From prison to the pulpit: Bethany pastor shares his life story with a surprising twist

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Every Wednesday afternoon the Tulakes Food Pantry is packed. People stop in to pick out free loaves of bread, boxes of food; a blessing in a bag.

Thaddeus Black can be seen greeting every person with a smile, laugh, or a hug. He is the pastor at Tulakes Community Church where he preaches to families, and young men and women, who live in a troubled area of Bethany.

“We have an open arms vision,” said Black. “We try to get to know these youth. It’s hard to grab all of them, but the ones that we can create a good safe space for, we can.”

A safe space far away from the plagued path he chose. One that put him in prison.

“I started selling drugs probably about the early part of 1996,” said Black. “You pick up this drug sack, and the next thing you know, you’re selling drugs. It just becomes that part of that culture you get into.”

Black was a married father of two who became a cocaine dealer.

“I did it hard and fast,” said Black.

The FBI was fast to figure him out. After months of surveillance, agents tracked him down.

Two years of dealing drugs put him in federal prison for 11 years.

At his lowest point, locked up, he contemplated taking his own life. He tearfully made a jail house phone call to his mother.

“She said ‘The good Lord loves you, Thaddeus. He loves you,’” said Black. “It was that moment, I’m telling you, that was like a light switch that came on inside my soul.”

His soul was saved, warmed by the word inside the cold concrete walls of his jail cell. Years had passed but not without his bible in hand.

When he was released, a young man he mentored behind bard introduced him to Gary Pitcock, a local business owner, who was willing to help.

“I said I’m not looking for a handout, brother,” said Black. “I just need a hand up right now.”

Pitcock gave him a job at his car dealership, a place to live, and asked him to come to church at Bethany First Church of Nazarene. It was not long before Black found a permanent place in the pews as a member.

He was called to share his testimony one Sunday morning and it was a story familiar to a man sitting in the congregation – former FBI agent Rick Rains.

“They showed that he was arrested by the FBI in Guthrie and I was like, well, wait a minute,” said Rains. “That’s when I called my friend and said, ‘What was the name of the case we worked on?’”

The case was that of Thaddeus Black. Rains was behind the lens of the camera that captured surveillance images the FBI would use to eventually put Black in prison.

“I remember coming up behind him and grabbed him, patted him on the back, said ‘Thaddeus, you’re not going to believe but I was on the surveillance team. I was probably the one taking your photo,’” said Rains.

Black couldn’t believe the connection.

“I was like you’ve got to be kidding me,” said Black.

Rains went from helping to put Black away, to helping him find his way in Christ. When Black wanted to become an ordained minister, Rains was on the board that recommended a minister’s license.

“I knew God had done a work in his life and that he called him to ministry,” said Rains.

📧 Have big stories come to you: Subscribe to KFOR News Alert emails

When Black was ordained, Rains and two other former FBI agents who had a hand in his arrest, were there to witness his full circle moment.

Which is why Black serves at Tulakes Food Pantry every week, feeding the hungry, and preaching the gospel from the pulpit while spreading the good word in a world desperate for hope.

As his church celebrates the birth of Jesus this Christmas, Black is reminded of his own rebirth. He does not regret his path because it led him to where he is today, his church, his faith, and to a connection with a foe turned friend.

“It’s a special, special friendship,” said Rains. “It’s just kind of crazy that God has put us together in such a close, such a close way.”

Another full circle moment for the two men was win Rains was named the godparent of Black’s grandchild. An area author is also writing a book about Black’s life.