Caring for Others Can Change Lives: How One Young Man Was Freed from a Life in Gangs

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington and Mike Ritter

We tend to underestimate the power of kindness. A kind word or deed can make all the difference in someone's life. Showing others we care can help them feel good about themselves, lift them out of depressing situations, and even change their lives. Some people are just starving for love, even simple attention. We don't always know what goes on in others' lives. But why miss an opportunity to "love" our "neighbor," as Jesus taught us to do?

Such caring changed Mike Ritter's life. He was raised in a love-less home. As a young teenager, he was in a gang. He didn't have high expectations for himself or for his career. But he ended up as a lawyer, then as the president of a large cable company. When it was sold, he was financially blessed. I asked Mike about the appeal of the gang and how he was freed from its grip. The following is his story.


The gang became a surrogate family for me.

My biological father left when I was 7. He was abusive, so it was a good thing he left. My mom had a revolving door to her bedroom and remarried three times. She was always screaming at me. It was lousy. There was no family experience that resembled anything loving or supportive.

I didn't belong at home. I didn't belong at school. I didn't do well in school, and I didn't play sports. I was kicked out of high school and required to go to a trade school.

The group of guys who took me in was better than what I had. They treated me as an equal. What was important to them was going out and having a good time, being tough, or getting into a fight. I was tough and rebellious. Being in the gang was a way to play out that rebellion and to be part of a group where I felt I belonged. The gang essentially became my family. It was where I was accepted.

And then I had a motorcycle accident, which changed my whole environment. It left me bedridden for two years. My circle of friends dropped away because I couldn't hang out and was no fun anymore. And I no longer felt a pull toward them.

Where a void could have been, completely unexpectedly there was care and compassion. Two home teachers came to my house for an hour each day just to teach me. They were so caring and loving. They focused on my welfare. I'd never experienced that before. I felt genuine support for the first time in my life.

I became engaged in learning, reading, and discussing ideas. That was really eye-opening. These teachers helped change my interest level and raise my consciousness about the world and myself. I never looked back. While recovering from the accident, I also met my future wife. She knew there was more to my potential than even I could see. Their care for me and their vision of me transformed my life. I went to college, practiced law, and ended up as the President of a large cable company.

There's an interesting by-product of this transformation. When my own girls were eight and twelve, I decided I would look for my biological father. I found him in Joplin, MO, and I called him. He denied he had a son named Mike and then finally admitted it. After I visited him, I became very grateful that he left me at an early age. The negative influences of my early life had vanished. My true Father/Mother was always with me.

After a very successful career, I looked back at where I came from. Why hadn't I gone to prison or been killed in a gang fight, like others in my gang had been? It is clear to me that just two or three people believing in me and caring about me made a big difference. They saw beyond the outward appearance and situation, which have nothing to do with true potential. Our true Father/Mother is a caring God, who provided for my needs back then and continues to meet all our needs.