Destiny Church welcomes patched gang members to Auckland service
Destiny Church threw its doors open to patched gang members over the weekend, as controversial Bishop Brian Tamaki went on a mission to "advance the kingdom".
At least one gang member renounced their life of crime following the service.
The show was performed on Saturday and Sunday nights by Destiny church members who had previously been associated with gangs.
They described in graphic detail how their lives had involved horrors such as rape, murder, and drugs before they found religion through Destiny.
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Gang members are usually discouraged from attending Destiny while wearing their patches, but church leaders decided to make an exception for those who were interested in hearing the Easter message.
A Facebook page for the event warned "parental guidance required" for children.
Veteran Maori activist Titewhai Harawira was among those who attended the production.
Harawira is the mother of firebrand Mana Party leader and former MP Hone Harawira, who has turned up to Destiny services himself in the past.
lovely having Titewhai Harawira join us last night. A lady passionate 4 our people. Thk u Jevan 4 bringing her along. With B myself & Hannah pic.twitter.com/S0MM8nj2NG— Hannah Tamaki (@hrhtamaki) April 16, 2017
Destiny founder Brian Tamaki wrote on Twitter he was on a mission to "advance the kingdom and build the church".
If you're gonna be around me..you better be ready..im on a mission to advance the kingdom nd build th church..see you 10am @ Destiny Church— Bishop Brian Tamaki (@BishopTamaki) April 15, 2017
His wife Hannah Tamaki tweeted that religion had helped gang members turn pain to gain, and refrain from evil.
"No matter what gang they came from, they now have a new president, Jesus Christ," she said.
More than 150 people streamed forward following the production to receive blessings from Brian Tamaki.
Destiny's Man Up programme has made gang outreach a central part of its work in south Auckland.
In March, former gang member Billy Baggs described how Man Up had helped him turn his life around.
"My father was a founding member of the Tribesmen motorcycle club, and in 2000 he became the national president," he said.
"I joined my first street gang at the age of 12, and started going to prison when I was 15, and I've been in and out of prison for the past 21 years.
"I've been stuck in the cycle of drugs, violence, crimes and gangs and a lot of the time I haven't been there for my children or my partner."
Baggs admitted he initially agreed to take part in the programme because he thought it could be used to help shorten his sentence.
"I didn't have any good intentions at first," he said.
But he had a change of heart after being impressed with the wraparound support Destiny offered his family while he was stuck behind bars.
"That was a real eye-opener for me," he said. "None of the other groups I've hung around with all my life have ever done anything like that."
Man Up made headlines recently when it emerged that private prison operator Serco had banned the programme from its prison at Wiri in south Auckland.
Caine Warren, national director for Man Up, was turned away from the prison when he arrived for a routine visit.
Warren is the son-in-law of Brian and Hannah Tamaki; he is married to their daughter Jamie.
Prison director Mike Inglis agreed to meet with Warren and Tamaki following public outcry over the decision.
It's not yet clear whether Man Up will be allowed back into the prison.