Hurting Himself to Hurt God
“Because my father worked for Delta, it was nothing for us just to hop on a plane, fly to Hawaii, Bermuda, the Bahamas. We were like the Cosby family. People always referred to us as, you know, that quintessential perfect family,” says Yannik.
Yannik grew up in a loving home with all the luxuries his father, an airline executive, could afford. Though not religious, his parents sent him to a Christian school where he heard the gospel for the first time. “I remember going home that night, getting into my room and kneeling at the side of my bed and telling Jesus that I wanted a relationship with Him,” he says. “At 6 years old I received Jesus Christ into my life.”
Yannik continued to flourish, taking frequent trips with his family. But then his parents started going away on their own for weekends. Yannik was 11 when his father sat him and his sister down and explained the trips were to hospitals for experimental medical treatments. “When he told us that he had HIV, I didn’t know what that was, but I certainly knew what ‘no cure’ meant. It meant no more fancy trips. It meant no more fun and games. And it eventually it would mean no more mom and dad. I can’t really tell you how long I cried at that moment, but it was awhile.”
Yannik’s father admitted to an affair with a woman, but a short time later his mother told him the truth. My mom looked at me and said, ‘Yannik, it wasn’t a woman. Your father is gay.’ I really didn’t grasp what was happening. My father wasn’t the man I thought he was--because if he contracted a disease that they didn’t have a cure for, and then gave it to my mom, my father was going to be guilty of murder. “
Although he was angry at his father, Yannik also blamed God. “In my mind It was God’s fault. I believed that God was in control. So you’re going to allow my dad to contract a deadly disease and then give it to an innocent person?! I was hot. “
When Yannik was 13, his father died of AIDS. “I remember my father dying, but me feeling like that was a consequence of his choice. And so why should I feel sorry when he’s getting what he deserves?”
Yannik’s mother died of AIDS two years later. “I loved mom. I was a mother’s boy, and I felt like she was innocent. And she died a slow death. And that ate at me, because, if you had seen my mother, she was healthy, young, brilliant. But AIDS ate away at her.”
He and his sister were adopted by family friends. Devastated by the loss of his parents, Yannik started using drugs. “It started with the wrong crowd,” he says. “Hurting people attract hurt people. I began to hang around other teenagers with problems. People who didn’t have strong father figures. Young men who liked to do drugs and hang out and party, and that’s what we did.”
Yannik soon began selling drugs and when he went away to college, he discovered he could make a bigger profit buying guns and selling them illegally. He and a friend started running guns to drug dealers in New York City.
“I knew that I was wrong. I knew God was real. And I would hurt myself to hurt Him. It was almost like I trying to get His attention someway somehow, to get Him to pay attention to me, to see if He cared, because I didn’t know if He did.”
Yannik continued running guns for the next few years, but the guilt he felt for having put hundreds of them on the street began to weigh on him.
“That’s when it began to change,” he says. “I remember one night praying saying God, almost like ‘I’m going to give You a chance. If You want me to change, I’m going to need Your help. Because I’m too deep in this to just stop.’”
A short time later, Yannik was arrested when a gun buyer gave him up. He faced five years in prison. “I remember almost being happy. I wasn’t angry with the police for doing their job. I got in that van and I went to sleep. I remember thinking, ‘You’re answering my prayer.’ And they took me to a federal prison in Savannah.”
While awaiting trial, Yannik says he had an encounter with God. “I began to see that the situation I was in wasn’t God’s fault. I’m guilty of making the same detrimental decisions that my dad was,” he says. “In a different way—but all still sin. And it was at that moment I forgave him because I realized I was just like him. I felt it, literally, like a weight lift off of me. I was in prison, but I was free.”
Once able to forgive his father, Yannik rededicated his life to the Lord. Out on bond, he began attending church. One Sunday, he had a chance encounter with a prosecutor there, who wanted to know more about him. Yannik told her about losing his parents and returning to God after years of rebellion. Then he had his day in court.
“This is a big case,” he recalls. “College students involved in gun trafficking. I mean, they want us in jail. Now this is a federal prosecutor--and she defends me. I was guilty, but because of what she did for me, the judge showed me grace. She tells the judge that I don’t deserve to be in prison. She did such a good job defending me that my attorney says, “I acquiesce to the argument of the prosecution” and sits down. I mean, it was amazing. It was God.”
A charge was dropped and instead of five years in prison, Yannik was sentenced to five years probation. He began working with the prosecutor teaching hundreds of at-risk kids to read. Today he is married and has a family of his own—and he owes it all to the God who both forgives and restores.
“We forgive because we realize, if it wasn’t for the grace of God, we would all be guilty of the grossest sin,” Yannik says. “ I believe there’s a direct correlation in the grace that I showed my father and the grace that was given to me in my trial. You cannot believe you’ve been forgiven of an eternal debt of sin and not be willing to forgive someone who sins against you, and I experienced true forgiveness. So when I felt that weight lift off of me, that was a weight, not just for that moment, but a weight for the rest of my life.”