Tonight was Luis’ initiation night. The men formed parallel lines. They gave the signal, and Luis ran through the middle. He endured punches and severe beatings from the gang. He was expected to fight back, stay on his feet, and display no weakness or fear. The outcome would show the leaders Luis’ fighting skills and courage. It determined if Luis would be a valuable member. He passed. Relieved and strangely secure amid these violent men, Luis held his head high and endured his pain. He was only 13.
San Pedro, Mexico, has many gangs, and belonging to one means power, prestige, and protection. Peer pressure to join is intense. Luis believed this choice would give him the means to help his low-income family and provide him with recognition since he was not a good student.
Money, safety, and camaraderie required more than running the gauntlet. Participation in blood baths between rival gangs, violent crimes, and drug running followed.
“I don’t think I can go tonight, guys. I need to get some sleep.” Over three months, Luis became increasingly exhausted. Then headaches began. He thought he had gotten one too many blows to the head. Seizures, vomiting, blurred vision, and difficulty speaking started a week later. Since Luis could no longer contribute, the gang asked him to leave. Luis returned to his parents’ house. He was 19.
After the tests, the doctor entered the room and said, “Luis, you have a cancerous brain tumor. These tumors make their own blood cells, which help them grow fast. We need to schedule surgery as soon as possible.” No previous interactions on the street compared to the devastation he felt. Luis had been in control; now, he was helpless.
The first of several surgeries was 14 hours long. Luis’ horseshoe-shaped head scar was closed with staples, and a drainage tube hung across his cheek. Just as his hair was growing back, the chemo began through a small hole drilled into his skull.
Months later, another doctor entered Luis’s exam room and said, “We have done everything we know to do. I’m sorry.” He left Luis sitting on the edge of the bed, where he put his head into his hands and wept.
While Luis was going through treatment, Luis’ parents went to a home Bible study organized by Seedtime and Harvest, an ANM partner. They then began attending the church in San Pedro. Luis started to go with them. His heart was opening with each meeting. During a moving service on Christ’s love, he got on his knees and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. At that moment, with that prayer, everything changed.
His addiction to drugs began in the gang, and the cravings increased with the onset of his sickness. All desire for drugs ceased that evening. The next morning he awoke feeling better than he had in months. When this continued, he returned to the doctor, who confirmed that his brain tumor was gone!
Confident that Jesus had delivered him from drugs and cancer, Luis joined a ministry called Fuego Santa (Holy Fire). It is a group of former gang members and drug addicts, like Luis, whom Christ has healed. They minister to those trapped in this same lifestyle and youth who may be considering it. They conduct concerts, share their testimonies, and tell of Jesus’s love through rap and hip-hop music.
“No one should go through this journey alone,” says Luis. “I want them to find hope and healing in Jesus. With Him, they can be sure of a successful recovery.”