Photo Courtesy of Ivan Martinez
Paola Mora Zepeda
I was born and raised in New York City, and I wasn't born a Christian. My mom was a single mom. She did her best to raise us. She was an amazing mom, but she had her challenges having to raise us all by herself.
In high school I ended up in a relationship with a young lady. When we broke up, I found myself feeling empty. I realized that there was something that I was missing in my life. I thought that there was something missing because of this girl that was no longer there. But, the truth was that what I was missing was God, though I didn't realize it at the time.
Eventually, I started familiarizing myself with the drug dealers in our community. I started smoking tobacco and marijuana. Little by little, I stopped going to school. If I did go, I would go under the influence. It got so bad that, in my senior year, the school just decided to give me my diploma and told me not to come back.
The world portrays this lie that money makes people happy, you know? That nice cars and fancy clothes and relationships can produce true happiness. So, I thought to myself, “Well, maybe if I acquire more money or if I find myself in relationships with more women or if I start consuming and selling these drugs, I'll probably find the happiness that I’m looking for.” But, I was looking for the solution to my problems in all the wrong places. The reality was that I got worse and worse and worse.
Now, one of my older brothers was involved in gang activity. While he was in the gangs, he would always protect me from joining them. But, he ended up getting arrested. Since he was no longer in the picture, I started selling drugs and started associating myself with gang members. I was so bad that people couldn't see anything good coming out of me.
Here is when the story changes — while my brother was in prison.
My brother and I had two friends that had been killed in gang activity. While my brother was in prison, another one of our friends was murdered. We believed we needed to avenge their death, because they were either in Heaven looking down upon us or in Hell. Somehow, some way, my brother found three books. One of them was a study guide by Amazing Facts entitled, Are the Dead Really Dead?
He learned the Adventist message on the state of the dead. And so, he was able to realize that his friends weren’t waiting to be avenged. Later, he read The Great Controversy, and had a conversion while in prison. When he came out, he tried to talk to me about Jesus, but I didn't want anything to do with it.
A year passed by, and I started to notice that my brother wasn’t a savage like he used to be. At this time, I found myself contemplating suicide. I was battling with depression and anxiety because I had done a lot of bad things in my life, and didn’t know how I could ever forgive myself. As I saw my brother, I wondered, “What changed?” Because, if there's something that can do that for him, then maybe there's something that can give me the deliverance I need.
My brother invited me to this evangelistic series. I remember that I went to church high and with drugs in my pocket. Nobody told me anything about the smell. I am very thankful about that. If anyone had said anything negative, I would have never come back. By day three of the evangelistic series, I thought, “I'm still a drug dealer, but at least let me respect the house of God.” God was working in my heart, and I stopped bringing the drugs to church.
On the sixth day, the pastor made an appeal. When I went home that day, I made a promise to God. I said, “Lord, if you can take away this addiction from me, I’ll do whatever You want.” The next day I got baptized, and the Lord took away my addiction. I've been freed from drugs for six years.
Now I work in literature evangelism because it was through one book that my brother’s life was changed. And, through that one book, my life was changed. God was able to look at me not for whom I was before, but for whom I could become.
Kentucky-Tennessee | June 2022