A Matter of Life or Death: From Darkness to Hope

John FarrellBy John FarrellMay 9, 202333 Minutes

[Editor’s Note: When I interviewed Cristina Baker about her book, Hope in 60 Seconds: Encountering the God of the Impossible, my original plan was to write an original article based on our conversation. However, as she began answering my first question about her testimony, I quickly realized her response to this question alone would be longer and more in-depth than most of our articles. Her testimony and her life’s journey are so powerful that they dictate the necessity of me sharing it in full, in her words. If you have hit rock bottom and feel hopeless and lost, I hope Cristina’s story shows that no matter how far you’ve fallen or how far you’ve strayed from the Lord, Jesus is always waiting for you … to bless you, forgive you, and give you hope.]   

 

I grew up in America until I was about seven years old. When my parents divorced, we moved to Bolivia, which is in South America. My mom is actually Paraguayan, so my first language is Spanish. After my parents divorced, I, like a lot of children, took it hard, and there was a lot of abuse in my childhood. My dad was an oil executive who got hooked on cocaine and was living a double life in his early thirties and into his forties.

When we moved to Bolivia, I didn’t have a lot of support from my stepdad. When my mom remarried, my stepdad was a pretty difficult person. He took on three kids. I had two other brothers, and then my parents ended up having another child.

By the age of 14, I got into self-harm. I was into the goth scene. I was the lead singer of an all-girl punk band. I was dressing in all black – black eyes, spikes, the whole thing – and listened to bands like Marilyn Manson. I got into some really dark stuff and my mom didn’t know how to deal with that. She was just trying to keep the family together. My mom was a housewife, stay-at-home mom, and was constantly trying to please my stepdad and keep the family together. She already had one failed marriage.

I was partying all night at bars. There’s no drinking age in Bolivia, so I’m going to the bars. By the time I was 15, I went down a downward spiral. I came home one night, and my stepdad was standing at the top of the stairs. I tried to get past him. Right before he almost pushed me down the steps, he said, “You’re not worth it.” He looked at my mom and said, “It’s her or it’s me.” So, she had to make a decision that night. She was to the best of her ability protecting me and getting me out of the situation. So, they put me on a one-way ticket to Maui, Hawaii, where they believed my dad was.

Bouncing from Home to Home

I hadn’t seen my dad in almost 10 years after the divorce. I showed up at the Kahului airport with a duffle bag with my whole life in it and a guitar on my back. About six hours later, my dad shows up. He had no idea I was at the airport. We recognize each other. We get into his truck, and he says, “This is crazy your mom sent you here.” I was like, “Okay.” And he says, “I need to share something with you. I’m living in a tent right now and I’m homeless on the beach.”

My dad had been in the oil field, made good money, but he had a bad drug problem. So, he lost everything. Ended up living in a tent in a place called Thousand Peaks Beach in Maui, Hawaii. I didn’t have a relationship with my dad so we kind of bonded during that time.

I was lost, confused. I went from having everything materially, but inside our home it was a prison. My mom couldn’t go out and do the regular things without asking for permission. It was just that type of lifestyle.

Some family members found out I was on the beach with my dad so they sent a ticket for me to go from Maui back to Houston, which is where a lot of my family was. There I went from home to home. Nobody wanted to deal with a goth girl and a lost teenager, so they put me on another plane to go to Pennsylvania where my brother was living. I was staying in a Red Roof Inn. My brother had an athletic scholarship to go to Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He went to his basketball coach, who was a believer, and said, “My sister’s staying at a motel. I don’t know what to do with her.”

The coach went to the staff meeting of the church and said, “We’ve got a teen. We’re not sure if she’s on drugs. She’s an atheist, and she needs somewhere to stay.” A couple stood up and raised their hands and said, “We’ll take her in.”

I showed up at this couple’s house a week before 9/11 in 2001, and they said, “There’s just two rules in our house. The first one is you have to be home by 11.” I was like, “No problem.” I just wanted a warm bed to sleep in. The second one was, “You have to go to church with us every Sunday.” I looked at them like this is crazy. I’m an atheist. They were kind of like, you’re on your own. Those are the rules.

I ended up staying there for three years, graduated high school, and stayed clean mostly for those three years, and then got out of their house and kind of went crazy again.

