This week we had a special guest speaker who shared his testimony with us from a very unique point of view. We have heard messages from those with a background of drugs, gangs, and alcoholism, but today's speaker represents the East Coast's baddest of the bad: Mike Franzese was involved in the mafia.
There are nine families of organized crime in America and five are in New York. Mike's father, Sonny, was the head of the Colombo family. As Mike was growing up, his family was constantly surrounded by cops and federal agents. There were always cars parked outside their home to follow and watch them wherever they went.
There are nine families of organized crime in America and five are in New York. Mike's father, Sonny, was the head of the Colombo family.
Mike was surrounded by conflict and reminders of violence. Even when the family stopped for a bite to eat, agents would be eating in the same restaurant. Sometimes his father, angered by the agents' comments, would pull a gun, leaving Mike and his brothers to intervene and calm the situation down. This led to Mike's hatred of law enforcement.
Sonny didn't want Mike to get involved in the mob. He described the nature of the lifestyle: he would be on call to do whatever he was told, whenever he was told to do it - no exceptions. But Mike didn't listen. After Sonny went to prison, Mike took after his father and joined the family business.
Mike did as the mafia instructed him for a long time. He had moved up in the ranks and was being groomed to take over the family. At 22, he received his "promotion" and was told that he was now "born again" into the mob. Naturally, Mike was involved in various criminal activities. He was brought up on charges five different times, but was able to beat the rap even though he wasn't innocent. Along the way, Mike made money to burn and lived the high life with homes in New York, Florida, and California.
Then the opportunity came for Mike to produce a movie. During the production period, he noticed a woman coming out of the pool of the hotel were the crew was staying (think of Bo Derek in 10). He felt he had to meet her, so he began to talk to her and eventually they set up a lunch date. But she didn't show. Later, he saw her again and set up another lunch date. She was very polite and said she would be there, but again she didn't show. This happened three more times. Meanwhile, Mike was noticing that instead of going to the clubs with crew after work, she would go to her room. Mike finally asked her about it and discovered that she was a Christian, truly "walking the walk."
Eventually, they fell in love and became engaged, but she didn't want any part of Mike's lifestyle. When they met with the pastor that was to marry them, Mike felt the burden of things he had done, and began ask questions about forgiveness. The pastor explained to him that Jesus died for all our sins, no matter the size. Even the apostle Paul had a shady past, being a persecutor and killer of Christians before his own salvation, but God had forgiven Paul and transformed his life into a radical ministry.
Mike knew that religion was considered a weakness by the mafia (even though they were all Catholics in name); he could be killed simply for becoming a Christian and having a priority higher than the mob. He wanted out, but he also knew that leaving the mafia only happened in two ways: in witness protection (like his brother) or in death.
Even the apostle Paul had a shady past, being a persecutor and killer of Christians before his own salvation, but God had forgiven Paul and transformed his life into a radical ministry.
But Mike had a plan. He was being charged with another crime, so he planned to plead guilty, serve some time, and then move to California with his wife-to-be and escape it all.
This wasn't God's plan, however. He did go to prison, served some time and was released, but the FBI was pressuring him to work with them and he didn't want to do it. It was bad enough that he had disgraced his father, who had disowned him.
Mike couldn't get work (nobody wanted to hire him), he couldn't support his wife, and there were still people trying to kill him. Several times, Mike found out that contracts had been taken out on him, so he and his wife would have to move quickly. In order to earn a living, Mike slipped back and broke his parole, landing him back in prison and leaving his wife with nothing. Mike felt that nothing could change his situation. While Mike was in prison again, drowning in hopelessness, a guard gave him a Bible and he began to read. Proverbs 16:7 is what he found: When a man's ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Mike began to believe, and his life, which had seemed hopeless, began to change.
More of Mike's incredible story is available by listening to this online message or by reading his book, Blood Covenant.
Mike is asking everyone to pray for his dad, Sonny. Now 91, he is the oldest mob boss to date, but he isn't living the high life. He needs to know Jesus, just as we all do. And as Mike said, if a former crime boss can accept Jesus into his heart and be saved, why not you?