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Tough Love Works

Herlindo Salinas is grateful his parents finally had enough of his 18-year heroin addiction.
Herlindo Salinas Jr. had been addicted to heroin for 18 years. His marriage disintegrated because he spent virtually the entire seven years incarcerated. Finally, his parents told the 35-year-old Salinas he no longer could live in the family home in Bakersfield, California.

Salinas spent the next three months homeless. Finally, in 1990, he agreed to enroll in Adult & Teen Challenge, the Assemblies of God faith-based program for those struggling with life-controlling issues. His possessions consisted of the ragged clothes he wore, a dirty syringe in his back pocket, and a blood-stained bandana to assist him shooting up.

“I had a desire to change, I wanted to clean up,” says Salinas, now 63. “I knew on the drive to Teen Challenge it would be the last time I put my parents through anything like that.”

Salinas enrolled in Teen Challenge and never left. After graduating from the residential program, he has been a Teen Challenge staff member for a quarter century. Since 2007, he has served as director of the San Diego County facility. Adult & Teen Challenge is a division of U.S. Missions.

Certainly opioid addiction hasn’t relented since Salinas endured his difficulties. In fact, the crisis has reached epidemic proportions.

Salinas oversees a 54-bed induction center where residents stay for four months. Around one in five clients is Hispanic. Various factors keep many Latinos from seeking treatment, including fear of law enforcement (and, if undocumented, deportation) authorities; an inability to comprehend English; and machismo.

For years, Salinas, one of seven children, refused to seek help because of pride. The Latino emphasis on family cohesiveness also keeps even middle-aged addicts from being kicked out of the nest onto the streets. Herlindo’s father, Herlindo Salinas Sr., didn’t mind if his son partied all night — as long as he showed up for work in the farm fields the next day, albeit hung over.

But Elisa Salinas, Herlindo’s 60-year-old mother, had seen enough and decided to put tough love into practice. Her son’s 16-year odyssey into heroin addiction actually began six years earlier with marijuana and alcohol at the age of 12.

“My mom finally told me at 35 I could no longer stay at home anymore,” Salinas recalls. “It took a lot of courage to do that.”

Classes at the Teen Challenge center in San Diego are in English, although students have access to a Spanish-language workbook. Bilingual staff members, including Salinas, act as interpreters for clients who don’t grasp English-language lessons. Newcomers often are still addicted. Salinas can empathize.

He overdosed the first two times he tried heroin, as a strung-out addict injected him. The dependency grew to the point where he burglarized homes in an effort to obtain funds for drugs. Police arrested him repeatedly.

Upon release, even before heading home, Salinas would connect with a dealer who fixed him up with a new batch of heroin.

Elisa repeatedly told her son she prayed for him, and that his situation would change someday. Soon after he began the Teen Challenge program, Salinas surrendered his life to Jesus as Savior.

Stan Steward, a San Diego police officer who befriended Salinas, invited him to give his testimony at a Bible study after graduation. As Salinas eyed a woman named Joyce Schoolcraft in the crowd, he immediately sensed the Lord telling him she would become his spouse. Unknown to him, Joyce simultaneously heard the same message.

“I was content being single and not interested in being married,” Joyce recalls. “But even though I had never met Herlindo, I felt the Lord spoke to me that I would marry him.”

Six months later they wed, with Steward, who would go on to join an Assemblies of God outreach team in Eurasia, serving as best man. Herlindo and Joyce have been married since 1995.

Ironically, Joyce worked in the San Diego Police Department narcotics unit at the time of their wedding. Various co-workers, friends, and family members didn’t understand why she would marry an ex-felon. But Joyce knew the disciplines Herlindo learned at Teen Challenge would strengthen his faith. And his past helps current students relate to him in one-on-one counseling.

“His passion is to help people with a troubled past, giving third, fourth, and fifth chances,” says Joyce, 56. “Herlindo wouldn’t have the same impact without the background he has.”

Herlindo is now an ordained minister and has served on the board of City View Church in San Diego.

In 2016, Herlindo contracted liver cancer after battling Hepatitis C. After a six-month wait on a transplant list, Herlindo received a new liver. His two younger brothers, who also had been heroin addicts, both died of liver cancer.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.