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Gang Life Loses Luster in Light of Illness

Bobby Barrera’s earliest memories in Saginaw, Michigan were of fear, death, and crime. He was born into the notorious Barrera family, who lost many of their own to rival gangs. Bobby never knew when he might be next. “I always remember every time in the car, on the way there, I would always have these butterflies, like this feeling in my stomach,” said Bobby.

Bobby was six when his parents divorced. Living with their mom, he and his two brothers rarely saw their dad. When they did it was at the penitentiary where he was serving a life term for multiple crimes. 
Bobby said, “It was like the love just wasn't going to be there. Like, that wasn't an option to seek, like, being embraced.” 
By the time Bobby was 18, he was fully vested in the “family business” - dealing drugs, constantly on the run from police and rival gangs. He also had three children with his girlfriend, Sherry. 
“Houses getting shot up, kids couldn't sleep in the room. I would put them in the basement, thinking that they would be safer down there in case the house got shot. It was just real bad,” recalled Bobby.
It wasn’t long before Bobby was hooked on cocaine. He said, “All of those things combined. You know, to just medicate myself to maybe be at some peace." 

There was one person in his life who tried to convince Bobby there was a better way - his Aunt Becky. A once violent gang banger herself, she had found faith in Christ while serving time. 

She said, “I told him, this is not life. I said, 'You, you just got to know Bob, look at me. Look what God did for me, Miho.' I said, 'Can't you see how good He is and what He can do for you guys?'” 

Even though Bobby wanted to believe her, he couldn’t pull free from the life he knew. “So, it was like the street life was pulling me this way, but wanting to be that father in my kids' life was pulling me the other way. So it was like a battle, like a tug of war,” said Bobby. 

In 2010, after both his brothers landed in prison, Bobby, now 32, decided it was time for a fresh start, and moved his family two hours away to Grand Rapids. Nonetheless, he went back to what he knew – selling drugs. His addiction only got worse.

Bobby said, “The fear of being broke and, and not being able to pro-, I started providing for my kids at such a young age, it was something that always, that's what drove me was if I don't do this, what are we going to do?”

Now it was Sherry who was talking to Bobby about Jesus. They had started going to church on occasion after getting an invite from their new neighbors. 

“Sherry would always tell me, 'Bobby, God told me that if you would just do the right thing, that our lives would change.' But I never listened though,” he said. 

Bobby would continue ignoring Sherry, and God, for seven more years. Then in 2017, she was hospitalized with kidney failure. Doctors were not sure she would live. Bobby said, “None of the shootings, none of the drug raids, none of the, the violence, none of that stuff ever compared to this. This was a whole different kind of battle. I felt like it was my fault that she was in the hospital. It's my fault because I didn't want to do what's right.”  

There was only one thing left for Bobby to do. “I had to surrender. Called out to Jesus,” said Bobby. “It was just strictly between me and Him saying, 'I’m, I’m ready. I’m ready to, to just let go of my will. I’m ready to let go of these drugs. I’m ready to let go of this lifestyle. I’m ready to serve You. I’m ready to, for whatever it is that You have.'”

Bobby said he was delivered from cocaine instantly. Now sober, he began to understand what Sherry and Aunt Becky had been saying all along.    

“I started to realize that God really loves me,” said Bobby. “It was so real. Like I felt it. I’m like, He really loves me. Like He and me, after everything I did my whole life, all these, all these things that I did and this lifestyle that I’ve been living, I’m like, but You're still speaking to me?” 

Three months later, Sherry was released from the hospital and remarkably recovered. Bobby got a job and started making honest money. The Barrera’s married in 2018 and their whole family, nine in all, including two grandchildren, are benefitting from what God has done. 

“He filled me, He filled me with something that the money, the drugs, the reputation, the name, the whatever I thought I had back then, it was a whole different kind of love, confidence, courage,” said Bobby. “This is what it feels like to be sober, to be a man. This is what it feels like to be loved.”


Swallowed by a Sinkhole -In just a few seconds, a carefree hiking trip on the sand dunes of mount baldy, indiana turned into a nightmare. Greg Woessner and his friend Keith walked along the top of the dune. Greg’s son Nathan and Keith’s son Collin were behind them.

“They were playing around, running around, up and down the hill,” remembers Greg. “We heard Collin screaming and hollering, that Nathan had fallen in a hole.”
“We quickly ran down there, and found the hole that he was in,” adds Keith. “And we were able to talk to him.”
Greg and Keith told Collin to run down the hill and call 911. Keith’s wife Rachel made the call.

