Lázaro hoped to get rich quick, but "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).
Lázaro Lopez had a relatively normal childhood. He was being raised in a good home.
"My dad was a hard-working man. I really have no excuse," says Lázaro, referring to what prompted him to rebel against his family and begin his criminal behavior.
He and his brother, drawn to the promise of quick money, began robbing computer stores, stealing the computers’ memories, and sending them back to Venezuela.
12 armed robberies,
17 aggravated assaults:
Lázaro faced up to 104 years in prison.
"In jail I paid two boxes of cigarettes so that a special blade could be made for me," Lázaro recalls. "I thought I'd never get out again. No hope, no future, no vision. I basically just gave up on life."
But a persistent cellmate in the Miami-Dade county jail kept sharing the Gospel with Lázaro. One day when he couldn't get to his own magazines, Lázaro picked up the Bible his cellmate had left him. "I was tired of being sick and tired," he says. When he opened up to Matthew 11:28, he read, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
Lázaro threw away the shank he had made and went to the chapel, where he accepted Christ.
'THE HOUSE OF PRAYER'
As they awaited trial, Lázaro and his brother began to study God's Word and lead Bible studies. The two built up such a great reputation with the officers that they were allowed to share a cell for six months. What was once known as the "House of Pain," says Lázaro, became the "House of Prayer."
After four years in the county jail, the pair went to trial, where at first, the outcome didn't look good. Lázaro remembers the moment his mother just looked at them and said, "I can't believe you did all these things."
But they prayed, and on the third day, the judge held the jurors from entering the courtroom. "Out of the compassion of my heart," he announced, "I'm going to give them 12 years," which was about ten times shorter than Lázaro thought he might get.
RICH IN BLESSINGS
Not only did he receive a much shorter sentence, by the grace of God, but after he entered Glades Correctional Institution in Florida, he experienced God’s rich blessings and compassion through Prison Fellowship®. Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship that serves incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for restoring and strengthening their relationships with their children and families, provided his daughter with a Christmas gift.
"When they delivered that gift, it wasn't just a gift given," he recalls. "They ministered to my daughter."
And because Lázaro himself was mentored by Prison Fellowship volunteers through classes and marriage counseling, he grew from being a "part-time dad" who wasn't very involved in his daughter's life to a father who helped lay a strong foundation for her faith in the Lord.
Today, he and his now adult daughter minister together in Florida, and every Christmas, Lázaro helps hand out Angel Tree gifts at his church. "God has been awesome through Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree in my life," he says.
SERVING BY GRACE
Even though Lázaro served his time behind bars, he has found himself back in prison—this time, as a mentor and Prison Fellowship volunteer. He's also an administrator at the Anchor House, a Christ-centered transitional house to help former inmates with job placement, communication and social skills, and budgeting. "I didn't have that help when I got out, and it was kind of difficult," Lázaro says.
He emphasizes the need for former prisoners to have accountability through community and to serve. "Isolation is where you falter and go back six feet under," he says.
And Lázaro sees his own service as a second chance at life he's been offered through God's grace. He shares the excitement he felt recently when helping a young man, who had been in and out of prison, find a job. "I'd rather be nowhere else but here, right now," he says. "We have to serve. For those of us who have an addictive behavior, it's everything."
This article was adapted from a recent edition of Inside Journal®, Prison Fellowship®'s newspaper written specifically for incarcerated men and women.
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