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When Christ walked this earth, He was often criticized for spending time with the “wrong crowd.” Why didn’t He curry favor with the rich and powerful and those in strategic positions? His networking plan left much to be desired by our standards. 

When this question was asked, Christ answered: “It is not healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31).

Even from the beginning, Johnny Estrella had few prospects for worldly success. He grew up in gang and drug-infested neighborhoods in Phoenix, AZ. Drug addiction was everywhere among his friends, affecting even his dad. 

At a young age, his life began mimicking the lives of those around him as he, too, took up the same criminal activities. He found himself in and out of juvenile centers and even felt that these places were at least better than what he encountered at home.

Nevertheless, the road he was headed down eventually led him to a 20-year prison sentence. Life in prison did not bring his activities to a close but simply created a new environment to keep up the same bad habits that had been fostered in him at a young age. 

After years of this, Estrella realized that he was tired of it all. So tired that it drove him to pray and seek God. He had an honest conversation with God, saying, “Here’s where I’m at; here’s what I need. Can you help me?”

Estrella prayed that if God answered those prayers, he would follow Him. Estrella would know then that God was real and that God is who He says He is. 

The first few requests were answered soon, but Estrella did what many of us often do, assuming it was a coincidence. When a full year came to a close, Estrella again took out his prayer list. He realized then that every single request had been answered. 

Estrella had one question for God: What must I do to follow you? 

That night he dreamt of a vine and cluster of grapes. The following day he opened his Bible right to these words of Christ: “I am the vine, and you are the branches” (John 15).

Estrella knew God was calling him to tell others about what God had done for him. He stopped doing drugs and started evangelizing to his fellow prison mates. The change in Estrella was so drastic that fellow prisoners knew there was something to the Christian faith. 

Estrella never looked back. His life permanently changed as he began following the Lord. 

Release from prison raised new challenges, however. How could he transition into a normal life? Where could he find work? It was then that Estrella found out about the Dream Center. 

The Dream Center’s ministry hugely impacted his life in the Lord after prison. After transitioning through the program, this became a catalyst by which he found work and ministry opportunities post-prison.

He met his future wife there, connected with the youth ministry, and eventually became a youth director. He began two businesses that took off and is now a supervisor at a psychiatric center that helps bring people off the streets.

Estrella’s life experienced a complete turnaround. His life testifies that God’s grace can reach even the darkest places, bringing life, redemption, and healing. No one is too far gone that they cannot find a new life in Christ.

Johny Estrella’s Story is from our Hope Heroes video series, where we share real-life stories of healing and hope through Jesus Christ. To view and subscribe to our Hope Heroes YouTube Channel, click here.

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