of the Assemblies of God for 28 years. Wade was recently ordained with the Assemblies of God and currently serve as pastors of Vida AG church in Metairie. They have two son's William and Jonathan. In April 2011, William and his wife Jacqueline gave them their first grandson, Matthew Thomas Moody.
Teena L Myers is a freelance writer, editor of NOLA.com's Faith, Beliefs and Spirituality blog, contributor to Gatherings Magazine and credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God. She lives on the westbank of New Orleans and attends Hosanna Church with her husband who has ministered to children for thirty years. www.teenalmyers.com // email@example.com
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