Rogelio served for years as the pastor of a Baptist church in one of the most dangerous areas of Lima, La Victoria. He is now serving in the church there while also carrying out a prison ministry.
I am Cuban and am one of the refugees that escaped from Cuba in 1980. My decision to leave Cuba was based on the following: When I was 12 or 13 years old the revolution began. Even though I was young, I had seen many things and I was very disappointed with the way things were. As I grew older my disappointment grew because the communist system that had become a reality in Cuba made all my plans for the future an impossibility. This created in me a great resentment and rebellion against the system that had caused so many problems. Under the communist system, there was no way to make my life better. If I wanted a new pair of shoes there was no place to buy them. I would have to look for a clandestine shoemaker and buy the shoes on the black market, and if the authorities caught me, then I would have to pay a fine.
One day the door opened for some of us to find refuge in the Peruvian Embassy. When the opportunity presented itself there was no time to think or to weigh the consequences. I went immediately to the embassy and sought political asylum. I was in the embassy for about 59 days.
I had lived almost all my life in a system with no freedom, food or opportunities to choose from, and the freedom in Peru was too good for me to miss out on. However, I still missed my country, my family, and my friends, and that created in me such nostalgia that I did not know how to get over it. At that time, all the Cubans that came to Peru lived in a poor area of Lima called Tupac Amaru. We became friends with some of the men in that neighborhood, and one of them invited me to smoke marijuana. I accepted. I saw that he also added some kind of white dust to it, but I did not say anything about it because I did not want to be the ¨chicken¨ in the group. So I went ahead and tried it, even though I was afraid. That was the first time I had tried drugs, which was crack. At that time I did not understand the effects it would have on me. All I knew is that when I used drugs I would not think about my family, my friends, my country, or anything else. It was a way to escape all the things that depressed me. Before I did drugs, I could not sleep because I was constantly thinking about everything that I had left behind. I used drugs so that I would not think about it all.
Since I did not think about all the consequences that drugs bring to a person and I only thought it was a way to ¨escape¨ from the reality of losing my family and country, I kept consuming them. Time went by and I started doing drugs much more often and taking less care of myself. I stopped having a social life with others, and I needed drugs daily, but still, I did not know that I was an addict. A friend even came to me and said that I was not well, but I did not understand why he would tell me that because I could not see all the changes in me. I told him there was nothing wrong with me. I could not accept that there was something wrong.
When he saw that I would not accept how bad my life had become, he went to his house and brought an old picture of me, showed it to me, and asked me if I could see any changes. I became very afraid because I could see all the changes that had happened in me. My friend started telling me that I was addicted to drugs and that I had a great problem. I became very scared and tried to get off drugs, and it was then that I saw that I was no longer taking drugs because I wanted to but because I needed them.
Soon, I found out that there were clinics and special places that cured addictions, so I went to a special clinic supported by the United Nations that took care of us refugees. I explained to them my problem and that I needed help to get out, and they congratulated me for my honesty and helped me to get into a clinic. There I was treated with pills and spent most of the time unconscious, but they could not cure me. While I was on the medication, I did not feel like taking drugs or doing anything else, but when the effects wore off, I would start doing drugs again. The time came when I just gave up trying to get off drugs. I was just going to keep on being an addict.
At that time, all of the Cubans were put out of the town where we were living, and I went to live in the bad part of downtown Lima. Since I was away from my environment of drugs and the people I knew, I stopped consuming drugs. But then I met someone that helped me make the contacts I needed to get the drugs again, and I returned to my habit.
Finally, I decided to leave Peru with some friends that said they knew a way to get to Brazil. I went with them, and we went through the central mountains of Peru until we reached the jungle. I had never been to the jungle, but I had heard that it was the place where most of the drugs were produced. I spent eleven months there doing every possible bad thing I could involve myself in and doing drugs. One day the police raided us, and I was taken into custody. When they found out that I was Cuban they sent me to Lima.
I was detained for a while and then sent to live with other Cubans in downtown Lima. It was then that I started selling drugs. I thought that it was the best thing that I could do—this way I would be getting money and could keep doing drugs at the same time. After a while, I had good clients, and I thought I was doing well because I had reached a good position. I was so vain that I could not see what was coming. There was another man that sold drugs just like me, and we were always in competition. One day that man and some of his friends went to my house, attacked me, and set my house on fire.
