From The Street To The Ministry,
Former Drug Dealer Hears The Call
By FRANCES GRANDY TAYLOR, Courant Staff Writer
October 24, 2005
The eight soon-to-be ordained ministers entered the sanctuary of Mount Olive Church in Hartford Sunday evening, dressed in long-sleeved white robes, as the praise team sang in a voice that rocked the church.
Aaron "Pop" Lewis, wearing dark glasses and carrying a long white cane, arrived at the end of the line. His wife, Caroland, gently guided him by the arm to his seat, and then sat in the pew behind him. The stirring words of the praise team's song could have been written about Lewis.
"They said I'd never make it, or amount to anything, but here I am, growing each day."
Once a drug dealer, Lewis has operated a nonprofit program for at-risk youth called Each One Teach One for almost five years. In an attempt to reach out to young people in danger of making the same mistakes he made, he returns to many of the same juvenile facilities and group homes where he spent his youth.
As a youngster Lewis was suspended from three elementary schools for being disruptive. At Weaver High School, he sold marijuana and cocaine. His mother, a schoolteacher, and father, a convenience store manager, were divorced. Neither was able to draw Lewis from the lure of the street life.
"The streets were a choice I made - there was no peer pressure," Lewis, 37, said in a recent conversation. "But that kind of life, it seemed glamorized to me. I made a decision to do that."
He was living the life of a drug dealer in Atlanta when, in 1997, Lewis was confronted by two men who shot and robbed him. One fired a bullet into Lewis' brain.
"They left me for dead," Lewis said.
Lewis was in a coma and not expected to survive. He underwent three brain surgeries, and doctors did not think he would recover enough to ever function on his own. The bullet that entered his temple obliterated his sight in both eyes.
His mother, Gracie Lewis, flew down from Hartford to be at his bedside, and prayed with several people surrounding his bed. To describe what happened next, Lewis refers to the Book of Luke, chapter 7, verse 11, which he recites verbatim.
"As Jesus approached the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, who was crying. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her. And Jesus said, 'Young man, I say to you, get up.' And the dead man got up and began speaking, and Jesus gave him back to his mother."
His mother was a devout member of Mount Olive, but Lewis recalled that he never attended church. He believes her faith interceded for him. Once back in Hartford, he began attending church.
One day, Lewis surprised Bishop James Fenner, Mount Olive's pastor, by telling him that he believed he had been called to the ministry. Fenner helped Lewis apply to a seminary. Lewis began his studies at the International School of Ministry, located at First Cathedral in Bloomfield.
He spent hours listening to the Bible on tape and memorizing scripture.
Paul Copes, director of the seminary, said he remembers Lewis as a troubled fourth-grader at Annie Fisher School in Hartford. He notes that Lewis is the first blind student to graduate from the seminary.
"He had a difficult childhood and to see his turnaround is completely amazing," Copes said. "It shows what God can do when you turn your life over to him."
Lewis' amazing recall of verses "is not just memorization. He has studied the Scriptures," said Rosa Fenner, wife of the bishop, who helped Lewis find taped Scriptures to study. "I couldn't be more proud."
Fenner said Lewis was an eager student. He had been there four years, and his grades have been excellent.
"When I write a book about my life in ministry, Aaron will be a significant part of it," the bishop said. "He has inspired me a great deal, a living example that it is possible to do things you never thought you could do.
He's a shining star."
In his ministry, Lewis' past life is no secret, and he uses the lessons he's learned.
"I walk by faith, and not by sight," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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