This story appears in FCA Magazine’s September/October 2016 issue. Subscribe today!
It was three in the morning, and New York City native Frank Reynoso—a gangster, drug dealer, young father and husband—knew his luck was about to run out.
A pair of drug dealers had caught Reynoso stealing from them, and they vowed to put a bullet in his head. So, under the cover of night, Reynoso fled the Bronx in hopes of getting himself, his wife and his young daughter far from harm’s way.
“I packed the U-Haul while my boys stood guard with guns drawn, watching over while we loaded the truck,” he said. “If we’d gotten spotted, I know there would have been a shootout.”
Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, Reynoso and the rest of his “41 Crew” street gang ruled their part of the city, forging a hard-earned reputation fueled by money, power, drugs and—perhaps more than anything else—fear. Now, more than two decades later, Reynoso was named FCA’s area director in New York City, returning home with a radically changed heart and a singular focus—to impact the most famous city in the world for Christ.
“It’s very clear that God has prepared Frank for this opportunity,” said Sean McNamara, FCA Vice President of Field Ministry in the Northeast Region. “With Frank’s background and the environment he grew up in, his testimony provides encouragement and is a reminder to all about God’s faithfulness and the great plans He has for all those who desire to know Him, walk with Him and be used by Him.”
Reynoso admits his homecoming has been a powerful—and emotional—experience.
“I grew up in the streets, living on friends’ couches,” said Reynoso, now a thickly bearded, affable giant. “It was like Tarzan being raised by apes and gorillas, except I was raised by drug dealers and pimps.
“Now here I am, back in the land where I was raised not knowing Christ, half my life later now proclaiming Christ.”
• • •
Raised mostly by his single mother, Reynoso’s childhood was marred by rampant alcoholism and physical abuse at the hands of his father, who would drift in and out of his life. When he was 13, Reynoso’s mother accepted Christ, which put her and her son at such odds that he dropped out of school and ran away.
Armed with plenty of ill-gotten money in his pocket and a smooth demeanor that belied his teenage years, Reynoso moved in with a friend. Together they built up a drug business and became kings of their small, lawless corner of the world.
“You want to hear an oxymoron?” Reynoso asked. “I was a really successful drug dealer. At that point, I was dealing with Colombians and working with ‘mules’—people carrying drugs on planes for us.”
Despite his business acumen, Reynoso couldn’t resist partaking in his product. He quickly became an addict, using from his own stash and picking up the nickname “Frank Do” because, as his friends said, “Frank would do anything.”
Soon he met Agnes, a Manhattan accountant who lived in the same projects and, as Reynoso said, “had a good head on her shoulders but dug the bad boy.” By 17, Reynoso married Agnes, awaiting the arrival of their daughter, Frances. They moved to Queens, but the change in lifestyle didn’t have much of an effect on Reynoso, who continued to deal drugs and run the streets, falling deeper and deeper into drug abuse and overdosing on cocaine three times within a year.
While her husband was doing drugs, Agnes began attending church on a semi-regular basis, something that raised Reynoso’s curiosity and ire.
“She’d go once a month or so, but at the same time she was married to me, a drug dealer,” he said. “It was pretty confusing for me because those two things didn’t go together in my head.”
It was so foreign to Reynoso that he suspected Agnes might actually be sneaking out to meet another man. In the hopes of catching her in the act, he told his wife he’d be coming to church with her. It turned out Agnes was just spending time with the Lord, attending church with a girl Reynoso used to deal drugs to.
During the service, Reynoso felt a strong conviction. He was in church—but he was a drug dealer. Feeling like he got “called out” by the pastor, he erupted in a fit of rage and cursed out his wife.
He vowed to never go back to church again.
• • •
The streets remained the strongest pull in Reynoso’s life until that fateful night he was forced to flee. For the first time in years, he connected with his father, who was running a small grocery store half a world away in Orlando, Florida.
Soon after the move, Reynoso found himself constantly sick with no energy—an illness he couldn’t shake for months. With years of reckless living flashing through his mind, Reynoso suspected he had contracted HIV.
Agnes and Frank Reynoso
“At that point, the only goal I had in my life was to be a better dad than my dad had been to me,” he said. “If I got AIDS, that meant I probably gave it to my wife and we were both going to die, which meant Frances would be an orphan.”
Reynoso got tested but was told the results wouldn’t come in for 10 days—an excruciating, agonizing wait. He went back to work, keeping his fears bottled down deep until eventually he opened up to one of the store’s regular customers.
