Here is a link to an audio recording of George Mensik preaching and giving his testimony. You will find this personal account to be the harsh truth about George’s sinful life, and then the glorious change that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ brought to his life.
This is the final installment of the “A Gangster for Christ” episodes. I encourage folks who knew George Mensik, or heard him speak, or know of results from his ministry, to post comments and any information you have about this remarkable man.
On the day we moved in 1954 into the parsonage on Chicago’s south side, I remember being taken to the Gossage Grill at 63rd and Kedzie that was owned by church deacon Cecil Gossage. I think it was George Mensik that took me that day to pick up a bag of hamburgers for our family. Maybe it was another man…because at Marquette Manor Baptist Church there were several dozen faithful men who were always ready to serve. But George Mensik, former gangster, was a key personality in that band of godly brothers who possessed an unwavering passion for lost souls, and he instantly became a strong friend of our family. George was known as our “preachin’ deacon” during my dad’s short three year ministry at Marquette.
I learned just this week from Jim McCarty, a fellow Boys Brigade club member of that era, that George Mensik frequently hung out at Gossage Grill when he was not out preaching. As I remember, George and Elsie Mensik lived just around the corner and down the block from the little lunch-counter restaurant where Cecil doled out his famous chili, delicious grilled hamburgers, and a steady dose of the gospel to customers who would line up three-deep to be fed. I know that Cecil and George were ardent witnesses for Christ who unashamedly shared their faith constantly. And I can imagine that George shared his testimony with many a patron in that shop.
Gossage Grill was a gospel factory. Almost weekly Cecil was bringing a recent convert to church that he had led to the Lord; or he was shepherding some down-on-his-luck soul he was witnessing to at the time. Cecil thrived on that kind of stuff. So did George Mensik. These men would regularly go with a group of Marquette men to preach and witness at the downtown Chicago rescue missions, including the famed Pacific Garden Mission. By the time I arrived on the scene, as a 13 year old, these laymen were well established in their ministry practice, and I was challenged and inspired by them all.
When my dad was taken to heaven three years later in a plane crash it was the men of the church who really stepped up to encourage and guide me in my Christian walk. George Mensik was especially significant in that ministry of mentoring me.
If you query the archives of Newspapers.com you will find literally dozens of articles published during the 50s and 60s in small town and city newspapers that announce the preaching of George Mensik in local churches. He traveled all over holding evangelistic meetings and getting into to local prisons wherever he could. But getting into the ministry was not an easy proposition for George.
I remember him a number of times saying from the pulpit, “Most preachers get their sermons with points 1, 2 and 3, but I get my sermons like a ball of string and then I try to unravel it. Amen?” George had no formal Bible training, and no college education. He was a graduate of many jails and prisons – and the school of hard knocks. His language and Chicago accent was smothered in street lingo and colorful gangland expressions. But his compassion was glowing and apparent. He would say with a tear in his voice, “Every time they threw me in jail they would say, ‘we’re going to make you a better man.’ But praise God when he saved me he made me a new man. Amen?”
While I was still in high school I remember being in a conversation with him when he told me how difficult it was for the church members at Marquette Manor to accept him for several years after he was saved. He very honestly expressed that he could not blame them. He knew that it was a great risk for the congregation to take him into their midst knowing that past gang members and various temptations existed right there in their neighborhood that was home turf for the mob organization. He said that he realized that he had to live the life of a true Christian to be accepted and trusted.
By the time I met him he had been saved for over fifteen years and the grace of God was powerfully evident in his life. He had also developed a burden for men serving time in prison – and especially for those awaiting execution. I heard him on a number of occasions talk about prisoners who he led to saving faith in Christ and then walked with them to the electric chair. All of this led him to acquire a deep concern for the families of the inmates that he met and ministered to all over the country.
When I was in seminary George came to Minneapolis to preach, and took Connie and me to a restaurant for lunch. After eating we walked to the cash register. He opened his wallet and fanned out seven $100 bills and said to the waitress, “Do ya tink dat will cover da bill?” I said to him, “George, you shouldn’t be carrying around a big wad of money like that! Somebody could rob you.” He looked up to me from his stout and rotund body, squinted and spat out, “Let ‘em try!”
He then went on to tell me that he had to carry lots of cash so that he could help the families of prisoners that he visited. He said, “You can’t buy groceries for needy kids out there on the road with a checkbook, or plastic. If they have a need you have to have cash.” No one but the Lord knows how many families he helped. He carried 3×5 note cards in his shirt pocket that described the stories of families of prisoners that he fed, clothed, and led to Christ. After reading a short testimony from a card, he would lift his face to the congregation and say, “That’s my paycheck! Amen?” And then he would read another, and an another, and…every time adding, “Amen, brother, amen?”
He would say with a twinkle in his eye, “Da doc told me to watch my weight,” and then he would pat his considerable girth and growl, “I do. I keep it right where I can see it.” He carried all of the swagger and confidence of his underworld background and experience. Once early in my pastoral ministry I was with him, and a number of other preachers, at a famous huge south side Chicago restaurant. As we were walking across that enormous dining room I heard the buzz of chatter from surrounding diners. They thought George was “hizzoner” Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. As they say in the south, “he did favor” the famous Mayor Daley in appearance. I think George knew exactly what was going on and gave a little wink to loyal voters.
