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God’s family: A Christmas album

Five people remember how Jesus changed their lives.

The greatest relationship
Rudy Lopez, 40, a former gang member, found a purpose for life after accepting Christ as his Savior. Today, Lopez is a firefighter in Watsonville, Calif. He and his wife, Anna, have three children: Yolanda, Teresa and Rudy.

My parents divorced when I was 8. I bounced from one relative’s house to the next. As a child I was drawn to a gang because of the camaraderie and the sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. The gang accepted me.

As a teenager my goal in life was to die for the hood. But when I was 15 I met Anna. She was 14, she wasn’t a gang member, but I dragged her into it and a year after we met she became pregnant. We married that year.

With marriage, I wanted out of the gang but felt committed to stay. After our house was shot at several times and we found shotgun pellets in our baby’s crib I left the gang. I was 17. With the arrival of our second child, I got a job and enrolled at a junior college.

Shedding my gang lifestyle was difficult. I still dressed and acted like a gang member because it was all I knew. Anna and I both worked, but we drank heavily and used drugs.

The babysitter watching our children while we worked asked if she could take them to church on Wednesday nights. We didn’t think much of it until the children started asking us if we needed Jesus when we drank alcohol. That bothered us and I told them that it wasn’t their place to talk to us about Jesus.

One Saturday morning I woke up with a hangover and felt ashamed because the night before I had come home drunk and passed out as my son tried to show me my birthday cake. I had hurt my son’s feelings and that bothered me. The next morning I told my wife I wanted to go to church.

She was reluctant, but we went to Green Valley Christian Center (Assemblies of God, Pastor Dennis Smith). Our lives have never been the same. The people’s love and sincerity let me know this was a place our family needed to be. Our lives weren’t transformed instantly, but changes started to take place. We got plugged into a Sunday School class where the teacher had the excitement of the Lord. That’s when we accepted Christ as Savior.

This happened 17 years ago.

Thirteen of the guys I hung out with in the gang are dead — most died violent deaths. God spared me. I never imagined He could take a person like me and bring me to a place where I would have three beautiful children and a wife who love the Lord. He has been good to my family.

God did not save me so I could have a good life and live happily ever after though. I have to share with others what God can do. Life is difficult and fragile, and it won’t last forever. But there is hope. I pray more people discover that Christ loves us no matter what. Jesus doesn’t care how bad we’ve been. He just wants to have a relationship with us.

Changed completely
Maria Hernandez is a retired schoolteacher in Houston. She attends Braeswood Assembly of God.

I was not brought up in a Christian home, but my parents started to send me to church when I was 7 years old when we lived in Miami. There I learned about Jesus for the first time.

As a little girl I read the Bible, but I stopped going to church after a couple of years. Still, seeds were planted in my heart. I felt there was a void in my life.

When I started attending the University of Puerto Rico, I had several roommates who were Christians. When my 17-year-old brother visited me, he accepted their invitation to church. There he accepted the Lord and he was on fire for Jesus. I felt I needed what he had. I went to a church service and I believed everything the preacher was saying was for just me. I felt I needed to get right with the Lord. I started crying uncontrollably during the altar call and I accepted Jesus.

Ever since I was a little a girl I had been very introverted, never willing to cry in public or demonstrate affection. But after I accepted the Lord I changed completely. I was able to love and forgive others and put difficult situations in the Lord’s hands and feel peace.

A life restored
Desteny Chavez and her husband, Elijah, are children’s pastors at Healing Waters Family Center in Denver.

I grew up in Whittier, Calif., with parents who did drugs and alcohol. I had a lot of anger and pain from seeing my mom’s addictions, but by age 14 I started following in her path. Later into my teens, my addictions led to depression.

During my 10th-grade year in 1993, I moved in with my aunt and uncle in Sandy, Utah, who attend Mountain View Christian Assembly. I went to church because I had to; that was the rule within the house. I hated it. In spite of going to church on Sundays, I kept partying. Then, in 1995, I started going to youth group and met some Christian friends. I finally got genuinely involved in church right before my senior year of high school.

Things started changing. Little by little I started walking in the opposite direction. I stopped doing drugs and alcohol. During my senior year in 1996, I attended a weekend youth retreat in Denver. I accepted Christ as Savior. The next year, the Lord called me to Master’s Commission in Greeley, Colo. I spent three years there. During that time my spiritual life grew tremendously. I started growing in the Lord. I felt complete, like my life meant something and I was going somewhere.

In Master’s Commission I learned how to read and understand the Bible. I started to pray more. I started to spend quality time with God. It was my time in Master’s Commission that I prayed for my mom. By the time I graduated from Master’s Commission, God started to move on her life. He began restoring our relationship. Now we have a mother-daughter friendship, and we’re able to talk and laugh and cry.

I met my husband, Elijah, during my second year at Master’s Commission in 1997. We were married in August 1999, and now serve as children’s pastors at Healing Waters Family Center in Denver.

Alone no more
Randy Haumann is a truck driver who lives in Fair Grove, Mo., where he attends Peace Chapel Assembly of God.

I used to be involved in sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Before I got saved my friends always thought that lightning was going to come down whenever I mentioned God’s name.

In 1992 I was at a low point after I had gone through my divorce. One night as I was driving my truck I felt so isolated and alone. I thought nobody, except for my mom, would even care if I died. I was 28 years old and I felt unloved. I wanted someone to love me for who I was, not what I could do for them. I broke down and started crying. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. At the time I didn’t understand that the Holy Spirit was drawing me to himself.

A couple of weeks later my stepdad invited me to church on Father’s Day. I’d been invited to church plenty of times by lots of people but it never interested me. I went just to satisfy him. There were mostly older people there so I didn’t really connect, but that afternoon I felt an overwhelming urge to find a bigger church with younger people.

That night I found one. I went to the altar and cried out to God to save me. I couldn’t believe that the Lord had died on the cross for me. I was overwhelmed. I accepted a new Father on Father’s Day. I understand now, as Isaiah 9:6,7 says, that God is my Everlasting Father. Thank You, Jesus.

Raised in Christ
Sam Miller, 24, is a student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., majoring in business and engineering.

My parents, Robert and Lennie, are strong Christians and have been all my life, so I grew up in church in Tampa, Fla.

I was 6 years old when I accepted Christ as Savior. My Sunday School teacher gave the invitation and I took her up on it. I knew it was something very important that I wanted for my life.

I didn’t realize the effects of my decision until I was a teenager, when you get exposed to different types of things you aren’t used to seeing. The difference was that I had a calmness compared to other people my age. Everybody was worried about girlfriends, boyfriends, making the team and making good grades. I didn’t because I had a peace.

If you’re raised in a Christian home, naturally the two biggest influences are your parents. My parents nurtured me in my young faith. They were the people I felt I could learn from the most.

Growing up in a Christian home taught me to have passion for my relationship with God. All I had to do was ask Him for that passion and He gave it to me. I thank God I was raised in a Christian home because I wasn’t exposed to the evils of the world as a young kid. It seemed like God was protecting me from a lot of things so I wouldn’t have to go through them.

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