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Reversing a Downhill Legacy

Joe Taybron is a voice for unity after spending many years in a chaotic existence.
Joe L. Taybron still can vividly recall the night he fled with his mother and four siblings from the family home in Long Beach, California. His quick-tempered father had tried to force his mother’s hand into a whirring garbage disposal. His mother grabbed a cast-iron skillet from the stove top and whacked her husband in the head, temporarily rendering him insensible.

Only 5 years old at the time, Joe moved with his mother, three sisters, and one brother to the residences of friends, relatives, or wherever the family could find shelter. Eventually they wound up in the Alamany inner-city San Francisco housing projects. But his home life didn’t improve; his mother began a lifelong obsession with alcohol. The family moved to the Easter Hill project in Richmond. The 10-year-old Joe had little structure in his life, barely went to school, influenced by inebriated adults who always seemed to be fighting.

His mother’s drinking escalated and parties became more frequent. A nomadic lifestyle resumed until landing in Bayview Hunters Point, another inner-city San Francisco housing project.

“We lived in an unsavory place and everything that comes with it: crisis, conflict, pain, crime,” recalls Taybron, now 63. “It was a cesspool.”

Taybron began emulating the “dope-dealing gangsters” who lived next door. The thugs who wore tailor-made clothes and drove luxury cars turned into his heroes. They began allowing the young boy to peddle part of their drug shipments and to keep some of the money for himself.

His mother allowed all sorts of people into the three-bedroom residence, including heroin junkies and gun-toting bank robbers. Blueprints of bank buildings would be spread on the kitchen table for the criminals to plan their next heist.

One live-in regular, “Uncle Donald,” instilled racist attitudes in Taybron as the boy reached his teenage years.

“He taught me to hate anything not Black,” Taybron remembers. “He taught me to hate anyone who didn’t look like me.”

At 14, Taybron witnessed two men physically fighting in a parking lot. One pulled out a .22-caliber handgun and fired into the other man’s stomach. The wounded man stumbled over to his Cadillac, retrieved a .38-caliber pistol, and climbed onto the hood of the Mercedes in which his assailant sat. Standing over the man who had shot him, he fired point-blank six times.

“With every shot I saw his body quiver,” Taybron recalls. “I saw my first murder.”

He frantically rushed home to tell his mom the news. She told him to go to bed and forget about it.

Drinking, cursing, and playing loud music took place all night every night, preventing Taybron from getting adequate sleep on a mattress on the floor, one of the few items of furniture in the home. He couldn’t find a safe place to do his homework and the nearest library was too far away. He flunked 10th grade twice.

Violence — fighting, stabbings, shootings — became an almost daily occurrence in the neighborhood. Taybron underwent initiation into a local gang. But he soon wanted out, and at the age of 15 he fled to Richmond across the bay to hide and preserve his life.

Although he had no framework for Christianity, Taybron knew life could be better than what he had experienced. He believed the God he didn’t know would somehow rescue him.

At 22, after dabbling with and subsequently rejecting Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Taybron encountered Christ for the first time while working as an insurance clerk.

Co-worker Ron Menesee, who repeatedly evangelized him at lunch breaks, invited Taybron to Emmanuel Open Bible Christian Center in San Francisco. At the church, Taybron accepted Jesus as Savior and the conviction he had felt for months lifted.

“God, through His sovereignty and wisdom, brought a white guy to disciple me,” Taybron says. James Patrick Rogan spent seven years mentoring Taybron, caring for him like a brother. Rogan realized Taybron needed an alternative to the drug, crime, and gang environment to which he had been accustomed. Rogan allowed Taybron to move into his house.

“Jim challenged my worldview, my cultural dysfunction,” Taybron says. “He got nose to nose with me and said, ‘You are better than this, and you have to start believing it.’”

One day Taybron accompanied Rogan to the Embarcadero along San Francisco Bay and saw men dressed in suits and carrying briefcases. Rogan told Taybron he could be like those men, but he must go to college first.

After completing junior college in San Francisco, Taybron secured employment with the California State Auto Association. Ultimately he rose to a post in which he conducted investigations of fraud for the insurance industry.

