My name is Tony. I was born in Puerto Rico in 1949 — the youngest of four children. Our family left Puerto Rico when I was less than a year old. We made our home in Chicago, Illinois, “the land of opportunity.”

My father was gone most of the time. My mother was the one who raised us – three boys and one girl. At a young age, I grew rebellious. At age eight I started stealing; age thirteen, smoking and drinking. I quit school in the eighth grade. My two brothers and I joined a gang in Chicago. It was in that environment that we began taking drugs. We frequented wild parties and participated in crime. We also became involved in gang wars because of “territorial rights.” As a result of these wars, people were injured and killed. I was injured often.

To escape this life of fear and terror, my two brothers Willie and Victor joined the Marines in 1967. Eight months later, a knock on our door brought us the message that Victor was killed in Vietnam. At the time, my other brother, Willie, was on leave. Upon receiving this tragic message, Willie went AWOL, and ended up spending time in prison because of it. Our family had Victor buried in Puerto Rico and my mother returned there a year later to live, not knowing this would be her resting place too. She died a year later of lung cancer.

At this point, I felt life had dealt me a bitter hand. Having only a brother and a sister left, I didn’t care much about living. As time passed, I became more involved with drugs. I was introduced to heroin, not knowing this would be the drug that would take control of my life. However, at first heroin was fun and a way to escape. I had a job doing seemingly well for myself. But the day came when I realized I was hooked! Then I lost my job, and soon thereafter, my self-respect, what little I had. Then I quit caring, and moved heavily into crime. Armed robberies, burglaries, and car thieving became my means to support my habit.

On one particular occasion, some “associates” and I broke into a home. We tied up the people and burglarized their home. One of my “associates” wanted to kill the people. When I saw what he wanted to do, I said, “We weren’t going to harm anybody, remember!?” I didn’t want our victims hurt. I just wanted to obtain money to support my habit. The people fortunately were not killed, but we were caught and incarcerated.

In the Cook County Jail in Chicago, I had a lot of time to think. I began to think a lot about the Lord, for I used to go to a Catholic school when I was young. The time came when I prayed to the Lord that if He would get me out of prison, I would serve Him. Before going to court, I was facing four to twelve years in the state penitentiary. I believe the Lord answered my prayer. I was given five years probation!

Once out of jail, sad to say, I went back to my old ways. Not long after I found myself running through Humboldt Park – the police shooting at me. Another time, I was dealing drugs, and a bullet grazed my head.

Misery continued to grow inside of me, and the day came when I contemplated suicide. I decided to overdose with heroin. Plunging the needle deep in my vein, somehow I passed out. Waking up several hours later, I found the needle still stuck in my arm. The blood had dried around it. Was I being spared? Was the Master somehow keeping His hand upon me?

Years passed. I stayed addicted to drugs. Yet I knew I had to change. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, for I had tried every possible method, all to no avail. Hopelessly confused and weighing then a scant 110 pounds, I searched for answers.

Finally . . . a breakthrough came! One day my cousin, Edwin (who also had a drug addiction and was involved in crime), and I had a talk. Edwin told me that he had joined a drug rehabilitation program that was Christ centered. I saw a changed Edwin. I knew what he was like in the past. I liked what I saw now. Edwin told me that Christ could change me like He had changed him.

Because I had tried everything else, I somehow knew for the first time in my life that Jesus Christ was my only hope of ever being changed. So I joined this program, Prevention House, in Chicago.

Two weeks later I gave my life to the Lord. Romans 10:13 became my favorite scripture.

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,

I realized that “whosoever” meant me. And upon turning my life over to Jesus Christ, I never realized how beautiful the flowers and grass were until that day. God knocked the scales off my eyes! Suddenly I saw beauty where I never saw it before.

Since then, I’ve found that people sometimes feel like they need to be perfect to serve the Lord, but I would like to give notice that I am far from being perfect. I have made mistakes, but

 ” … He which hath begun a good work in you (me) will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6

That’s part of the hope I have, and I rest in it, as other imperfect Christians do.

Over the years, in God’s own divine providence, He has taken me from a drug addict on the streets of Chicago and elevated me to the dean of men of Prevention House, and from there to being a counseling staff member at Western Michigan Teen Challenge (also a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in western Michigan) for several years. From there, God has also opened doors for me to minister in area churches, and in prison. My sole purpose in all this is to put hope in the hearts of the hopeless.

God has blessed me with a wonderful, spiritual wife who endeavors to understand me, and, bless her heart, prays for me continually, as I do for her.

As each day passes, my burden for the lost – the unsaved – increases. In May 1989, my brother Willie, age 42, died of internal bleeding and cirrhosis of the liver due to drug abuse. Therefore, I now purpose in my heart to be a hand extended to all the other “Willies” crying out for the Master’s touch.