George Menisk was truly a trophy of God’s grace. We don’t see many conversions like his in our day. May we pray, and ask the Lord: “Do it again, Lord. Do it again.”
George Mensik went on to become an evangelist for the famous Pacific Garden Mission, and then became the very first missionary appointed by the Baptist World Mission.
God was working on George Mensik. One day early in the year of 1937 he told his wife and little girl that he would go to church with them. They had not attended church since they became Christians and did not know just where to go. The radio provided their “church.” So a letter was written to the office of the Christian Business Men’s Committee asking for a suggestion as to what church they might attend. Instead of a letter, the Mensik’s received a visit from E.G. Zorn, at that time executive secretary of the committee. Then he learned the story. He then recommended the Marquette Manor Baptist Church, not only because it was close by, but because it also stood for genuine Christianity.
That is why on the morning of February 28, 1937, Mr. and Mrs. George Mensik and the daughter walked in the church. Rev. M.A. McCone was preaching during special services. Back home at the dinner table, George looked at his wife. “Did you ever tell that preacher anything about me?” he asked. She never had seen or known the evangelist before. Her husband was curious. The preacher seemed to talk about him all during the sermon. George decided he would go back that afternoon to check up. Again the message seemed for him alone. Mensik left the services deeply stirred.
Marquette Manor Baptist
6001 S. California, Chicago, Illinois
At the door Pastor E.O. Odegard grasped his hand very warmly. He asked Mensik if he were a Christian. George assured him that his wife and daughter were Christians. Mr. Odegard saw at once that he had a real opportunity to present Christ and pressed his advantage. He then invited Mensik downstairs to a quiet room where they might talk man to man. Before they left the room another sinner had turned to the Savior.
The announcement at home struck joy to the hearts of his family. Now the three could be united in fellowship and prayer. But George knew only how to make his living with his wits. At that moment he was a card dealer in one of Danny Stanton’s gambling joints, and for two and a half months afterward he worked steadily at his job. Then, one afternoon God spoke to him: “What are you doing here?” George stopped, realizing for the first time that as a Christian he had not business in such a place. He shoved the cards across the table to the boss and said he was through.
“What’s the matter, aren’t we paying you enough?” asked the surprised operator.
“I’m getting plenty,” explained Mensik, “but I took Christ as my Savior a couple of months ago, and I don’t belong here. I’m leaving!” And he did.
When he told his wife he had given up his place as a card dealer, she said, “Thank God! I’ve been praying that you would.”
The first job George landed was as a night watchman with a mail order house. Several months later he was told he would have to carry a gun. That meant obtaining a permit from the detective bureau. Apprehensive of what might happen next, George went with a company official to the bureau where he was listed under his right name and several aliases. In a few minutes his record was dug up. It was bad. There would be no permit. The mail order official was rather sympathetic but told George that, of course, the job was off until he could clear up his record.
Back home he sat down and wrote a letter to Chief of Detectives Allman, acknowledging his past life, but recounting his conversion and asking if the chief wouldn’t intervene on his behalf. He needed an honest job. That night George took the letter to prayer meeting and the entire group went to its knees.
A few days later a reply came from Chief Allman. Mr. Mensik was to return to the Detective Bureau and renew his application. He asked for Christian business men to accompany him as character witnesses. There, before his amazed eyes, the bureau officials not only granted him the desired permit, but removed his finger prints and photographs from the crime files, and destroyed them.
Mr. Mensik heard about the Fisherman’s Club in Cicero and began to attend Saturday afternoon meetings. He was thrilled with the testimonies of twice-born men, some of whom were saved from lives of deep crime. Their fellowship gave him courage and zeal to win others. He applied for membership and found that the application form had a “catch” in it for him. No smoker could be allowed as a member! George was a heavy smoker, chiefly of marijuana. The form stayed in this pocket for six months. One Sunday evening as he stood outside the church he decided on the basis of Philippians 4:13 that he could get along without smokes. He destroyed all he had.
Today this man is greatly used of God to point other men and women to his Savior. Frequently he is invited by churches in other cities to spend a week-end there, testifying for Christ. He has witnessed in a great many rescue missions, hospitals, jails. For four and a half years he has been employed by a steel company in the Chicago area.
His employers permit Mr. Mensik to carry on his Gospel work in whatsoever way he desires. Once a week at two company plants he holds a shop meeting. The company pays for all the supplies for a tract rack maintained in the plant, and they have provided him with $150.00 to spend for soldiers’ Bibles. Every afternoon a prayer meeting is held by 17 plant Christians, some of whom are Mr. Mensik’s converts. George Mensik is a living demonstration of the power of God in the life of a man saved from sin.
This account was published originally in “Power” magazine in August of 1944. That publication was produced and distributed by The Scripture Press of Chicago. Today Scripture Press is owned by David C. Cook of Colorado Springs, CO. The story was also reprinted in the book, “I Was Born Again” in 1947. That book was a collection of “Conversion Stories” compiled by Norman Wingert, and published by E.V. Publishing House of Nappanee, IN.
