Carlos Molina


“Everything in life has a purpose even though you don’t see it at the time; it’s not a coincidence.”



Editor’s Note:  “WHEW!” I sigh and take a huge breath when Carlos completes reflecting on his life’s story.  In only his mid-40s he has already lived four separate lives: a brief childhood, punctuated by a limited military “career,” followed by driving drugs across the U.S. for friends which landed him in prison followed by a deportation, to a total conversion in focus and lifestyle.  We ask what he would change, and he responds, “None of it.  I might not be where I am today were it not for the [accumulated experiences.]”

We are fortunate to catch Carlos for an interview.  Scheduling him has been difficult.  He literally just returned from attending a Program Manager Seminar in Haiti for his job with Living Water of El Salvador.

My dad was an early role model for me in life.  Even though he never had an education himself, he saw the value of receiving one.  He would shine shoes or work in whatever capacity he could to provide us nine kids with educations.  When he met my mom, she already had three girls, so they just added to the family.  My dad also emphasized the importance of attachment to family.  I was born in Santa Ana in the northwest department of El Salvador in 1967.

Dad also did a great job teaching us kids the reality of the world in which we lived.  Against his wishes I went to the CEMFA military academy (Centro de Entrea  miento Militar de las Fuerzas Armadas) in La Union in 1984 after I graduated from high school at age 17.  This was in the early stages of the country’s civil war.  My dad had encountered eleven or twelve kidnapping attempts, and seeing dead bodies was daily bread for us.  At that time many within the armed forces were going outside the country for additional training.  I went to the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.  It was there that I learned some English.  It was also there that they trained me to follow orders without questions or explanation.  At age 19 I never challenged authority at that point.

I never saw any battles during 1985-86.  Despite the fact that I had a lot of power over guys older than me, there were too many wrong decisions for me personally in the military and especially in the training at School for the Americas.  I remained at CEMFA for only seven months before the Army kicked me out, the result of several accumulated violations of cadet policy including smoking and bad behavior.  The irony to me is that in the military you can kill, but you are not permitted to smoke.

My dad feared for my life after I returned to Santa Ana and decided to send me to the States to live with my sister.  When I was denied a visa for legal entry, I went illegally.  On September 15, 1988, five of us left with a coyote at a cost of $2,000 each to get to California.  It was a dangerous fifteen days involving paying bribes to police, sleeping outside, and using a combination of buses, trains, and trucks.  The most harrowing part of the journey was the end when we crossed the border with all five men lying under a fake seat of a VW van.  We were told to be quiet for 45 minutes, hidden and cramped under a carpet.  It seemed like a breathless eternity.  When they opened the car, we were in a large parking lot, and the first words I read with squinting eyes were, “Welcome to San Diego” on a burger place sign.

I lived with one of my sisters for a year before moving into my own place in Los Angeles.  I took ESL classes at night while working as a carpet installer during the day.  Then in 1989 I took a second job as a parking lot attendant in Beverly Hills, one I held for twenty years.

{Note to reader: If you don’t read Jesus as the Latin pronunciation of ‘Hey- sus,’ you can get carried away with laughter for this next section. The three of us did at the beginning of this segment, actually.}



At that point my life took a downward spiral.  I met a humble Mexican guy about 35 years old named Jesus and his brother, Moses.  Moses was married to a woman who was involved with a drug dealer in Mexico and asked me if I could drive for him once in awhile.   The first payment of $50 was attractive; the second of $200 was even more so.  It was easy money, doing nothing but driving.  He told me they were moving a lot of kilos of cocaine, and I knew it was wrong.  Being only 20 or 21 years old, I was still somewhat naïve.  When they asked me to drive a car with 100 kilos from Los Angeles to Chicago, it never even dawned on me that moving drugs across state lines could give me life in prison if we were caught.  I was paid $3,000, which was enough to buy me a car.

I no sooner returned from Chicago on Monday when Moses called asking me to help move another shipment to Chicago.  This time was in a woman’s van.  It was having sunroof problems, which I offered to fix.  Meanwhile, they were filling the walls of her van with 100 kilos of cocaine.  What I didn’t know is that the authorities had this woman under surveillance for some time.  On December 5, 1989, I returned the repaired van and keys to the woman’s hotel, went to eat dinner with my two sisters, and then returned to my apartment.  My girlfriend and I were getting ready for bed.  The next thing I knew the door went down, and police stormed in like an episode of “Cops.”  I didn’t make the connection of what was going on at first.  Simultaneous raids were taking place at the homes of Moses and Jesus and the woman, also.

