My family immigrated to the United States from Armenia in 1979; I was eight years old. We arrived in Los Angeles with few possessions and many dreams. It was a difficult transition. The language barrier, my thick Armenian eyebrows, and my single outfit made me an easy target.
By the time I was a teen, I was tired of being put down and walked on and of being disrespected and poor. And I was tired of no one doing anything to help. I decided it was time to change my life experience.
So I turned to the streets—a young man could find both respect and money there. I started by stealing car stereos and moved up to delivering ordered vehicles to chop shops. Then I discovered the drug market, and I got a taste of real money.
At first, I dealt with drugs by the pound, then kilos, and then tons. I was an ambitious businessman who networked with leaders in the drug industry to make the next deal happen. By 17, I was delivering goods to cartels nationwide and making more money than I had ever imagined possible.
Once I’d tasted money, I developed an insatiable desire for more. I loved the sense of power money gave me. My pursuit of the almighty dollar, however, led me down destructive paths that hurt many people and nearly cost me my life. But thankfully, on September 25, 1997, like Paul in Acts 9, I had a Damascus Road experience that changed the trajectory of my life.
That night, like many others, my friends and I went to a high-end VIP nightclub. When we tired of that scene, we climbed into my Mercedes S 600 coupe. I punched the accelerator, feeling invincible as the speedometer reached 130 mph. But then the car began to fishtail, and I lost control.
I can still hear the screams of the girls as the car smashed into the concrete wall and folded in on us. And then, there was silence, except for the faint bleep of a crushed cellphone. I pulled myself from the car and looked at the bloody scene. The girls lay motionless on the ground. What had I done?
Funny, until that moment, I hadn’t thought much about God. I figured He hadn’t thought much about me, either. Surely He had abandoned me all those years ago when as a child I was being bullied and abused.
Soon passersby stopped and called 911. I knew I was in deep trouble. I limped as fast as my battered body could go, hoping to jump from the nearby bridge and end this nightmare. I’d almost made it to the guardrail when the pilot of the police helicopter spotted me. Ground police and K9 officers gave chase.
“God, help me! Help me!” I cried. I was in way over my head. I reached the railing and leaped, but my plunge was abruptly halted by a German shepherd who sank his teeth into my pant leg and dragged me back. Officers descended on me from every direction.
At the police station, I was booked on two counts of vehicular homicide. In the intake room, for my safety and theirs, they strapped me into a chair and put a facemask on me. I was teetering on the verge of insanity—spitting, biting, and kicking at the officers.
Darkness engulfed me as I looked at the intake papers the officer had shoved in my hand. Two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide meant I could not place a bond. All those hundreds of thousands of dollars I had tucked away from my drug deals were utterly powerless to save me. And so were the other gods I’d served so faithfully through the years—the gods of sex, drugs, toxic relationships, and power. Where were they now? They had brought me to this pit of destruction and had abandoned me.
I needed something with real power. Did it exist?
“God, are You there? Help me, God…help me.” This plea lasted no more than 30 seconds. And then, worn out and in pain, I fell asleep.
I woke to an officer trying to remove the intake papers that were stuck to my bloody hands. “You sure lucked out on this one,” he said as he stuffed a new paper into my hand. After he left, I looked at what he’d given me. Two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Assault? How could that be? The girls were dead—I’d seen them! But this paper said they were alive. The words “God help me” rang in my mind. Comfort like I’d never felt before flooded over me, and inside, I sensed someone say, “I heard you, Roger. Call out to Me, and I will show you great and wonderful things. You are not a murderer. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All of My works are wonderful, and you are Mine. Your journey has just begun—trust Me.”
God had revealed Himself in an undeniable way, one I certainly didn’t deserve. He had pursued me with His everlasting love and rescued me from the pit of destruction I had dug for myself. For the first time, I truly believed there was a God.
With the new charges, I was able to make bail. I went straight to my attorney’s office to make sense of what had happened. All he could offer was, “You just got lucky, Roger.” But I knew different. People don’t just come back to life.
I left his office and went to the hospital. I couldn’t believe my eyes—the girls really were alive! An inexplicable peace expanded beneath my anguish. God was fixing what I had destroyed. He had my attention.
Why am I still here? I wondered. I needed to know the truth. I needed to know God.
Over the next nine months, I sought to learn all I could about Him. I searched history and science, unearthed multiple faith foundations and their manuscripts. My quest to know the truth led me to understand that yes, God was real, and He was worth giving up everything I had to follow Him. I accepted by faith His Son, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior, and in my heart, I’ve not looked back.
But leaving that old life wasn’t easy. People like me don’t get to just walk away. My phone rang constantly with both opportunities and threats. But deep down, I knew the only business worth doing was that of reaching God’s lost ones. After some hard lessons, I finally let go of my old ways and turned my life completely over to Him.
On May 18, 1998, I received a plea of five years probation for the accident, instead of 20 years in prison. I praised God for the result and focused on building my parents’ legitimate insurance business. I did my best to serve God and His people. But a bigger trial lay ahead.
Ten months after the plea, I was in my office when suddenly the tiny room was filled with federal marshals, Arizona DEA, and US Customs officers. They escorted me outside, tucked me into a government sedan, and took me to the federal building in downtown Phoenix. I was facing twelve Class-2 felony charges under federal RICO law—a possible 160 years in prison.
Yet again I heard, “Trust Me, Roger.”
Then, amazingly, the Feds released me on my own recognizance. I surrendered my passport and was assigned a hearing date in Detroit. My attorney got to work, and as the facts of the case unfolded, the grace of God became evident.
