Houston jailhouse conversion propels missionary to Kenya
ATLANTA (BP)--His teenage years were filled with drugs, drug dealing, alcohol, expulsion from college and jail -- activities not usually associated with a missionary.
Yet today Troy Haas is a symbol of the new breed of young missionaries willing to go anywhere and present the gospel in whatever way it takes.
"I ought to be dead or in prison somewhere in Texas, but instead here I am living halfway around the world [in Kenya], sharing Christ with people who have never had a chance to hear about him," said Haas, after speaking June 14 to the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Atlanta.
His sermon to the pastors focused on the ministry he and his wife, Melissa, have with the Turkana people in northern Kenya. In a subsequent interview, he talked about the incredible contrast between the drug dealer he once was and the highly respected missionary he is today.
But the greatest irony about Haas' life may be how he came to hear of Jesus Christ for the first time. A Nigerian Christian studying in the United States shared Christ with him on their college campus, marking the first time anyone had ever told young Haas about Jesus.
"God sent someone from Africa to witness to me about Christ, and then he sent me to Africa to witness to Africans about what Christ can do for them," Haas said.
Adding to the irony in Haas' story is the fact that an African American criminal judge in Texas had to suspend Anglo Haas' probation for drugs in order for the International Mission Board to be able to appoint him in 1993 as a missionary to Kenya.
Haas' sermon to the Pastors' Conference began with more contrasts. Melissa, who is pregnant, chose to remain in their tent-home in northern Kenya, cooking on an open campfire while Haas flew to the United States and stayed in an Atlanta hotel to preach at the conference. Noting the contrast of their living arrangements and meals, he called Melissa "a missionary who is truly making a difference."
The Haases, along with their 2-year-old daughter, live in the tent alongside the Turkana people six days a week, then stay in a rented house in a nearby town one night a week where they bathe, wash their clothes and "eat Mexican food," said Haas. They herd 75 goats as part of their efforts to identify with the Turkana people they are trying to reach.
Troy Haas' remarkable story began 32 years ago when he was born and then adopted into a home with "great parents. We were not a dysfunctional family; we just didn't have a Christ-centered home."
By sixth grade, Haas said he was dabbling in cigarettes and alcohol. He soon graduated to marijuana and hard drugs such as LSD. Eventually he became a drug dealer.
An arrest at age 17 for driving under the influence netted him a conviction and sentence of five years on probation. The judge in the case threatened to send him to prison for a very long time if Haas ever appeared in his courtroom again on similar charges.
About that time he quit high school, went back, got kicked out and continued to do poorly in school. Ironically, his SAT college entrance scores were high, though his grade point average was low. Those SAT scores allowed him to enroll for one semester at Texas A&M University, where the Nigerian Christian exchange student met and continued to witness to him over a period of several weeks.
After expulsion from Texas A&M for poor grades, Haas enrolled at San Jacinto Junior College Houston. While there, he drove to the Texas hill country for a "big drug buy." After the purchase, he decided to take some of the LSD and "had a bad trip. In my mind, my skin was falling off my body and all kinds of weird things were happening."
He was driving his car at the time and only remembers being surrounded by what seemed like "50 police cars."
He was released from the San Marcos jail by mistake when the police failed to discover his earlier conviction and probation sentence, which was still in effect. Eventually he was arrested again and taken to Houston for violating his probation, thus setting the stage for his encounter with God in the Harris County jail.
In the jail, another inmate "began to share Jesus Christ with me," Haas said. He obtained a copy of Chuck Colson's book, "Born Again," and started to read it.
On the night of Dec. 10, 1986, Haas said he awoke in the Harris County jail and realized "I had nothing unless I gave my life to Jesus Christ." Then he prayed, "God, I don't know you, but from what I know about you, you are my only hope."
A few days later, a church group held a worship service at the jail, and as group members sang "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound," Haas said he realized that whatever else happened in his life, his security in Christ was complete.
What happened next seemed like a miracle to Haas. The judge who had threatened to put him in prison for a long, long time retired, and the new judge suddenly decided to give him one more chance, though he set some stiff probation guidelines on Haas.
Suddenly free, Haas soon visited Sagemont Baptist Church on Houston's south side, where he found the Christian fellowship he was craving. He also got a job working at the Baptist bookstore in Houston's Almeda Mall, where he found new friends eager to help disciple him.
His thirst for God intensified, and as he studied the Bible further he felt called to preach. Again, another amazing turn occurred. A member of Sagemont was a trustee at East Texas Baptist University and was able to help Haas get a third chance at attending college.
It was there he met Melissa Brown, whom he says came "from the exact opposite background as me." After they fell in love, they both felt called to international missions. A mission trip to Kenya in 1990 helped point to the specific location where God was calling.
Along the way, Troy's father accepted Christ, and Troy baptized him at Sagemont Church. His mother, who had made a profession of faith as a young person, became active in the church.
After graduating from ETBU and completing his studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, one major problem remained. He was still on probation. Each week during college and seminary he had been required to meet with his probation officer. It had required special permission from the judge for him to leave Houston to attend college and seminary. But he could not serve as a missionary overseas while on probation.
During his last semester at Southwestern, Haas appeared in the criminal court in Harris County and asked to be released from his probation so he could follow God's calling to serve in Kenya.
After the judge said "yes," Haas said he had just one more request. Could the judge help him understand why earlier he had released him on probation instead of sentencing him to prison?
Haas said the words still ring in his ears: "I'm a Christian, and I pray every day over my docket. On that day, God gave me a clear word to let you go."
And go Melissa and Troy Haas did. By the end of 1993 they were in Kenya ready to begin their ministry among the Turkana people.
Today, more than 1,000 Turkana have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Haas told the Pastors' Conference. "We've got almost 200 people coming every week to study the Bible.
"God's power is there to change people's lives," Haas said. "The power of God to change lives [there] started with me, because he did it in my own life."
Like so many people groups scattered throughout the world, the Turkana "are not resistant to the gospel," Haas said. "They are only unreached because no one has taken the gospel to them before.”
At the conclusion of his sermon, Haas urged the pastors attending to help lead the Southern Baptist Convention to a deeper financial commitment to reaching all peoples worldwide.