My world was consumed by drugs and violence, until God used the gift of woodworking to shape me into a different person. By Carlos Antiono Velasquez
I grew up on a family farm in the Andean mountains where we raised cattle and grew coffee and bananas. I loved the smell of cooking "panela" when we boiled the sugar cane to make brown sugar. But at age 12, my paradise shattered. The heavy lid of a wooden grain bin fell and struck my mother's head. Within days she died, and so did my world. I sought refuge in my father, but he sought refuge in the bottle. Despite my young age, he introduced me to alcohol. Although I didn't like it, when the men in the bar laughed at my reaction, I decided to be a "man." That day I took my first step down the road of addiction and wrong companions.
A bottomless void
When Pablo Escobar, a powerful drug lord, recruited my uncle to process cocaine, my whole family entered the drug business. Before long I'd earned a reputation at the laboratory for processing pure white cocaine.I had money, alcohol, women-but nothing filled the void inside me.Distorted values poisoned all areas of my life. Though I was a gifted craftsman at woodworking, I poured my energy into the drug business. I married a wonderful woman named Aleida, but instead of a romantic getaway,we spent our honeymoon at the laboratory.Our marriage was often in turmoil. One day after our second child was born, Aleida and I got into a bitter argument. She stormed off with the baby and, angry and hurt, I partied at the lab, showing off my latest weapon. To my horror the gun accidentally fired, and my 2-year-old son, Giovany, crumpled to the ground. The bullet had pierced his tiny body close to his spine. As we raced down mountain roads to the village clinic, several times I considered swerving the jeep over the precipice. Why live? I asked myself. Then Giovany groaned and I thought, Perhaps there is hope. I tried to recite the Lord's Prayer and the Rosary-then just screamed, "God, save my son!"When the young medic in the village cut into my little boy's body, I put my hand on my revolver, determined that if my son died, the doctor would die. But God used that doctor to save Giovany's life-and give me my first glimpse of His glory. The doctor didn't give Giovany much chance of walking again. Yet three days later he walked and was eventually released from the hospital. Despite my joy, I turned my back on this second miracle. After all, the mafia needed me to move a shipment of cocaine. But God didn't give up on me. Drug agents captured me, and I was sent to a prison in Urrao. Some of the inmates and I planned an escape, but the day we'd intended to flee, a massive earthquake destroyed the prison. Along with the other inmates I was shipped to Bellavista-a maximum security prison in Medellin. Having heard of the hellish conditions, I was terrified. As I walked through the patio (the Columbian term for prison block), I never expected to find a group of six prisoners singing. I drew near, and they opened their circle to me. One said, "Jesus loves you, Carlos." Those words penetrated deep, and I found myself returning to the group. I later discovered that Jeannine Brabon, an American missionary, had planted a powerful ministry in this dangerous prison a few years earlier in 1989. When I arrived at Bellavista there was a thriving community of Christian inmates. In time I opened my heart to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior. His love filled that void inside me, and I felt happier than I ever had before. On her visit two months later, I eagerly told Aleida how God had changed me. But my wife only shook her head. "Carlos, you cannot play with God. I know all too well your evil lifestyle. Don't be a hypocrite!" That night as I wept in my tiny bunk, God spoke to my heart. "Carlos, words won't convince Aleida. Living the life will draw her to Me."
A work of beauty
That same night I dreamed I found an ugly block of wood and carved a beautiful clock with an eagle perched on top. To my surprise, when I awakened the next morning I found a block of wood. Determined to recreate the clock from my dream, I bought a small, black-market chisel-the blademade from the in step of a shoe and the handle from melted plastic cups-and began my masterpiece. When I finished, I was thrilled someone wanted to buy it. On Mother's Day I intended to surprise Aleida, who was expecting our third child, with $20 from the project. But before I could make the sale, the chief ruler-the toughest inmate in the patio-came and took my clock. Heart broken, I had nothing to give Aleida but my discouragement. Jose Giraldo, another inmate, encouraged me, "God will provide." So I carved a second clock, only to have the ruler's second-in-command steal this one. I cried. Why was God letting this happen? Again, Jose urged me not to give up. I made a third clock and sold it. But before I could give it to the buyer, it was stolen by the lowest criminal inside. "I've had it!" I cried to Jose, throwing my Bible to the ground."The Christian life isn't for me. I turn my cheek only to be slapped again and again, and my wife is in great need.""Let's pray," Jose suggested, but I angrily shook my head. "You pray. I can't." His prayer soothed my anger. Afterward he suggested, "We should report this theft.""No, Jose." I answered, knowing the thief would be tortured. "I'm going to trust the Lord and allow Him to provide, even though I don't understand why life has been so difficult now that I'm a Christian."That night God spoke again: "Carlos, do you re-member the ugly block of wood? Through blows from the mallet and chisel, you formed a work of beauty.These trials are blows to chip away your bitterness and hatred, to make you into My image."From that day on, I studied the Bible. Although I continued to face serious trials, even death, I prayed God would not take me out of prison unless His presence would go with me. Eventually, I served my sentence and was released.
Today I work with other young men who come out of prison, encouraging them to start a new life in Christ. I understand all too well the struggles and challenges they face.It wasn't easy to start over with a family to support. But as I look back, I can testify of God's great faithfulness. My wife and my sons now each know the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior. The most important moment in our home is our family worship time together. We are growing in Jesus day by day, and love Him with all our hearts. He is our reason for living!
Adapted from Good News magazine (Nov./Dec. 2006). Carlos Antiono Velasquez and his family live in Medellin, Colombia. A graduate of the Medellin Bible Institute and now a pastor, Carlos has been on staff with Prison Fellowship Antioqua, a regional branch of Prison Fellowship Colombia, since 1999. Copyright C 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.