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From Hellion to Healer

A former thug ministers to Vancouver's ex-cons.

In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis observed, "Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer [to repenting] than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already." Rob McGrath concurs.

From Hellion to Healer
Rob and Kamlesh McGrath

The former armed robber who ran drugs for biker gangs, and eventually became one of Canada's ten most wanted men, is now working on the streets for a different cause. He is the director of House of the Good Shepherd in Vancouver and spends his days ministering to ex-cons, drug addicts and the poor. As he puts it, "I'm a living testimony of what Jesus Christ can do for a dirty dog."

Just returned from Delhi, where he and his Indo-Canadian wife Kamlesh operate a street mission, the 40-year-old Mr. McGrath exudes a cheerful demeanour that belies his self-described scumbag past. A native of Peterborough, ON, he was led into crime by his older brothers. He was using drugs by age 11, and by the time he was 15 he carried the baseball bat used by his brother to club a man to death. He also kicked a man in the face, putting him in a coma for six weeks.

Mr. McGrath recalls that his heroes were bikers and thugs. When he was 16, a crown counsel described him as an habitual criminal who would never be rehabilitated. The prophecy appeared true. Imprisoned for three years on assault charges at age 17, he promptly joined an armed robbery ring after his release, and also worked as a bodyguard for a chemist who made illegal drugs for distribution by biker gangs. At 22 he was arrested for armed robbery, and after escaping police custody, became one of Canada's ten most wanted. He turned himself in, hoping to receive lighter treatment. Instead, we was sentenced to ten years at Millhaven Penitentiary in Ontario.

While in prison, Mr. McGrath read the satanic bible and dabbled in Mormonism. But not until 1987, when he bought a King James Bible for two cartons of cigarettes, did he feel he had found the object of his spiritual quest. He read the Bible for up to ten hours a day, eventually converting to Christianity.

Upon his release in 1989, Mr. McGrath traveled west in search of a new life. He set up an autobody shop in Winnipeg, and joined a church where he met his future wife. In 1991 the couple moved to Vancouver. In addition to his street outreach in Delhi, Mr. McGrath runs a prison ministry, and serves as pastor of Union Gospel Mission in New Westminster. His fourth ministry, the House of the Good Shepherd, consists of three Christian safe houses for men who have abandoned street life and become Christians. "We disciple them, give them life-training skills and career help," he says.

The tradition of criminals converting to Christianity dates back to a member of a violent Jewish sect, Simon the Zealot, who became one of Jesus Christ's 12 apostles. The apostle Matthew was a tax-collector, a uniformly fraudulent profession in that day, and St. Paul was, by his own testimony, a murderer of Christians prior to becoming one himself.

Still, St. Paul waited more than ten years after his conversion before entering Christian leadership, whereas many Evangelical churches are plagued by celebrity converts who fall out of the church as fast as they fall in. Mr. McGrath says there are undoubtedly many wolves in sheep's clothing. But, quoting Christ, he says a tree is known by its fruits. "I had exhausted all secular solutions to my criminal problems," he confesses. "But there is such a thing as the power of God to change lives. If you're genuinely saved, there will be consistent signs in your life."

Originally published in on the website, House of the Good Shepherd Ministries, March 23, 1998.




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