By Fred Comella
Getting to the root of the problem can be difficult and confusing. I’ve written a fair amount regarding the debate over the direction of this nation, and frankly the world. There are those who believe government is the answer to what ails us, and still others who seek the full out chaos of minimal accountability and law, the latter being an obvious affront to a life walking with Christ. For my part I’ve always come back to the irrefutable truth of our lives as God would have us live them. All things flow from Him first and ultimately through our family unit. From that very basic foundation we navigate the ups and downs, checks and balances, and all the other noise coming at us from a myriad of directions. A father, mother and their children are God’s plan for the rest of the world, and when this foundation becomes fractured there is strife and confusion, pain and a loss of purpose and direction.
Regrettably it appears we’ve abandoned all efforts to come back to and/or regenerate our family structures, choosing instead to walk away, explain away, “revise”, and even somehow validate our bad and even immoral decisions, destroying the family unit and leaving our posterity angry, confused, and ultimately misguided. Even the worthy notion of aspiring to a better life is now shunned in favor of mediocrity and “alternatives”. Inevitably many of our children are left to their own devises and are quickly caught up in a storm of revisionism and indoctrination, with many turning to and becoming entangled in the destructive web of alcohol and drugs.
To that end, it has to be devastating when a father walks away from his family. The person who’s supposed to hold it all together simply stands down, leaving a mother to pick up the pieces and somehow raise the children alone. Worse yet, what happens when that father takes with him all of the family means leaving them unable to pay bills and buy food? A family so wounded is now vulnerable to the societal pressures which can eventually tear them apart. Even more specifically, how does a young boy react when he sees his dad, the person he idolized and who should stand as an example and role model simply walk away without a second look never to return? How does that boy see his future, his responsibilities, his obligations as a man?
Oscar Cruz was a boy just 14 years old when he ran up the road chasing his dads’ pick-up truck and watching it get farther and farther away. He waited for what seemed like forever for the man he worshipped to return, but it was not to be. Ironically, his family was not poor. His mom was a real-estate agent who would facilitate the buying of rental properties his dad would then fix up. Oscar had three sisters and naturally gravitated to his dad, making his father’s growing anger with his mother all the more difficult for him to understand. So when Oscar’s father finally made good on the many promises he’d made over the years to leave his mom, Oscar’s world was shattered.
Crime was now on the rise in young Oscar’s Lamont neighborhood near Bakersfield California, and now that his mom was forced to step into an additional family role, the inevitable downslide of an emotionally wounded young boy without a dad to guide him had begun. The hurt and anguish invaded Oscar’s life like a cancer and he found it hard to focus on anything but his father’s leaving. How did it all come to this? It’s not supposed to be like this. The young boy’s heart was crushed and he began to experiment with drugs to ease a pain he couldn’t fully understand. First Marijuana, then cocaine, and by 16 Oscar was a full blown addict. At 18, he could boast of nothing but broken relationships and dreams unfulfilled.
When I had the pleasure of speaking with now Pastor Oscar Cruz, Executive Director of the Brockton Men’s Campus division of Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey last week he was quick to point out that statistically speaking, he wasn’t supposed to have made it. His life could have been considered beyond hope, but Oscar’s life was about to change. This change would be one of many along a broken road fraught with both lethal danger and divine intervention.
During those younger years Oscar’s mother had met and married his stepdad Raul. For a long time after his Dad left, Oscar’s mom had tried to relate to her son’s feelings but found it near imposable to break through the wall of pain and anger and find her son. Raul however was a “Teen Challenge” graduate whose life had been transformed by this amazing organization offering Christ-centered and faith-based solutions for youth, adults, and families struggling with life-controlling problems, like the very addictions which were consuming Oscar. Raul told Oscar he mustn’t despair and that there was hope in Christ if he truly desired it. To Oscar’s credit, he’d always sought a different path away from his addiction and pain but lacked the power to change, a power God could most certainly provide him. Raul shared his testimony with Oscar and told him about Jesus. Oscar was moved but still not ready for the change necessary in his life. After spending time with Raul on ministry work, and several attempts at recovery, he eventually did find the hope he’d been looking for and joined “Teen Challenge”. It was at this time God really began working in his life and Oscar became involved with a Los-Angeles ministry called “The Dream Center”. There he met Allison (Allie), his now wife of 15 years and mother of his children, Kylie 11 and Carter 7.
Married at the age of 21, Oscar began to feel the tug of money and ambition and quickly lost sight of the success God had already provided in his life. He returned home where his mother and step-father were furthering a successful real-estate business. Soon it was old “friends” and old habits and Oscar found himself sliding backward. Outwardly, he’d achieved what most would consider success, a house, car and a new family with the arrival of little daughter Kylie. But he’d also come full circle back to alcohol, cocaine and now a full blown meth addiction. It seemed Oscar could not escape the pain in his soul or the self-medication that seemed to ease it. His mind kept him ever-conscious of the destruction it was causing in his life but he felt powerless to combat it. It seemed like he was screaming and no one could hear him. The months that followed were a blur to Oscar as he continued spinning out of control. Even his family had come to accept they could not help him. Allie prayed mightily on her husband’s behalf and told him he would die if he didn’t return to Teen Challenge for help.
