Jimmy Badillo is a full-time project coordinator with Cru® Inner City — an affiliate of Hope for New York that partners with local churches in low-income neighborhoods to provide resources like food, clothing, and youth programs.
Below, Jimmy shares his story of how God worked through Boxes of Love®, a Cru outreach, when he was homeless to show him that He was still there, even in the hard times.
I was born in the Bronx and raised in the Lower East Side. I'm the youngest of six. My family is from Puerto Rico, and we struggled with the things most immigrant families do — like lack of education and language barriers. My dad was gone a lot, working and trying to provide for us. When he was around, he was very militant and structured. It made us kind of rough and tough, so my siblings and I pretty much raised ourselves.
But even with five siblings, I felt alone. I grew up knowing that my dad didn't want me. When he and my mom started raising a family, they had four boys. When my dad finally had a daughter, my older sister, he said he didn't want anymore children. Then my mom got pregnant with me and dad got abusive. He did anything he could to abort the baby my mother was carrying. I almost died on the table, and the nurses called my birth a miracle.
So, I grew up feeling neglected, bitter, and angry. Since I felt like I wasn't getting love from the home, I got it from the streets. When I got older, my dad gave me an ultimatum because of my reckless behavior. I could either live by his rules or go into the army. I chose the army, but that experience made me angrier, and as a licensed weapons specialist, I started messing around with guns and ended up in prison for two years.
When I got out, I tried to do the right thing. I got married and had three children. I thought that was going to somehow fill a void in me. But when things got rough, I went back to what I knew best, which was the streets. I was living recklessly — doing drugs, trafficking drugs, robbing and stealing. I got really scary for other people. I had no hope.
On September 18, 2002, I was arrested. The state said I was a menace to society and sentenced me to 15-30 years in a state prison. I was 37 years old, and it felt like my life was ending.
But prison is where God began planting seeds in me. It started with Mrs. B, a nurse who would walk the hallways and speak the gospel to me. Then, one day I went to the church service to get out of my cell and they showed The Passion of the Christ. It did something to me. I went back to my cell and started crying. I felt so sorry and humbled for what I'd been doing. This guy didn't even know me and He gave himself for me? It made me want to know more about this man they call Jesus and why He did what He did. I even remember praying, "God, if you allow me to leave here, I will serve you 'til my last breath."
Two months later, I got a letter saying the state was revising my sentence. On May 2, 2005, after three-and-a-half years, they released me to my brother-in-law and my sister's care. That Sunday, I went to church with them. The people there prayed for me. That's all it took. I found myself bowing down, crying. I knew I needed Him, and I wanted to know more about God.
Although God started revealing Himself to me, those baby steps of faith were hard. It felt like walking through the desert for my own 40 days. I had no education. My son and I were living in a shelter. Life was still tough.
On Thanksgiving that year, I went back to my sister's church, mostly because they were giving out food and I was hungry. I didn't know it at the time, but the church had a partnership with The Inner City Ministry of Cru and was giving out Boxes of Love, which are boxes full of food for Thanksgiving. I got one and took it back to the shelter.
As my son and I were eating, I started reading the materials in the box. I broke down when I realized that someone out there loved me — not just the people, but Jesus. Through people, God was showing me that He was still there, even in my hard times. That He was the only One who could fill that void I'd been trying to fill my whole life. After that, I just started growing in the Lord.
It wasn't until four years later, in 2009, when my pastor asked me to go to a Boxes of Love training at Cru that I realized where my box had come from — and I've been volunteering with Cru ever since. Today, I'm a full-time staff member with Cru as project coordinator, and I love what I do, because it's not about me. There are so many Jimmys out there, and I want to do whatever God calls me to do to be able to reach them and keep spreading the love of Christ the way others did for me.
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