I asked him to share his testimony on here and though it's hard for him, he wants his experiences to help encourage other people that are hurting. I know that it's a lot of words...please please please take the time to read through it! I pray that the deliverance he experienced through God encourages you! I'm so excited to share this with you! Kevin, take it away...
The distinct sound of a jail door slammed behind me as the dim light in the lifeless concrete room goes dark. I’m 13 years old. Alone and angry. Thinking to myself “How did I ever get in this situation?”
Confused but not quite fearful, this had become the norm in my life.
The distinctive part of my story starts in 6 grade. An otherwise normal child in an urban two-parent family, I began to be subjected to very severe abuse at the hands of my parents as their marriage unwound. The abuse got worse and worse, from shouting matches and emotional damage to being physically abused repeatedly. The days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months of dealing with almost daily beatings and hearing nothing but hatred spewing out of my family.
At home, I was really scared. I tried to escape in any way that I could. Normally that meant going out to play basketball or to walk around the neighborhood, anything to avoid being at home because I was so afraid of my own family. Eventually as the abuse continued and I was unable to run away from it, I started acting out, begging someone to notice what was going on in my life. I skipped school so that teachers would start asking questions. I got into fights so that the police would arrest me and I could go somewhere to sleep and eat without fear of getting beaten at the hands of my own parents.
Five times I was locked up. Almost half of my 8 grade year was gone; white-washed under lock and key. As the time passed, increasingly alone and ashamed with no comfort in sight, I began to withdraw. Isolation is after all, easy, when nobody loves you.
So set the tone of my adolescence. I did not know what it meant to be loved and supported; to be encouraged and cared for. Rage built within me as I longed for purpose in my life. Suicide became an increasingly appealing option. Now 14 years old… and I had nothing to live for.
The 5 time I was locked up, and one strike away from permanent residence at TYC (the juvenile prison system in Texas), was the last time I would see the inside of a jail cell. It would not, however, be the end of my struggles.
I remember coming “home” on a dreary early spring afternoon to find my mother standing outside the house refusing to allow me inside. Feeling okay with that decision, I began to wonder the streets of my neighborhood. I stayed in a friend’s garage that night, but for the next several months found myself constantly bouncing back and forth between neighbor’s houses and the playground where I often slept in the tunnels to hide myself, and my shame.
Eventually a perceptive 9 grader, who would later become my best friend, noticed something was amiss and invited me into his home. It soon became mine too. His family cared for me like I mattered, like I had something to give; like they loved me. That is where my life changed.
This family – my family – never made me leave. I was never hurt, I was never forsaken. They loved me because God was in their lives and in their hearts.
They were bilingual and often spoke Spanish. I did not and yet it didn’t matter. They loved Jesus and they accepted me and it was here that I first began to comprehend who God was. I’d heard of God before, but always felt like He didn’t care. I mean how could a just and merciful God put a child through so much? If God loved me so much why the abuse? Why the neglect? Why the pain? Why the solitude of an empty, cold jail cell?
One day while in the youth service at their tiny Antioch church, about 30 of us high school students stood near the alter as the pastor prayed over us. As he stopped in front of me and directly prayed over me, I felt my heart pounding and my chest heaving with emotion as my head swirled with all these tough questions I’d always thought about God.
Soon I heard the voices of my friend and our youth leaders filter in around me. They had begun to put their hands on my shoulders and my back and they prayed for me. All of a sudden the other voices faded to the background, I heard one young man speaking to me in ways I couldn’t comprehend. I had never had a conversation with him before, as he had always spoken Spanish. I’d never clearly understood him until this moment.
He started speaking to me in such a calm way, telling me I could find peace in Christ. He kept talking about laying everything down at the feet of the Jesus. About removing burden and how God could take it away. About the importance of the cross and how that meant He loved me. He spoke of forgiveness and what it means for God to take away the pain. How could he possibly know all these things? By this point I was trembling and the tears were flowing, yet I felt this eerie calmness enter over me and got chills up my spine.
I fell down, yelping in emotional pain, pleading for God to take away my pain and begging for mercy. I wanted so badly to let go. I didn’t want to go any further on my own. That night I accepted God into my life for the first time.
What follows from here is a decade of intense ebbs and flows in my walk with Jesus. I sinned over and over again. I drifted from God, only drawing back to Him during times of great anxiety and need; wishing for just enough Jesus to purge me of the shackles on my soul, but not loving Him enough to be obedient to his desires for my life. My love for God was shallow at best.
Eventually my life became too destructive to bear. I found myself back in church crying for God to come back to me, pleading and begging for mercy. As I sobbed into my hands that first day back I very clearly heard God tell me, “I never left you.” What an amazing thing to hear in my greatest time of need! Soon after I was baptized and my heart began to change.
As my desire to pursue God increased in the following years, He opened doors that I could have never expected. God revealed in me that He designed me to overcome my past as He was preparing me for the next step; true obedience.
Having a very obvious heart for young men in need of being loved, I entered into youth ministry. With my feet firmly planted on the ground there, God opened up the avenue to the One Heart Project. This ministry allowed me a glimpse back into what it felt like to be an incarcerated teen and how desperate and lonely that time was. God used those moments to cultivate in me a deep-rooted passion and desire to stand up and do something about it.
The connections I made through One Heart launched me into the decision to purchase a 4-bedroom house so that I could open it up to young men, recently out of jail and broken families themselves, who needed to be loved and to be shown redemption in the way that God intended.
Working with these young men and other teens at my home church allowed me to counsel, mentor and support others in a way that I myself needed, just over a decade prior. At times I am still astonished by God’s faithfulness, grace and mercy during this time. To think, these young men look at me and see a pastor, an honorable leader and a friend, is almost incomprehensible based on where I was when I was their age. What a plan God had for me all these years!
The spiritual maturation that God led me through in this process and the way that He taught me to dutifully obey his plan, turned me into a man that I loved and respected for the first time in my life. With this newfound love of self, I was able to pour out that love toward others for truly the first time. Deep seeded issues in my heart began to fade and open up room for love. Relationships were strengthened everywhere I turned. Forgiveness and understanding began to flow from me. I began to discern God’s voice and listened to wise council while turning away from the idols and ways of the world. In short, my heart changed and with it, my life did as well.
Today, I do not want, I do not fear, I do not regret. God has blessed me greatly with what I have been provided; an abundance of provision, a beautiful wife and a new family to call my own. Despite the heartache and painful memories, God has delivered more than I could ever desire because he loves me more than I could ever understand.
Those deeply burning questions embedded in my soul are still there. “Why do such terrible things happen to children?” “How could a parent possibly abuse their child?” “How is any of this fair?” It’s all still a mystery to me. But this much I know, GOD HAS A PLAN. While I couldn’t see, nor understand, from my perspective the “why” in all of this, God did. He saw the plan. He has blessed me with lessons I will never forget, relationships I will never lose and love that will never cease; and for that, I am eternally grateful to my Savior.
Isn't that awesome?! I seriously cry every time I read it or hear him tell it. Praise the Lord!! Thank you for reading, folks! I hope you were blessed by Kevin's testimony.
Below is a short video that our church did on Kevin's story. Check it out!