“I used to drink with this Bohemian dude named Tony after the store closed,” Reynoso said. “One night I told Tony I needed to tell him something no one else knew … that I had AIDS and was just waiting for the results to come back. And the dude started crying.”
Through his tears, Tony told Reynoso exactly what he needed—Jesus. Reynoso just laughed it off, telling Tony he was drunk. But, as it turned out, Tony did know Jesus and the life-changing importance of a relationship with Him. He was a graduate of Teen Challenge, a Christian addiction recovery program founded in 1958 by David Wilkerson, ironically the same pastor whose sermon had wrecked Reynoso when he attended church with Agnes in New York.
“It was this crazy, supernatural connection,” Reynoso said.
Reynoso told Tony about his previous experience, and that if he ever gave his life over to God he wanted to go to a church like the one in New York. Sure enough, Tony said, there was one just like that in Orlando.
Stunned, Frank began to pray.
“God, if you save me, I’ll serve You,” he said over and over, every day and night during that 10-day wait.
The HIV test came back negative, but Reynoso soon forgot his promise to God and went right back to drinking and partying as if nothing had happened. But every night, before he went to sleep, those words echoed in his mind: “If you save me, I’ll serve You.”
Eventually, Reynoso visited the church Tony had told him about. The first time, he didn’t understand a thing. But something—or Someone—drew him back again. On the third visit, on Feb. 10, 1992, Reynoso “cried for like two straight hours” during the service.
“I cried for the 10 years I never cried before,” he said. “I accepted Christ that night, and people stood and prayed with me at the altar ‘til like 11 o’clock.”
Everything he’d done before was forgiven, in an instant. Reynoso was so radically changed that he cut off everything and everyone that wasn’t a godly influence.
“Before that day I was still getting high and drinking a lot,” he said, “but since that night I’ve never touched the stuff again. I was sober on Feb. 11, 1992, and I’m still sober to this day.”
• • •
Through the church, Reynoso began to share his story of redemption at local jails, then through street ministry in Orlando’s inner city as part of Answer to Life Ministries. He co-founded Choice Ministries, a jail ministry where he served as chaplain for the Orlando County Juvenile Detention Center and directed multiple juvenile delinquent programs for nine years.
Then Reynoso learned about FCA, which brought a long-unfulfilled love of athletics and Christ together. He was soon volunteering to speak at FCA events any chance he got, before coming on staff in 2005.
"I'm constantly finding myself in places where I was doing no good, and now I'm out here doing the work of the Lord." - Frank Reynoso
McNamara and Reynoso met while serving on the FCA Inner City Task Force, a group of people from around the United States committed to helping FCA become more diverse.
“In such a small group setting, our opportunity to work together and develop our friendship emerged,” McNamara said. “Over the years, we’ve had staff in New York City who did a great job getting things started, but we feel we’re entering a new season with Frank’s knowledge, history, and love for the city.”
So Reynoso came aboard, first as regional inner city coordinator, then as area director in September 2015. He spent most of the first few months knocking on doors, meeting pastors, talking with locals and answering questions from all who asked.
When he was a young kid, Reynoso would walk by Fordham University in the Bronx, marveling at all of the old buildings and cathedrals. He asked his mother what it was, but all he remembers is her giving him a little smack and “telling me to stop asking questions about that place, because it ‘wasn’t for me.’”
Naturally, when he returned to New York, the first doorway to open for FCA was at Fordham. Since 2015, Reynoso has served as Fordham’s chaplain, ministering to athletes and organizing chapel services and a weekly Bible study.
Meanwhile, FCA is gaining traction throughout the rest of New York City’s five boroughs. There are 14 active FCA Huddles and another 12 coming together. God is opening doors for Reynoso and FCA everywhere from minor league baseball teams to colleges, community sports and public schools.
As he walks through his old stomping grounds, Reynoso can see redemption staring him in the face on a daily basis.
“I’m constantly finding myself in places where I was doing no good, and now I’m out here doing the work of the Lord,” he said. “It’s a blessing to give back that way.
“As a little kid, I had dreams of playing baseball and boxing, but the streets got the best of me, so I never got to do that. Now, to tell these kids about a relationship with Christ, to tell them not to let the streets rob them of their athletic dreams, it’s really just come full circle.”
Photos courtesy of Frank Reynoso