Maria’s family moved to Portugal when she was 5 years old. She has a normal childhood and was close to her sister and her parents until she was 12 and her parents began to fight. When her father moved out, Maria took it hard. “I felt very sad, very alone. I felt like our father no longer loved us,” she said.

Two years later, at 14, Maria and her friends started dabbling with hashish. She began smoking regularly to take away her sadness—and within a year she had gone from smoking hash to shooting heroin into her veins. Addiction had taken hold and began to consume her young life.

“All of my life revolved around drugs. I started robbing my own family to get money to get drugs. It’s all I thought about,” Maria says about the dark years of her life. “When you first use drugs, you feel like you are king of the world. But addiction soon becomes a prison.”

For four years Maria was trapped in her prison. At 18 she met a boyfriend who was in the Teen Challenge program. Maria didn’t want to get clean herself, but she entered the program just to stay closer to her boyfriend.

It was a selfish move at the time—but one that turned out to be the first steps in finding true freedom from her prison.

But after being in Teen Challenge for four months, Maria finally opened her heart to God. That’s when the program began to take hold and Maria let her life change.

Once she graduated from her Teen Challenge program, Maria got her first job making pottery. It was the first time in her life that she could support herself and it was the first time she could see a straight path for her future. But God had other plans for Maria.

“Months after I had started working, I went to a Teen Challenge conference and while I was there, God spoke to me,” Maria says. “He wanted me to be part of Teen Challenge but I didn’t want to listen at first because I was finally making money and I was afraid to stop.”

But Maria did quit her job and join the Teen Challenge. That was 28 years ago and Maria’s life has transformed completely as she uses her past experience to help others. She met her husband at Teen Challenge and today they have four children.

“It was a revolution for me,” Maria says. “It’s amazing to be able to serve others who were in the same place I was in. Addiction is like a prison. But Jesus can set you free.”

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