A New Life: Convicted by God’s Grace

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God Redeems a Convict’s Past to Bring Hope to Many

Story by Trinity Grau
Photos courtesy of David Zamora

In 1999, prisoner K79941 was asked by a fellow inmate what God could do to prove to him that He was real. The prisoner’s response was purposeful, intentionally picking the hardest thing possible: “If God was real, He would remove this addiction from me.” That night, in his cell, this man known by his number prayed sincerely before God that if his addiction could be taken away, he would faithfully devote his life to serving the Lord. In that radical moment, he felt everything change.

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David Zamora (bottom right) as Prisoner Number K79941. Sent to prison in 1996 for three years, he gave his life to the Lord Jesus and discovered his purpose in life. Today he is senior pastor of a Calvary Chapel church, Living Way Christian Fellowship in Fontana, CA.

The prisoner’s name was David Zamora. Twenty years later, he would become the senior pastor of the Calvary Chapel that now occupies his former parole building—Living Way Christian Fellowship in Fontana, CA.

David would not make the journey alone. Under the mentoring and fellowship of California pastors Eric Sorian of Calvary Chapel Creekside in Ontario and Jim Orate of CC Rancho Cucamonga, the former inmate learned he had a passion for teaching. Through his connections to these pastors, he discovered CC founder Pastor Chuck Smith and CC Chino Valley, CA, Pastor David Rosales.

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More than 20 years after being sent to prison, David Zamora is now a Calvary Chapel pastor. He draws on his past life experiences to minister to men and women who need the hope that only Jesus can offer to redeem them from their past.

With encouragement, David began to host his own Bible study. Many men began to attend, finding themselves comforted by knowing that someone had walked through similar experiences. Many of the pastors encouraged him to pursue ministering to them so that he could touch their lives in a deep way. The Lord was redeeming David’s story step by step.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

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David describes himself in this photo as a “16-year-old high on dope.” A third-generation Hispanic-American, he grew up in a dysfunctional household and quickly began to seek love from outside sources. By the time he was 9 years old, he was involved with gangs and smoking marijuana. By early high school, he had graduated to using hard drugs.

A Rough Start
David grew up on the south side of Ontario, CA, part of a strong Chicano culture where he took great pride in his heritage as a third-generation Hispanic American. Despite being engaged in his education, David grew up in a dysfunctional household and quickly began to seek love from outside sources. By the time he was 9 years old, he was involved with gangs and smoking marijuana. By late junior high, he had begun shooting meth and by early high school was using all manner of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. “It became a lifestyle,” David confessed. “I thought I was cool—being a cholo (gangster) was just part of who I was.” Throughout high school he found himself in and out of incarceration, finally landing in prison for a three-year stint in 1996. It was here that he found the Lord and began to discover his purpose in life.

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David’s stepdad and mom visit him (center) in prison. While there, he remembered the promises of God his mother and grandmother had taught him growing up—but did not have that personal relationship with the Lord to believe fully in them. A fellow inmate and addict known as “Caveman” professed to be a believer in Christ and attempted to minister to David. One night he made a bold proclamation: “If God was real, He would remove this addiction from me.” He prayed that if God could take away his addiction, he would faithfully devote his life to serving Him. His life began to change, beginning a step-by-step transformation.

Within the prison walls, David found many with stories like his, who were proud of their ability to land themselves in “the joint” for being as bold as they were. He remembered the promises of God his mother and grandmother had taught him growing up—but did not have that personal relationship with the Lord to believe fully in them. It was here that he met a fellow inmate and addict known as “Caveman.” Despite struggling with many of the same issues as David, Caveman professed to be a believer in Christ and attempted to minister to his friend.

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David enjoys a photo op with his former parole officer, Agent Jones. After his release from prison, he confidently told the agent that he would beat the odds. Agent Jones was skeptical, believing that the ex-convict wouldn’t complete his parole. However, David was determined to prove his faith was real and not just “jailhouse religion.”

Freed to a New Beginning
After confessing to God that he wished to be freed from the chain of addiction, David found his mindset shifting. He did not struggle with hard drugs after he was released, and he told his parole officer that he would beat the odds. The officer, Agent Jones, was less than confident, reminding him, “You are a 'three-strikes' candidate; you have gang connections and could easily be sent back to prison for a life term, and I don’t see you completing your parole.”

