Unlikely Disciple: The Man Who Shot John Lennon Is Leading Prisoners to Christ

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By Frank Sambrick

“Across the street, the long white limousine had turned and pulled up to the Dakota. John Lennon got out, carrying cassette tapes of the recent recording session he and Yoko Ono, his wife, had just returned from. They had planned to go out to a restaurant but changed their minds. Now they were coming up the walkway…and I was ready.” From the gospel tract The Man Who Shot John Lennon by Mark David Chapman In the darkness of that temperate Manhattan night of December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman was ready. All the twisted, psychotic rumblings churning in his soul had driven him here, to the Dakota. Its most famous resident, John Lennon, was only moments away, and Mark David Chapman was ready. Nine years earlier, a 16-year-old Mark Chapman traveled alone from his home in Decatur, Georgia, to his grandmother’s house near Daytona Beach, Florida. By now he had immersed himself in the ‘60s drug culture, which left him broke, alone, and feeling like a failure. One night, as he lay on his grandmother’s couch staring at the ceiling, he lifted his arms as if reaching out for someone, something to take away his pain. It was then, he claimed, that he first met the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever he experienced that night would soon fade away, replaced by haunting feelings of personal failure, loneliness, and desperation. He began drifting, or as he described it, running from himself. At one point he even traveled around the world. With each passing year, he grew more despondent when, on a spring night in 1977, he decided it was time to stop the madness. He sold all his possessions and bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii. Along a palm-dotted Hawaiian coastal road, where tourists often take leisurely drives, Mark Chapman was driving into eternity. With a hose from an old vacuum dangling from one hand, he drove to a secluded spot and pulled over. He attached the hose to his tailpipe, started the engine and waited peacefully, knowing that his miserable existence would soon come to a merciful end. Then, just as the deadly fumes began wafting through his nostrils, Mark Chapman was rescued by a passing fisherman.

As John Lennon lay dying on the bloodstained asphalt, his killer stood by calmly watching. Mark Chapman had become Mark David Chapman. Within hours that name would be whispered by millions of heartbroken Lennon fans around the globe. Chapman had longed for fame. Now he was the most infamous man on earth. And the most hated. Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life for Lennon’s murder. Two years into his sentence, he accepted God’s plan of salvation, fully surrendered his life to  Christ, and began witnessing to his fellow prisoners. Soon after his reawakening, he and his wife, Gloria, founded All About Jesus Ministries, a prison ministry that seeks to lead inmates to Christ with Chapman’s story of murder and redemption. Chapman has been witnessing to prisoners for decades through his ministry, but he is not without his skeptics. In a recent parole board hearing, he was asked this question: Many prisoners claim to find God. What makes you different? “I didn’t find God,” he said. “God found me.”

A few weeks ago, a letter arrived at the offices of Christian Library International. It was from Mark David Chapman. Included with the letter was his gospel tract, The Man Who Shot John Lennon. The Christ-centered tract has been widely distributed to prisons across the country. In it, Chapman is brutally honest about his life leading up to Lennon’s murder. He uses his life as an example of how God can save even the worst among us.

If it is true that God works in strange ways, then Mark David Chapman’s life is a living example of this truth. In his drug-induced youth, God sent a humble fisherman to save him from himself. Now Mark David Chapman is a fisher of men.

If you believe that you have a calling to join us in prison ministry, you can learn more about how to get involved here.


Seamus Duerr