Hitting Rock Bottom and a … Prayer

Rubber meets the road moment for me. I started taking a descent into drugs. This time it wasn’t just the pot and the drinking, it was heavy drugs – cocaine and ecstasy. It kept getting heavier and heavier as the years went by.

I started working at the University of Phoenix. I started working there as a call center specialist. I did that for years. I was doing the same thing my dad was doing – drugging all night and then working at this company during the day.

One night I’m driving in Houston. I get pulled over and I had a large amount of drugs with me. Pills and all kinds of stuff in my purse and in the car. I was smoking in the car. The police officer placed me under arrest. He put me in the back of the cop car and pulled all the paraphernalia and drugs out. He said, “You know where you’re going tonight?” I’m like, “Nope.” Just really belligerent.

When I look back, that was a moment where I feel like I said my first prayer because I had never acknowledged that there was a God. My dad was an atheist. My mom was a non-practicing Catholic. So, there was never mention of God. We never went to church. There was never anything remotely spiritual in our home, much less any faith.

I’m sitting in the back of the cop car and I looked up and I was like, “Why are you doing this to me?” Me acknowledging God for the first time. Little did I know that the Lord was waiting for me to start that conversation in the 20-plus years of my life because that became the opening. I guess you could say that was the introduction of a conversation between me and the Lord that would never end.

I was out on bail, sitting at my computer. I had dealt with a lot of suicidal tendencies, especially during that phase where I was into the goth scene. I had dealt with that before, but this was a moment where it became very real. Real to the point where it scared me because I was planning out this time how I was going to end my life.

The Turning Point

I’m contemplating this when I get a tap on my shoulder. It’s this man named Hilroy. I knew he was a pastor or definitely a Christian. He’d always carry a Bible to work. He taps me on the shoulder while I’m contemplating all this and he said, “Hey, Cristina, we have prayer meetings every day at noon on the third-floor break room and I have a word from the Lord for you.” I was like, “A word from the Lord?”

But at that time in my life – the Lord, Buddha, Muhammad – I didn’t have any scope of any faith or spirituality ever in my life. It was just like, “Somebody save me.” Looking back on it I’m so thankful he came offering me a relationship with Jesus, but I’ll get to that in a second.

I said, “Okay.” So, I show up to the third-floor break room and I remember getting off the elevator. I could hear something that sounded like music. There was this humming inside the break room. I go in and there’s people pacing the floor praying like I had never seen or heard before. I had seen rosaries before, but I had never seen this before. I remember thinking, “If there is a God, these people have come face to face with him.”

I’m standing in the middle of this circle. It was a little strange for me because I had never experienced anything like that before when all of a sudden, they start putting their hands on my back. They’re praying for me, crying out to God for me. Hilroy walks toward me and he has the book of Jeremiah open. He starts reading a scripture and he says, “This is a matter of a life or death.” And in my heart, in my mind, I saw myself dying in a car accident. It was the weirdest thing. That wouldn’t have been a strange thing for me because I was driving home drunk Monday through Monday from the bars. This was a regular part of my life. I looked at him and I just had this thought. I was like, “Jesus, if you’re real, come into my heart and change me, save me.”

Then he reads the sinner’s prayer, “If you want to accept it into your heart and confess with your mouth and believe in your heart.” I said, “Yes. Okay.” Then all of a sudden they started praying. These people are weeping. I’m thinking, “Gosh, why are they crying like they know me?” For me at that moment, it was the strangest thing. They were praying with so much fervor and passion that I had never seen before. It was like, “Gosh, why do they care?” It was like the boulders I had been carrying around all my life suddenly just lifted.

When we talk about being born again, the Lord doesn’t just say that to say that. He didn’t just choose that. It was with a purpose. It’s like spiritually we go through the birth canal again. And I saw light that I had never seen before. It was like those fluorescent lights in offices were brighter. The sky was bluer. The grass was greener. I had never experienced that before. That was like the standout thing for me and there was a peace and a joy I’d never had in my entire life. I was seeking that in all of the highs. If that makes sense.

I was filling that void to numb the pain all of my life through different things. Through music, through self-harm, through drugs, through alcohol, and all of those things. And in one moment, I’m introduced to Jesus and my heart was on fire.

For me, the fact that he had been there all of my life was the most overwhelming piece of all of this. I had tried to keep God like a beach ball under the water all my life. He would come up at different parts, if that makes sense. I would just say, “Nope, go away.” But this time the beach ball came out of the water and it was like, “I’ve been here all your life.” My heart was set on fire. All of a sudden that desire to do drugs and the desire to do all the things that I had been doing was gone.

