Alexis Johnson grew up during the height of the civil rights movement and attended a predominately white church in New Jersey with his mom. While his father was a good provider for the family, he was also a sometimes-abusive alcoholic. It was a confusing dynamic for Alexis, but his mom remained a strong Christian influence throughout his life.
At school one day, four white boys jumped 15 year-old Alexis. A white teacher watched from a distance, but when Alexis pulled out a razor blade to protect himself, another teacher who had been standing by called the police. He was arrested for assault and battery and carrying a concealed weapon. He spent the next three weeks in jail.
Shortly after his release, Alexis moved to Queens, New York to live with two of his aunts. It was there he had his first encounter with the Nation of Islam—an Islamic religious movement whose professed goals are to better the spiritual, mental, economic and social circumstances for African-Americans.
Founded in 1930 by Wallace D. Fard Muhammed, the Nation of Islam has been criticized as a black supremacist, anti-Semitic organization—by some standards, a hate group. Despite this, Alexis recalls a different viewpoint on the Nation of Islam—in particular, their local Black Panthers.
“I noticed how clean Muslims in the community looked and how well they took care of business. Not very far up the street on Northern Boulevard were the headquarters of the Black Panther Party. I can remember a shoot-out they had with the police. They were very active in the community.”
An Identity, A Family
Eventually, Alexis turned to drugs and landed back in prison—this time at Rikers Island. Through involvement with an Islamic group called the Five Percenters, he joined the Nation of Islam when he got out of prison, and there he thought he found himself.
“The Nation of Islam offered me the moral teachings, discipline and direction that I needed,” Alexis wrote in an article 15 years ago. “I had been very confused. We had been called niggers. We had been called negroes, colored people, black people, Afro-Americans, African-Americans, but I had not known who I was. The Nation of Islam gave me some type of identity.”
So began a 16-year journey in Islam. He believed its message was hope and began teaching all over the city—in schools, community centers and jails. Alexis attended classes at Temple Number Seven in Harlem, New York under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan. There he eventually learned all the official doctrines of the Nation of Islam—including the doctrine that all white people are devils, created over 6,000 years ago by a black scientist named Yakub. He was taught evil is their nature; white people cannot be redeemed, and their purpose is to make mischief on Earth. Nation of Islam prophecy claimed this race of devils would enslave the superior black race, but God Himself would come and rescue the black nation.
Alexis learned this God came in person in 1930 in the flesh of Wallace D. Fard Muhammad, that Muhammad’s mother had been a white devil, and his father cleaned that devil up before he entered into her.
Eventually Alexis left the Nation of Islam and embraced the Orthodox teaching of Islam, which is practiced throughout the majority of the Islamic world. He studied intensively under Muslims from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria; he read and studied the entire Quran and learned to say his prayers in Arabic. His studies led him to become an Imam, and he led sermons in mosques, taught on college campuses and led congregational prayers.
“I began preaching very strongly against Christianity,” he recalls.
A True Identity
In 1985, Alexis’ twin sister Amelia was studying at Christ for the Nations in Dallas, Texas. They wrote letters back and forth, each writing to defend their beliefs. She wrote about Jesus, the Son of God while he wrote about Jesus, the prophet. One day Amelia called him and said, “Regardless of what you say or believe, Jesus died for your sins, and He loves you. Someday you are going to accept Jesus and become a Christian.”
Alexis responded, “Not in a million years!”
Despite their differences, Alexis and his sister continued to discuss their beliefs until one day she called. “I have been praying for you,” she said, “and I challenge you to pray and ask God to prove to you that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for your sins”
Alexis loves challenges, so he accepted. “I decided that if God would prove to me that Christ died for my sins, then I would become a Christian. If not, I would teach and promote Islam like never before. I prayed that prayer often. I did not realize until later that hundreds of people were praying for my conversion.”
As Alexis kept praying for God to challenge him, strange things began to happen. It turns out God loves challenges, too.
