Carlos' story is like many urban tales. His parents divorced when he was young. Then he moved in with his aunt, four uncles, and grandmother. Since they were a devout Catholic family, Carlos did hear about Jesus and faith. But when he was 12, he returned to his mother's home.
While she worked, Carlos roamed the streets, choosing the wrong kind of friends. He became so close to one gang leader that many thought they were brothers. The friendship led to drugs, addiction, and violence. Although he was a decent student by day, after school Carlos lived in the vortex of crime. Then a new girl came to school. When Carlos took interest in her, Ana invited him to attend the local Church of the Nazarene with her.
Carlos Salazar was not at all interested in God or religion - but he was interested in Ana. So he quickly accepted her invitation.
But Ana soon learned this fellow student wasn't all he appeared. "It's over," she told him when she learned of his drug use. Immediately, Carlos promised that he would quit the drugs, but he felt it would be impossible to break the chains of addiction on his own. Remembering what his family had taught him about God years earlier, he knew that his only hope for success was with God's strength - so he began to pray. Carlos associated less and less with the gang, but the other members began asking why he was not attending their Saturday meetings.
Carlos knew to totally break with the gang he would need to be "jumped out." This meant the other gang members would beat him - a procedure usually lasting until the "traitor" was seriously injured or dead. Ana took Carlos to her district superintendent for advice. He prayed with Carlos and reminded him of Psalm 34:17-20, which speaks of the Lord's comfort and protection.
At their next meeting, Carlos gathered enough courage to sever his ties with the gang. Forty pairs of stony eyes watched as Carlos told them he wanted out. "Remove him!" One young man demanded. Immediately the room went into action. But as he braced himself, Carlos was shocked when the members began pummeling the one who had suggested his beating.
"There was no doubt that God manifested Himself," he explains today. "After leaving without a scratch, I thanked God and told Him that I would do everything in my power to never turn back." Though he was relieved at his uncommonly easy exit from the gang, Carlos felt guilty. He didn't feel he deserved God's protection and compassion after he had hurt so many people.
The next day, he again went to church with Ana. As he fell to the altar during the service, the pastor explained that Jesus had given His life so Carlos could receive God's forgiveness. That day Carlos asked God to forgive his sins and to take control of his life. Although God forgave Carlos, some gang members didn't quite accept the "forgive and forget" philosophy.
When Carlos made his faith public through baptism in 1999, several gang members expressed their opinion by stabbing him in the back, piercing his lung. For three days, Carlos lay in intensive care. But again, God delivered him.
As God worked in Carlos's life, He also worked in Ana's heart. Their relationship culminated in marriage, and now Carlos and Ana have two young daughters, Amy and Andrea. Carlos' relationship with Jesus has also continued to grow. He has worked for the past five years with the Church of the Nazarene's communications ministry in Guatemala City. As a graphic designer and video editor, Carlos, the former addict and gang member, now produces tools to lead others to a new and fulfilling life in Christ.
Can God draw an addict and gang leader, who became a traitor, out of the grip of sin, never to return to the old ways of life? Carlos is living proof that He can and He does.
Jennifer Edgerton is a former missionary to the Mexico and Central America Region.
Holiness Today, September/October 2006