(April 28, 2002)


Luis Carrera, 45, is founder and executive director of Colombiaís Teen Challenge and an appointed Assemblies of God missionary. Kirk Noonan, associate editor, recently met with him in Colombia.


EVANGEL: You started using illegal drugs and alcohol as a child?

CARRERA: I grew up in a poor neighborhood in lower Manhattan. We lived in a tenement building and around it were abandoned buildings where my friends and I used to play.

When I was 9 years old I was sexually abused in one of the buildings. I felt ashamed and humiliated and thought I couldnít tell anyone about the attack so I started looking for a way out and found it, at least temporarily, by smoking marijuana.


EVANGEL: What other changes occurred in your life?

CARRERA: My mother used to take me to church, but after I was abused I stopped going because I blamed God for what happened. I used to say, "If God were really the God of love and mercy, why did He allow that to happen to me?"


EVANGEL: Was marijuana your drug of choice?

CARRERA: For a while, but I eventually shot heroin for the first time when I was 11 years old. That high lasted a long time and seemed to take away the pain, hatred and anger I felt. As my drug abuse escalated I started stealing and was arrested when I was 13 for stealing a car.


EVANGEL: What was it like being jailed for the first time?

CARRERA: I was petrified. The only thing I knew about prison life was what I had seen on television. I kept to myself while I was incarcerated, but when I returned to the neighborhood there was an unexpected surprise waiting for me. All the neighborhood kids hailed me as a tough guy.

In a strange way I felt like I got some of my manhood back because I had gone to jail and survived. I decided that if I couldnít be a man in a good way then I was going to be a man in a bad way.


EVANGEL: Besides trying to forget your abuse, why were drugs so appealing to you?

CARRERA: At the time, drugs were cheap ó I could buy a $2 bag of heroin with my lunch money. It seemed everyone was getting high. Iíd go to a local park and see college students and middle-class men and women getting high, so I figured there couldnít be anything wrong with it.


EVANGEL: Did you ever realize the drugs were leading you down a dangerous path to either the grave or prison?

CARRERA: I didnít care. As long as I could stay high I didnít have to deal with the torment I felt inside of me. I worried constantly that the guys who abused me would tell people in the neighborhood and I would be labeled a homosexual. I was always trying to prove to myself and others that I was a man and if that meant I had to do drugs, commit crimes and go to jail, I was willing to do it.


EVANGEL: You were sentenced to the state penitentiary for three to five years when you were 18. What were some of the realities in prison?

CARRERA: One day as I walked in a tunnel the prisoners called Times Square I saw a guy get robbed and stabbed to death. That caused me to become even more introverted. The fear of being there and being alone was overwhelming and I became paranoid.


EVANGEL: What did you do to survive?

CARRERA: I didnít talk to anyone. I would come out of my cell and sit in front of it and not say a word. Eventually, everyone just thought I was crazy, which is what I wanted, so no one would bother me.


EVANGEL: Did you ever call out to God?

CARRERA: I had a Christian friend who always talked to me about the Lord. Many times he would come to visit me. Each time heíd bring the book The Cross and the Switchblade and tell me that if God could change Nicky Cruz He could change me. Though I didnít want to hear it and wanted nothing to do with God, my friendís words always came to mind.


EVANGEL: How did you come to trust Christ as your Savior?

CARRERA: While in the Manhattan House of Detention I worked in the infirmary. There, I met a man who held Bible studies for prisoners. He always talked to me about the Lord and told me I needed to attend his church when I was released. I had no intention of going, but after getting out of prison I almost got hit by a car. The driver got out and to my surprise it was the nurse from the infirmary. He took me to church the next Sunday.


EVANGEL: Did you commit your life to Christ at church?

CARRERA: No, I didnít think God could change or love me because of all the things I had done and been through. But I met my momís pastor and he talked to me in a way no one ever had. The love and grace of God seemed to emanate from him. After meeting with him several times I felt convicted that there was a God who loved me and wanted to reach out and touch me.

My momís pastor told us about Youth Challenge [a program similar to Teen Challenge] and said if I wanted to change I had to give God a chance. As we drove to the center [which is located in Hartford, Conn.] all the encounters and conversations I had with people about the Lord flashed through my mind.

I went into a classroom where men were studying Teen Challenge curriculum and reading their Bibles. One of the counselors came over to me and said, "Luis are you ready to allow God to change your life?"

I started crying and shaking and fell to the floor calling out to God. I asked Him to forgive me. The more I cried and asked for forgiveness, the weaker I became. When I got up I knew I had changed. The weight of the world had left me, but the junkie in me wanted that feeling again. But drugs never gave me the feeling I felt that day and I realized Christ was what I had been looking for all along.


EVANGEL: How did you kick your habits?

CARRERA: I cried out to God and asked Him to deliver me from drugs. My prayers were always, "God, I donít ever want to go back to putting a needle in my arm." The Lord said, "As long as you serve Me, you will never go back to using drugs again."


EVANGEL: How did you find peace from the abuse you suffered?

CARRERA: While in the program I was asked to share my testimony at a youth prison. The Holy Spirit told me that it was time to share what had happened in that abandoned building. I shared with the teenagers the story of my abuse and that the devil destroyed my life because I never reached out for help. Many of the teenagers came forward for prayer. The Holy Spirit told me my testimony would help others, and that if I shared it others would be spared from going through what I went through.


From: http://www.pentecostalevangel.ag.org/