Pastor Hector Vega
East Harlem Fellowship pastor and author Hector Vega has his own story to share about overcoming drug addiction.
Raised in midtown Manhattan (Hell's Kitchen), Vega was in bondage to addiction for 15 years and spent 10 of those years in prison.
“My drug use started with me sneaking out of school and going to risky places with people who shared a common affinity for self-destruction,” Vega told CP.
“In the beginning, I was drawn to alcohol and marijuana, but that grew into playing around with much harder drugs like heroin and cocaine, which drew me into drug addiction.”
Vega said drug use was the vehicle that allowed him to escape whatever pain, shame, and guilt he felt. He admitted that much like every other person who was lost before coming to faith in Christ, he had an innate void and struggled with “identity, self-esteem, and fear of failure” which led him to indulge in destructive behavior.
“I was in a terrible state of confusion with no way out in sight. No matter what I tried to do to shake myself free it would not last, even when I was clean for a few months. But it all changed when I understood that God loved me — even in my worst state — and that I was fearfully and wonderfully made by Him and to be in fellowship with Him.
"God had the answers to my identity problems, fear of failure, and lack of purpose and meaning. He had answers to the nagging void that was inside of me, and He alone had the ability to give me a new heart, a new way of thinking and a new life,” he testified.
He revealed that it was the Gospel message that ultimately granted him freedom from drug addiction.
Vega went on to share some patterns people should look out for if a loved one is battling substance abuse.
“Whenever you see isolation, withdrawn behavior, rule-breaking (even on a minimal scale), and risky behavior that pushes the envelope, those are clear warning signs that someone is in trouble,” he said.
“Too many teens and young adults have no accountability, no structure, and far too much freedom. In our present age, an affinity for video games shows a tendency toward a desire to escape one’s reality. The more young people detach from reality the greater the risk of experimentation with drugs and the leading into addiction,” Vega continued.
Communication of truth in God is key, the New York City-based pastor said. He noted that a vast majority of churches are failing to help people know they were made in the image of God, and held parents and other leaders responsible as well.
“TV, movies, music and social media (internet) play a strong role in communicating the lies of this world and secular philosophy, which also influence and shape our self-esteem, identity, and values. These polluted streams have unfettered access into our lives with virtually little to no truth to counteract it. This may seem like a radical position, but I believe people of faith have to wrestle with this reality and know how to navigate in a tech-saturated culture,” Vega said.
“The Lord Jesus is not willing that any should perish but it will take a radical group of people who stand on the truth of God’s Word and are willing to go into the darkness to bring the light,” he said.
He also hopes addicts will be supported by Christian transformation programs, jobs and life skill mentorship, discipleship training, vocational apprenticeships, honest transparent accountability, consistent prayer, and a reliance on the power of the spirit.
“I think churches have to wake up and face the reality that our programs are ineffective and lack power to transform the streets. How can we have all these churches and all these programs and all these sermons and things still remain the same around us?” the pastor questioned.
Vega quoted Jesus’ charge in Matthew 10:7–8, and said that too often the church is not going out but rather is waiting for the afflicted to come to them.
“On the positive side, I also think that churches are beginning to realize that the mission field is no longer just abroad in Africa but in our own backyard and right in front of us,” he emphasized.
“We have to return to incarnation ministry. Jesus made His dwelling among us. He didn’t leave when it got messy. We believers need to understand that this type of work is froth with failure, which has a way of discouraging even the best of us, including those who are specifically called to this ministry. Success in this type of work is elusive,” he added.
Since getting clean and giving his life to Jesus, Vega, a husband and father, has traveled the world and led his church in Harlem for 10 years. He's now working to establish a social enterprise and educational community facility in East Harlem, which is a long-term missions’ poverty relief project in La Perla, Puerto Rico.
He penned his new book, Arrested by Grace, because of the impending threat he sees in the world.
“It seems that we are once again at a crossroads. The challenges facing our society and culture seem impossible to solve or cure. It’s time to remind people that God is still in the business of providing a way out and doing the impossible and the miraculous. Nothing is impossible for Him,” Vega maintained.
His message to all is, “There is hope! The opioid crisis and its battle for the lives and souls of men and women is not a lost cause!” he exclaimed.
“However, it will require an army of folks who care about the lives of our ‘neighbors,’ who believe in the power of Christ, and who are committed to get their hands dirty and work up close and personal on this crisis in our families, our neighborhoods, and our nation,” Vega said.