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Former Convict's Journey to Christ

After years of street violence, drug use, and thievery, Fernando "Fernie" Aranda was sent to prison to a serve a 25-years-to-life sentence. But prison didn't change Fernie. His life behind bars matched the life he had lived on the streets. At one point he was even a suspect in the deaths of three fellow inmates. But Fernie's defiance ended when his 70-year-old mother came to visit him in prison. She broke down in tears and said, "I don't want to die seeing you in this condition." Fernie was broken. He offered a simple prayer to God that day: "O God, if you'll get me out of this hellhole, I promise I'll serve you for the rest of my life." One year later, after serving only thirteen years of his sentence, Fernie was given an unexpected surprise: he was released from prison.

As is the case with most former inmates, sadly, Fernie fell right back into his old lifestyle. The wrong crowd awaited him when he returned home, and it wasn't long before he was doing drugs again. But when he and a friend were out looking to score more drugs after a three-day celebratory binge, Fernie's friend noticed that the Drug Task Force was out on the streets. If Fernie was caught with drugs in his system, he faced a return to prison. Fernie had only one option: run. He noticed a crowd of people in a nearby park, and he made his way over to them to seek cover. Once there, something unexpected happened—something that would forever change his life. Jim Cymbala writes about the moment in his book You Were Made for More:

Soon a man came up to [Fernie] and said, with no introduction, "Hey, guess what? Jesus loves you."
Fernie was repulsed. He immediately turned to leave. But as he did, he glimpsed the police coming toward him. He decided his best option was to dive back into the crowd—which was actually a street rally sponsored by a group called Victory Outreach Ministries.
What happened next defies prediction. As Fernie tells it:
"I'd never seen any of these people in my life. But a young man named Louie approached me next. He looked sort of like the Marlboro Man—big muscles, big mustache. He walked up to me and boldly said, 'Hey bro—don't you remember the day you prayed in your prison cell, that if God would release you from that hellhole, you'd serve him the rest of your life?'
"I couldn't believe it! I was stunned. How could this man know anything about my prayer…?
"I suddenly felt I was no longer hearing the voice of man. It was the voice of God."
Before Fernie could reply, the man pointed a finger right between his eyes and said, "And you know what you have to do."
This was enough to make Fernando Aranda crumple to his knees there on the grass. He began to weep. "God, I'm sorry! Forgive me all my sins." The power of God was driving this tough criminal to the point of full surrender.

That day Fernie was placed in one of the homes provided by Victory Outreach Ministries, where he could be discipled alongside other men with similar problems. Cymbala closes out Fernie's story with one final note: "Fernie's mother eventually came to see him there. Her prior glimpse of his in prison shackles turned out not to be her final view after all."

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