LUBBOCK—For Aaron Valenzuela, 21, life was ruled by the thrill of gang life, running the streets and abusing drugs until he found redemption and a new life in Christ.
Now he is using his story to make an impact on others as he leads a small-group Bible study for Community Heights Church in Lubbock.
“Just recently, I realized I have to use my testimony to help other souls,” Valenzuela said. “I have to get out there and make other disciples and make the kingdom grow.”
Community Heights is a church start facilitated by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Texas Baptists support church starting through their gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.
Valenzuela, who constantly was in and out of the juvenile system for possession of drugs, burglary and other crimes during his teen years, ran away from home in Houston at age 14 to join the Latin Kings gang and feed his desire for drugs and alcohol.
“Being in a gang meant you cause chaos wherever you go,” he said. “You let people know who’s in control. You were forced to fight even though you had nothing to do with it.”
Valenzuela’s life revolved around stealing money and abusing drugs.
“I remember my mom would plead with me to come back home,” he said. “She would go out there and look for me and try to pull me out of the (drug) house I was at. I just preferred having that high instead of going back home. I wanted the drugs, and I wanted the fun.”
By the time Valenzuela was 18, he had been caught with a large amount of cocaine and was put in prison for 18 months. While there, he joined another gang called the Houstones.
After serving his sentence, he ran into Andrea, a girl he had known since middle school. Even after their relationship grew serious, she had no idea Valenzuela was already in trouble again for writing fraudulent checks.
His parents refused to take in the young couple, so they moved in with her mother. Valenzuela continued to live a troubled life, but Andrea’s aunt, who lives in Lubbock, called and offered for them to move in with her.
“I tried to start working, but I ended up just falling right back into the same problems—drugs and alcohol,” he recalled.
Six months after trying to make a new start in Lubbock, Andrea learned she was pregnant with Valenzuela’s child. The couple broke off their relationship, and he moved in with a drug dealer from Houston.
“I got introduced to crystal meth, and it just went down hill,” Valenzuela said. “I started shooting up crystal meth, and that was my daily routine—just trying to get high off of meth.”
Soon, Valenzuela had a warrant out for his arrest and was picked up by the police. He was taken back to Houston to serve a 10-month sentence, forcing him to miss the birth of his first child, Perla.
Andrea had been praying for direction in her relationship with her daughter’s father. She felt like she was supposed to call and ask him to come back to Lubbock.
Valenzuela was shocked by the invitation. His father offered him a bus ticket to Lubbock if he would leave that night. Once in Lubbock, he fell back into his bad habits, but a change started to happen when Andrea gave birth to a son, Ezekiel.
While Ezekiel was in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit being treated for jaundice, Valenzuela examined his life. And he didn’t like what he saw.
“It was an eye opener when I had to see my son laying there in that (NICU) bed. I started to realize in my life I was going nowhere,” he said.
God continued to work in Valenzuela’s heart, and his children’s mother continued to seek a closer walk with Christ. The couple decided to make things right in their relationship, and they were married in June 2007.
Andrea and many friends and family members were praying for God to work in her husband’s life. Their prayers soon were answered.
“When I got to looking at my son, I started thinking, ‘Do I really want my son to end up the same way that I did?’ That’s when I decided that I seriously need to make a change,” Valenzuela said.
“When I started praying, I felt like this breeze just came over me. I just started crying, and I knew that was God. I knew I was being delivered.”
The next morning, Valenzuela threw out all of the drugs and alcohol he had in his house.
“The lifestyle for a gang member … actually begins to influence the next generation,” said John Silva, founding pastor at Community Heights and BGCT church starter. “That’s what Aaron was looking at when he was looking at the kids, saying, ‘If I don’t break this cycle now, it will continue with my kids.”
The Valenzuelas are resolved to be godly parents.
“We don’t want our children to go through what we have gone through,” Mrs. Valenzuela said. “It is a generational curse, and that’s what Aaron and I want to do—to break this cycle.”
Valenzuela was baptized in March and now leads a weekly small-group Bible study with his wife at their apartment. Through their testimony and openness, they have encouraged many people around them, and Valenzuela was able to lead a coworker to Christ.
“I yearn to reach out to other people trapped in my situation,” he said.
“I know what it’s like to not have a way out. The best way out is Christ.”