Everything the Feds had on the cartels that would have involved me happened after the accident—after my decision to follow Jesus. That accident in 1997 wasn’t just God’s way of getting my attention; He used that wreck to keep me from a lifetime of incarceration. Had I stayed on that road of destruction, I’d have been working with the cartels when the Feds infiltrated them.
Months later, the federal charges were dropped, and then my fight against the state began. The state drug prosecutor was determined to send me and anyone associated with my case away for life. Since I had a record in the state system, that wouldn’t be difficult. The case lasted for three years. At times, it looked like my past would never leave me alone, and rightfully so.
During this time, I began conversing with a young lady from Armenia, the daughter of a friend. We spent many hours together on the phone, and a deep love began to grow between us. Against the odds, I asked the court for permission to fly to Armenia so I could marry her. Incredibly, the judge allowed it.
My shocked attorney said, “Roger, your grant from the court to travel to Armenia is a one-in-a-million opportunity. You’ve won the Golden Ticket, like the kid in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Don’t waste it. Go to Armenia and never come back.” He reminded me of the orange prison jumpsuit that would be waiting for me if I ignored his advice.
I sat on the plane at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, thinking of his words. I’d soon be 7,000 miles away from this mess. I considered the possibility that this grant from the court might be God’s way of giving me freedom. Maybe He wanted to use me in Armenia to save many souls.
It made a lot of sense intellectually, yet my heart was void of peace. I knew running from my problems and breaking the law wasn’t God’s way. I also knew choosing to stay in Armenia wouldn’t be fair to my parents. They’d lose the $100,000 in bond money they had loaned me. Once again, I heard the Lord reminding me to trust Him. I tightened my seatbelt and settled back for a long flight.
On the ground in Armenia, I immediately felt at home. I was in the place of my true heritage and with Sirarpi, the woman I loved. I proposed marriage and she accepted; we set the wedding date for four days later. But I hadn’t told her about my past, and I needed to. So first, I told her I’d been married before, and then I told her my legal troubles. Finally, I shared how God had touched my heart and changed my ways. She had many questions, but in the end, she made an incredible choice to trust God too.
Against my attorney’s advice, I headed to the Armenian airport to return to Arizona and attend my court hearing. But when I went to check in, I discovered I had missed my flight. Was this a sign from God? Was I to stay? As I began wrestling with the decision; the ticket attendant excitedly announced that she had found an alternate route. “Should I book this flight for you, sir?”
It was a moment of truth. I could trust God’s plan and return to America to face my past, or I could live as a free man in Armenia. I thought about my attorney’s reference to winning that fictional Golden Ticket, and suddenly, I realized he was wrong. The theme of that movie wasn’t about seizing an opportunity; it was about being trustworthy. Charlie was the only child with integrity, and as a result, he inherited everything from Mr. Wonka. I understood that, like Charlie, I had much to inherit from God—but I had to do what was right. I booked the flight and returned to America to face my charges. Sirarpi planned to join me four months later.
Once home, the reality of my situation was inescapable. I had no plea bargain—I could get 160 years in prison. But it was time for me to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Sight is deceiving. Months passed, and the case dragged on. And then, something incredible happened.
The prosecutor on my case was not just after me; she was attempting to take down the entire Mexican mafia. In retaliation, they arranged for her assassination, planning to make it look like I had killed her to keep her off my case. But their plan backfired when their hit man accidentally shot her brother instead. He lived and identified the shooter, connecting him to the Mexican mafia.
Because of the threat against her life, the prosecutor was taken off my case and put in protective custody. Thankfully, her replacement didn’t share her passion for putting me away for life and gave me a seven-year plea instead.
There was standing room only in the courtroom at my sentencing hearing on April 11, 2003. The judge took the bench and spoke directly to me. I deserved to serve multiple life sentences for the many lives I had destroyed, he said. But then, incredibly, he reduced my seven-year sentence to two-and-a-half years. He even gave me two weeks to get my affairs in order and spend time with my family. Folks, it simply doesn’t work this way. Plea agreements aren’t reduced! God had showed up again!
There’s a saying that, if you focus on taking care of God’s business, He will take care of yours. This is the testimony of my life. God has taken care of me in the most miraculous ways as I have trusted Him and focused on doing His work. He takes care of those I love, too.
I walked into Lewis Prison in 2003, to serve time for the crimes I had committed. I served 20 months, and every day, I praised God for all that He had done for me.
I tell people, I didn’t go to prison, I went to Bible college—and the Holy Spirit and the NIV Study Bible were my teachers. Prison life was not easy. I was tempted at times to use the position I’d held in the drug world to protect myself. But I knew if I did that, I would stray from what God had in store for me. I had to fear God more than I feared man.
It was often scary, and my life was indeed threatened. Yet, with God’s help, I did not compromise. I was determined to be a follower of Christ and represent His love and power to those around me, no matter the cost. Those boundaries led to some frightening moments, but God always made a way. He helped me stand firm in my convictions while being respectful to those around me.
As I served my time, the Lord began to show me His love for incarcerated people and the need for His Word behind bars. He planted the idea of a ministry in my heart, called Rescued Not Arrested (RNA). RNA has since reached millions of prisoners, both around the world and in 500 US prisons, with its custom-cover NIV Bible.
Praise God, Sirarpi and our children were waiting for me when I was released from prison in December 2004. We had used that time to draw close to one another through phone calls and prison visits, and now we were excited to start a new life together. Sirarpi and I often joke that we spent more time together when I was in prison than we do now, as I travel the world sharing the Gospel.
Friend, God is in the rescue business. No matter where you are, He is there, and He is ready to help you out of your pit and into a life of adventure. Trust Him and do the right thing. I am living proof that God can use anyone!