“I lived to work. Work had my complete attention," says Aurelio Barreto.
The former millionaire, current author and clothing designer appeared to have everything, but was lost inside.
Fleeing Cuba in 1967 when he was 7-years-old, Aurelio’s family came to the United States in pursuit of the American dream.
"I lost my country as a child and grew up poor,” Aurelio says.
His father’s infatuation with success influenced Aurelio to make a vow that by age 30 he would be a millionaire.
Aurelio thought, If I could make a million dollars, I would be happy. I’d be complete.
It didn’t work.
On his 37th birthday, Aurelio couldn’t even get out of bed.
“I was gripped with fear,” he says. “I didn’t know who I was.”
Aurelio had a million dollars in the bank and was still unhappy.
“It didn’t buy me the peace I’d hoped,” he says.
He was depressed, anxious and his marriage was on the rocks. His outward appearance looked great, but he was dying inside.
“Nobody ever asked how I was doing,” he says. “I was like dead man’s bones. I was dying.”
“I had a great sense of need for something greater,” he says.
He and his wife were large financial donors at their children’s Christian school. But the principal, Randy Thompson noticed something awry in Aurelio’s life.
One day, Randy pulled him aside and said, “Aurelio, I get the sense that something is missing from your life.” Randy proceeded to explain the gospel to Aurelio.
“I was a works-type person,” he says. “I wanted to write a check, give more, donate more.”
Randy asked, “Do you think you can buy your way into heaven, Aurelio? It’s about faith!”
“What’s faith?” Aurelio asked.
Randy explained that faith is believing Jesus is the way, truth and life; the only way to heaven.
“I knew I wasn’t perfect,” Aurelio says, “but when Randy told me the penalty of sin was hell, I knew it was truth. I realized the things I was doing weren’t going to get me into heaven.”
After giving his life to the Lord, Aurelio’s depression decreased. Randy began meeting with him to pray and read the Bible.
Aurelio couldn’t get enough of God’s Word. He would read it throughout the day and listen to sermons on the radio. His life began to change from a self-centered life to a God-centered life.
“I began to experience the peace I never had before,” he says.
Aurelio began praying God would use his gifts and talents for God’s His glory.
In December of 1999, he stumbled upon a small Christian store. That night, God gave him the vision to tell others about the gospel message of grace, truth and love found in Jesus.
“I felt the Lord speaking to me about opening stores for youth,” he says. There were thousands of Christian stores, but none for youth.
After much prayer he chose the name C28, based on Colossians 2:8 that talks about focusing on Christ instead of things in the world.
He decided to put C28 in a mall because malls receive millions of visitors each year. In April 2001 the first C28 store opened at Tyler Mall in Riverside, California.
Set up to attract teens and youth with edgy, screen-print graphic T-shirts, C28 stores resemble something between a Hot Topic and a Pacific Sunwear. Striving to reach the unreachable and love the unlovable, C28 wants people to know there is an alternative to things of this world.
“We want people to realize there are answers in this life and hope for a tomorrow,” Aurelio says.
The stores are careful to hire people who are comfortable praying with customers and can explain the gospel message. Many people come to C28 stores to pray.
“We encourage employees to be discerning about how to approach people,” Aurelio says.
Many mall employees visit C28 during their break, asking for prayer.
Young people like burn victims, pornography addicts, Satanists and drug users also frequent the stores, many inquiring, "Is this the store that prays for people?”
“Whatever we do inside the store is allowed,” Aurelio says. “We’re not allowed to pray with people or share the gospel outside the store. It’s in our contract.”
Since the first store opened, more than 16,800 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
C28 stores also help connect people with local churches and introduce younger kids to youth groups or Bible studies.
C28 now has 8 company stores, 3 franchise stores, Not Of This World clothing, Canvas Threads Christian clothing and C28.com for online shopping. C28 stores can be found in more than 15 cities in California and Virginia.
When a purchase is made, the customer chooses one of 3 ministries to direct a donation from C28. Cru is one of the options.
“I have friends who are in the ministry and people we support financially,” Aurelio says. “I want to help these ministries because they are doing great things for God.”
There have been many challenges, but with God's strength and direction Aurelio and his family persevere.
“Anytime I begin to worry or place my trust in other things, it’s a great reminder that I’m not trusting the Lord,” Aurelio says. “I must continually put Him back on the throne.”
For more information visit www.c28.com.
If you are reading this and for some reason you hate God, and you feel alone, know that He is constantly loving you. He will turn the situation around. Therefore, choose God as He chooses you.
It could be said that I grew up in the church, however, my heart was not entirely in it.
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