Pregnant and Single

A little piece that I should share with you is when I was 21, I had a baby with a guy that I was dating. At the time when all this was going on, I was a single mom.  It’s such a big piece of it because the reality of it is that I would not have even made it this far in my life had it not been for that baby boy.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was not a believer. I had actually scheduled an abortion in Houston. I was flying out the door when I get a knock at the door. It’s my drug dealer’s girlfriend. She was pregnant and had two babies in tow. She walks in and says, “I need to talk to you. Is he here?” I said, “Yeah, he’s in the back room.” So, we went into the bathroom, and she pulls out a Walmart bag with a brown file in it and says, “Take a look at this.” I’m looking at it and it’s the state of Texas versus this doctor. A 15-year-old had died on the table having an abortion, and the family was suing the doctor for malpractice. When I looked closer, it was the doctor I was going to see.

I’m sitting there in shock. She grabs me by the shirt, pulls me in, and says, “I know you don’t believe in God, but my God will provide for this baby. I’m asking you not to kill this child today, Cristina.”

At that point in my life, I didn’t think that if you were pregnant, that it was a baby, you know? We’re told it’s just a clump of cells and I believed that. But something in that moment, and again, I didn’t know God. I was just like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” I collapsed on the floor, and she told me, “My God will provide for this baby.” That was the promise that was given to me that day.

So, I would not have made it to that third-floor break room had it not been for this baby boy coming into the world. I named him Evan, which I found out about four years after I became a believer that it’s a Celtic name that comes from the Hebrew name John. It means, “God has given grace. God has shown favor.” That’s what he was to me. God had given me grace through this little boy.

I would not have made it that far because I wouldn’t have been living for myself. I would not have made that decision. God fixed my life. I was a single mom. I was at the end of my rope.

Grace in the Courtroom

I gave my life to Jesus, but unfortunately it wasn’t 1-2- 3 everything is great now. If anything, I was going straight into a wilderness of everything that had gotten me in that place in the first place. I was dealing with this court case and this is when everything changed for me.

I show up for court and my attorney’s like, “Hey, you’re going to do some time in county jail.” I’m like, “I can’t go back to jail.” I was so scared that Evan would have to go back with his biological father. He says, “This is what we’re looking at.”

I went and sat down, and I think at the time, in my mind, in my spirit, in my heart, I didn’t know what was going on, but I just felt like I needed to talk to the DA. So, I told my attorney, “I need to talk to the DA.” He said, “You can’t do this. You’re going to lose the case, Cristina.” He saw how I was like super on fire and I was preaching everywhere and just sharing the goodness of God. Everything He had done for me. He was like, “This girl’s a bit of a loose cannon. I don’t know what she’s going to say.” He says, “Alright, I’ve given you legal advice.”

I see them walking toward me. We walk out of the courtroom with the DA and he’s like, “So, what’s up?” I had this thought, I don’t know what’s up, but these people keep telling me that God is truth. I was being discipled by this group of intercessors, this pastor Hilroy. Every day at noon, we would have prayer. We called it PT – prayer time – and then Wednesdays we’d have Bible study. They were committing all of their time discipling me for all of those months leading up to the court case. He says, “What’s up?” I thought I’m just going to tell him the truth. So, I said, “I just want to tell you the truth about what happened that night. I’m not the girl that was in that car September 2nd” – the day that I got arrested. I said, “I know you get hundreds of people that come in here every day and tell you that God has changed their life, but really Jesus Christ has saved me and I’m so sorry for what I’ve done.” He said, “Well, we all make mistakes sometimes. Have a good day.”

I look at Oscar, my attorney, and he’s like, “You’re done.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m done.” I just gave a full confession with no plea deal. We walk into the courtroom and sit down. It felt like 15 hours, but it was probably like 15 minutes. Next thing I see is Oscar walking my way. He’s pale. I ask, “What’s going on? Are they going to extend my arrest date?” Sometimes they give you 30 days to handle your affairs and then you turn yourself in. He holds up a yellow piece of paper that changes the rest of my life. It says “Order of Dismissal” at the top. I said, “What does this mean?” He said, “Cristina, they threw out the case. They dismissed the case. You’re free to go.”

