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Pastor Jimmy Rivera shares story of journey from addiction

By Will Lewis, Reporter, WLewis@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 21 2013 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 22 2013 05:36:10 PM CST

Because of emotional and physical abuse, Jimmy Rivera said he started to find ways to make himself feel happy at the age of 9.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Because of emotional and physical abuse, Jimmy Rivera said he started to find ways to make himself feel happy at the age of 9.

For him, that meant getting high.

“It's like a milestone," said Rivera. "It's like a reminder. It's like a monument that reminds me to never be there again.” 

Thirty one years ago, Rivera was in a dark place.

"Cocaine, heroin, on mescaline, on meth, on crystal meth, on bathtub meth, bathtub crank, purple haze, orange sunshine, marijuana," he said.

All this was to heal his emotional wounds.

"I just wanted to kill the pain," added Rivera. "Anything to kill the pain."

Rivera said he used to rob and steal for his next fix.

"I just had to keep getting high," he said.

That is until the one day when he robbed some drug dealers.

"They kept me in a basement, sic'd dogs on me, and cut my arms," said Rivera. "They just hurt me in ways that you wouldn't imagine. Stuck a knife all the way through my arm."

After 11 hours of torture, Rivera got away, but despite the ordeal, he would return once again to his park bench.

“I remember I was going to leave so many times," added Rivera. "Something said just stay here. Just stay. Just sit down. Just stay right here.”

Then one day, a complete stranger came up to Rivera. He shared the Gospel of Christ with him, prayed for him, and eventually got him help.

"And I've never turned back," said Rivera

Over the next 10 years, Rivera kicked his drug habit, finished school, got married, became a minister, and moved to Allentown to start a church.

"I asked a kid where's the worst part of  this neighborhood," said Rivera. "He said right down by Harris and Morton. I said good and that's where I started."

For 20 years, Rivera and the members of City Limits Assembly of God Church have been helping the community.

"I've got to build a bridge. After I build that bridge, I can send anything over I want," Rivera said.

From giving away school supplies to offering thanksgiving dinners, handing out Christmas trees and running a farmer's market where fresh produce is given away to those in need.

"We're doing something every 90 days," added Rivera. "This church is doing something for the last 20 years. we're always doing something, something kind."

And that bench, Rivera bought it. He brought it with him to his church on Ridge Avenue as a reminder that sometimes everyone needs a second chance..

"I think my smile says it all," said Rivera. "I think it means, I'm not a throw away man. I just need time, place, opportunity, and the encouragement."

Some may wonder how Rivera chose Allentown to start his ministry. He said it was the old Billy Joel song.

City Limits Church will celebrate its 20th anniversary this Sunday afternoon.