David told him, “I understand that’s the reality, but I know I’m not going back to prison this time.” When asked why he was so confident, David told the officer that he had found Christ, to which the man responded: “You found jailhouse religion.” David knew that if he was to prove to his parole officer the truth, he would have to make changes in his life.

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David leads worship at Living Way Christian Fellowship. After struggling initially following his release from prison, he committed himself to serving God fully and faithfully, including at a church across the street from his former parole office. Even Agent Jones eventually realized how deeply he was committed. Later, he became a state parole chaplain, the second former convict to achieve that role, serving both officers and inmates.

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13

“After I was released from prison, I still struggled. I’d gotten off the hard drugs, but I was still smoking weed and I would still party. I didn’t think it was a double life, but it was.” As David went to church more, he realized that God was upholding His end of the bargain but that it was him who had fallen through. A pastor’s message encouraging him to be faithful to God struck David deeply. He returned to serving in ministry and committed himself to growing in faith.

He quickly realized that the church building where he worked was located across the street from his old parole office building. Agent Jones even spotted him once, shocked to realize that David really had committed fully to the “Christian thing.”

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David (right) helps to baptize a man at his church. He became pastor of the church, now renamed Living Way Christian Fellowship, which served a high-crime area of Fontana with dignity and compassion. Several years later, Living Way obtained the building across the street, where David used to check in regularly with his parole officer. “I knew it was time to redeem the building. There was still more to be done with it,” David asserted.

Moving on for the Lord
After a time, the supervisor of the parole building asked David to consider becoming a state parole chaplain, serving as a liaison between the parolees and the officers. He accepted. David completed the Sheriff’s Academy Chaplaincy Program, becoming one of the first former inmates to finish the training and the second former convict to become a state chaplain. He became a huge part of the officers' lives, performing weddings and funerals, and providing biblical counseling for many of the men behind bars—and those guarding them.

Pastor Hector Arreola passed down the pastorship of his church to David, who was expanding the fellowship’s reach to influence former convicts in need of hope. The church, which came to be known as Living Way Christian Fellowship, served a high-crime area of Fontana with dignity and compassion.

                  

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As several years passed, the church body received news that the parole office would be moving. David prayed that the Lord would open the door from him to use the building; he felt the burden for it to continue to be a vehicle for Christ’s purposes. The owner of the building told David that if he could keep the building up, the church could have it. “I knew it was time to redeem the building. There was still more to be done with it,” David asserted.

The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned. Psalm 34:22

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David meets with Calvary Chapel founder Pastor Chuck Smith (right), whose teachings influenced him throughout the years.

Serving the Community
Today, Living Way members serve all who walk through the doors, including many who have been through the same experiences as David. Members volunteer to maintain the building grounds, and to help with the many ministries the church offers. Since David has stepped into the role of head pastor, Living Way offers a college program, drug and alcohol counseling, a K-12 private school, and more. “One of our proudest achievements is a year-long commitment program for “lifers”—former inmates, many young—who have made decisions they regret and would like to see their lives restored,” David declared. Some of the program’s men have even gone on to become missionaries.

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David (center) enjoys fellowship with Anthony and José, “homeboys from my past serving Jesus.” Today, church members serve all who walk through the doors, including many who have been through the same experiences as David. Living Way offers a college program, drug and alcohol counseling, a K-12 private school, and a year-long commitment program for former inmates, many young, who have made decisions they regret and want to see their lives restored. Some of the program’s men have even gone on to become missionaries.

David hopes that the hearts of any who hear the message of Living Way and his testimony would be moved on behalf of those who grew up as he did—that they would be encouraged by how God can redeem any situation. “Whenever I talk to any of the guys who come from a background like mine, they often tell me they have no hope. But my goal is to tell people that there is hope, that God can turn any situation around. And we as the church can help to show people that.” Many to whom he ministers often cite no purpose or reason for living, but his immediate response is to remind them that they have hope in Christ. “It is this reminder of grace and the Gospel that we should take with us into the world,” David exhorted.

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David teaches at the church. He hopes that those who hear his messages and testimony are encouraged by how God can redeem any situation. He explained, “Whenever I talk to any of the guys who come from a background like mine, they often tell me they have no hope. But my goal is to tell people that there is hope, that God can turn any situation around.”

                  

Click to learn more about Living Way Christian Fellowship, Fontana, CA.
                  

 

(To learn more about Calvary Bible Institute, visit their website or read our past coverage on the school)

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.