Most 8-year-old boys are mastering the monkey bars, playing basketball or eagerly anticipating the ice cream truck’s afternoon rounds. 

At 8, Omar Gonzalez was dealing with fatherlessness, drinking, drugs and sex.

“I was a troubled kid in Mexico City, and I had a rough childhood,” said Gonzalez, 36. “My father passed away when I was 3 years old. My mother raised me and was gone all day. I pretty much did whatever I wanted to do. At a young age, 8-years-old, I was drinking and seeing women nude. In Latin America, those are so available.”

Coming to the States

When he was 13, Gonzalez moved to Los Angeles.

“I came to the States with my mother because she wanted the best for me,” said Gonzalez, a member of Southeast Christian Church’s Indiana Campus. “I lived in L.A. Then, my mother decided to move us to Kentucky at the age of 17. After graduating high school, I decided to go out on my own.”

Into his mid-20s, Gonzalez said his heart’s appetite was the same regardless of his home address.

“I developed an addiction to cocaine, alcohol, drugs and pornography because I was leaning on my own understanding,” Gonzalez said. “Because it was, ‘I, I, I.’ I wanted more. That craving for sex, drugs, alcohol and so-called friends was strong. I was just living in the world. I was not thinking twice. Money, power and sex is what moves your carnal desires. I wanted those.”

After seven years of dating, Gonzalez married his wife, Danielle, yet struggled to stay faithful.

“Three years into marriage, my wife kept telling me, ‘Omar, you need to quit this and that,’” he said. “My wife said, ‘It’s enough. I’m done.’ I did not even care for her or her feelings.”

Danielle separated from her husband, which was Gonzalez’s wakeup call.

“Separation came, and I remember it was the emptiest place I’d ever been,” Gonzalez added. “I just cried out loud, ‘What is it that I need?’ I started thinking and praying to the Lord, ‘What do I need to do?’”

Coming to the Savior

During the separation, a friend invited Gonzalez to church.

“I had an opportunity to come to Southeast because how God works is amazing,” Gonzalez said. “I told my friend, ‘I’m going through a divorce. What do you think?’ He invited me to the Indiana Campus service. Dave Stone was speaking and I recall him saying, ‘What is it that you have to do today that you’re not doing? What’s stopping you from it?’”

A connections pastor invited Gonzalez to visit Thrive, a support group for men seeking healing from sexual addiction and substance abuse.

In that group, Christ’s love captivated Gonzalez, who five years later, reminisced about his experience through teary eyes.

“I recall having this deep-down feeling in my heart that was so heavy from the Lord,” Gonzalez said. “I stopped the class and said, ‘Guys, I need to accept Christ. I need to surrender myself to Him.’ There were tears of joy because that feeling was the most amazing thing in my life. To feel the Holy Spirit right there because I never felt it like that before. It changed my whole perspective.”

Southeast member and friend Jose Nieves Sr. was sitting beside Gonzalez at Thrive that day.

“Omar was really confused and trying to do everything in his own power,” Nieves said. “We were talking about the Holy Spirit, how He helps, guides and teaches us. He never heard a man talking about obedience to the Holy Spirit. Omar knew he needed to change and receive the Holy Spirit. He came out and said, ‘I need the Holy Spirit. I have made a mess of my life.’ He accepted Christ and an amazing changeover happened.”

That day, despite being imprisoned by his addictions for more than two decades, Gonzalez was set free.

“I couldn’t do it on my own,” Gonzalez said. “I am who I am because He shed His blood on the cross. He paid the price.”

Gonzalez was baptized at the Indiana Campus Dec. 1, 2015.

At your service

The Gospel has undeniably transformed Gonzalez’s life.

“I started reading His Word and knowing Him,” Gonzalez said. “I started seeing different things about Him and people—seeing people how He sees Him. I was blind for 30 years, and He opened my eyes completely to a new perspective. I saw my wife differently as a child of God.”

Gonzalez reconciled with his wife, and they are married today with two daughters.

“She knew the worldly Omar, and she sees Omar as he is now,” Gonzalez said. “I never dated like this, seeing her with Godly eyes. That’s how a husband is supposed to look at his wife.”

While he continues to go to Thrive, Gonzalez also participates in Man Challenge, is a regular greeter at weekend services and serves on the Missions Committee at the Indiana Campus.

“I never served others,” Gonzalez said. “It was all about me and what was better for me. I was always first. But Jesus is the greatest leader, yet came to serve us.”

A sous-chef at Spalding University, Gonzalez went on a mission trip to Colombia to help translate. He later went to the Dominican Republic, where he shared his testimony to high schoolers.

Gonzalez also played a part in bringing Mike Silva International and the Festival por la Vida to the Iroquois Amphitheater. The event for Louisville’s Latino community drew more than 2,800 people, and 1,216 decisions for Christ were made.

“Omar is doing a fantastic job to reach Latinos and God is using him mightily,” Nieves said. “He has a tremendous testimony of what God can do, and He always shares that with other guys.”