Year Born: 1978
Country of Origin: El Salvador
History: Violent Gang Member
“If you really want to learn about God, stick with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I was amazed to hear that comment. At the time, I had been studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses for a little while. But for you to understand my reaction, let me explain a little bit about my life.
I was born in Quezaltepeque, a town in El Salvador. I was the 6th of 15 children. My parents tried to raise me to be honest and to obey the law. Additionally, Leonardo and others of Jehovah’s Witnesses occasionally came to teach us about the Bible. But I disregarded what I was taught and made one bad decision after another. When I was 14, I started drinking alcohol and taking drugs with my school friends. One by one, they left school to join a gang, and I followed their bad example. We spent our days on the streets, demanding money and stealing to pay for our vices.
The gang became my family. I believed that I owed them my loyalty. For example, one day a fellow gang member who was high on drugs assaulted one of my neighbors. During the fight, my neighbor managed to subdue my friend and call the police. Enraged, I started vandalizing my neighbor’s car with a heavy club in an effort to get him to let my friend go. My neighbor pleaded with me to stop as I smashed window after window and damaged the rest of his car, but I refused to listen.
When I was 18, my gang clashed with the police. As I was about to throw a homemade bomb, it exploded in my hand—I do not know exactly how. I only remember seeing my shattered hand—then I fainted. When I woke up in the hospital, I learned that I had lost my right hand and the hearing in my right ear and that I was almost blind in my right eye.
Despite my injuries, though, after being discharged from the hospital, I went right back to my gang. Soon after that, however, the police arrested me, and I was sent to prison. There my relationship with the gang members strengthened. We spent all day doing things together—from breakfast, when we smoked our first marijuana joints, until we went to sleep.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE
While I was in prison, Leonardo visited me. As we talked, he pointed to a tattoo on my right arm. “Do you know what these three tattooed dots mean?” he asked. “Of course,” I said, “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” But Leonardo replied: “I’d rather say they mean hospital, prison, and death. You’ve been in a hospital, and now you’re in prison. You know what is next.”
What Leonardo said stunned me. He was right. I was digging my own grave by my way of life. Leonardo invited me to study the Bible with him, and I accepted. What I learned from the Bible moved me to change my life. For example, the Bible says that “bad associations corrupt good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33, footnote) Thus, one of the first things I had to do was find new friends. To that end, I skipped gang meetings and, instead, started attending the meetings that Jehovah’s Witnesses held inside the prison. At the Witnesses’ meeting, I met an inmate named Andrés, who had been baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses inside the prison. He invited me to have breakfast with him. Thereafter, I no longer started my day by smoking marijuana. Instead, Andrés and I discussed a Bible verse each morning.
The gang members immediately noticed that I was changing. As a result, one of the gang leaders said that he needed to talk to me. I was scared. I did not know what he would do to me when he learned of my intentions, because it is almost impossible to leave a gang. He said: “We have seen that you no longer attend our meetings but instead you go to the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What do you plan to do?” I told him that I wanted to continue studying the Bible and to change my life. To my surprise, he told me that the gang would respect me as long as I proved that I really wanted to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then he said: “If you really want to learn about God, stick with Jehovah’s Witnesses. We expect you to stop doing bad things. I congratulate you. You are on the right path. The Witnesses can really help you. I studied with them in the United States, and some of my family members are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Don’t be afraid. Keep going.” I was still scared, but at the same time, I was overjoyed. I thanked Jehovah God in my heart. I felt like a bird released from its cage, and I understood Jesus’ words: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:32.
Some of my former friends, though, tested me by offering me drugs. I must admit that sometimes I gave in. But in time, after many earnest prayers, I finally overcame my vices.—Psalm 51:10, 11.
After I was released from prison, many believed that I would return to my old lifestyle, but I did not. Instead, I returned to the prison often to share with other inmates what I had learned from the Bible. At last, my former friends were convinced that I had changed. Sadly, that was not the case with my former enemies.
One day when I went out to preach, my preaching partner and I were suddenly surrounded by armed members of a former rival gang, who wanted to kill me. My partner politely but bravely explained to them that I was not a gang member anymore. Meanwhile, I tried to stay calm. After beating me and warning me not to enter that area again, the men lowered their weapons and let us go. The Bible really had changed my life. In the past I would have tried to get revenge. But now I heed the Bible counsel in 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “See that no one repays injury for injury to anyone, but always pursue what is good toward one another and to all others.”
Ever since I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have endeavored to be an honest man. It has not been easy. Nevertheless, with the help of Jehovah God, the counsel from the Bible, and the support of my new friends, I have succeeded. I never want to go back to my former deeds.—2 Peter 2:22.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED
I used to be a violent man full of anger. I am convinced that I would not be alive now if I had followed that vicious course. What I learned from the Bible has transformed me. I gave up my vices. I have learned to be peaceable with my former enemies. (Luke 6:27) And I now enjoy friendships that help me develop good qualities. (Proverbs 13:20) I live a happy life with purpose, serving a God who has been ready to forgive all the bad I have done.—Isaiah 1:18.
In 2006, I attended a special training school for single Christian evangelizers. Some years later, I married my lovely wife, and together we are raising our daughter. Now I spend much of my time teaching others the Bible principles that helped me. I also serve as an elder in the local congregation, and I try to help young ones to avoid the mistakes I made when I was their age. Instead of digging my own grave, I now build for the eternal future that God promises in the Bible.