Alvin Keller—forgiveness personified

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By Karen Gleason –

Today, Alvin Keller radiates God’s love. His infectious joy is a miracle. 

Keller, an African-American, spent his first years in the deep South—Winnisboro, Louisiana—in the 1950s–60s, when the Ku Klux Klan exercised significant power. If you were “colored,” you had to be on your side of the railroad tracks before nightfall, or risk the consequences, he said. 

When he was 6 years old, Keller went out fishing one day with his two uncles. They didn’t make it back to their side of the tracks on time.

Klan members grabbed his uncles and tied them to crosses. They held Keller down, forcing him to watch as they burned his uncles to death.

Afterward, Keller said he didn’t trust any white people.

By the next year, the family had relocated to Los Angeles. On Keller’s first day at school, a white girl sat down next to him. Overwhelmed, the terrified 7-year-old left school and ran all the way home.

His mother was there.

“I need to talk to you about where you are now and what you’re going through,” she said. “You have to learn to forgive. You have to do the godly thing and act like Jesus.”

“Forgive them?” Keller said. “How can I do that?”

She reminded him of how Jesus responded when he was beaten and nailed to the cross.

Keller credits his mother and grandmother with keeping him on track spiritually.

“God transformed me,” he said. “The Holy Spirit changed my heart. I got to learn to live with that pain and get over it.” 

During a recent search for permanent housing, Keller found The Salvation Army Bell Shelter. The first time he went to church at the Bell Lighthouse Corps, he sat right up front. Envoy Joseph Moore, California South Assistant Director for Urban Ministries, spoke that day. 

“He came down and pointed at me, saying, ‘You have a purpose here in The Salvation Army,’” Keller said.

Keller attended soldier classes and is now a senior soldier at the Bell Lighthouse Corps.

“I’m on a spiritual quest now where I have no animosity toward anybody, no matter what color,” Keller said. “We must love and love is the greatest commandment of all.”

During his stay at Bell Shelter, Keller resided in the crisis section. Realizing the men there needed more prayer, he started a nightly prayer call. He would walk the hall every night, announcing, “prayer call, prayer call!” The men responded.

“That made a real difference,” he said. “Lives were changed. Prayer is powerful. Many of those men attend church now.”

Currently Keller is looking for a new apartment; he wants to be close to the Lighthouse Corps.

“It’s such a beautiful thing to love everyone without reservation,” he said, “whether they love me back or not.”

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