From Failure to Follower
God transforms hardened, cynical addict into a pastor with a heart for the hurting and outcasts.Simply said, Anthony Torres was messed up. His hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, tough guy “biker” image seemed to exude carefree confidence and power, but in reality, he knew he was hiding a multitude of doubts and pains — suicide was really never far from his mind.
“I began drinking when I was 15 years old,” Anthony says. “By the time I was a senior in high school, I was doing drugs regularly and I was an alcoholic.”
Anthony was a standout running back, a team captain, and a holder of team powerlifting records at Oñate High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, yet he chose to quit football so it wouldn’t interfere with his drinking.
“I abandoned my whole team,” Anthony says quietly. “It’s one of the biggest regrets in my life.”
Yet even with that kind of alcohol dependency, Anthony managed to graduate high school on schedule, though he also became an unwed teen father just two days after graduation. It was clear his path was destined for disaster, despite many people — including the state police — attempting to speak wisdom into his young life.
“I grew up in a home where we only went to church on special occasions,” he says. “I had the typical questions about God – why bad things happen to good people, why people suffer, and so on — until I just decided to believe God wasn’t real.”
When Anthony was 20, he met Sasha, a high school crush who was now an unwed mother, but had recently left her boyfriend. Even though there were multiple warning signs concerning Anthony’s behavior, Sasha felt a connection to him and believed she could help him; change him. Their relationship became serious and they lived as a family for the next eight years, adding two more children along the way.
Sasha, unlike Anthony, did not have a substance or alcohol addiction. She also had some grounding in the Catholic church.
“I didn’t know Jesus as Savior, but I did know God was there,” she says. “Growing up, I learned how to pray, but I didn’t really understand what I was praying.”
But as Anthony’s use of drugs and addiction to alcohol continued, despite having a growing family to provide for, Sasha says she did the only thing she knew to do.
“People would ask why I stayed [with Anthony] and I would tell them that I didn’t know, but I can’t leave . . . I got a lot of criticism for that,” Sasha says, “My mom told me to pray, so that’s what I did — I prayed over and over for God to help me . . . my journal is filled with the words, ‘Lord help him, Lord help him, Lord help him.’”
Even though Sasha admits to not living right, she desired to go to church and would pray over the passed-out-drunk Anthony when he came home at nights. Anthony, drunk, high, or sober, in response to Sasha’s desire to attend church, typically responded by mocking her and God.
Anthony didn’t take Sasha’s desire to attend church or her growing threats of leaving him seriously, until one day, it was over. Sasha had finally come to understand that nothing she did would ever be enough.
“I had always told Anthony, that if I left, I would still be there for him and care for him, but when it happened, I just couldn’t,” Sasha says. Her leaving signaled the beginning of a turning point in Anthony’s life.
“I was addicted to drugs and alcohol for almost nine years, I did cocaine and popped pills — pretty much used anything I could get my hands on,” he says. “By my mid-20s, my life had spiraled out of control, but when Sasha left, things began to resonate.”
Over the next four months, Anthony had several brushes with death, including what could or even should have been a fatal motorcycle accident and two overdoses. Yet his life was spared each time. Coupled with the departure of Sasha, he finally realized he needed help and decided to check himself into a rehab center.
His resolve lasted a total of 11 days before he slipped out of the center one night and returned to drinking and drugs.
Returning to Las Cruces from his failed rehab, Anthony was consumed by depression and his life failures. He attempted to ease his pain by drinking more and doing more drugs, but that only added to his lack of self-worth.
By this point, his parents wouldn’t allow him into their home when he was high or drunk, so he was living in the home he and Sasha once lived in – only now he was broke, unemployed, and the house’s power had been turned off. The house itself was pretty much as he left it -- trashed.
His mother urged him to go live with his aunt in Oklahoma to get away from the bad influences he had in Las Cruces.
He took her advice, but moving to Oklahoma didn’t help much as his addiction continued and his mental wellbeing continued to fall apart.
“I don’t know how many times I held a gun to my head, but I could never pull the trigger,” he says. “But I couldn’t find a way out. So one day I decided that when I got home from the club [on Saturday night], I would take all the pills and drugs I could, and just never wake up.”
Buts that’s not how things worked out. Instead, he got so drunk he passed out and when he woke up, he didn’t know where he was and didn’t have a ride. He called his aunt for a ride home . . . she was on her way to church.
THE WALK OF DEFEAT
Anthony’s aunt invited him to come to church, but he wanted nothing to do with church and those “very judgmental, very hypocritical people who thought they were perfect.”
But his aunt persisted. “Just try it — it’s not going to hurt anything,” she told him.
