At fifty years of age, having spent most of his life in a gang or prison, Lucky Te Koha was arrested yet again. Released later that night, he went home to sleep — but not before vowing to be at war with the police for the rest of his life. Little did he know, the next day would change his life forever.
Through a series of strange events, Lucky found himself standing in a church, surrounded by four policemen praying for him, one of whom was the arresting officer from the night before.
In an almost unbelievable moment, Lucky felt the years of hatred and anger lift off him and for the first time in his life he gained a sense of compassion for those men standing beside him.
Three years later, inspired by his own transformation, Lucky became a pastor and embarked on a radical mission.
Going into the gangs of Aotearoa, Lucky is helping patched gang members work through the trauma, addiction, aggression, and broken relationships that have crippled their lives.
Lucky must continue to face his own challenges, while reaching a hand into the gang world around him and pulling others up into a new way of living.
For Lucky, it isn’t about having patched members leave their gangs; it’s about rewriting the culture of the gangs to be a place of safety, belonging and healing.
His ultimate goal is to bring enough healing into the lives of these men that rival gang members will be able to unite together with the common purpose of bringing healing to their communities. Empowering them so that they will be able to choose love over hate and to forgive the wrongs of the past.
Powerful men determined to create a better upbringing for their children than the one they received from their fathers — this is the central theme flowing throughout the film. To become better fathers, these gang members have realised that they need to become stronger men.
The shared history of these gang members is a childhood filled with abuse, rejection, neglect, and trauma. The flow-on effect from their past has been an adult life filled with addiction, anger, violence, crime, loneliness, grief, and fear.
At the heart of all mankind is the deep-rooted need for acceptance and belonging. Having grown up in gang life or being rejected from society, these men have gathered together to create a place of support and protection — albeit a broken one.
This film is powerful in that it challenges general public perceptions of gangs. It digs deeper beyond the surface, going past gang patches and intimidation, revealing the common ground, the desire to feel loved, to be fathered, and to know that your children are taken care of.
Following the individual lives of gang members from Black Power Whakatane MG and The Mongrel Mob Kingdom, we explore the extraordinary journey of these men. Lucky Te Koha leads them through a process of forgiving those who have hurt them, accepting those who are different, and receiving healing from their past so that they might be men who leave a greater legacy for the next generation.
Spirituality runs deep within Māori culture. It is this foundation that opens the door for these men to allow faith in Atua to bring healing where there is brokenness, light where there is darkness, and for love to triumph over hate. This is powerfully evident as these gangs, which are traditionally full of hatred towards the police, are permitting some police officers with a mutual faith to join them as part of this healing process. This shared belief is forming a new bridge between two worlds that have always been at war. It is a beautiful picture of aroha and peace overcoming hate and prejudice.
For Lucky Te Koha, every meeting, conversation, and healing moment is building towards one ultimate climax. In his heart, he has a vision to bring together rival gang leaders from across the nation for a time of healing, forgiveness, and prayer. His hope is that with the work he is doing, he will be able to bring a unity that ushers in a new season of restoration for communities and families across the gang world of New Zealand.
After a solid year of working with these gangs and many others, he is getting closer and closer to that moment. If momentum continues, he expects to reach this unprecedented milestone during 2022. Key leaders from many of Aotearoa's most notorious gangs have already bought into this important tikanga and pledged to be part of this initiative.
Regardless of someone’s background and present situation, MANA ATUA demonstrates that even in the darkest places there can be light. It demonstrates that the power of love, forgiveness, and hope can prevail over trauma, anger, and hate and make a positive change for the generations to come.