Knowing that I could not defend myself from the attack, I ran and went to live with a girlfriend of mine. While I was living there, I could not stop thinking about what these men had done to me. I wanted revenge. I had money and a lot of gold jewelry because when people bought drugs from me, they often paid with their jewelry when they did not have the money. With that money and jewelry, I began to take drugs again. I was mad that I could not get revenge on those men and took out all my anger by doing drugs. That was a very big mistake. I was high for twenty days doing drugs nonstop until I ran out of money and lost everything I had. This girlfriend of mine would not let me back in the house because of my terrible condition, and it was not convenient for her to have a person like me in her house. I kept doing drugs; I knew that I was going to die.
There were many thieves among the people I did drugs with. One day, I asked one of them if he knew of a place we could rob because I needed money for my drugs. We broke into a car and stole the cooking oil that was in it. In the process, the oil stained my clothes. That night, after I had finished doing drugs, I saw my clothes and was too embarrassed to leave the crack house. When a person does not leave a crack house for a long time the other drug addicts say that he is ¨stuck¨ and that he is going to die there. That was the worst time of my entire life. I was sick, but I could not stop doing drugs. I had terrible pain in my stomach, but even that could not stop me from doing drugs. I could not eat because I threw up everything I ate, but I could not stop smoking the drugs. The pain was unbearable. I felt like I had a knife stabbing my stomach.
One day, I lifted my pant leg and when I saw my thighs I was really scared. I saw how skinny I looked; like someone that had come out of a concentration camp. I looked like a skeleton. I could not walk, and I was dying because of the drugs. I wanted to die because I could not believe that I had fallen so low. I could not believe that I was in such a horrid condition. I was without friends, without family, without a country or anyone that knew anything about me. It was then that I decided to kill myself. I went up to the roof of a building and was ready to throw myself down, but something held me back from doing it. The hand of God had started working in me.
One day I saw a picture in a newspaper of one of my friends who was a delinquent. I assumed he had been caught because of something he had done, so I bought the newspaper to see. As I read, I saw that he was fighting for the custody of his daughter, since his wife would not let him see her because of what he was. In the newspaper, my friend argued that he was no longer the same person and that Christ had changed his life. Since I did not know anything about Christ or believe in anything, I did not think any of what he was saying was true. Then, one day I saw that friend again and noticed something different about him. He was no longer the same. His way of talking, his countenance, his expression, and everything about him had changed. I finally asked him about what I had read in the newspaper, and he told me that Christ had changed his life, but I still did not believe him. I continued to see him now and then, and I always tried to look for something wrong with him, but I could not find anything. Every time I saw him, I was more convinced that he was a new person. I started treating him with more respect.
As time went by, I continued the same. I was left with nothing, and everyone turned their back on me except for this one man. He always came by and talked to me. Sometimes I would avoid him because I thought it would not be good for him to be seen with someone like me. This man would always try to cheer me up and tell me that God had a plan for my life. When he would say things like that, I thought he was crazy. I could not figure out how God could want anything to do with a man like me, but my friend always told me the same thing, “Hey, Cuban! Don’t worry; God has a plan for your life.” He would never say “Goodbye,” or “See you later,” but instead he would always say those same words to me. One day I was lying on the entrance of a building. I was feeling very sick and thought I was dying. I fell asleep and was awakened by a policeman that lived there in the building. I jumped up and apologized for being in the way, but to my surprise, he was not upset at me. He walked up to me and handed me a tract and told me to read it while I was resting. I read it, and it was about the love of Christ. I thought about Christ, my friend, and this man, who instead of rebuking me and telling me off for being at the door of his house, had treated me nicely. I thought about all these things and told myself it was all happening by chance. I dismissed it from my mind and crossed the street to sit on the edge of the sidewalk since I still felt sick and was beginning to throw up.
