My name is John Andrew Zapata. I grew up in a broken home and had a very rough childhood. Gangs, drugs and violence became a part of my life at a very early age. It deviated my life and the life of my family. By the time I was seventeen I was on my way to prison. On my second trip to prison I had been arrested for homicide and four counts of aggravated kidnapping. They were offering my eighty years. I thought my life was over.
To top it off, my girlfriend, Sandra came to see me. I was going to tell her to go her own way because I was going to prison for a long time. But everything changed when she told me she was pregnant. I couldn’t believe it! I was going to have a son and now I wasn’t going to be around to see him. I remember just breaking down and begging God to help me. I had never been religious and I didn’t know how to pray. All I knew was that I wanted my son to have a father. I couldn’t stand the thought of my own son having to go through what I had to go through. I never knew my father and it was a terrible feeling.
I didn’t want to be a loser anymore. I wanted to be a father to my son. I made a decision that I wanted to change my life. So on my knees, in that prison cell, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I started praying for a miracle and to my surprise the miracle came! I don’t know how or why but the judge had grace on me. They dropped some charges and only gave me a three year sentence. I couldn’t believe it! God has given me another change at like and I took it.
Immediately I started learning, reading my Bible and getting involved in any Christian activity that was available to me in prison. One of the things I started praying for was direction and a mentor. Someone that could guide me in the right direction. That’s when the Choose to Change Foundation came into our prison and I met Orlando. I know it was an answered prayer. I remember the rest day in class like it was yesterday. Orlando spoke with truth, power and authority. He knew what he was talking about. I remember him telling us that he had come looking for a few good men. He was holding nothing back.
He said he was there to challenge us from being losers and rise up to become the men we were called to be. Men of God, fathers, husbands and leaders. I had never heard anyone speak like he did. It was like he was talking just to me. I was exactly what I was looking for. And I took his challenge. I told Orlando that I wanted to be the man God had called me to be. He told me he would help me.
Finally, the day finally came. I got out of prison and started attending the Choose to Change Mentoring Program. It was amazing to see other men like me who had made a decision to change their lives and were making it in the free world as Christians. It really gave me hope that I too could succeed. I started attending church on a regular basis and starting serving as an usher. Today, God has restored my family and given me a purpose in life. My girlfriend, Sandra is now my wife. We now have three beautiful children and I am a father, a husband and a leader in mu family. I am so grateful to Orlando and the Choose to Change Foundation. I decided to get involved in the discipleship program that the church offered and I am working to be a pastor one day. I would like to give a special thanks to my Pastor, Roman Gutierrez, for his leadership and for believing in me. Also, to the great brothers and sisters of my church, The Door Christian Fellowship in McAllen, Texas.