Pastor Henry Lavender gives DeAndre Bramlett, who broke into Lavender’s church, something Bramlett said he’d never had – a birthday cake. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Two weeks ago, 24-year-old DeAndre Bramlett felt hopeless and alone. He had no job, no prospects, and no money to take care of his son, Kamyron, only a year old.

Tuesday, he turned 25. And in all his 25 years, DeAndre had never had a birthday cake. That all changed when his new, spiritual parents, Pastors Henry and Lorre Lavender, threw his a surprise party. And his new “God family” was there—clapping and cheering.

Considering that DeAndre had recently broken into the congregation’s new church home, the scene was pretty remarkable.

It all started two weeks ago. DeAndre didn’t wake up that day with the intent of burglarizing a church. But by nightfall, there he was. Breaking into the building only days before the Living Life in Victory congregation was scheduled to move.

He was with some other guys. They were there to steal the copper wiring. It sells well in the scrap metal market—no questions asked. A window was already open, and all he had to do was walk in. The other guys had busted up the walls—large holes in the drywall so they could just walk right through. The tools were right there. DeAndre saw them. His role would be simple. All he had to do was carry the copper outside.

Only, once inside, things took a different turn. The police showed up while the robbery was still in progress. The downstairs alarm had been disabled, but the thieves had no idea about the one upstairs. A television news crew was already on the scene. DeAndre’s face was everywhere, plastered all over the late news broadcast. So many flashing blue lights and video cameras.

He and the other culprits were taken to a holding area down at 201 Poplar.

“There was so much overcrowding because of the government shutdown, there was no place to put us,” said Bramlett. “So we sat all night in the holding area. They let me make some calls. I called my girlfriend and my mother. That’s how I found out I was all over the news. They already knew where I was.”

Pre-trial processing noted that his record was pretty clean, and he was released the next day with a court appearance set for Monday, February 18th—Presidents Day.

“I’m going to do my best to be down there with him in court,” said Pastor Henry Lavender. He understands the power he wields in standing up for Bramlett in court. The victim begging mercy for the offender.

How did they connect? I’m glad you asked.

DeAndre got out. And when he got online, he saw that the news report about the burglary was still up. This was his home—his neighborhood. He knew Pastor Lavender had seen the report by now. And so, the remorseful, unlikely thief calls the church. He leaves message after message on the answering machine.

It was Sunday, and like most pastors, Rev. Lavender waits for Monday to check any messages that had been left. He’s there and the phone rings again.

“Hello, this is Pastor Henry. How may I help you?”

“My name is DeAndre Bramlett.”

“Okay. Make me know who you are.”

“I’m the guy that was caught in your church. I just want to apologize and ask your forgiveness. And I want to do everything in my power to help repair the damage that was done.”

Pastor Lavender was stunned into silence. DeAndre promised to come to church. Pastor Lavender tells him, “If I don’t hear from you in a few weeks, I am going to reach out to you.

Jesus taught forgiveness, and “we have the ministry of reconciliation,” Rev. Lavender says. A loving response to a confused, young man is required.

“This is not an ordinary church. We are a family church. We are the village. Mr. Bramlett promised to come, and he did just that. He brought his family, too, and here we are.”

Pastor Lavender worked in Shelby County Corrections for 10 years, and has held other law enforcement posts over the course of his career. He understands that young men need guidance.

“I appreciate DeAndre because he broke a cycle in his life,” said Pastor Lavender. “Now, he has his own son to raise. The cycle is broken. Jesus makes it possible for DeAndre to live free. His son can be free. The logo of our church has the Jewish symbol in it. That is on purpose. It means Israel shall live. We do have victory when we forgive and love one another.”

Neither Bramlett nor his church family know what is going to happen in court on the 18th. But they are hoping for a miracle, that DeAndre is given a second chance, just as they have given.

(Living Life in Victory is located at 4300 Raleigh-LaGrange Road. For additional information, call the church office at: 901-207-1054.)