The Freedom of Grace – Program Graduate Testimony
By Viviana L. and Merlin M. | Volunteer
We are so proud and honored to share the story of Vivana Valladales Londoño. She is a graduate of the women’s restoration program and is now in the period of transition. Viviana is a true example of the transformative power of God and a testament of how Ciudad Refugio offers the hope of Christ to the hurting, lost and broken. This is her story:
I was born in Medellin to a loving family that included my mother, father, and two sisters. My fondest memory from childhood was spending time with my father and how he always sat with me on his knees. My mother was a Christian and raised me in the ways of God. From a young age, I felt a connection to Christ and no matter the situation I always went to Him first. And up to the age of 15 years old, I was a model student and daughter.
However, when I turned 16, my life took a turn for the worse. It all began when I started a new friendship with people from my neighborhood that were not in my circle of friends from school. I began to sneak out at night to drink beer with them and started living a secret life that my parents knew nothing about. I remember my first encounter with trying cocaine was when my older cousin offered it to me. He was a dealer and would provide me drugs whenever I asked or needed them. For about five years I lived a double life and hid my addiction from my family; I would use drugs but always felt I could control and manage it. That changed one day when my mother went through my bag and found drugs inside. She confronted me with what she found. Afterwards, I saw no reason to hide my drug use and I began to use more openly and frequently. But along with my increased drug use, I became more depressed and hopeless. Day and night, I would drink alcohol and use drugs to numb what I was truly feeling inside. I can honestly say that everything in my life changed for the worse after I started using drugs. Things escalated to where my mother could no longer put up with my bad habits and eventually kicked me out of the house. At this point, I wanted to die and felt so utterly alone in the world.
To find a place to belong and to continue my drug habit I joined a gang on the recommendation of my cousin. I mainly just needed access to drugs and this was a means to that end. But to be truly initiated into the gang, I had to prove my worth and toughness. I was required to fight, transport drugs and even carry a pistol. In a period of one year, I remember I had to fight three times. But I felt brave and invincible and always justified my actions because it granted me access to the drugs I needed to survive.
After about four years with the gang; my life changed once again. One day, I was required to transport some drugs to sell in a neighboring town. But while the transaction was taking place a dispute arose about the price of the drugs. The buyers became violent and killed a member of my gang. I had to retaliate in self-defense and was forced to do the unthinkable. The police were called and we all ran once they arrived. I tried to flee but I had consumed drugs before this encounter and was very high. Because I was not in my right mind, I couldn’t escape and was apprehended by the authorities. Once I was arrested, I was charged with crimes such as drug trafficking and extortion. Without a second thought, the judge condemned me to 18 years behind bars.
To spend 18 years behind bars was the same as a life sentence for me. At this point, I had two young kids and was essentially a single mom. My lawyer tried to convince the judge to reduce my sentence or set me free for the sake of my kids. But the judge was adamant that I was a danger to society and should remain incarcerated. I was completely hopeless and felt such anger in my heart towards God. Even though I had hit rock bottom, my heart remained very hard and I would often fight with the other inmates. All appeals for my freedom were rejected by the judge and there was no hope for me.
But God had mercy on me. After two years behind bars, one day I received a message from my lawyer that I had been conditionally released on house arrest. The same judge that condemned me to 18 years behind bars miraculously granted me my freedom after just two years. There was no other way to describe my early release other than a miracle of God; no other human explanation can ever be given. But even after being released, my addiction and abuse of drugs continued; and I lived this way for two years after being granted my freedom. I would still leave my home to buy drugs and go to unsafe places with my neighbors and friends. Through all this, my mother was crying out for me but nothing in my life was more important to me than using drugs.
My lowest point came on a Monday morning when I felt so depressed, hopeless, and alone that I decided to commit suicide. My kids no longer lived with me and I felt that I had let everyone in my life down. There was no longer a reason for me to keep living if this was all life had to offer me. However, before taking my own life I began to walk with no real destination in mind. By the grace of God, my walk brought me to the street corner where the foundation is. I stopped and read the name “Ciudad Refugio” (City of Refuge) and I heard a voice in my heart encouraging me to go and talk to the people inside. Without second-guessing or questioning myself, I went in and spoke to someone who explained what Ciudad Refugio was. So, I began the restoration process that day itself and Ciudad Refugio welcomed me with the clothes on my back and just the way I was; broken, sick, and a shell of the person I am today. Once I met the leadership and the team at the foundation, especially Doña Nena, I realized that I was no longer alone. I truly believe that God’s power and freedom in my life are what motivated me to not return to drugs. Over time, God began to break down my cold and hard heart and replaced it with one dependent on Him. And I transformed from a tough and cold woman to someone who smiled and embraced those around me with love and humility.
I cannot explain God and what He has done for me. He loved me when I was unlovable. His grace found me at my lowest and freed me from the person that I was. I know I would have been dead without God’s intervention in my life. I love Him so much for all that He has done for me. Ciudad Refugio has taught me so much. I learned here that God is my restorer and that He opens doors in our lives. I feel privileged because God always opened His arms to receive me; even when I had strayed away from Him and was in jail. I have begun to understand that the love of God is greater than the heavens and that with God by my side all the other things just fade away. In fact, my favorite verse is Ezekiel 36:26: “ I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” I have become a new creation in Christ and He has given me a new heart and life. This transformation didn’t just effect me but my family as well. My parents were strengthened by the change in my life and my kids are now happy and proud of how I’ve changed and become a better mother to them.
As for the future, I have such hope. After completing my time of transition, in three months I will marry a man who has been faithful and with me through it all. I want to find stable work but more than anything else I long with my life to serve God and to be useful for Him along with my family.
This is my story and I hope it can offer light to many people. I want to share about my life to show that there is freedom for those enslaved to drugs and to offer an example of the miracle of God. I want to end by offering advice to anyone who is in the same shoes as I was. The world destroys you and has nothing to offer you. In the end, you will be alone. But Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. God longs to be your friend and confidante. He will never leave or forsake you. With Him is life, and life eternal. All you need to do is surrender everything you have to His hands. If God can offer the freedom of His grace to someone like me, He can definitely do the same for you as well.