October 28, 2020
Gang life, Communism, addiction, Islam, salvation—what an odd sequence of events! Odd, that is, in every hand but the Lord’s. For Michael Cassie, the order of events was more like the karate term “Kata,” a prescribed sequence of techniques performed with specific rhythm and timing. God used this sequence to show Michael his true heritage, his foundation for living, his life’s work, his opportunity for legacy, and his eternal destiny. This is Michael’s story:
Michael was born in 1949. He spent his fatherless childhood in The Bronx and his teenage years in Watts. “I was a product of the ghetto,” he says. “I learned a lot about gangs and drugs. I was on the streets the night Marquette Frye was arrested on Avalon Boulevard. I saw it all. The next day summer school ended and it was chaos.”
Michael is referring to what many call the Watts uprising, August 11–16, 1965, six days that resulted in 34 deaths and more than $40 million in property damages ($322 million in 2020 dollars).
What followed the riots was even more intense for Michael as an impressionable 16-year-old.
“Me and my boys was invited to a meeting. This group was telling us that the capitalist system was trying to keep us down. They says, ‘They’re not educating you down here. Who knows what a sentence is?’ And I says, ‘a group of words that expresses a thought.’ I was flunking English and they issue me a challenge to go home and memorize some rules and come back in a week.”
Michael was a quick study—quick that week with the English lesson and quick the following weeks as leaders with the United Front Against Imperialism asked him to memorize portions of the Communist Manifesto and other UFAI materials and to act on what he’d read. “I didn’t know it was all a setup,” Michael says. “They brainwashed me. They had me wearing a uniform and carrying a gun. They trained me how to hurt people. I had my own branch of the Communist Party in the hood.”
Put a bookmark here because this is a moment to recognize the hand of Providence.
“The Party told me I needed to get a job, to be less suspicious. General Motors hired me in 1969. I was getting a nice little paycheck with benefits, and I’m thinking, ‘maybe this Capitalist system isn’t so bad.’”
If the job was a step forward, though, Michael took two steps back when he fell in with a fellow GM employee who was dealing drugs. “I think, here’s a chance for me to make even more money.”
Again Michael was a quick study. While still working for GM, he sold first marijuana and then small amounts of cocaine, through which he graduated to work as a bodyguard for a major dealer and eventually to work as a volume dealer himself with his own bodyguard.
“But I was using, I was gambling, and I was miserable,” he says, noting that he also was in the process of losing his marriage to his first wife, with whom he had two children.
Bookmark again here as we start the Islamic chapter. Remember, God is turning Michael’s pages.
“I’ve distanced myself from the Communist party at this point but I meet this man who is big into karate. I’ve been doing karate for a while so this is interesting to me. This man’s smart. He’s a vegan. He’s a Muslim. And he tells me, ‘not a leaf falls from a tree unless it’s willed by Allah.’ So this man is a father figure, and he’s spiritual. He gives me a job teaching karate. And I think, ‘this will save me.’
“I get off all the drugs and now I’m going to temple, I’m learning Arabic. I‘m praying five times a day and studying the Koran.”
Big bookmark here. GM announces the California plant where Michael works is closing; his only transfer option is to Arlington, Texas.
“I don’t wanna go to Texas. I get high with my girlfriend. Cook up all this cocaine to make crack and do it all and I’m so messed up. But I got no choice but to go to Texas. I’m in a rental car on the way to the airport and this Kenny Loggins song is playing on the radio: ‘This is it. Make no mistake where you are. This is it. Your back's to the corner. …No way to hide. No time for wonderin' why. It's here, the moment is now, about to decide.’ I change the station and it’s playing on the other one. I change it again and it’s even playing on the white station.
“I stop the car in the middle of Compton Boulevard and I raise my hands and I say, ‘I don’t even know if there is a God anymore, but if there is, I need help.’ And I bet Jesus said, right in that moment: ‘There he is. We got him, Dad.’”
Indeed Michael was caught. In the weeks that followed, he met two Christian coworkers who were patient, persistent, and polite in their witness. He surrendered to Jesus Christ while alone in his Texas apartment: “I said, ‘Lord save me’ and He said, ‘It’s done.’ I said, ‘What I gotta do?’ and He said, ‘I’ve already done it. Jesus paid it all.’”
After that, no more bookmarks. Now that Michael knows his real Father, his story as a Christian becomes a fast-paced read with action-packed pages.
Michael was baptized in 1984 at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church and was blessed to receive a scholarship from then-pastor, Dr. Norman L. Robinson, to study at the Southern Bible Institute & College in Dallas where he attended lectures in person and electronically with some of the nation’s most beloved pastors: “My mentors in the faith were Adrian Rogers, John McArthur, Charles Stanley, Tony Evans and J. Vernon McGee. That’s who I learned from.”
While working and going to school, Michael also pursued missions work in Africa and prison ministry in Carrollton, TX. He preached to young inmates who, like him, had found themselves in trouble while searching for father figures. When GM transferred him to Ohio in 1996, Michael ministered to parents of inmates because he recognized the need for conversions in the culture, not just in the penitentiary.
In 2000, Michael moved with GM to Memphis, TN. He now serves on staff with Faith Baptist Church as prison ministry director for a program with 30 active volunteers, urban ministries coordinator, through which he manages church partnerships with like-minded community organizations, and instructor for a K.A.R.E. karate program that blends self-defense techniques with Christian discipline.
Michael and his wife, Timberly, have six living children between them and 11 grandchildren. Michael’s oldest son, Durrell, was killed in 1985 at age 15 in an elevator accident at a Los Angeles mall. “God saw me through that,” Michael says. “I was a brand new believer, but my son was a believer too. I’ll see him again.”
Michael is retirement age now but says he has no intention of slowing down.
“This is not my home,” he says of the world. “I’m an immigrant. When you’re at home, you’re chilling out in your house. You relax. When I was saved in 1984, I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna find out how the devil tricks people and I’m gonna help people fight back.’
“I can use the phrase from the song now, ‘This is it!’ This is no time to relax.”