Saving Addicts, and Other Faith-based Social Work

  • Religion
  • 1966

Growing up as a poor Mexican-American, Freddie Garcia despised Anglo society, joined a gang, and ended up a heroin addict with a live-in girlfriend and two children. After numerous federal- and state-funded rehab programs failed to change his life, he tried Teen Challenge, a religious program, even though he couldn’t imagine how “Jesus, whom I can’t see, feel, or touch” could succeed where so many credentialed experts had failed. But the program dramatically altered Garcia’s life in 1965. He married his children’s mother, and together they felt called to minister to street addicts. They opened their tiny San Antonio home to anyone in bad straits, and soon it was overflowing with desperate cases. Garcia then opened a church focused on helping addicts receiving treatment, along with graduates of rehab who needed continuing support. The ministry used the recovering addicts to help current ones.

The couple spread their ministry throughout Texas and far beyond. Garcia died in 2009, and his son Jubal now runs the fellowship, which has helped more than 14,000 men and women leave drugs and alcohol behind. More than 70 satellite centers operate in New Mexico, Texas, California, Colorado, Puerto Rico, and some Latin American countries.

A major step in the ministry’s growth occurred in 2005, when the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise helped Garcia raise funds for a multibuilding home campus in San Antonio. An anonymous donor provided $1 million and challenged the group to raise the rest. Local San Antonio businessmen led by Jack Willome and Bill Lyons pulled together pledges for the needed funds, and the new Victory Home was completely paid for when it opened.

Victory Fellowship is also known for being pressured by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, which demanded in 1992 that the ministry employ medical specialists or close. After a media outcry, the commission backed down, but in 1995 it attacked another faith-based rehab program in San Antonio. That led newly elected Governor George W. Bush to introduce legislation that changed regulations to allow faith-based programs—an innovation he later continued as President.