Luis Carrera, 45, is founder and executive director
of Colombias Teen Challenge and an appointed Assemblies of God
missionary. Kirk Noonan, associate editor, recently met with him in
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.
I was 9 years old I was sexually abused in one of the buildings. I felt
ashamed and humiliated and thought I couldnt 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
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
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 couldnt
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
I could buy a $2 bag of heroin with my lunch money. It seemed everyone
was getting high. Id go to a local park and see college students
and middle-class men and women getting high, so I figured there couldnt
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 didnt care. As long as I
could stay high I didnt 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
EVANGEL: You were sentenced to the state penitentiary
for three to five years when you were 18. What were some of the realities
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 didnt 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 hed bring the book The Cross and the Switchblade and
tell me that if God could change Nicky Cruz He could change me. Though
I didnt want to hear it and wanted nothing to do with God, my
friends words always came to mind.
EVANGEL: How did you come to trust Christ as
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
CARRERA: No, I didnt think God could
change or love me because of all the things I had done and been through.
But I met my moms 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 moms 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
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 dont
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
EVANGEL: How did you find peace from the abuse
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.