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Gateway graduate’s journey from prison to pastorate

Kelvin Aikens (right), pastor of the South Campus of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, shares his testimony in a chapel service at Gateway Seminary. Jeff Iorg (left) is Gateway president and also a member of Aikens' church.

ONTARIO (Calif.) – For Gateway Seminary graduate Kelvin Aikens, the journey to becoming a pastor involved running an elaborate drug operation, serving two separate multi-year prison sentences and receiving God’s overwhelming grace.

A 2016 graduate of Gateway with a Doctor of Ministry degree, Aikens is now the pastor of the South Campus of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Ontario, Calif. He shared much of his story during a recent chapel service at Gateway.

His miraculous journey includes turning to Christ in prison and eventually surrendering to a call to ministry many years later.

Before his first prison sentence, Aikens was involved with an operation in the ‘70s and ‘80s that produced and distributed illegal drugs, including PCP. There was so much money involved with the operation that Aikens said he began burying money in his mother’s backyard because he “didn’t know what to do with it.”

Aikens was eventually caught, arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. Upon his release, his plan was to continue to sell drugs under a lower profile while helping his wife in her real estate career.

Eventually, both Aikens and his younger brother were found out and arrested on drug-related charges. This time, he received an eight-year sentence.

Before moving to different permanent prison locations, Aikens and his younger brother stayed in the same local county jail.

The first day of their time in prison, Aikens describes the scene of his brother lying on the floor crying and repenting to God. His brother had become a Christian during his first prison sentence, but had severely backslidden after his release and once again went the wrong direction in life.

“Initially I was shocked because I’d never seen him like this,” Aikens told Baptist Press.

“Eventually I found myself on the floor with him, and I accepted Christ right in that moment. I was telling people in prison I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I had a peace above peace and a joy above joy.”

The two brothers spent their few months in the county jail reading and studying the Bible for eight to 10 hours a day.

Even the guards noticed the peace within the two, and would move the brothers around to other cells that were causing trouble in the jail.

“Before you know it everybody in the cell was studying the Bible with us,” Aikens said. “They moved us at least three times, and for those months that was one of the richest times for us.

“When I read the Bible before it was like a book, but when I would read the Bible after accepting Christ during my second time in prison, it was like the Holy Spirit had opened up my heart to receive what the Word had. During that time God really healed me up.”

After his release from his second stint in prison, Aikens encountered what he referred to as his most difficult time period. He had trouble finding a job because he lacked real work experience. A church friend helped him find a job as a contract worker at a hospital.

Aikens worked hard in various jobs and began going to school. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree and got a better job. He received nine promotions over the next 10 years.

“I was simply trying to work unto the Lord as the Scriptures say, and the Lord was just opening doors,” Aikens said. “It was less of a drive but really who I had become as a person. God has done so much for me that I could never repay Him, but my drive was to try to please Him.”

After years of this hard-working attitude, Aikens said he experienced a change of heart fueling his desire to pursue a call to ministry.

“I came to realize that my desire had changed, and advancing in my current work wasn’t as important to me,” he said.

Over the course of eight years, from 2010-2018, he consistently applied for pastoral positions while finishing his education at Gateway and attending Mt. Zion, which he joined in 2010. He joined Mt. Zion with the intention of serving there a short time until he found pastoral work at another church.

But after years of searching turned up nothing for Aikens, Mt. Zion approached him about pastoring a church plant. Aikens retired from his job and became pastor of Mt. Zion’s South Campus in 2018.

“I share with many different people how much of a blessing Gateway was to me,” Aikens said. “The work at Gateway was meaningful and based on things you are going to use in ministry. It was a blessing to me, and I’ve tried to get as many to attend as I can.”

Aikens is now the pastor of Gateway President Jeff Iorg and his wife, who are part of the Mt. Zion South Campus congregation. Iorg said he was glad for Aikens to share his story in chapel.

“Kelvin is a dramatic redemption and restoration story,” Iorg said. “He has progressed from prison to executive leadership to pastoral ministry, and his maturity and humility further demonstrate the authenticity of his restoration. His personal example is both an inspiration and an example of sanctification over a lifetime.”

Aikens emphasized to Baptist Press that one of the focal points of his ministry has become making sure his congregation has a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

“When I accepted Christ I was serious, and I knew my old life of crime was over and it was going to be different,” Aikens said. “I believe one of Satan’s greatest weapons is to have you believe that you’re saved but you’re not. If you believe you’re saved, you don’t need a Savior.

“For anyone who may be struggling in any way, I would advise you to truly resolve in your heart what you are going to do different, and then pray and ask God to help you find a church to not just attend but be involved with.”