Efrain Diaz had a bad addiction, a heroin addiction.
“I lost my family. I lost my wife,” said the 58-year-old.
Yet for the past 30 years, Diaz has been helping people overcome their addictions. This one-time addict is now the pastor of Alcance Victoria church.
Pastor Diaz was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He moved to New York City at the age of 18. He then moved to Philadelphia. He was involved in crimes, drugs and gangs.
In 1987, at the age of 31, Diaz gave his life over to Jesus Christ. Diaz gives credit to Christ for transforming his life. He got his dignity back and his wife and children. Today he has grandchildren living with him. He currently lives in the Fairhill community, three blocks away from his church, which acts as a second home because so much of his time is spent there.
Diaz did not always want to be a pastor.
“Actually, it’s the need that I saw,” said Diaz. “I saw that Christ had the power to change my life. I had experienced God’s changing power. I decided that I had something positive and powerful that I can share with my community. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 27 years.”
Pastor Diaz leads an outreach program at his church. The members of this group go into the streets of the Fairhill community and tell the people about their personal experiences. At some point in time, all of the members of the group struggled with some sort of addiction. Some were involved in gangs and violence. Their past helps them make a stronger connection with people who are struggling with addictions.
Pastor Diaz gives credit to Philadelphia for making him a strong person. He walks through the Fairhill community freely but cautiously. He recalled a situation which he said, has had a powerful impact.
“I saw someone die right in front of me,” said Diaz. “This man, who was an addict, was having problems with his wife. He didn’t like the way she talked about leaving him. I had been trying to help the couple. One day, he came into my office. He said he had enough. He pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head. Philadelphia had made me a strong person.”
Pastor Diaz paused before sharing a seconded memorable account. He took a deep breath and said, “I have a son. In 1995, he overdosed on heroin and died. He was 19 years of age.”
This tragedy would have made the average person lose hope. Yet Pastor Diaz continues to give thanks to God as he holds on to hope for all addicts in his community.
Pastor Efrain Diaz has faith in the community and God. He looks at the members in his outreach program and all the people that the affect as a sign that God is working and helping the community. He has high hopes that one day every addict will be freed from their addiction. He admitted that he cannot do it alone, but with Christ there is hope for the future. He plans on living the rest of his life in Philadelphia.
“If I am going to be used by God, it is going to be here with the Philadelphia community,” said Diaz. “I want everybody to know that I love this city.”
-Text and images by Danielle Alvarez and Leslie Smith