By Caroline Gluck
David Lu was given two jail terms before he reformed
David Lu has led a colourful life, to say the least.
His younger years were spent fighting, stealing and bullying.
An expert in tae kwon do and boxing, he soon became a gangster - a member of what is still Taiwan's largest organised crime syndicate, the Bamboo Union.
His job was working as the gang's debt collector - threatening force to get people to pay back money they owed from gambling.
His career as a criminal resulted in two spells in jail. But then came the turning point - Lu converted to Christianity.
Since his release from prison, he has become a pastor, dedicating his life to preaching the gospel and opening new churches.
His remarkable story of bad boy-turned-good was described in his autobiography, The Sword and The Sheath, and inspired many in Taiwan.
Now a US film company plans to turn it into a movie, with production expected to start next year.
"It's not very important for my story to become a movie," said 51-year-old Pastor Lu.
"But I said to the Lord: if you can use it... to help people to change their life.. let it happen."
"I committed a lot [of crimes] - kidnap, robbery, killing people... many things, intimidation. And I was sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison," he said.
Pastor Lu describes jail as little more than a school for crime.
"Prison in Taiwan is a place where, if you are a small thief, you learn a lot. When you leave, you become a big thief," he said.
It was during his second term in jail that he converted to Christianity.
At the time he was receiving letters from a Christian girl, the sister of a man he had recruited into the gang.
The turning point came with the sudden death of a prison inmate who had become a mentor figure to David. It forced him to reassess his life - and turn to God.
When he was finally released from jail in 1979 - cleared of two charges of kidnapping and robbery - he entered a seminary, where he was joined by the Christian girl who had written to him in prison.
The two fell in love and later married.
But initially, his presence in the church was not easy.
"At the beginning people said: 'This guy who was a troublemaker in society will also be a troublemaker in the church'," he said.
"But I apologised to people I had beaten, and helped people who were alcoholics or smoking or taking opium.
"After three years, many people had already changed. After five years, we had 300 in our congregation. And in the last 20 years, we have opened another four churches," he said.
Man of the people
"I helped criminals, prisoners - maybe 3,000 people have changed," he said, adding that about 150 gangsters had also become Christians.
Pastor Lu has encouraged many thousands to become Christian
Former prisoners like Wang Shih Ping say that without Pastor Lu's lead they would never have reformed.
"Without him, it would be impossible. We spent years, decades, with gangsters. We don't have real friends," he said.
"Without meeting him, I don't think we'd have had any chance."
Today, media coverage of Pastor Lu's past is attracting new members to his churches.
Congregants describe him as highly intelligent leader, someone who can draw on real-life examples to demonstrate that he understands their problems - and can help them with their struggles.
"He's different from the others. He'll always pick up points, pick up theories deeply, and cite examples from his personal experience," said Tsui Chong Yi.
"He always encourages us to do better," he added.
Another congregant said Pastor Lu was especially popular with the young.
"Kids learn how to respect others and get to know our Lord," he said. "They respect Pastor Lu - he behaved badly but now he's become a good person and a pastor. They think he's great."
The charismatic pastor says he will continue to work hard for the Church.
He has plans to open a large centre that will provide education, skills training and counselling for the disadvantaged, including former prisoners.
"It's never too late to be changed," he said with a smile. "Everyone can be changed. It's never too late."