As he knew he was just waiting to commit suicide, Anthony relented. He cleaned vomit from his face and clothes and soon found himself inside a church far different than he had ever known: loud music, loud praise, loud prayers, and a palpable excitement in the air.
But Anthony was sure this had to be some kind of set up by his aunt.
“This pastor, he’s talking everything about my life,” Anthony recalls. “He was talking about the Jesus that restores, the Jesus that forgives, the Jesus that heals — all these things I need in my life . . . and then, at the end, he asks if anyone wants to come to the altar for prayer.”
Anthony was indecisive, but his aunt was not. She grabbed his hand and brought him down to the altar, tears coursing down his face.
“It was the walk of defeat,” Anthony says. “I was a very prideful, arrogant man, but I no longer knew what to do.”
A NEW PATH
After Anthony shared his shortcomings and addictions, he admitted he didn’t know what to do. The minister simply asked him, “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?” Anthony had been baptized as a child, but he had no idea that a personal relationship with Christ was something possible.
“I closed my eyes and repeated the sinner’s prayer,” he says. “Suddenly there was like this bolt of energy go through me, I had goosebumps and I could feel the love, the forgiveness, the presence, and the mercy of God. I began to weep even more as I gave my life to Jesus and my lips confessed for the first time that Jesus is Lord! Then I went behind church and wept for another 20 minutes, asking God to forgive me for denying Him, cursing Him, not believing Him.”
At first, Anthony struggled as he battled his addictions while also seeking God. But one day, during prayer, God spoke: “The problem is, nothing has changed in your life, you’ve just added Me. You are still around the same people, in the same environment, doing the same things.” At that point, Anthony determined to move Jesus from parttime to fulltime in his life.
He moved back to Las Cruces in October 2009, again struggling between making good and bad decisions, but then he attended Las Cruces First and met pastor David Vistine . . . things dramatically changed.
LOVED INTO THE KINGDOM
Tattooed up and with plenty of rough edges, Anthony felt sure he would be shunned by church folk, but when he entered Las Cruces First, even though it was a megachurch with somewhere around 2,000 in attendance, Vistine, the long-time lead pastor of the congregation, personally picked him out, greeted him, and welcomed him, which continued week after week.
“There was something about Anthony,” Vistine says. “I could see in his heart a great hunger for God and a desire to grow, so we just connected — and kept connecting.”
“It was the love of my pastor, the love of that church, that drew me more to God,” Anthony explains. “I got plugged in and started going to prayer meetings to pray for others when I really didn’t even know how to pray for myself yet.”
Anthony then started bringing his kids to church, who quickly fell in love with the children’s programs.
Sasha, however, was done with Anthony; her love for him over the years had been drained dry. Subconsciously — and maybe even a bit consciously — she built a wall around her heart against him, but it was an unlikely source that put the first chink in that armored wall.
“The girls were 6 and 8 when they started going to kids church, and they were singing, praying, and praising God — I could see a real change in them,” Sasha says. “They wanted me to experience what they were experiencing, begging me to come to church.”
Sasha and Anthony worked out an agreement. Sasha would accompany Anthony and the girls to Las Cruces First one week and then they would go to her church the next, alternating back and forth . . . they never made it to Sasha’s church.
Vistine divinely preached on forgiveness in Sasha’s first service, where she also experienced hearing a message in tongues and an interpretation and simply knew it was from God. When the altar call was given, she went forward.
“I prayed to God that day that if He wanted Anthony and me back together, He would have to heal my heart,” Sasha says. “When the woman touched my head, all the things that Anthony had done wrong flashed through my mind and then they were gone and I didn’t hate him any longer. I was saved that day — I told God that I want everything You have for me and do everything Your Word says for me to do . . . whatever You have, that’s all that I need.”
With Sasha’s decision for Christ, Anthony was thrilled, announcing excitedly to Vistine that this was the one he had been praying for and that he was going to marry her, which was a bit of a shock to Sasha.
But 22 days later, on Dec. 26, 2009, in a joyous celebration, Anthony and Sasha were married.
AN UNLIKELY ROAD TO MINISTRY
In May 2010, Anthony and Sasha moved to Mesquite, Texas, with their kids to start life afresh. Anthony immediately volunteered himself to serve in whatever capacity needed at Mesquite First AG (now known as Trinity Life Church) pastored by Joe Chiles.
However, before the couple departed Las Cruces, Vistine had spoken prophetically over Anthony, telling him, one day, Anthony was going to be a pastor. Anthony just laughed and shook his head in shock and surprise. There was no way God could ever use someone like him — not with his background and the things he had done.
