This is Maggie's testimony. In her own words...
I was born in 1970 in El Salvador. My father was a soldier in the National Guard of El Salvador during the civil war. He was an explosives expert and because of his skills, the guerilla forces tried to get him on their side, but he refused. So, in 1979, when I was 9 years old, the guerillas assassinated my father. Because of the war, my mom decided to take us to the United States. We arrived in L.A. when I was 14 and we settled there I attended high school. After school, I became trained and graduated as a Certified Nursing Assistant. I worked in private hospitals, daycare centers and private homes as a C.N.A, and I also worked at Mc Donalds. When I was 19, I married my first husband and I had my firstborn son, Joseph, when I turned 20 years old. The day Joseph was born was one of the happiest days of my life. I knew there was so much I didn’t know about being a mom, but, oh, how I loved being a mommy to that little precious child.
My first marriage was very difficult as my husband suffered from a mental illness, and both of us didn’t know how to handle it. Due to this, we divorced in 1992. Soon after the divorce, I took my son and moved to Oregon, where I met my second husband, Luis. In April of 1995, I gave birth to a set of beautiful twins, Luis and Luisa. This was the second happiest day of my life. My marriage to Luis was very difficult as well. My husband was an alcoholic and also had a private problem that turned abusive towards me. My daily life was miserable and I wanted out. I took my kids and fled to a shelter for abused women in The Dalles, Oregon. Shortly after that, in 2000, we moved to Portland, Oregon. Moving to Portland from the small town of Maupin, Oregon, was a big change for me. But, I got a job at a Mexican restaurant, we had our own apartment, and I bought a car. I felt I was doing pretty good on my own with my three children. But, I started going to nightclubs with friends and began drinking alcohol. I often drove drunk, which led to four DUI charges and 5 visits to county jails. I started using drugs and became addicted.
In 2004, my probation officer put me in an inpatient treatment center. During the six months there I became clean. I felt that I was getting a new beginning. So, I started a cleaning service and named it, Genesis. I knew I needed to stay away from the people and places from before to stay strong and do good. I did good for a year, then, one day, I ran into an old friend, and went back to using again. This time, even more than before, and I even started selling it. It was December of 2005 when the police raided my house and found drugs. That day, they took my kids away. That was the ugliest day of my life. In my heart, I can still feel that sad, grey day. DHS took my kids and I was taken to county jail. I laid there and cried and cried until I fell asleep. Thank God, my mom petitioned the court for custody of my three kids, and they gave them to her. I was only in the jail for one month when they decided to deport me back to El Salvador. I didn’t think they could do it since I had a green card, but, when I gave them the green card, they put it through a shredder in front of me. August 21, 2006, they sent me to El Salvador.
By September, I was back in the United States! I had turned right back around and left El Salvador with a coyote. I could write a book about all that happened on that long, dangerous journey. But, the most important thing to know is that God had his hand on me, even then. He saved me over and over from rape and death. I should have died. It was only by His mercy that I arrived back on the soil of the United States again! Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had not come back. I had to live under the radar, hiding from the law. I started to use and sell drugs again. I wanted desperately to see my kids, but, because I was using, my mom wouldn’t allow me to see them. Although I understood why she didn’t want me to be around them, this was so hard for me, and it drove me further and further into depression and drug use. I felt hopeless and wanted to be high all the time to numb the pain. I didn’t care if I died of an overdose, as long as I didn’t have to feel the pain. I began to sell more and more and get further and further into the drug scene. I became well known as a dealer in the Portland area, as I sold bigger and bigger quantities. To survive, I blocked out all thoughts of my children. In 2007, a friend invited me to church. I went and I can never forget one phrase that the pastor said, "Come as you are." I remember I cried and cried as I prayed to receive Christ. July 7th of 2007, I was baptized.