Operator: “9-1-1.”
Rachel:  “Yes, I’m at the Mt. Baldy beach, and my friend’s son, he got stuck in
a sand dune and he’s like under the sand and we can’t get him out.”
Rachel: “My husband and his dad are trying to dig him out.”
Operator: “OK, we get it, we’ve got them on the way, OK?”
Rachel: “OK, thank you.”

 “He sounded so close,” says Greg. “You couldn’t see him. It was so dark. Keeping him calm was my first thing. He was saying he was scared.”

“I crawled down in the hole,” says Keith, “and Greg held my ankles, and I tried to reach for him, and couldn’t get him at all.”

Then the hole collapsed. Six-year-old Nathan was buried alive under 11 feet of sand.

“That’s when Faith made her way up the hill,” says Greg.

“They were telling me that Nathan was under there, and I just came apart,” remembers Faith. “I started crying, and praying, and digging. Everything else around me was such a blur. And I was having these visions in my head of him down there, and he’s got sand in his face and in his mouth, and he can’t breathe. And I remember begging God to just be with him, and to give him a pocket of air so that he could breathe, and to hold him, and to please be with him.”

Other vacationers and bystanders helped them dig by hand, but the giant dune was a relentless foe. Everyone kept digging, but the sand continued to cave in. Within 15 minutes, firefighters, police, and park rangers joined the effort. Their shovels helped, but they were still losing the battle. Finally, someone showed up with a backhoe.

“And it wasn’t until then did they really start moving a lot of sand,” says Greg. “But we’ve already, you got 40, 50 guys digging by hand for probably and hour and a half to two hours.

“We were fearing the worst,” says Faith. “We really were. We were still hoping, but it had been so long.”
The police persuaded Greg and Faith to take a break after three hours of nonstop digging. Their friend Keith kept on going.

“After about the 5th or 6th collapse, I pretty much exhausted myself, and I knew I had to stop or I wasn’t going to make it myself,” says Keith.

But the fight to rescue Nathan continued. They used long poles to probe the sand. If an area got the “all clear” sign, they would bring in the heavy equipment. Nearly four hours into the search, a local firefighter found him.

“They had already switched it from a “rescue” to a “recovery” by the time they found him,” says Faith. “The coroner was there, on site. They located his head, and then they switched from using shovels, and they were using their hands.”
“…and get right under his arm,” says Greg. “And from there, he was able to pull him right up out of the sand. It was a lifeless limp body, that he held like his son, and it just reminded him of his son.”

“They checked again, and he wasn’t breathing, and there wasn’t any pulse, so essentially at that time, he was not alive,” says Faith.

Nathan had a ¼ mile trip in the lifeguard truck to the ambulance, where he started to breathe again. He was taken to the medical center in Michigan City. His parents followed him to the ER, and all they could do was wait and pray.

“Then buddy came in, one of the EMTs,” says Faith, “And he sat down in front of me and said, ‘He’s alive.’ I remember turning to look at Greg and I said, ‘He heard us. He really heard us. He answered our prayers.’ I was so happy.”

They had to remove sand from his lungs and throat, and his head was injured during the digging. And Nathan had been deprived of oxygen to his brain for nearly four hours. Brain damage was a major concern, but doctors determined that Nathan was perfectly fine.

“His progress moved along so well, that Wednesday, they ended up taking out the breathing tube, and [he was] able to get a lot of the stuff out himself, as far as any of the debris and stuff in his lungs.”

Nathan doesn’t remember anything about the sinkhole that almost took his life. He doesn’t remember his amazing recovery. But he does know about God. When asked what his favorite Bible story is, he quickly thought of the story of David and Goliath.

“It’s my favorite story because he ‘fighted’ the giant, and I like it,” says Nathan, “Because he falls down to the ground, and he’s like a really big giant, and a little tiny kid.”

“This couldn’t be anything but a miracle,” says Faith. “This couldn’t by anything but God. There’s no way that you can take God out of this equation. He was buried in cold, wet sand for four hours. Everybody believed that he was gone. And God proved to everybody that he’s not. “I’m God. I can still do amazing things.” And he did.


God’s Love Brings Transformation

24-year-old Niwati was devastated when she saw that her son, Biyond, had been born with a cleft lip. “I wondered, 'Why was my son born like this? Did I do something wrong?’” she said, crying softly. “At first, it was hard for me to accept it. I felt guilty and I blamed God for my son’s lip.”

Niwati also worried about what he would experience as he grew up. “The thing that would really break my heart was the day he would say, ‘Mom, why is my lip like this?’ I just couldn’t imagine that,” she said crying heavily.  