Jesus told us not to worry, that he would accept all blame and none of this was our fault.  I spent that Christmas in jail thinking I would be cleared of all charges.  A Colombian policeman was kind enough to allow me the freedom of an open cell door during my two years in county jail fighting my case.  The open door policy really was a bit of a blessing.  During that time I prayed to the REAL Jesus!  I asked my sister not to tell my dad about my situation.

When the police searched Jesus and Moses’ house, they discovered 230 more kilos of cocaine.  We were all sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the term was reduced to 15 years.  I really cried.  My public defender urged me not to accept the deal, insisting they would offer something better.  But I was easily swayed by a 21- year old Colombian guy I met in jail named Carlos who had been arrested with six million dollars.  He offered to call one of his lawyers named Juan to help me out.

The judge warned me that if this lawyer named Juan represented me, it would change my whole case and be trouble for me.   He said he knew this guy.  I didn’t listen to the judge and fired my public defender.  Not long afterwards Juan ended up in jail arrested for dealing drugs!  I was able to get my public defender back, and she arranged a new deal for me to do ten years and get credit for the three years I’d already served.  This was in 1991 or 1992. The judge advised that if this case were to go to trial I could easily get 20-25 years.  This time I listened to the judge and took that deal.

Being transferred to state prison was like going to university.  They feed you; they educate you.  I got my GED in English and Spanish and took ten computer courses.  I became a teacher’s aide.  It was a blessing.  I was active in programs and had good behavior and ended up serving 5 years 7 months.

Due to my prison record, the U.S. deported me on June 5, 1995.  This felony will always remain a blemish on my record.  I will never be allowed to obtain a visa to travel to the U.S. to visit.

It was difficult returning home after spending so much time away.  One of my brothers had died of cancer at age 16.  I was feeling down about missing that family time of shared grief.  My peer group had all moved ahead with their lives and had established their careers and families.

Then in July I met Norma, the “angel of my life.”  It was literally love at first sight.  I met my sister at a disco, and that particular night she had lent me a gold bracelet to wear.  When we left, I realized I no longer had the gold bracelet, so we returned to the disco.  This guy said he knew who had it.  Sure enough, it was the girl I had fallen for, Norma.  She returned the bracelet to me, and we made plans to get together the following weekend.  Six months later we were engaged.

I applied for a temporary job with TACA Airlines and was fortunate that they never asked for my records nor did a background check.  They hired me for six months, and I started taking business administration courses at the university.  Norma and I moved into the Mejicanos area of San Salvador.

We walked in that neighborhood every night to give Norma exercise during her first pregnancy.  We saw a local preacher named Pastor Toby from the Baptist Tabernacle on a big TV screen during our walks.   This was a huge church where 10,000 would worship at each of its three services. He would laugh when delivering his sermons and had a terrible singing voice but would certainly attract attention.  He no longer preaches having suffered three strokes.

One time while I was working at the airport in the baggage area, this pastor was returning home with his group from Israel via Guatemala.  Their luggage was lost and while doing the necessary paper work, he gave me his business card and said anytime I wanted to attend church, I should contact him.

That night Norma had a terrible nightmare.  She dreamed that she died and saw this bus going to heaven.  She wanted to stop the bus, but the people on it said, “No, you need Jesus; it’s too late.  You can’t get on; you’re already dead.”  The next day she announced, “We are going to church.”  I called the name on the card from the airport; the man had told me to ask for Pastor Quezava.  We went to the last service.  Norma grabbed my arm as we approached the church with a startling recognition in her eyes.  “Those are the same women who were on the bus in my dream.”  She went up to answer an altar call at the end of the service that night.  Two months later I converted.  Ever since that day in 1998 we have been going to that church.



Working in that capacity at the airport I had the opportunity to meet a variety of different people.  Many church groups pass through the airport.   At the church I often serve in the parking lot to assist people.  One time in the church parking lot someone called me on the radio to say there was a gringo who may need help.  As we talked, I discovered he is from Virginia and interested in helping orphanages here in El Salvador.  He regularly brings youth here on visits.  As we became acquainted with his groups coming through the airport frequently, we have co-founded a group called Orphan Helpers.   Our church works with an orphanage called Luz de Israel.  My wife, Norma, is actively involved in that ministry.

My six-month, part-time job with TACA Airlines became a full-time job.  I became quite involved in our church’s missions.  I am also in charge of the Samaritan Purse project in our parish.  In March of 2003, a hypertension attack put me down for two months.  The guy from Virginia who works with us in Orphan Helpers paid all of my medical expenses.

