Alex didn’t grow up with much. And since his father worked long hours to provide for the family, Alex didn’t grow up with his dad around much either.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have too much time with him,” says Alex. His father worked night shift for one job after working day shifts for another. Without the man’s presence, his growing son was largely left to the influences of the world.

Another challenge for Alex began in the early years of elementary school: he couldn’t speak English until the third grade. As a result, he says he was “the weird kid.” This is when he began being bullied, and he felt out of place.

“I didn’t have any friends,” Alex says. No one to eat lunch with, no one to compare notes with, no one to play with at recess.

Things changed in middle school where he finally found acceptance, but the crowd that accepted him did not provide healthy relationships — or even true friendship for that matter.

“I didn’t make the right friends,” says Alex. “Some of these kids were on drugs already; sixth graders smoking pot. I was influenced by them.” The draw of drugs in Alex’s life was purely for a place to belong. With his newfound friends, he finally had a crew to call his own. He no longer floated all alone on the outskirts of social acceptance.

But over the next couple of years, multiple incidents revealed the danger of living under the influence of such a group.

“I actually overdosed on codeine,” Alex admits. The incident left him in the hospital. At a different time, he almost died from alcohol poisoning.

“I kind of eased off a little bit at that point,” Alex says. He began remembering the words of his parents that hadn’t been taken seriously before: that there was a reason for everything, and that God had a purpose for everything — even a purpose for Alex. “I had this overwhelming feeling of a presence. I realized I shouldn’t be doing this. This isn’t meant for me.”

By the time of his last hospital visit, Alex had also begun meeting some different friends — friends who wanted what was best for him instead of encouraging him down a path of destruction. “You’re going to end up dead,” they would say. “You shouldn’t be doing that, man.”

During his early high school years, Alex spent much of his time at the YMCA. One Monday afternoon, he walked into the teen center and met some Christian adults whose authenticity caught his attention. The organization was called Youth For Christ.

He started going every week.

Over time, he started listening seriously to what they had to say, and he acknowledged that there was a reason they were in his life. “I realized that they were here to help; they’re not just here to give me free pizza.”

The YFC staff shared stories of other kids who had gone through similar things to Alex in his life. He explains, “I realized that I’m not the only one.”

And during the summer of 2016, Alex attended YFC Camp, where everything changed.

“I said yes to Jesus,” Alex says with a smile. “I wanted to follow him in any way possible. He has a purpose for me. I don’t really know it, but I know there’s a purpose—that He wants what’s best for me.”

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