One day in court as he heard the judge explain that only his signature was needed to make his divorce final, Oscar realized he’d hit rock bottom. If he lost his wife and daughter, his life would be over. He refused to sign the paper and ran from the court room. Folks begged Allie to move on, convinced Oscar was lost to them forever. She refused, and within a couple of weeks he was on his knees at her doorstep. As he began blurting out, “I’m ready to change, please help me!”, his beloved Allie was already booking a one way ticket to Teen Challenge Brockton Men’s Campus for him.
Oscar knew this was it. He must change with no excuses. He cried out and begged God to do what he knew he could not do of his own accord. On Sunday June 6th 2005, humbled beyond recognition before his Lord and Savior, Oscar Cruz stepped off the airplane at Logan International Airport and set about finishing what he’d started, albeit with Jesus Christ now carrying him. In the months and years that would follow there would be more challenges, but Oscar’s faith only grew stronger as God worked in his life. He told me of his family and how his wife feared his return to drugs. He told me how that drove him even closer to God as he begged Him to spare his family his personal failures. God answered his prayers, and Allie visited him as he trudged through the program with steadfast determination and a new-found and unshakable faith in God.
Allie eventually rejoined him for good in 2006 and also began working with Teen Challenge herself. Oscar and Allie were later blessed with little Carter, and Allie continues to be grateful for the transformation God and Teen challenge provided for her husband. After completing the program, Oscar was consumed by the desire to give back to the organization which had given him back his life. He immediately enrolled in the internship which ultimately lead him all the way to the Director/Executive Finance Director’s position he holds today. “Far too many fatherless men come through our doors at Teen Challenge, abandoned and hurting convinced that drugs and alcohol are their only hope. That was me. I have come to know a Father whose love fills every void, whose grace erases the past, and whose power transforms our futures.” – (Pastor Cruz)
Truth be told, when I hear these testimonies, I’m filled with hope for the future. You see it’s easy to become mired in the societal cesspool of the day, and racked by the constant drum beat of negative news. As mentioned earlier in this article, I feel strongly the transformational writing is on the wall in terms of the power of a strong and cohesive family unit. Notwithstanding all of this, folks will always error in judgment. They will make mistakes. It’s as old as life itself. In that space and time, God sends us those who’ve lived the nightmare and emerged reborn in His grace and mercy.
So as we debate the cause and effect of modern politics, and all the posturing and pandering, let us be mindful of the obvious, receptive to the truth, and thankful for God’s intervention by way of organizations like “Teen Challenge” and the real deal folks who touch the lives of those who come knocking in need every day.
And as Pastor Cruz quoted Mathew 19:26, and “with God, all things are possible”, I thought to myself, indeed they are Pastor, indeed they are…
Teen Challenge Brockton Men’s Campus is where Pastor Cruz’s life’s “restoration” as he likes to call it took place. He explained that for those who acknowledge the need to change there is hope. The organization provides everything from food, lodging, cloths and education, to a head start with help in resume writing and job applications and more. Each part of the program strengthens the student and builds a foundation for fostering lifelong positive change. Biblical values are taught in ways that can be practically applied in real life situations. Students develop character qualities of integrity, self-control and compassion. They develop positive life skills that will assist them in becoming esteemed employees, respected neighbors and dependable family members. The program is an intensive 15 week application where participants are required to stay at the campus exclusively. On reaching their 12th week, they are allowed to venture out only to further their job searches, educational requirements, and even pursue military careers, as they work closely with recruiters in the area. Participants are required to complete all phases of the program in order to graduate. Pastor Cruz tells me they are even sending two students to North Point, and that he now “enjoys a front row seat to view what God is doing through Teen Challenge”.
Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey provides youth, adults, and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to drug, alcohol, and other life-controlling problems in order to become productive members of society. By applying Biblical principles, Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive.
Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey was one of the first Teen Challenge ministries founded in the United States. Ministry throughout New England emanated from the first center located in Boston established in 1964. A strategic expansion from 1999 to 2007 established sites in all six states of New England and in New Jersey.
Life-changing residential recovery programs provide a faith-filled approach for helping drug addicts and alcoholics transform their lives. More than 400 adult men and women can be cared for in the Teen Challenge homes. A unique Teen Challenge program also exists in the Dartmouth House of Corrections in Massachusetts.
Vibrant outreach ministry into jails, prisons and needy communities are conducted year round. Drug prevention programs are available for public and private schools. The Teen Challenge New England & New Jersey Choirs can be found ministering hope, healing and encouragement in area churches each week.
The corporate headquarters are in Brockton, Massachusetts.
As with all ministries of faith, any help you can provide serves a purpose you cannot imagine, and a cause for the good of society that cannot be measured. There is also an upcoming banquet featuring Sheila Raye Charles, song writer, Christ follower and daughter to Ray Charles.
For more information, to see the many more testimonies that will surely touch your heart, and to donate if the spirit so moves you, go to http://tcnewengland.org/locations/brockton-mens-campus/ . You can contact Teen Challenge here: Teen Challenge, Brockton Men’s Campus, 1315 Main Street, Brockton, MA 02301 P: 508-586-1494