I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. My parents immigrated from El Salvador, chasing the American dream of a prosperous life. However, my father was killed in an automobile accident, and my mom ended up having to fill both roles in parenting. I did not have a strong family environment at home, so I sought a family in the streets.
I grew up during an era that glamorized the gang lifestyle, and as a result, I ended up joining a gang. By the age of fifteen, I was heavily addicted to drugs. After multiple arrests, I was sentenced to five and a half years with the California Youth Authority.
As the years passed, I became increasingly bitter, angry, and confused, and I had no sense of purpose. The gang lifestyle had hardened my heart. While serving my sentence, I committed a new crime inside the correctional facility. I was tried as an adult and sentenced to four years in the California State Prison. The court counted the time I had already served toward my new sentence, so I was finally released at the age of twenty-one.
I went to prison as a minor and came out as an adult. I did not know how to live in the outside world, so I went back to the streets. When I got arrested again and sentenced to a rehabilitation center, God, through a counselor, began speaking to my heart.
I was trying to improve my life, but my past came back to haunt me. I was caught again, arrested, and taken to the Los Angeles County jail. This time I was facing the death penalty. Tired and broken, I longed for peace. God saw my turmoil, sent His Word, and healed me (see Psalms 107:10–22). Another inmate in my jail cell gave me a Bible, and I began to read it. As I read that Bible, I fell on the Rock and was broken! I repented, confessed my sins, and surrendered my life to Jesus. The power of His saving grace began taking away my filthy vocabulary, the anger, the pain, and the bitterness. Christ took over my heart and gave me peace!
After three years of fighting my case, I was released on October 24, 2006. I asked God to lead me to His true church, one that taught Bible truth. In Revelation 12:17, it says that God has a remnant church who “keep[s] the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” I knew God’s true church would have to fit that description. It would have to keep all of God’s Ten Commandments, including the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday). So at the first opportunity after my release, I started attending a Seventh-day Adventist church. I received Bible studies and was baptized on February 10, 2007. I was able to go back to school and graduated with a B.A. in theology. Now I am privileged to serve as a pastor. God has also blessed me with a beautiful family.
I found true, unbreakable freedom—but not when I was physically released from prison. I experienced true freedom and peace when I surrendered to Jesus, knowing that I was forgiven! Many people today who live physically free are incarcerated in the prison of sin. The truth is that we all stand guilty before a holy God (Romans 3:23). We are all on death row, facing the death penalty. Let Jesus be your Advocate. He will plead on your behalf! Time is running short, friend. Surrender your life to Jesus today. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!” (John 8:36).
Mark Dubon has a bachelor of arts degree in theology and pastors churches in Groves and Orange, Texas.