I was in terrible pain and was holding my stomach with both hands when I felt someone walk up to me and heard him tell me “How long are you going to be like this?” I had never seen this person before in my life. Since I was sick, in pain, and mad, I felt like telling him off. But I held back my temper because I thought he had probably mistaken me for someone else. I told him not to worry about me because I did not have much left. Honestly, I was going to die soon. He then realized that I was not the person he thought I was, but what he told me changed my life from then on. He told me that he knew who could heal me and change me. He said that he had been saved and changed, even though he had been worse than me. I asked him who it was that could change me because I thought he was talking about some doctor. He told me that it was Jesus Christ. I thought to myself, “This is another one of those Christians. I am just going to listen to all he has to say, and then I will ask him for money to go get more drugs.”
I did not know that this was the man that God was using to lead me to Him. He started telling me how God had changed his life and could change mine and that it was the only way for me to be made into a new creature. He spoke to me about a Christian rehabilitation center where I could have a chance, a place where he had been, and where he had met Christ. He told me that with God’s help, and the pastor’s help, he had been changed. When he finished, I did not ask him for money. He told me that there was a place where people like me could find help, and I decided to go there that same day. The man who was talking to me took me there.
When I arrived at the center, I was afraid because I thought they would kick me out when they saw how I looked, but I was surprised. The place looked nice, and I was received by pastor Carlos, a man whose life is dedicated to the rescue of people that are addicted to drugs and alcohol. He, his wife and children, and the people that were there received me as if they knew me, with such a love that is hard to understand even to this day. I saw God’s love manifested in them. The pastor explained to me the process of rehabilitation. He said that it was Christ alone who could save me and that if I placed my trust in Him, He would change my life. He said over and over that if I surrendered to Christ and followed Him, He would change me.
I spent the next fifteen days in bed. The pain in my whole body was so intense that I thought I was not going to be able to take it anymore. I went to the pastor and told him that I was leaving and that I appreciated the way they had treated me. I told him the lie that I wanted to find a job and do something for my life, but it was only a pretext to get out and find some drugs. The pastor told me that he knew I was lying and that I wanted drugs. He explained to me that if I had truly given my life to Christ, then I would have to give Him all my burdens too. He told me that I was a child of God and that I could ask Him for help as a son would ask his father.
I did not understand how I could surrender to God all my desires to steal and rob and find drugs, but the pastor read me a verse that said that if I had a burden, I could lay it on Him by praying. He told me to go out by myself and cry out to God for help, to tell Him how I felt and to ask Him to help me be strong. He also said that if things did not change after that, he would give me the bus fare himself for me to leave. When he was telling me these things, I saw that he was so sure about what he said that I did not feel like leaving.
Another day came, and I began to feel very sick and my body needed drugs, but this time I went off by myself to pray. I did not know how to pray, but I remembered what the pastor had said. He had told me that prayer meant talking to God just like I would speak to a person that was there listening. At first, the words would not come out; but then everything spilled out. I told God things that I had not told anyone and that I had inside for such a long time. I told them all to God until I started to cry so much that I could not stop or understand why I was crying. Then, after so much pain and suffering in my life, I felt a peace like I had never felt before. I felt it so strongly that I became afraid that if I opened my eyes, I would find someone standing there.
From that day on, I started depending on Christ. As time went by, my dependence on Him grew stronger, and He started to change my life. God accomplished what I could not do in my own will and strength, and I quit drugs. I give all the glory to Him and bless Him for what He has done in me.
After I finished my time in rehab, I started to work for a living on the street and joined a church, but I had no peace because I felt God’s calling to work for Him. I went back to the rehab center and told them what God had shown me. I had been one of the first addicts in that center, and since the pastor knew my testimony and that I could be of assistance to other men with the same problem, he agreed to let me work in the rehab center.
I worked in the center for seven years. During that time the Lord helped me to grow in His knowledge, and I was used by Him there. I met many people in the seven years I spent there and saw how the Lord changed them and still uses them even now. Some of them are now married and live good lives with their families. These are all demonstrations to me of God’s power because I have seen how God has changed them. As for me, God has been too wonderful. How could I ask anything else from him? He has given me a wonderful wife and family. My wife could not have children, but God gave us a beautiful baby girl that we adopted, her name is Elizabeth Joyce. She was three days old when we got her, and we love her like she is our own.