Four years later in March of 2007, while attending a Bible study group, I met Paul Darilek of Living Water of El Salvador.  He needed someone to run the operations here in the country.  This worthwhile organization’s providing  potable water sources to rural communities without water appealed to me.  It took me back to my roots.  I took the job.  When I came on board, we took 12 groups a year to come dig wells.  We are now booked for 63 groups a year.  God has given us godly people in this organization; 60% of them are bi-lingual.  They could be making more money working in call centers but choose to do this work in order to help people.  The operation runs smoothly because of who they are.   I don’t need to watch their every move.  They are responsible workers.  I love my job.  Even the thugs have a respect for our work.  For example, last year one of our vans was stopped by a guy with a gun and machete.  When our driver explained who we are and what we do, the thug let him pass.


LEAD Technologies Inc.

If I had to live my life over again, I would not change a thing.  I have been in places I did not want to be.  Yet I might not have met Norma or have my three girls if my life had taken a different path.  I think everything in life happens for a reason; there are no coincidences.

The military was probably not a good fit for me, but I didn’t know that when I was young.  Since I’ve returned to this country, I’ve met with some of my former colleagues in the military.  Some were forced to join the military; others joined to fulfill their pride.  Now I hear them say that they are not proud of what they did by following orders. They are wearing prostheses on missing limbs.  Seeing that outcome is shocking.  Personally I feel that 70% of what the military was responsible for during the war is what I am left dealing with now in this job.  For the past 12 years I have been seeing the outcome of war by working in the rural communities where I serve through the well-drilling projects.  These rural people were simply trying to defend themselves.  One of my brothers who served with the FMLN was disappeared by the military when he was 14 or 15.  My mother still lives in hope that someday he will show up.

Killing Monsignor Romero was a mistake.  I had a great deal of respect for him.  Many saw Jesus in him.  Our country is left with violence and with a government unwilling to deal with the past.  The prison system here provides no rehab.  Jail is just a place to sit.  More money needs to be spent on education.  Education involves more than reading, writing, and math.  It includes teaching values, too.  Education is free up through the ninth grade.  Realistically in rural areas most children cannot afford to attend classes beyond the sixth grade due to transportation issues and the need to work.  Beyond the ninth grade, if your family has no resources, you are doomed.  With 60 kids to one teacher, I question how much learning takes place in many classrooms.

There is always a level of distrust.  My own family had a horrific incident involving our own neighborhood security guard hired to protect us.  One day our youngest daughter disappeared for ten minutes.  We were unconcerned knowing she was last seen talking to the guard whom we all knew and trusted.  Our middle daughter was frightened and kept insisting we search for her.  The next day we found out this guard had pulled her behind the bushes and pulled down her zipper.  She was able to run away before anything happened.  I was furious.  My wife confronted him, and the neighborhood fired him.  Our daughter received counseling sessions.

El Salvador’s economy is highly dependent on remittances.  I neither receive nor support them.  I dislike the idea of them.  Unless someone is crippled or blind and unable to work, I see sending remittances into this country as counterproductive.  They encourage people not to try to find jobs or want to work.  The recipients often get mad about the success of those of us who do work.  Those who do work often work in such low paid jobs that they feel it is not worth their effort to work in places such as a cane field doing hard physical labor to be paid $8 a day when a relative from the States will send them money for doing nothing.  It is easier to stay home.  There is no motivation for working.  The money sent back to Salvadorans is sent to individuals, not to support communities or community projects.

My reality right now is with my wife and three children.  Norma works for Living Water as a social worker.  She is studying for her Master’s degree in that field.  We have been married for seventeen years.  Our daughters are our priority.

What I like best about El Salvador are its friendly, hospitable people especially in the rural areas.  These folks will never be rich from an economic standpoint.  They are unreachable by the government.  My work takes me out into these rural areas, and I like it there.

I see Living Water going into the WASH program that Nicaragua has begun.  This stands for water, sanitation, and hygiene.  All three of these areas are highly inter-dependent on one another.  It will be a new frontier for us and will be exciting to watch develop.

All my siblings live in the U.S. now.  We frequently Skype, and they return here to El Salvador every year.  I am grateful they do this and we can stay connected, since I am unable to visit them in the States.   We are able to maintain that family unity our dad taught us early in life.

I don’t think my moral consciousness really developed until I became a father.   At that point I was reminded of my own dad’s example and have tried to live by those same high standards he emphasized with all nine of us kids:  a good work ethic, family attachment including protecting one another, valuing education, and living with the reality of your country.


    Afflicted with Hope / is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.