“One Sunday, after my teaching in the mosque on the story of Christmas and the Christian belief about the birth of Christ, a Muslim sister asked me to explain the Islamic view of (His) birth. I recited Surah 3:45-47 from the Quran. I had recited and explained these verses many times and had heard Imams and Islamic scholars explain them. Yet as I spoke, for some unknown reason, deep within my heart, doubt arose for the first time. I was not sure of my answer.”
So, Alexis intensified his Bible studies in comparison to the Quran.
Another strange incident happened in the mosque when he was reciting the Al-Fatiha in Arabic. For some reason he could not remember every single word. After the prayer, an Egyptian Muslim, fluent in Arabic, came to him and said, “Brother, because of your error of omitting a word, Allah will not accept our prayers.”
Alexis remembers, “His words rang in my ears, and the weight of the responsibility was too great for me to bear. I told him that I would never lead prayer in the mosque again.”
He says that’s when his life as a Muslim began to unravel.
The Faith of Family
Alexis received a letter from Amelia inviting him to her graduation from Christ for the Nations. He knew in his heart it would be an important trip—he’d either come back from Dallas as a Christian, or he would redirect his life solely to Islam.
After her graduation, his sister introduced him to a few former Muslims. One in particular impacted Alexis greatly. He was an Egyptian from a long line of Muslims. Although he had been fluent in Arabic and knew the Quran, this man chose to follow Jesus—even after his mother offered him a million dollars to denounce Christianity and threatened to disown him.
“He told his mother that he could never, never deny Jesus Christ as the Son of God, because Jesus was his Savior,” Alexis recalls. “He told me how he cried and was deeply hurt because his whole family turned their backs on him. His words touched my heart deeply.”
Alexis went to church with Amelia, and that was the day he made his decision—Jesus Christ became his Savior. “Everything else I had tried had disappointed me. I did not (fully) understand what I had done, but I knew I was a changed man inside. It was like a ton of weight lifted off of me. I no longer had to try to live by law or try to be good enough to get to Heaven.”
Today, 29 years later, Alexis Johnson—who was once Khalif Majid Hassan—is now Pastor Alexis Johnson, Senior Pastor of Shekinah Glory Christian Church in Newark, New Jersey. He and his wife spend days and nights pastoring the people of their community—a community so dangerous there are three to four murders on their street a year. A place so dangerous they have had to be escorted out of their church because of bullets.
The Johnsons are ministering in the trenches of the inner city, spreading the message of Jesus. Since 1986, Alexis has written numerous articles, been on television, spoken on radio shows and has even written a book called “I was a Minister in the Nation of Islam: Now I am a Minister for Christ.”
Back to Prison
Today, Pastor Alexis spends much of his time in the same prisons that once held him. He says there are more African-Americans than whites in the prisons even though they are a minority race.
“Much of this is due to low self-esteem, not having fathers in the home, the lack of family values because the family has been broken up,” he explains. “Many times, when African-Americans go into prison, they come out as a Muslim because there is a strong presence of the Nation of Islam there.”
Pastor Alexis says when African-Americans do come out of prison and go to the Christian churches, they are not always prepared to handle the issues these former inmates may bring. He worries if the church is not ready for them, they will likely end up turning to the Nation of Islam where there is a strong support system. Pastor Alexis goes into these prisons, teaches the whole Gospel of Jesus and continually encourages them. He makes sure they know his church will be ready to support them when they get out.
“My main goal is to reach out to African-American churches that have bought into the theology of the Nation of Islam. Racism is the spirit of the devil. (As Christians), we are one people under God.” Sadly, Pastor Alexis sees many African-American churches are beginning to believe the teachings of the Nation of Islam because they promote black families and the betterment of African-Americans. “But we have to denounce the Nation of Islam theology,” Pastor Alexis insists. “We have to promote one family, not one superior race. We love all; we love everyone, but… there is no agenda and no theology outside of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Alexis’ life is an incredible redemption story. It is the story of a man who went from denouncing Jesus to touching hundreds of lives by wholeheartedly preaching Jesus. His story is proof God can redeem even the most broken souls.