In a little over a week, the story of one young man’s rise through the streets of Brooklyn, drugs, gangs, and violence will arrive in theaters. Sharing a powerful narrative about a mother’s love and the transforming power of God’s grace, Victor follows the adolescence of Victor Torres as he overcame heroin addiction to pastor a church and establish drug rehab facilities all over the United States. To hear more about Torres’ life and how the film can make a difference, Christian Cinema caught up with the pastor from his hometown of Richmond, VA.
“The film is my story and the story of my parents. They were a couple who moved from Puerto Rico to New York City, looking for the American dream. But the dream turns into a nightmare when their oldest son at age twelve begins to get in trouble with a little crowd that graduates rapidly from simplicity to gang life,” Torres shared. “At the age of twelve I stabbed a young man in that environment and was taken to juvenile court; at age fourteen I shot heroin; by the age of seventeen, I’d been incarcerated three times and was a member of Brooklyn’s Roman Lords.”
Using drugs transitioned to selling drugs, and Torres watched as friends died on the streets around him. His hope died as well, as he grew to believe that he could never change.
And then his mother discovered a newfound faith in Jesus Christ. Fifty years later, Torres believes that this changed everything.
“My mother had an encounter with Christ, where she found faith and hope. I always say, that God didn’t live in my house but she brought Him to our house. She started talking to me about God and how I didn’t have to live that way any longer. She was persistent, chased me down even when I was out with the gang, and never gave up on me. One day, she heard about a preacher who’d come from PA to help gang members, to care for young men and women on the streets. She started talking to me about this place that he had opened up and got me to go there.”
The film shows Torres’ surprise when he arrived to find that Pastor David Wilkerson’s outfit was not just another detox center. Instead, Bible teaching and conversations about God were part of the equation as Torres went cold turkey on heroin for seventy-two hours.
“On the third day, I had given up and was leaving to go find some drugs,” remembered Torres. “A young man stopped me at the door and started preaching to me. I was sick - I had the superflu, the cold and hot sweats. Your whole body is shaking, sweating; you’re vomiting. I didn’t want to hear what he had so say but he left me at the door and I thought about what they had been sharing with me while I was there.”
“I turned back and walked into a small room that they called the chapel and asked God to help me. I thought about what David Wilkerson was saying to me. I just asked God if he could help me, to please do something about my situation. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I believe I had an experience of God that changed my whole life.”
After five months in the program, Wilkerson asked Torres to move to Boston and help him start a new home. They boarded an airplane and Torres spent the summer in Boston, learning how Wilkerson’s rehab program worked. He subsequently went to California to attend Bible college, and married a woman he met there. Soon, he was traveling a circuit of churches, high schools, and colleges talking about drug prevention. Then Richmond, VA, called and Torres found himself starting something new.
“I was invited to speak at a local church and some high schools by a pastor. The pastor asked if I would make Richmond my home. At that point, I didn’t want anything to do with Richmond. After being here for two months speaking, I went out on the street downtown in front of a nightclub called the Back Door and started preaching on the street. Soon, a crowd of one hundred people had gathered around me.”
“That night, after the meeting, I encountered a young man who was running from a hospital where his parents had signed him in but he’d escaped and was on the street. He approached me after the meeting, told me he liked what I had to say, reminding me of myself at his age. I took him home to our house, talked to his parents, and ended up having him live with us. We got the court’s authority to have him live with us. I took even more people into our personal home until we rented a big house, then purchased our property.”
Now, Torres is the pastor of New Life Outreach International Church, which owns a 118 acre farm in Richmond with a program to help people eighteen years and older struggling with drug abuse. With two hundred beds, Torres’ transformation has touched hundreds of lives, including his own daughter Rosalinda who now runs the program, along with a team of leaders helping those in need. In fact, Torres says that it’s as simple as calling 804-276-6767. Then there’s the subject of how the film itself can impact Torres’ ministry, and ministry to addicts around the country.
“The other night, we had a screening for pastors,” he shared. “I was sitting in the front row watching; I couldn’t believe i was crying. It’s a big flashback. There are points in the movie that are so real, that bring you back to the moment.”
The pastor recounted how it felt to see his first shot of heroin, and to visualize again how his mother found him overdosed on the floor. But the experience of coming to Christ is still real to him, fifty-plus years later. “When I came to Christ and have this encounter with God, it’s a very powerful moment in my life. It’s a great reminder of the grace of God, to share a message of hope. It’s a reminder that there is hope, that you don’t have to live that way because you’re on drugs.”
That’s the message Torres has spent his life trying to share.
“Anyone is welcome who needs help or wants help. The great requirement that we have is that they want help. If you want help, you’ve got us.”
“You don’t start out bad. You start out as a good person. You probably are a good person on the inside but you’re under this control and you can’t overcome it. If anyone had told me that one day I’d be standing in Fox Studios in Hollywood shooting the film of my life, I wouldn’t have believed them; I would’ve thought they were taking something! It shows you how powerful the grace of God.”
So, now that the story will be everywhere soon, what would Torres tell someone who cares for someone struggling with addiction? What advice would he give them?
“I believe that today you have to be a diehard person,” Torres responded, passionately. “Never give up hope, no matter how difficult it gets. I tell parents to never give up on their children. We know of hundreds of stories of young men and women whose parents have brought them here almost at the end of the rope. Suddenly, there’s a light. You just don’t know how far God can go until you look to him. Never give up no matter how far they have gone.”
As we parted ways, Torres shared his heart for Victor, the impetus for the effort to turn his story into film: “I pray that people’s hearts will be touched, that people will bring someone who needs help. Everyone is a Victor out there, but God is the God of hope.”
For more on Torres and the film, visit www.TheVictorMovie.com.