From a Drug Dealer to a Pastor – A Life Transformation Story !

Although Andrew attended church since his childhood, he had little understanding of the Christian faith. By his teens, he became involved in a gang and started a life of drug addiction and trafficking. This destructive path eventually led to arrests, sufferings, despairs, and broken relationships. When life seemed to come to a dead end, his parents found out about Operation Dawn and introduced him to their drug rehabilitation program. Andrew’s life began to change as he discovered Christ’s love, forgiveness and transformative power in his drug recovery. After Andrew finished the rehab program, he received God’s calling and surrendered his life to help others by entering Tyndale seminary pastoral and theological studies. His miraculous conversion from a gang member to a pastor is a real life story that shows God’s abundant grace and power.

My name is Andrew and I currently serve as the Youth and Children’s Pastor at Toronto Mandarin Chinese Community Church (TMCCC). I grew up in Scarbrough and as far back as I can remember I had always attended church with my family. From a young age I had been taught all the Bible stories and memory verses. I learned all the songs and how to pray. I knew how to do all these things, but I never bothered to understand why. What was the purpose of reading the Bible, why do we sing to and pray to God? As a child, I never understood the relationship aspect of the faith. My view of church was that it was just school on Sunday. Gradually, I lost interest in the repetitive stories and songs and as I entered my teens I stopped going to church completely.

In high school I was introduced to an entirely different world. I was “recruited” into a gang within the first two weeks. I immediately embraced this new lifestyle and identity to the fullest. I was drawn to the life of crime, to the money, to the “power” and “respect” that came with being a gang member. I was drawn to drug dealing and the drugs themselves. My grade 9 year was spent experimenting with just about every drug there is. The drugs of choice became for me: marijuana, ketamine and ecstasy. Initially I was using every weekend at parties and clubs, but things escalated quickly and very soon I became a daily user. I then began selling the drugs Iwas using, and this caused me to further spiral as I always had substantial amounts of drugs around me. By grade 10 I was a full-out addict and my life revolved around drugs.

I did not experience any of the consequences associated with drug use until I was in my twenties. When it finally started to rain, it poured. My body began to break down and I experienced serious health issues. I was getting arrested on a regular basis. All my meaningful relationships with others became severed at this point. And as I was at my weakest mentally and physically, this was when the addiction grew strongest. I was convinced that all my troubles would disappear once I sniffed some more K and popped a few pills. I spent my days and nights in a friend’s
basement getting high in an attempt to numb out the physical pain and any troubling thoughts. Obviously running away from problems through drug use does not solve anything, it only adds to the problems. So, I was stuck in this vicious cycle.

It was during this time that my parents reached out to me. It broke their heart to see how their son had turned out and they pleaded with me to get help. They reintroduced the idea of Operation Dawn. They arranged for Henry, the first Toronto brother to complete the OD program in Taiwan, to come and share his testimony with me. I was more than intrigued: how was this person able to overcome his addiction? I needed to know more about this rehab program that was able to help Henry beat addiction with only the Gospel and nothing else. And so I agreed and entered the OD program in 2012.

When I first got into the program, most brothers were on their way out and about to graduate. This gave me a lot of time to be alone, time to reflect and study. Most importantly, it gave me the time and the place to cultivate my relationship with Christ. After wandering off and running away from God for so long, the time spent at Operation Dawn became my return journey back to Him. During my time in recovery I truly experienced the Gospel, I experienced fully the love, the forgiveness and redemption we have in Christ. I was able to witness firsthand how powerfully God answers prayers, how he heals and transforms the lives of those who follow and put their trust in His Son. And I understood then what Henry meant when he told me that the Gospel alone saved him from addiction. It was truly Christ alone who saved me from my old life, and it is he alone that gives me new life.

Near the tail-end of my time at Operation Dawn, as I began making plans for what I would do once I was back in the “real world,” God placed in my heart a specific calling. After so many years of hurting myself and others, God was calling me now to help others in the same way I was helped. Instead of focusing on a career and making money, God was calling me to instead pursue a vocation that would help make a difference. When I left OD, I applied to Tyndale as a mature student and by God’s grace I was accepted. As I followed and trusted God’s calling for me, He continually laid the path out for me, opening every right door and closing all the wrong ones. Once integrated back into the TCCC church community, God gave ample opportunities for me to learn and serve in various ministries and internships.

After finishing my undergrad studies, I took one year off before returning to Tyndale to pursue my M. div. In 2019, amid my studies, I was offered a pastoral internship at the church that I grew up in! God had truly brought me full circle taking me back to the church I had left, back to the same community and building where I spent my childhood. Like in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, after so many years wandering away, God was welcoming me back home and back to Him.

“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:24)

I’ve served at TMCCC now for four years now and I thank God every day for the blessing of being able to serve in this neighbourhood and in this church. To be able to serve, to preach and teach in the same place where I was taught and served by so many others as a child is still a bit surreal to me at times. When I tell old friends that I am a pastor, half the people laugh and the other half don’t believe me. Going from a gang member to pastor is indeed a radical change, but it just goes to show what a radical God we have and how radically He is able to transform our hearts and make new our lives.

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

To God be all praise and glory forever.