Rogan moved to Zimbabwe to open an orphanage as a missionary, but he kept in touch with Taybron. He pointedly told Taybron that God had called him to be a pastor — not to climb the corporate ladder.

Taybron ignored the advice, countering that he volunteered as a Sunday School superintendent and men’s ministry leader at San Francisco Christian Center.

Donald E. Green, bishop of San Francisco Christian Center and a father figure to Taybron, likewise asked Taybron to join the staff of the independent Pentecostal church, which had a Sunday attendance of 1,100 in those days. Taybron told Green he had no interest in switching vocations.

In the early 1990s, Taybron received an annual $80,000 salary, plus a $10,000 Christmas bonus.

“I was scared of returning to poverty,” Taybron admits. “I had been poor, growing up with roaches and rats.”

On consecutive Sundays, Green called Taybron down to the altar at the end of the service as two different women delivered words from the Lord that he needed to yield to the call of full-time ministry. Taybron still balked. He had just received a fully loaded company car.

But Taybron says the Holy Spirit in a dream impressed upon him that the automobile representing his earning capacity security blanket could be taken away immediately.

“I fell down on my knees and confessed my fear of being poor,” Taybron says. “I told the Lord, If you want me, You have to help me.”

Nevertheless, Taybron concocted what he figured to be a foolproof plan to stay out of full-time ministry.

“I told the Lord, If you want me in ministry, reconnect me with the man who destroyed my first marriage,” he says.

Taybron had been married for seven years in his 20s. However, his first wife left him for a former dope dealer 15 years her senior who lavished furs and diamonds on her. The man had served time in federal prison.

When Taybron tried to preserve the marriage, the other man — who stood seven inches taller — beat him up.

Taybron didn’t figure God would bring the man back into his life 8 years after losing track of him.

But as he prepared to walk into a neighborhood barber shop soon afterward, Taybron heard a familiar voice from a nearby parked car: that of the man he had hated and not seen in eight years. Docile and humble, the former enemy engaged Taybron in pleasant conversation.

“After that encounter, I had to submit to God,” Taybron says. He resigned his insurance job and became associate pastor at San Francisco Christian Center. At Green’s urging, Taybron enrolled in Bethany University, then an Assemblies of God school in Scotts Valley.

He stayed on staff 12 years, forging inner-city ministry outreach to marginalized and at-risk residents, overseeing the men’s ministry as well as the missionary department.

For the past eight years, Taybron has been senior pastor at Legacy Community Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Rocklin, California. The past couple of years have been difficult, with racial tensions and COVID-19 restrictions dividing the nation.

Ironically, the pastor who once considered himself a racist, has found himself on the outs with a handful of idealistic young attendees who viewed him as insufficiently woke on social justice issues. They ended up leaving the church, prompting Taybron to question his role in ministry.

“Some people thought I should police what other people say on social media,” Taybron says. “But my job is to preach the inerrant Word of God.”

Bret L. Allen, superintendent of the AG’s Northern California & Nevada District, has no doubt that Taybron is the right pastor to instill spiritual principles to those in the growing suburb northeast of Sacramento.

“Pastor Joe does not merely preach the truth of God’s Word — he applies it liberally to his personal conduct and leadership influence,” Allen says. “Pastor Joe models the concept of loving people. His love extends beyond his race, personal beliefs, or preferences. In a day and age where division is common place, Joe is a builder, unifier, and healer of wounds.”

Taybron’s wife of 30 years, Gail, is on staff with him, leading women’s ministry. Gail says what first attracted her to Joe — his commitment to Christ — has remained a constant. Gail says she wholeheartedly supports her husband’s ministry mission and vision.

“He has a passion to develop and mature people, intellectually and in their faith,” Gail says. “When he left corporate America for ministry, I told him there was nothing better he could do with the rest of his life.”

Legacy Church is a multiethnic congregation, with Tongans, Filipinos, Africans, Hispanics, whites, and Black Americans attending.

“Only by God’s grace have we been able to maintain God’s clarion call to be all things to all people,” Taybron says.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.