As a 14-year-old in small-town Colombia, Mateo fell into the trap of trying drugs with his friends and spiralled into addiction. But God had a plan to restore and redeem him through the love of his local church family.

Seventeen-year-old Mateo lives in Currulao, a small town in northern Colombia, with his parents, Eduardo and Gladys, and his older brother, Josué. Eduardo works driving a truck, while Gladys takes care of the family. For the first 14 years of his life, Mateo was a sunny, open-hearted boy. But as he got older, his behaviour changed.

For a while, Gladys put his darker moods down to the struggles of adolescence. But one day she received a call from Mateo’s school teacher that she couldn’t ignore.

Gladys was horrified when Mateo’s teacher told her that her son was using drugs. Not only that, he was offering them to other kids and behaving erratically, sometimes violently, in class.

The news was devastating. She had raised her boy in a Christian family. He was registered with Compassion and known as an outgoing, friendly boy who always wanted to help others. Surely this couldn’t be her little Mateo?

“Every day, during our family devotional time, I advised my children about the danger of drugs. So, I couldn’t understand why my son made this decision. What did I do wrong?”

Unfortunately, in their little town, drug abuse was quite common. “I was born in a Christian family, but I didn’t know God,” says Mateo. “My friends started to use drugs. It was in style and I thought I should be there, using drugs, because they would make me more powerful in some way.”

Gladys and Eduardo confronted him and discussed the problem with his teachers, but Mateo’s drug use escalated. When he was found using at school and inviting other students to join him, he was expelled.

He found himself adrift, living a life that he hated.

“At the beginning, it was good to use drugs,” he remembers. “Then, I started to notice that I had no control, I had lost friends and opportunities. I had been expelled from school and my mum was suffering a lot. I tried to quit using drugs, but I couldn’t.”

As his friends abandoned him, he realised he had another place to go where he would be accepted despite his mistakes: the local church.

“I started to attend the Compassion centre at the church more, to spend my time in a better way. When I arrived, they received me with love. I never felt rejected by people there. They said, ‘Mateo you have come!’ full of happiness.”

In fact, when the child development centre staff learned that Mateo was struggling with drugs, they doubled their intent to keep him involved.

“We started to make Mateo feel all our love,” says Ayda, one local worker. “We started to involve him in all the activities, to motivate him to attend the centre more and spend less time with bad friends. In June 2016, we invited him to a spiritual retreat; and there, God changed his life.”

“I didn’t go to that retreat to look for God,” says Mateo. “I just wanted to have a good time with my friends. However, during the conference I felt that all that Ayda was sharing was for me; she was talking about bad decisions. I listened to her and thought about my life and started to cry. I told God that I had a problem, that I was a drug addict and I had tried to change by my own but I couldn’t. I asked for His help and decided to accept Jesus as my Saviour. At that moment, the teachers hugged me and I felt all their love and support. I felt strength that I hadn’t felt before.

“I returned home determined to be different—and I am different. For 15 days, my friends offered me to use drugs, but I rejected it. After that, they realised that I really had changed and I started to invite them to go church. I started to read the Bible, pray and I got baptised in December.”

Mateo returned to school and has good grades. He wants to study mechanics and start his own repair shop. However, he is even more passionate about sharing his testimony of redemption.

“Something that is hard for me is to know that I influenced others to use drugs. I ask God to allow me to help them, that He would rescue them as He rescued me. From the vile and despised, God chose me. There is nothing better than giving our lives to God. I will live to serve Him.”

Words by Lina Marcela Alarcón and Richard Miller