Every day, Niwati’s husband, Anjas, went out to sell kitchen utensils on his motor scooter. He knew he could never earn enough to pay for his son’s surgery. 

Then a relative told the couple about Operation Blessing in Indonesia. “Before we met Operation Blessing, it seemed impossible to get help for our son. When we heard that Operation Blessing would help, my hope started to grow!” recalled Niwati.

Operation Blessing then paid for Biyond to receive free surgery to repair his cleft lip. The operation was successful.

“Thank you so much to Operation Blessing for helping to provide free surgery for our son. Also thank you to all the donors for their kind hearts,” Niwati said with a smile. “God bless you!"


Creating from a Blank Canvas for a Bright Future

“It takes every layer to make the painting what I need it to be at the end. And by the end, every layer has done what it needs to do to make it the final piece.” Marcy Gregg is an accomplished abstract artist with works in galleries and private collections across the United States. It is a passion she rediscovered later - in a life that was almost cut short.

After giving birth to her third child at the age of thirty Marcy contracted a form of meningitis and fell into a coma. Her husband, Dev, says he nearly lost her, “I look in there and she’s got ten tubes hooked to her, she’s intubated and completely out, and the doctors literally came to me and said, ‘She’s probably not going to make it. We don’t see many patients that are – is this severe, you know, live.’”

She lay in a coma for an entire week with little hope for her survival. Then, miraculously after prayers from her pastor, Marcy woke up, confused, disoriented, and without any memories past the age of 17. Dev tried to comfort his wife, unaware of her mental state. Marcy says, “He sat down beside me and he talked to me as if I should know who he was, and I thought he was a doctor. But then he, he reached down to kiss me, and I thought, ‘Okay, wait. When did doctors start kissing their patients?’ And he said that he was my husband and that we had had a child together. And I didn’t remember any of this. So I was completely confused; what was going on?”

Marcy had no memories of the last 13 years of her life. Soon after, she was reunited with her children. She says, “I had no memory of having them at all. And when they came to the room and they brought them in and they jumped on the bed and they put the baby girl in my arms, I literally knew that they were mine. And I felt like that was God’s gift to me, that I knew they were mine.”

Desperate to be released from the hospital, Marcy hid her amnesia. She soon returned to a home and a life she didn’t remember. “Being inauthentic was the hardest part. I felt very inauthentic. And it was very – and it was hard. Everything I was doing was hard because I was – I was lying to everybody,” she says.

Marcy is a Christian and prayed earnestly for her memories to return. When they didn’t, she secretly began drinking alcohol to cover her frustration. “I would drink quietly, secretly, and then the next morning I would get up and I would have – I would open my Bible and I would pray and ask God to forgive me… There was this guilt, but I was so addicted to the alcohol that I drank anyway… I wanted to stop feeling what I was feeling, the pressure. I drank to forget what I couldn’t remember,” she recalls.

She struggled to keep her memory loss and addiction a secret for years. Then one night she saw her life and family with a new perspective. “I looked in there and there Dev was, and he had Cally in his arms, and the boys were all over the furniture, just everywhere. And God said to me at that moment, straight to my heart, as clear as I’ve ever heard him, ‘That is what I saved you, for the future, not the past. And as much as that father loves his children, I love you more. And just as that father’s holding his daughter, I’m holding you and I will never let you fall, but you’ve got to trust me.’”

She remembers, “And I fell to my knees and I literally, at that – point in my life surrendered my life because at that point I realized I wanted God’s will for my life more than I wanted anything else. I wanted His plan for me, without my memories, more than I wanted my plan with my memories, and I chose to trust Him with all of it.”

Marcy came clean before God and her husband. She was set free from alcohol addiction as she put her life in God’s hands. Her memories have not returned, however her passion for painting was reborn and has grown into a successful career - with the word of God at its foundation. “So I take scripture from usually a verse I’m studying that morning. I will take it to the studio and I will paint it across the blank canvas. And that becomes the foundation for the piece and it is also the inspiration for the title.”

In her book, Blank Canvas, she tells her amazing story and the process of learning to trust God with each layer of challenge and grace she faces in her life. She says, “And one day I was putting a final layer on and God literally just impressed on my heart, “God is the master artist and we are His canvas. We’re His masterpiece. Every layer in my life is important to make me who I am, and if we are His masterpiece and you’re in a bad layer, you’re in a bad place, He’s not finished. And I am convinced and I’m confident that He is going to finish the work He’s begun so there’s no accidents and there’s no mistakes.”

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