RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Victor Torres is the Senior Pastor at New Life Outreach International Church in Richmond.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Torres grew up in 1950’s Brooklyn, New York, in Brownsville, after he and his family migrated there in search of a better life.
“It was an area and a place where, just about everyday, I had to fight my way in and my way out of school, so to speak, with other kids, and that just started to snowball,” explains Torres.
Fast-forward decades later, what started out as his autobiographical book, would be turned into the movie ‘Victor’.
The film tells the story of how Torres overcame great obstacles, like joining the Roman Lords gang at 12 years old and finding himself hooked on heroin by age 14.
Torres recalled some of his most trying times, saying that he’d been in and out of methadone treatment clinics and had overdosed multiple times.
“My mother found me overdosed in the bathroom of our home, and that was devastating,” he explained. “That was a real impact to my family, especially my mom who found me with the needle, still sticking in my arm.”
Torres would struggle with his addiction and gang life for seven years; he even turned to selling drugs on the street.
That is until one day, his mother found a beacon of hope in a young pastor from Pennsylvania.
Torres says, “His name was David Wilkerson, and he had come from the hills of Pennsylvania trying to reach gang members. I saw him a couple of times preaching on the streets in New York, trying to reach out, but I couldn’t put it all together, but my mother heard about a home that he had opened up. And so, my mother got all excited and one day she approached me about going to this home this minister, this pastor had opened up for people who were on drugs.”
Not knowing that it was a Christian home, Torres thought he was just going to another clinic, but he says the experience changed his life.
He says when he got to the home, he noticed that one of his enemies from another gang was also there, trying to get on track.
That’s when he says he’d made up his mind.
“At that point, I’d turned to God and I gave God a chance in my life,” Torres said. “And, I had an experience with Christ that transformed me completely.”
From that moment, Torres would go to bible college and become a minister. That’s also where he met his wife Carmen. Torres earned his Doctorate from the Latin American Bible Institute. He set out to share his story with the world, traveling from place to place.
He and his wife later settled in Richmond in 1971, after attending a conference, and began their own substance abuse ministry, New Life Youth. It now consists of multiple homes and centers for teens and young adults to overcome their addictions.
One of his former students, Lydia Chisholm, opens up about her experience and how New Life Youth changed her life.
“I turned to alcohol as a way to numb the pain from what I was feeling. It became an addiction. It took over quickly. It robbed me of everything I had good going for me and by the time I was 25, I was drinking around the clock in heavy binges, and I was basically killing myself.
“On May 6, 2013, I stepped up to the front doors of The Mercy House, on the women’s program of New Life for Youth, and it was so hard that first few months. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but yet at the same time I felt such a peace and I knew there was a plan, a bigger plan in all of this. So, I stuck it out, and I was just so grateful to be given a second chance,” says Chisholm.
She says the program made such an impact that she now works full-time in the ministry and as Pastor Torres’ secretary.
For Torres, the dream of turning his life’s story into a movie, would come full circle while attending the funeral of David Wilkerson, the man who changed his life.
“Standing right next to me there, I didn’t know that his own son had become a movie producer. And so, I asked him if he had read my book. He said ‘No.’ The next morning we had breakfast and I gave him my book. Two weeks later, he had his director and him on the phone to tell me that they had decided to turn my book into a movie.”
‘Victor’ will make its world premiere at the Heartland Film Festival next Thursday in Indianapolis. It was selected out of 1700 submissions worldwide.
For more information about the film and Victor Torres’ story, click here.
For information about New Life Outreach International, New Life for Youth, or to find a program, click here.