Saturday, March 29, 2008

KGB at the Varsity Theater, Part 2

Part 2: A Transformed Life

Gill Byrd played cornerback for the San Diego Chargers from 1983-93. He is the franchise's all-time leader in interceptions with 43; also, according to Gbaja-Biamila, he was fantastic in the iconic video game Tecmo Super Bowl. Byrd became a Christian in 1983, in his rookie season. He kept spreading the Gospel in retirement: he had ties to the Athletes in Action chapter at San Diego State, and he sent KGB a text message during Gbaja-Biamila's brief stint with the group. At the time, Kabeer felt awed to get a text from a "NFL player".

When Kabeer was drafted by the Packers and flew to Green Bay, who was there to meet him at the airport? None other then Byrd, hired in 1999 as the Packers' executive director/player programs. In that job, Byrd was primarily responsible for managing the Packer rookies' transition into the NFL. The two men became fast friends: KGB soon leased an apartment, but he felt lonely in Green Bay and visited Byrd's house nearly every evening that summer of 2000.

Kabeer said, "When I stepped into the Byrd home, it was like stepping into another planet." He noticed how Byrd treated his wife, Marilyn, with love and respect, and how Byrd cared about the media his then-teenage sons, Gill II and Jarius, watched and listened to. Kabeer told us, "I just wanted to live like him. I was not open to Christianity at the time, but I saw the peace and joy in his house, and I wanted to have what he had."

In the beginning, Kabeer was like another, older son, "a big brother" as he put it. Back then, he dressed in black urban style, with hoodies and baggy pants. He also joined the Byrd sons in youthful hijinks; one day, he told Gill and Jarius how to avoid detection after looking at Internet porn sites (presumably by erasing the 'History' menu). The boys eagerly went along with KGB in the moment, but later turned around and told Dad, earning KGB a severe lecture from Byrd.

As the summer wore on and training camp neared, KGB's veneer cracked. One evening, after breaking down in tears in his apartment, he drove over to the Byrd's and asked Gill what he needed to do to become a Christian. Gill laid a hand on Kabeer's shoulder, prayed over him, and instructed him, "Read the Bible and obey it."

Kabeer opens the Bible

Most Christians whom Gbaja-Biamila had met primarily cited the New Testament. Therefore, Kabeer concluded that the Old Testament contained embarrasing secrets they wished to hide. He began by opening the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis.

KGB read through the Creation and the Fall matter-of-factly, but he was struck by Genesis 6:5, an expression of God's anger towards human rebellion: "Yahweh saw... that every inclination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil all the time" [NIV]. Kabeer's belief, influenced by his father's practice of Islam, had been that the Bible was a man-made book. But he couldn't believe that a man who wanted to tell an appealing story would write Genesis 6:5. He kept reading through the Flood and came to Genesis 8:21-22: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. Never again will I destroy all living creatures." Again, KGB was deeply moved by the contrast between God's majesty and humanity's baseness.

Gbaja-Biamila said, "I couldn't stop reading. Every free moment I got during training camp, and just about every evening, I read through the entire Old Testament, and I saw how it pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ." All was not rosy, though; KGB started to catch flak in training camp for leaning so heavily on Byrd. One day, for the first time, the two men exchanged strong words at work. KGB accused Byrd of not standing up for him, but Byrd responded that KGB had a long way to go before he could say he walked with Christ.

To be continued...

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