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Eli Contreras always longed for the love of a father. But his dad was anything but loving.
“He just did some strange things," Eli tells The 700 Club. "He ended up choking me, spitting on me, screaming, telling me that he was the devil and that he was going to kill me. I think I was like five years old. Another time, I got bit by a dog, and when I ran to my dad for comfort, he threw me in the kitchen sink, tore off my pants and started trying to cut my leg off with a knife.”
Eli was also sexually abused by his father and his friends.
“A few years later, when I was about six years old, a friend of the family started spending a lot of time at our house. He started sexually abusing me. When I was about 12 years old, it had already become normal to me. “
Eli began using drugs at an early age to numb the pain. By the time he was a teenager, he ran away and was living in the streets.
“I met another guy that lived down the street from me, and we started hanging out in San Francisco on Polk Street with all the homosexual prostitutes. From there we started smoking crack and started getting more into drugs.”
For nearly 15 years, every day was spent in search of drugs. He later became a dealer.
“With the drugs, I was able to make women prostitute. With the drugs, I was able to make men that were married and had children sleep with me. I was able to make people do whatever I wanted them to do.”
Despite his power over people, he still longed for love. He recalls, “I cried out to God growing up many times. 'God, I know that You can rescue me. I know that You can change me. I know You can do anything.' It seems like the more I cried out to God, the more He was silent. So I began to think that maybe God hated me for some reason. It reminded me of a time when I was a little kid, and my dad was sitting there with my brothers and sisters. They were all hugging like they were going to take a picture. I ran up to get into my dad’s arms, and he said, ‘Not you. You’re not my son.’ I felt like all those times I was crying out to God, God was saying, ‘But you’re not My son.'”
His anger toward God eventually led him to even darker places.
“I used to have a habit of cutting myself wth glass, razor blades, whatever I could find out on the street. I realized that I wanted to hurt God the way he was hurting me. The only way I knew how to hurt God was to worship Satan.”
Eli later moved to the suburbs to be closer to his mother and sisters, but he still wandered the streets day and night pursuing his next fix.
“All I could think about was shooting up.”
Feeling helpless over his drug habit, Eli attempted suicide several times.
“The demons and the vices were getting louder. I got to the point where I just couldn’t handle it.”
Once he tried to throw himself over a chain link fence onto the interstate.
“I was just trying with all my might to pull myself up over that fence, and I just couldn’t move. I sat there for two hours. I even got to a point where I begged Satan before I used to go to sleep. I would say, ‘Satan, if you have the power to take my life, you can have me. I’ll spend eternity in hell. Just take me out of this hell I’m living in, because God doesn’t want me.”
But God had his eye on Eli the whole time. He wasn’t the only one.
His friend Miriam Sobalvarro says, “Every time I would go buy something or every time I would drop off my daughter to school or anything, I would see him all the time.I started asking, ‘God, do you want me to tell him about You?’”
She stopped by Eli’s mother’s house to ask about this strange man she sometimes saw near their home.
Eli's sister says, “She wanted to know if he lived there or if we knew who he was, and my mom said, ‘Yeah, that’s my son.’ She said, ‘I feel like I have to pray for him, and I have to pray for you guys, too.'”
One day Miriam felt as if God was telling her to talk to Eli that day or it would be too late.
“He was going toward the main street, and then I turned around and said to him, ‘Can you give me your hand so I can pray for you?’ He said yes. Then I told him, “The Lord loves you more than anything you can imagine.'”
Miriam found out later that Eli had decided to throw himself under a semi-truck that day. He was on his way to do so when she pulled up. Later, he agreed to attend a Bible study with her.
“We used to meet at his sister’s house to read the Bible," Miriam says. "I used to pray deliverance, anoint him with oil, say the word of God and tell him that the Lord has the power to change his life.”
On Easter Sunday morning, Eli knew it was time.
“I went to her house, and I was banging on her door," Eli says. "I was crying and I was sweating. She opened the door and said, ‘It’s time.’"
Miriam took him to church that morning. All the way there, Eli heard voices telling him to jump out of the car, but something kept him in his seat.
“When we got to the church, they did an altar call. I went to the altar, and for the first time in my life, I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life. I sat there for 20 minutes. I cried and I cried. I felt Jesus put His arms around me. I don’t know what happened, but I know that when I stood up, I was a new man.”
Eli also led his mother and sister to Christ as well.
“He has changed this whole family," his sister says. "He has changed this whole town, because they all know him from how he walking down Highway 4. They’re like, ‘That’s the same guy we used to see throwing himself on the ground, yelling screaming and talking to himself?’”
Eli went back to high school and received his diploma in 2009. He says he has forgiven his father and he loves sharing his testimony at churches and with anyone willing to listen. He wants to get a counseling degree so he can help people who have lived through similar situations.
“I saw what Eli could be," Miriam says. "God says from the worst, from the most vile person, He can make somebody beautiful to use for His glory."
Eli agrees. "God loves you more than you could ever imagine. It doesn’t matter how far away you walk from God. God is right there. When God spoke to me, he told me, ‘The 33 years that you walked away from Me, you never left my sight.’ So I want to let everybody else know that Jesus loves them regardless of what they are going through, what they’ve been or what they’re doing. God loves them.”
Can God change your life?
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