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Former gang member bears his cross (w/video)

By Angeli Wright
April 5, 2014 at 6 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2014 at 11:05 p.m.

Rene Balboa Sr. walks with Angela Johnson, 7, as he carries an 8-foot by 6-foot  cross from Cuero to Victoria down U.S. Highway 87 on Saturday. Balboa was taking the journey after receiving a vision from God that he needed to start a street ministry and use his past as a gang member to help others. "The church is in the church; people are saved in the church," he said God told him. "What about those out here in the streets that have nobody to talk to?"

While in the DeWitt County Jail for a probation violation, Rene Balboa Sr. suffered a stroke and a minor heart attack less than one month ago.

On Saturday, the 37-year-old Victoria native returned to the streets Saturday but this time with a plan and a giant symbol of his newfound dedication to Christ.

As traffic buzzed on U.S. Highway 87, Balboa and his supporters carried a 45-pound cross from Cuero to Faith Family Church in Victoria.

"The reason why I'm walking is to show all these street gang members that if I can be saved as a gang member from a Victoria prison gang, then they can be saved," he said.

Balboa joined a street gang when he was 15 years old, and at 25, he became a member of a prison gang until about 10 years ago.

When he found himself in trouble again and facing possible prison time, he heard a voice that turned him literally down the road he traveled Saturday.

"He showed me a vision of that cross," Balboa said, gesturing to the 8-foot by 6-foot cedar posts with two wheels attached to the bottom.

Balboa said God asked him to use the walk to start a street ministry to help gang members and drug users find their way to God.

"All this that's happened to your life, I'm using this," he said the voice told him. "Everything that you've been through, this is gonna bring glory to me."

Leaving Cuero at 7:30 a.m., Balboa walked alone with the cross. His wife and 4-year-old grandson, Aiden Gonzalez, followed slowly behind in an SUV.

Prepared to walk the entire length alone, Balboa was surprised by others who arrived to help him, taking a turn bearing the cross.

About 10:30 a.m., Erica Gonzalez, Aiden's grandmother, put the weight on her shoulder and trudged forward with a determined step, wanting to make it to the Nursery Trading Post.

"I believe you have to have faith, and you have to have hope, and that's why I'm here," she said.

As her body began to tire, Rick Cardenas, a stranger to Balboa before Saturday, bore the weight for her and continued toward Victoria after their rest.

"I've given my life to Christ, and it's bettered my life," Cardenas said. "Doing this is just a minute way of showing my appreciation."

Balboa said he plans to continue the walk after reaching Victoria, setting out for Port Lavaca on Sunday or Monday. From there, he will pass the weight onto anyone wanting to walk with the cross.

Although he planned to spread his message alone, he believes giving others a chance with the cross was what was meant to happen all along.

"Maybe it's just God's plan for unity," he said.

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