Frankly, in that moment, I was in shock, but I was like, “I better get out of here before they change their mind.” We get saved, but I was still coming into this as I was being discipled. I’m running out of the courtroom, I fall on my knees and I’m screaming.

I watched this group of intercessors at my job worship God, and I would see how they would just belt it every time they came into the presence of the Lord, “Hallelujah!” Very, very passionate people. So I did the same thing that I learned there. I thought, “This is how you worship God.” I fall on my knees. I’m screaming, “Hallelujah, glory to God!” I’m crying, and I heard that voice that I know now is a still, small voice of God. I just felt Him say, “You see that judge in there? I’m above her. I’m above the judicial system in the United States and I’ve been here your whole life watching over you.” It was like that ‘go-and-sin-no-more moment’ for me. Like the woman at the well. “Go now tell everybody about me.”

Second Chances

I got the second chance that I was praying for. This was like the millionth chance in my life, but it was like that chance of “Now go, I’m real. I’ve been here the whole time. You’ve stuck your fist out at Me all of your life, but I’ve been here the whole time watching over you, making sure that you didn’t kill yourself. You didn’t take your own life. You didn’t die in a car accident.”

For me, that was it. I just knew that that was my opportunity to go on and live the rest of my days telling people about who Jesus is and what He has done for us through the cross. I had heard I’m saved by the blood and the cross, but when I wrote the chapter “Collision with the Cross” I was guilty. I had done the crime, but I didn’t do the time. I know that’s not everybody’s story, but in that moment that was the revelation I had. This is what the cross has done for me spiritually. I’m guilty, but I’m forgiven because of His blood, because of the cross. That was it for me.

Cristina’s Medical Scare and Her Parents’ Conversion

Many things happened after that. I went through brain surgery not even a year later. I had a four-inch tumor in my brain. Through that surgery, the night before the surgery, my dad, who was the number one person persecuting me for my faith when I became a Christian, comes to MD Anderson Cancer Center. My husband and I are walking in, and my dad says, “I need to tell you something.” We’re on the elevator and he’s like, “I was sitting at home and I told God that if He brings you through this, I’m going to serve Him.” So, he gave his life to Jesus all by himself in his apartment the evening before.

So, I get to go into surgery knowing God gave this to me before brain surgery. The person that I was fighting with for my belief was my dad. Then ten days after surgery, my mom was taking care of me post-surgery when she gave her love to the Lord. Almost two weeks in.

I was like, “God, why? All these things that have happened, a brain tumor, why is this happening now? We’ve been through all of this.”

Hilroy, the man that led me to the Lord, told me, “Sometimes, Cristina it’s not about you, but God will use the things that you’re going through to speak to other people.” I had no idea what he meant by that. He gave me the scripture about the disciples saying, “Who here has sinned?” And he’s like, “Nobody. This is unto the glory of God.”

I got to live that out with my parents, where my dad gives his life to the Lord and my mom gives her life to the Lord. That just set off a chain reaction with my brothers. To the best of our knowledge, I’m the first Christian. We didn’t have any Christians in our family on both sides, so it just set off a chain reaction.

That’s what the Lord does. One gets saved and it becomes contagious because they start seeing the change, the power of God in our lives. That’s what began to happen in my family. There are many other things, many other things, but that was in a nutshell a bit of background on our family and how we came to the Lord.

I wrote the book [Hope in 60 Seconds] because I wanted to pull back the curtain on the darkest times of my life. I really felt like the Lord told me, “You have to expose all of it. Everything has to come out of the darkness. Everything … things you don’t want to talk about, the things that you’re kind of halfway okay talking about so that other people can receive their healing and their breakthrough.”

The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. When we share the testimony of what God has done. That happened in my life. When I had heard the stories of these intercessors, the things that they had gone through, it ignited faith in my heart. I thought if God can do it for them, He can do it for me too. He saved them, He healed them, He delivered them, He healed their hearts. He can do that for me too. I wanted to share the gospel through this story.

Obviously, when you start writing about your life it’s a very vulnerable place, but that was kind of an offering to the Lord. I said, “God, if we’re going to lay it all out there, my prayer is that this will heal, save, and deliver people from their darkness and bring them hope more than ever.” I think in history, at least in our lifetime, people just need hope. There’s so much more, but that’s just giving you the big pieces of the story.

Order your copy of Hope in 60 Seconds: Encountering the God of the Impossible by Cristina Baker