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‘Give me the money, or I’ll kill you!’ I yelled at the shopkeeper, holding the point of a knife to his neck. Terrified, his wife cried, ‘No, no! Don’t kill him. Take the money.’
As I fled down the Street with enough cash for a few ‘fixes’ I was shocked at what I had done. I asked myself, ‘Raúl Casto, why on earth have you done such a despicable thing? How did this nightmare begin?’ But I was desperate for a fix, and after taking it I had no more qualms.
Raúl is from a working class family of seven children in San Blas, Madrid. When he was thirteen he decided to quit school and at fifteen began to work, but never stayed at anything for any length of time, although he learned a bit about plumbing.
While still a teenager, he began to smoke ‘joints’. As usual, his taste for marijuana soon gave way to hashish. Hashish gave way to amphetamines, amphetamines to LSD–and the chase began, one ‘high’ after another up the one-way ladder to addiction.
In a few years time his body felt like a walking laboratory, testing the combined effects of multiple drugs and alcohol three times a day. It was when he was on leave from the military (between the ages of eighteen and twenty) that he finally reached the top rung and began sniffing cocaine and heroin - two plagues to which his suburb of San Blas was succumbing. Heroin gave him such a beautiful, relaxed sensation that when he felt like vomiting the first few times, even the nausea felt good.
After military service I went to Africa for ten weeks to work as a plumber. I saw this as an opportunity to throw off drugs, but I found more in Equatorial Guinea than I did in Madrid. This was a turbulent period for me; I did not relate well to the other workers and was often in fights. The authorities almost sent me home.
When I came back all my friends were into mainlining with heroin and I just followed them. I also moved into selling drugs - that was an easy way of earning money. But soon I was completely hooked myself, and spent all the money taking stiffer and stiffer doses.
My need was so desperate that I resorted to a life of crime in order to obtain money. I burgled during the day, taking things out of stores, and I stole at night, robbing people on the street, sometimes threatening them with a gun or knife.
We discovered that the Metro people moved the money from the ticket booths at the same time each night; so we would go just before that and rob the takings for the day. I often did supermarkets, threatening the cashier with a knife or a toy pistol, my face covered by a mask.
I never thought to go to a government clinic for help. On the one hand there weren’t many and on the other they didn’t seem to be able to help people very much.
I managed to get a job in a laboratory. I worked there for nine months and was then due for a holiday. I met Elliott Tepper on the streets of San Blas who persuaded me to go to RETO centre in Santander for help. I thought I would give this a try but had no intention of staying longer than the length of my vacation. There I found people who had exchanged the needle, knife and pistol for the Bible. But I rejected their ideas and came home after fifteen days.
A cured addict called Angel invited me to his house to listen to a tape. It was by Nicky Cruz from New York. I was astonished at the change that came over his life when he accepted Christ. This made a deep impression on me.
But things grew steadily worse. My family and my girlfriend of five years rejected me. There I was, ruined, without mental or physical strength; I even thought about taking my life. That period of about five months was the most wretched time I ever experienced.
In January 1986 I was on the street in San Blas, utterly dejected, wiped out and going through withdrawal, for I had no money. Lindsay McKenzie, a missionary from Australia, came by as he often did and started talking to me. He persuaded me to go to his flat at 131 Carretera de Vicálvaro: and that was the turning point of my life. Lindsay had never taken in anyone like me before so it was a bit strange for both of us.
I went through ‘cold turkey’ withdrawal and had no feeling, no purpose, no desire to do anything. It wasn’t painless by any means. Anyway, Lindsay cared for me, took an interest in me, cooked meals and generally tried to involve me in whatever he was doing.
On the sixth day I said to him, ‘Lindsay, I want God to change my life.’ He guided me in a prayer of repentance and then led me through to faith in Jesus. That night I couldn’t sleep. This wasn’t from withdrawal, but rather because I felt as if there was a cable connecting me to God. My heart and mind were saying, ‘God! God! God!’ I had a completely new sense of peace and love. The insatiable desire for heroin disappeared and I began to see everything differently.
I began to search for answers to all that had happened to me. I could not comprehend the new situation. I had never read anything but sports magazines, but now I had this compulsive desire to read the Bible and to spend time in prayer. I discovered the truths about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and his resurrection, I wanted to know him more and more. I started attending all the Christian meetings I could, and had a great urge to tell people about the change in my life. We went out to witness in the streets day by day.
I was actually with Lindsay for four months before anyone else joined us. I spent a lot of time with him and Elliott and they answered many of my questions. We did Bible study every morning for three hours and were often up till 4 am discussing spiritual truths.
As time went on and other fellows started arriving, Lindsay gave me more and more responsibility because he had many other things to attend to. Eventually eight other men came to live in the flat with Lindsay and me.
Two months after his conversion Raúl went to a Christian conference in Guadalajara. Between 400 and 500 people were there, and God spoke to him. ‘I don’t want only to CURE you, I want to USE you!’ He kept this to himself.
Then God opened a remarkable door of opportunity. Volunteer workers were needed for a conference of evangelists in Amsterdam. They contacted Elliott who recommended Rául.
God enlarged his vision in Amsterdam of the church universal and planted a burden for missions in his heart. It was a tremendous experience for him. One day he was travelling back from Talavera with Myk and Lindsay. Raúl said, ‘I don’t really know much about love. I don’t think anyone has ever really loved me.’ At that, Myk, who was sitting behind leaned over and put her arms around him. ‘Well, Raúl, I love you.’ He felt as if it were the arms of the Lord around him at that moment.
Raúl continues: What greatly encouraged me was that others trusted me. Lindsay would give me money to go and buy food and other items for the community. And when he went off to marry Myk I was given total responsibility for the other fellows.