Seventeen years of prison and a lifetime of hate, violence and racism is mapped on Steven Neill’s body. Druids, swastikas, skulls and symbols of the occult circle and mesh darkly up his arms and disappear into his shirt; the letters “skinhead” are tattooed across the knuckles of both fists. Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous phrase – “God is dead” – stands defiantly in black, inked into his wrist.
But God is very much alive to Neill, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, Texas, and his markings weave a visible testimony of a life transformed.
“These are the roadmap of my life-story,” he said unashamedly, running a rough hand up his arm. The tattoos are an easy way to share Jesus, just like Share Jesus Without Fear – the witnessing method that stopped Neill in his tracks and led to his salvation.
The hate and resentment came at a young age for Neill, festered in a broken, abusive home and reinforced in Houston’s dangerous 4th Ward district. After a violent conflict with Hispanic gangs, a 13-year-old Neill found brotherhood with a group of American neo-Nazis. The abuse and neglect crystallized into hate as Neill studied the teachings of radical supremacists.
“We were extremely violent and militant,” he said. “We wanted to wage the racial holy war that Nietzsche spoke about.” Needing paramilitary training to advance in leadership, Neill joined the Army. The white supremacist attachments weakened in the discipline of the military until another altercation changed Neill’s life forever.
The fight started as an argument, but “I stabbed him,” Neill said. “Punctured a lung, severed the small intestine. He died four hours later. Aggravated murder with a deadly weapon gave me a 40-year sentence.”
Going to prison catapulted Neill back into his past. “It was a fight for survival,” he said. “I fully embraced my past and became violently racist.”
Following the teachings of Nietzsche, who blamed Christianity and Christians as the cause of all ills, “I was going to do anything I could do to eradicate Christianity,” Neill said. “In prison, society is organized into predators and prey. I was a predator. I could sense without a doubt who was prey.”
Neill said religious lines in prison were also obvious. Groups would organize based upon what particular ministries had come in and won converts. Converts were weak prey-types, he said. Some would become embolden and share their faith, an exercise Neill relished.
“If I couldn’t verbally convince them their faith was wrong, I’d beat them up,” he said. “But I didn’t have to do that very much because I knew every bit of anti-Christian philosophy – and I enjoyed a good argument – so I would utterly crush them.”
Against his will, Neill was signed up to attend a prison ministry weekend. With his attendance now mandatory, Neill decided to be as offensive as possible.
“I’m rude, belligerent and I go off on how hypocritical everyone is at this thing,” Neill said. “I cussed everyone out and stormed off the stage. Then this guy jumps up into the aisle and jabs a finger in my chest.”
Up until that moment, Paul Harris had begrudgingly endured the prison outreach. His pastor made him come to the prison. Harris had only recently recommitted his life to God after years of charting his own course. But sitting in the prison yard listening to man after man speak about how much they loved God, feelings of condemnation and hypocrisy overwhelmed him.
“And all of a sudden I’m hearing this guy on stage calling us all hypocrites, and I’m agreeing with him,” Harris said. “As he’s stomping out, I jump out of my seat and stick my finger right in his chest and say, ‘You’re the reason I’m here!’
“As a former atheist, I had dabbled in everything he’d been in,” Harris said. “We locked horns that first night. We were both determined to win.”
Neill said he knew he was in a place of heavy discontent. “I came in unhappy, knowing I needed to change. But I went in with a combative attitude and Paul met me on that ground.
“It was intense,” Neill grinned. “Everything he threw at me I had an argument for.”
After an entire day of arguing, Randy Wilson, Harris’ pastor, stepped in and changed the game plan. “I hadn’t read all those books,” Wilson said. “Steven and Paul are both so intelligent. They sat there arguing and contradicting each other with humanistic philosophy. I told Paul it was time to present the Word.”
Wilson is a longtime fan of Share Jesus Without Fear, produced by LifeWay Christian Resources. The resource offers three simple steps for sharing the Gospel: Five questions to determine where God is working, seven verses to let the Bible speak for itself – which the unbeliever reads for himself – and five questions that lead to the point of discussion.
“What’s so appealing is that it’s not about memorizing a thousand verses and quoting them all,” said Wilson, pastor of Carey Baptist Church, located outside Childress, Texas. “It’s easy. You ask five simples questions; the last is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
“Steven Neill could argue all day against [the Bible], but he’d never read it,” Wilson said. “And so we walked him through this simple process – with him reading the Scripture for himself. At the end, it’s a simple question: according to what you’ve read, are you a sinner? Steven wouldn’t answer.”
That night back in lockdown, Neill said his life came into view. “I saw my life as it really was. But I saw everything as God would see it. I saw that I had gloried in active rebellion against God.
“There was no relief that night,” he said. “There was no hope. If I was prone to suicide, I would’ve done it that night.”
Neill said he walked back into the meeting the next morning a broken man. Harris and Wilson could only stare at what was a literal physical transformation. “The darkness was dropping from his face,” Wilson said.
“Randy pulled out his Share Jesus Without Fear Bible and had me read the Scriptures,” Neill said. “By the end, I was bawling like a baby.”
“We didn’t lead Steven to the Lord. We just witnessed to him,” Harris said. “That’s what is so good about Share Jesus Without Fear. When I first used it, it triggered something in me – it wasn’t about me or what I knew anymore. It was up to the Lord, His Word and the Holy Spirit.”
Neill knows it was the Holy Spirit that opened his eyes that day, but “I think the [SJWF] method is the only way I would’ve gotten there,” he said. “Instead of arguing, I was sitting there reading the Scripture. I’m honest enough with myself to reach for the truth.”
Unable to counter the Truth, Neill gave his life to Christ and immediately began a journey of growth. After beginning a Bible study with two other prisoners, the group grew to 26 as lives change and people began to come to Neill for spiritual matters.
“God wanted something more from me than just going to church,” he said. “He was calling me to something bigger. I was studying Scripture 14-16 hours a day and some amazing things happened. I would dream Scripture passages rolling through my head. I would wake up refreshed, often praying even as I woke up.”
Neill earned a Diploma of Pastoral Ministry through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension program and a Diploma in Biblical Studies through Amherst College. After 17 years in prison, Neill was paroled, and he immediately submitted himself to further discipleship under Wilson. A short time later, Neill was ordained into the ministry.
“I want to see this church walk in freedom,” he said, speaking of Northside Baptist, the small West Texas congregation that accepted him with open arms. “I want them to know they can walk with the vilest of sinners because they have in them He who is stronger than the world. Then, lives will change.”
On June 29, Neill, along with Wilson, ordained Harris as associate pastor of Northside to serve alongside the former prisoner he introduced to the Lord. The foundation of the two men’s ministry is grounded in their mandate to share Jesus with boldness and confidence.
“Bill Fay (the writer of SJWF) truly had a great vision,” Harris said. “I believe it’s probably the best way for witnessing. And Share Jesus Without Fear has affected the mindset of our entire church. I believe it’s going to be a catalyst as we look outward.
“The radical power of God to transform lives is what amazes me,” Harris added. “Jesus was a radical man. And that’s why I love to share the Gospel.”
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