An Almost Grim Statistic
Gang violence, drugs, poverty, and racial bigotry have ruined the futures of many African American young men.
“My life could have ended prematurely as a grim statistic, but for God’s mercy and grace,” says James D. Croone Sr., 55, pastor of Risen Church in Seattle and northwestern regional director of the Assemblies of God National Black Fellowship.
Croone, plagued by low self-worth, grew up in a single-parent home in a crime-infested Seattle neighborhood. The streets bred fear and shootings.
In his early 20s, while driving his pickup truck with friends to hang out in a park, rival gang members fired multiple rounds at them. Bullets penetrated the rear window. A round grazed the ear of Croone’s girlfriend before passing through her cheek, spattering blood on the truck’s windshield. Another bullet missed Croone’s head by inches.
He retaliated later and was arrested, but released because no one testified against him. Criminal gangs practice a code of silence, severely punishing informants.
During his teens, Croone succumbed to peer pressure by using illicit drugs, smoking pot, abusing alcohol, and hanging out with gangs. After quitting high school and earning a General Educational Development diploma, he started selling illegal drugs, partying, and racking up occasional jail time for misdemeanors and petty assaults. He also worked intermittently as a roofer.
A pivotal crossroads confronted him in 1998 at the age of 33. After being arrested for a domestic confrontation with a former girlfriend, Croone faced additional charges of possessing marijuana and a weapon — which could have merited a mandatory 5-year prison term.
While awaiting a final sentencing date, he accepted his sister Angela’s invitation to attend a service at a Pentecostal church. The pastor’s sermon overwhelmed Croone, who rushed to the altar.
“Life dramatically changed for me,” he says. “My decision to follow Christ shocked my friends. Some understood it and others wondered how long it would stick.”
Returning to court, Croone entered a plea agreement that reduced his sentence to 8 months. The judge teared up hearing his testimony. While serving time, he attended chapel services, studied the Bible, and feasted on Christian books.
Upon his release, Croone began attending church faithfully, soaking up weekly Bible studies, and volunteering in ministries, while resuming his roofing job. Four years later, Croone became an associate pastor responsible for education programs.
Salvaging lost time, he pursued every available learning path, including completing a doctor of theology degree in religious education in 2003 at the Bishop A.L. Hardy Academy of Theology in Seattle.
Croone’s passion for education and teaching led to launching Seattle Urban Bible College (SUBC) in 2007 without any viable financial support. Local pastors taught courses in churches where they pastored, training 100 ethnic minority students unable to afford traditional college. After four years, however, SUBC could not survive economically.
Seeking advice, Croone connected with Joseph L. Castleberry, president of Northwest University, the Assemblies of God school in Kirkland, Washington. Inspired by Croone’s testimony, Castleberry offered him a presidential scholarship. Croone received a master of arts degree in theology and culture in 2013.
Don H. Detrick, Northwest Ministry Network secretary-treasurer and Northwest University adjunct professor, met Croone while teaching his class on growing organic disciples.
“The story about his life in the streets and how Christ had changed him was truly inspiring, along with his vision for reaching his own hood,” Detrick says.
Croone’s master’s degree and street cred led to a position with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission homeless program. Currently, he directs the men’s recovery unit.
His leadership and teaching skills have opened new doors. Croone earned AG ministerial credentials and in 2016 planted Risen Church in south Seattle. It became a district-affiliated AG church a year later.
Croone also serves as an executive presbyter with the Northwest Ministry Network and is an adjunct professor at Northwest University. In addition, he has recently published Seymour and Parham: The Move of God Amid Relationship and Conflict, a book exploring how the two Pentecostal pioneers helped birth a worldwide movement.
Risen Church is thriving despite COVID-19 restrictions. Online audiences range from 200 to 300.
“The lockdown has been a blessing including new people getting baptized online,” Croone says. “God is the real owner of our church, and has called me to simply teach His people.”
Photo: James Croone Sr. (left) and Risen Church youth director Curtis Wells (right) baptize a woman.