Sadly, I continued to use and sell drugs. I also became a big time gambler winning a lot of money each week, then, putting it back into the machines. Even though I had accepted Christ, I kept on with this life. I didn’t understand what it meant to follow after God. From 2007 to 2009 I was almost killed three times by ‘friends’ in the drug business who were trying to rob me. I knew that if I didn’t stop and get out of this life, I was going to die. Something inside me was telling me, "Enough!" But, I didn’t listen. So, in 2009, God made me stop. I began selling drugs to an undercover cop. I was busted. In 2010, I was sentenced to 40 months in an Oregon women’s prison. I thought I had been living the "good life". All that stopped for me, then. There I was, in prison, living in a cold cell. I was surrounded by so much brokenness and pain in the other women, so much violence and perversion. I knew about God from my experience in 2007, but, I didn’t have a relationship with Him. I didn’t know how to pray, and thought God would not want to hear me, even if I did.
In prison, there were three things we could do. Work, study and go to church. I opted to do all three to stay busy. I started going to church every day. On Thursday evenings, a group called Prison Fellowship would come and do the service. It was there that I met my friends, Barb and Gerry, and another friend, David. They were such nice people. I started to listen carefully to all of their sermons. That is when I really learned about Jesus. I started to read the bible and learn more about what salvation really means. It was then that I started feeling His presence in my life. I learned how powerful and merciful God is. I learned that Jesus Christ was in the beginning with God. Before all creation was made, Christ was from eternity. My heart and my life began to change.
In 2012, after two years of incarceration, I received the news that my firstborn son, Joseph, who was 22, was killed in a tragic car accident. I was devastated. I wasn’t allowed to leave the prison for his funeral. But, God gave me the strength and grace to cope with my son’s death. It has been four years since my son’s death, and I still ache for him, but, God’s promised to be with me and He is near to the broken-hearted.
After I served 5 years in prison, they decided to deport me, again. This time the judge said, "Never come back, ever." I had to say goodbye to my family, my twins. It was devastating. I was so nervous and scared, but, through my relationship with Barb and Gerry, they connected me with people they had been working with for years in El Salvador. God went before me and prepared me a family. I knew that God was with me, and that He had a purpose and a plan for me. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
When I was deported, I didn’t know anyone! Day by day, God provided for me and put people into my path to help me. I met Kathy Porter while I was in a community volunteering with a church, and she was there sharing a bible study with the women. Eventually, we realized that God had brought us together, and she and David invited me to be a part of the Hope House Ministry. Now, I am now living and working at their women’s home where I am the house administrator.
I plan the meals, shop, cook, clean and lots of other things! The young women at the home are like daughters to me and they call me Tia (Aunt) Maggie! I love living there with them. It is home.
God has also allowed me to be involved in two other ministries as well! One is a ministry for deportees! Yes, I get to go with a group of awesome people from a ministry called Envision to meet airplanes full of my brothers and sisters being deported back to El Salvador to be a kind face, give a glass of cold water, a sandwich, and to encourage them that God is with them, that they are not alone. We invite them to our bible study, church service and to be involved in an American football league that is part of the outreach to deportees. Because I understand exactly how they feel I have a sense of great joy knowing that we are waiting for them and they are not alone.
Finally, the Lord has allowed me to be on the worship team of my church. My church is called Union Church of San Salvador and it is a church for people who speak English. I love it because I can sing the songs I learned to worship Jesus with while I was in prison! It is my passion to worship God! I can tell you that God is doing good to me. He has me where I am needed. I remember I once asked Him to mold me into the woman He wants me to become, and even though He is not done yet, I know I can trust Him to finish the work. I believe God can take something ugly and make it into something beautiful. God took me out of the PIT! "He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a Rock, making my steps secure!" Ps. 40:2
Now, I, Kathy, would like to share a few things about Maggie. It has been such a privilege to know and love Maggie; to know her story and to be witness to God's continuing story in her life. She has blossomed where God has planted her. It has NOT been easy. Maggie has shed MANY tears as she has had to let go of her dreams of mothering her own children and grandchildren. She knows that what she is experiencing is the results of her own decisions. Painful consequences. But, she also knows that if it weren't for the fact that God rescued her from herself, she would most likely be dead. It is only by the grace of God that she is alive, and not only alive, but thriving. God has given her so many opportunities to serve, and she serves with gusto! We love our Tia Maggie and we thank God He brought her into our lives!