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Meet Philly Jesus – The Former Drug Addict Who Became a “Walking Billboard for the King of Kings”

Once a heroin addict, young Michael Grant managed to turn his life around and become Philly Jesus, one of Philadelphia’s most iconic characters. Since April last year, the 28-year-old has been hanging out at LOVE park, in Center City, dressed as Jesus Christ. “I’m not the real Jesus,” he admits upfront. “I’m just a huge fan. I’m doing it as a walking billboard for the King of Kings.”

Every day, Grant walks seven miles to LOVE Park, carrying with him a 12-foot wooden cross with wheels at the bottom that he made himself. “This is my way of letting my light shine, by carrying a cross in the ‘hood’,” he explained. “This is my way of sharing Jesus without preaching a blow horn and condemning people. It’s like making a statement. When they look at me, I don’t want them to see Michael, I want them to see Jesus.”

Grant, who was raised in a Catholic family, is the older of two brothers. His mother says that he was always a creative child, did theater and loved drawing. He even went to a clown school, where he learned to juggle knives and torches. “He liked people’s reactions, so he always liked reaching people that way,” she said.

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Photo: Twitter

Following a bad breakup in 2005, Grant tried to stop his ex-girlfriend from leaving by standing in front of her car. That didn’t work – she just ran over him and he sustained severe injuries on his knees and abdomen. He was given painkillers during recovery, and that’s how he got addicted to opiates. At his worst, he would shoot up to 20 bags of heroin a day. Eventually, he became homeless.

But all of that changed when Grant found Jesus. He has been sober for almost two years now, and believes that he was saved by Jesus during a behavioral modification program following a drug arrest. “I considered myself completely healed and cured when I surrendered my heart to Jesus Christ. Jesus took the needle out of my arm and the crack pipe out of my mouth,” he said. And dressing up as Jesus is his way of “planting seeds for Dad.” He means God, obviously.

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Photo: Philly Jesus/Facebook

“Instead of me going up to people, pushing the Gospel on them, nonbelievers and believers come up to me and say, ‘Hey Philly Jesus, can we get a picture with you?’ because everyone wants a picture with Jesus. That’s a green light for me to share the Gospel with them.”

Performing as Philly Jesus is what he does for a living now – he doesn’t exactly ask people for money, but people who believe in what he’s doing will give him cash, clothes and shelter. He stays with his friends and family these days, and has no desire to get a regular 9-to-5 job.

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Photo: Philly Jesus/Facebook

Grant does have his share of haters. “When Jesus walked with the cross, people were throwing rocks at him and spitting on him and all types of stuff. I’m not surprised,” he said. “You’re always going to have your haters, you know what I’m saying?” But he doesn’t to take insults quietly. Instead he screams the scriptures back at people who offend him.

He was even arrested last November and charged with disorderly conduct after ice-skating at the city’s Dilworth Park skating rink while wearing his trademark robes and carrying his staff. Grant later wrote on Twitter that the officer who arrested him had accused him of solicitation. The cop apparently told Grant to leave the area, and when he refused, he ended up in jail.

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Photo: Imgur

“Those are charges that, in my experience, the government uses when you don’t do whatever the government wants you to do, or that the police officer wants you to do,” said Charles Gibbs, Grant’s lawyer. “He’s a very decent young man who is simply exercising his First Amendment right of speech. To have our local government try and crucify a guy who is standing in LOVE Park and spreading a message of hope and peace is reminiscent of what happened 2,000 years ago – and still patently disturbing.”

But apart from the handful of haters, Philly Jesus mostly gets love from people who visit the park. “I saw Jesus and I got excited,” said Michell Heim, 45, who waded into a fountain at the park just to get a hug from Grant. “It’s definitely different than being baptized by a minister. It’s exciting to be baptised by Jesus.”

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Photo: Philly.com

Grant regularly baptizes his ‘disciples’ at the fountain. In fact, he was in the news last December for baptizing a tourist visiting Philadelphia for the Made in America music festival. 30-year-old Dennis Herrera, of Staten Island, New York, said he spotted Grant dressed in a white robe and staff in hand while passing through the park. “He said to jump in the water,” Herrera said. “I said, ‘Hey, when in Rome…”

“This is not the first baptism I did at the fountain,” Grant told reporters. “I do it every day. Like in a six-hour day in LOVE Park, I probably baptize six or seven people.” He explained that the public baptism shows one’s love of Jesus. “It is you making the conscious decision as an adult. Jesus said anyone who acknowledges me in public, I will also acknowledge before my father and the holy angels in heaven.”

 

Interestingly, Grant says a part of him doesn’t want to be Jesus at all. “My old self wants to live a regular life, have a job and a normal life, meet a woman, have kids, settle down, but God has me doing this,” he explained. “When God calls you, you can try to run away from it but it always catches up with you.”

Sources: Philly.com, NBC Philadelphia

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