“In the process of getting to know Anthony, seeing his heart for people, I knew he had a shepherd’s heart,” Vistine says. “God had radically changed his life and he wanted that for other people . . . I told him God can use anybody, pointing out Moses, who said he stuttered, and how all through Scripture God took nobodies and made somebodies out of them.”
And now, here Anthony was serving in a Texas church, setting up chairs, cleaning bathrooms, serving however he could and before long, being entrusted to lock up the church after services. Meanwhile, he got a job with a pest control company and Sasha worked to attain her teaching degree.
Then in February of 2011, Chiles called Anthony into his office and gave him the shock of his life. “How would you feel about being our young adult pastor?” Having never prepared a sermon much less preached before, Anthony knew this was beyond his abilities, but promised to pray about it.
“That weekend, Pastor Joe preached on people being called, but not willing to step out in faith to be used by God because they’re afraid,” Anthony recalls. “After the service, I talked to the pastor and told him that I would do it.”
FROM FULLTIME TO LIFETIME
Working fulltime, doing part-time ministry (which is "part-time" in name only), and going back to school to earn a Christian counseling degree, as Anthony soon discovered, was no easy task. It placed a strain on his marriage and caused him to doubt his ability and even his desire to preach and teach. But every time he told God, “Find someone else,” He opened a door for Anthony to speak.
“Finally I got tired of running from my calling,” Anthony admits. “I went to Pastor Joe and asked him what I needed to do. He told me I needed to get credentialed through Berean.”
Not long after that conversation, former alcoholic, drug user, God-denier, and God-could-never-use-me Anthony Torres was made the fulltime Pastoral Care Pastor for Mesquite AG.
In 2015, Anthony completed the credentialing process and his degree in Christian counseling. Sasha, however, had God place a hold on her pursuit of a teaching degree — He had other plans for her, as Vistine made a call to the family . . . Mountain View Church, a church in nearby Alamogordo, New Mexico, needed a new senior pastor and revitalization — would they be willing to tryout for the church? Vistine felt they were exactly what the church needed.
“I knew Anthony wanted to return to New Mexico and be in fulltime ministry,” Vistine says. “I was network assistant superintendent at the time and we [Vistine and the superintendent] knew the church needed a young pastor, knew the need, and knew Anthony’s heart for reaching out to the community.”
Anthony and Sasha prayed, felt confirmed, and put in their application. In September, they went out and preached. The church loved them and voted them in that day.
“It was a church of 15 to 20 people, all over 65 years old,” Anthony says, remembering being perplexed. “I loved them, but here I am 34 and I’m a street guy who loves street ministry, looking to reach drug addicts, prostitutes, people in prison — to be the hands and feet of the gospel of Jesus. How’s this going to work?”
Anthony didn’t know, but God did. Within six months, the congregation grew to 50. By the end of 2016 it was up to 130 and by the conclusion of 2018, they were approaching 300! Although COVID set the church growth back a bit, losing a number of people, Anthony says that they’re now growing again and regaining momentum.
Both Anthony and Sasha credit a partnership with Runners Refuge, a high-quality food trailer ministry created by AG U.S. Intercultural Ministries missionaries John and Rachel Stout, in helping the church do effective crises relief and street ministries. The ministry focuses on bringing quality meals and the love of Christ to people in need.
Anthony had connected with the Stouts while he was still in Texas, volunteering his time to help them serve meals with Mercy Chefs in a disaster relief effort in Arkansas. Then, several years later, as they stayed in contact and the Stouts launched their Runners Refuge ministry, Mountain View Church did an outreach with their help and ultimately became an official Runners Refuge branch, complete with its own food trailer, and even assisting Las Cruces First with its outreach ministry.
Sasha has also found God using her life experiences and passion for teaching. Among other responsibilities at the church, she ministers to women, many who are broken and have come from — or are still struggling with — drug backgrounds, difficult marriages, divorce, suicide attempts, and other serious life issues.
“I have seen God take women full circle,” Sasha says, “from struggling through addictions, broken marriages, and mental health issues to transforming them into women who want to share Jesus, take others under their arm, and lead them toward healing through relationship with Christ.”
Since Anthony and Sasha committed their lives to Christ, Sasha says her brother has gotten saved along with her mother, sister-in-law, and her younger brother and his girlfriend, while her father was already a Christian. Anthony’s parents have also been deeply pleased by the transformation they have seen in their son. Also, Anthony’s and Sasha’s children are also believers, with the two youngest actively assisting at the church. Currently, Anthony is working to distribute his book, Letters to My People, in prisons and rehab facilities, and raising funds to build a faith-based detox center in the city.
“If you’re obedient to Christ, He can restore anybody and use anybody,” Sasha says. “Our whole family got to see Anthony messing up his life, but now . . ., see what God has done!”