George Mensik went on to become an evangelist for the famous Pacific Garden Mission. And then became the very first missionary appointed by the Baptist World Mission, as a missionary to the prisons and prisoners of America.
In August of 1944 POWER magazine, distributed as a Sunday School take-home paper, published the following testimony of George Mensik. George was a deacon in my dad’s church, Marquette Manor Baptist, when we arrived in Chicago in 1954. As a 13 year old kid this amazing man made a powerful impact on my life. Here is George’s testimony.
This story will be shared on gracejourney.blog as a two-part series. The second part will include an audio recording of George’s testimony given during a preaching occasion.
When POWER heard the remarkable story of George Mensik’s conversion we knew at once that it would be of intense interest to all our readers. But POWER well understands and thoroughly sympathizes with George Mensik’s desire to keep his past in the past. There is only one reason now why he permits the story to be published here; that it might help some teen-ager turn to his Saviour.
Danny Stanton, notorious big-time gangster in the Chicago area for a number of years, had been filled with shotgun slugs and the police were on the prowl to pick up the most likely assassin. They were sure they saw one in the person of George J. Mensik as he drove his along Washington Boulevard that Saturday afternoon on his way to the Fisherman’s Club in Cicero.
The police forced him the curb, asked what he knew of Danny Stanton.
“Haven’t seen Stanton for six years,” responded Mensik.
“Where ya’ goin’?” they demanded.
“To the Fisherman’s Club in Cicero,” Mensik replied.
“Likely story,” said the officer, “There are no fishermen out there! They’re down in the lake.”
“These fishermen are Christians who call themselves ‘fishers of other men,” explained Mensik.
By this time Mensik had been frisked for concealed weapons. One of his pockets yielded his Bible, another a package of tracts. At the police station he was plied with more questions because it was known by headquarters that at one time he was a Danny Stanton henchman – before he had taken Christ as his Savior. Mensik urged the officers to phone the Fisherman’s Club at the Cicero Bible Church and check up on him. They did, and E.F. Gibbs, business manager of the church, picked up the phone.
“Why, yes, we know George Mensik,” said Gibbs. “He comes here nearly every Saturday afternoon for a meeting of the Fisherman’s Club. Its members are men who have been saved from sin by…” The officer hung up. He had heard enough. Mensik was released immediately. But before he left he had given his stern captors a straight-from-the-shoulder testimony as to why he left the underworld and became a Christian.
He began a life of crime at the ripe age of nine. George came from “back o’ the yards” in Chicago, which meant a very tough neighborhood. He was one of 12 children. He knew nothing of the Bible; in fact, hadn’t looked within its pages. Wasn’t his religion to take him to Heaven? George thought so!
From nine to eighteen George developed big-time technique. He organized his own gang and was in and out of reform schools like jack-the-box. During prohibition days he turned to beer running, driving a truck for a notorious bootleg character.
There was a string of burglaries to the gang’s charge. Ransacking homes became routine, stealing cars simply a change to break monotony. He and his gang were picked up periodically, but the police couldn’t prove anything. There always was a lawyer smart enough to get them off, one who knew how to “get to the judge.” The cost was heavy, of course, but it was a lot better than serving time.
A payroll stick-up was one job on his gang’s schedule. They carried machine guns neatly wrapped in newspapers laid across their laps as they drove to the scene. Their plans miscarried, however, for the truck bearing the money failed to show up.
On another occasion George drove the car which carried a contemporary gangster on what was to be his last ride. The body was dumped off right in front of the hospital. The intended victim lived. Some six months later, as George and another underworld character who was primarily responsible for the attempted bump-off, stood together is a saloon, the now recovered “corpse” walked in. George’s companion and the newcomer saw each other at the same instant, drew their weapons, and a few minutes later both lay dead on the floor. By the time the police arrived the “evidence” had vanished – mysteriously.
George Mensik lived with his wife and five year-year-old daughter on the south side. Mrs. Mensik was not well and in 1935 faced a serious operation. At the hospital a few days before the operation she began to tap the ether waves, via her radio, for a program offering help and comfort. She brought in the noonday broadcast of the Christian Business Men’s Committee from a downtown Chicago theater. The Gospel message touched her and she accepted Christ as her Savior a few hours before being wheeled in the operating room.
Six months later little Shirley, seated at the radio listening to the KYB broadcast by Aunt Theresa over WMBI, also opened her heart top Christ. That made two Christians in George Mensik’s home to pray earnestly for his salvation.
George saw a change in his family. Something had taken place. One day he came upon his own little girl praying.
Fearful, lest he would be angry, she timidly explained, “I’m praying for you, Daddy.”
Surprised, he asked, in a less harsh tone, “Why are you praying for me?”
“Well,” she said, “I love you, and Jesus love you, and we want you to be saved.”
Deeply touched, the hardened father stammered, “You just keep on praying for Daddy.” Every time he recalls that scene today, tears fill his eyes.
Part 2 will finish the story of George’s thrilling and life transforming testimony.