At A Glance
January 19, 2010, New York, NY

After two sets of twins and a divorce, Myrna sought solace with her family. But she found little comfort at home: she fell prey to the family’s drug dealing business and lost 27 years of her life to heroin addiction. Three years ago, at the age of 51, she fell to her knees and felt the Lord’s loving embrace. She discusses the effects of her baptism on her ravaged body, her repentance process and the effect her conversion has had on her children.

You joined the Church three years ago. What prompted you to search for a church?

I was in a desperate moment in my life. I felt a lot of pain about the life I had led: 27 years in addictions. Many drug addictions, mostly heroin. I came to a point in my life when I cried out to God very loudly. I had never prayed before. I never remember praying since the age of 11. And I was 51 years old and I just kneeled down and asked God to help me. That was the moment for me. What people say is like lightning, the moment when God started to help me. It was an amazing moment.

I had been incarcerated and I was on probation. I had been in prison fourteen years before as well. But the life of drug addictions continued. The only thing that kept me sane was my six children and knowing they were mine.

I decided I wanted to know: What is religion? What is God? What people talked about: Jesus, Jesus… It was something I didn’t understand. I started reading the Bible. It was an amazing, spiritual journey.

Some of my children are members of the Church because my sister is a member and she took them to church when they were little and I was gone. But some have struggled with drugs and are not members. I never taught my children how to seek, how to reach out for God, or how to pray. It wasn’t on my agenda. It wasn’t the life that I knew. I did not know. How can you teach your children something you do not know? The children who are members of the Church, their lives totally changed for the good. They are righteous people, doing good in their communities, doing good things.

They were all so happy when they found out I got baptized. I did not call them to tell them until after I was baptized. I didn’t tell them because I felt it was something between me and the Lord. The life that I lived… I lived a life of feeling so evil, so sinful, that I had no right to even look to the heavens. That’s the life I lived. So I never mentioned God or thought about our Father in Heaven. I felt so alone. And that’s all that that life offers. The negative side of everything: everyone has an agenda, religions have an agenda and are mostly political… These were my thoughts. This was what I believed.

I was searching for two months. I was searching for something I knew was there but that I didn’t understand. I was getting promptings during those two months, but I didn’t know they were promptings. When you live a life in the world… you’re alive, but you feel like you’re dying, but not able to die… So these promptings and this searching was so different. It was like, I’m finally alive! The feelings I was having during that time were real, but if I told anybody I was feeling those things, they would say, This woman is crazy! There was a voice and I knew it was my Father in Heaven. And I just kneeled down and curled up and said, “You’re talking to me! Letting me know you love me!” This was amazing.

There was a voice and I knew it was my Father in Heaven. And I just kneeled down and curled up and said, “You’re talking to me! Letting me know you love me!” This was amazing.

During the two months I was searching I was going to different ministries and churches, which was totally new for me because before that I did not go in a church building for forty years. I stayed away from everything that had to do with religion.

I did not immediately investigate the Mormon church right away when I started this searching process, even though that’s the church my children and my sisters belonged to. I just went to the churches and I felt. Everywhere I went as I was searching, a voice came to me and said, “No, you’re not joining this one.” I just went with it. I was being taught by the Spirit but I could not understand why. I could hear this voice inside of me saying those churches weren’t for me. It wasn’t because those churches didn’t have righteous people or a desire to worship, it was just that I could see so clearly what was truth.

I was taking a martial arts class in one of the LDS buildings in the Bronx that my sister invited me to. My sister had become inactive but she still went to the martial arts classes in her ward building. For years she had invited me and I finally decided to do it. During this time I was observing and learning about religions, I used to see the missionaries at the classes and I saw them teaching people lessons. One day I was walking down the street and I saw the missionaries. I ran up to one and grabbed his shoulder and pointed to his name badge and I said, “I just want to know how I can get baptized in that church.” Of course they were so excited and the next day they were knocking on my door.

What was the repentance process like for you? Did you feel like you were able to start over in your life after you were baptized?

The repentance process started before my baptism. I took all of the missionary lessons, they invited me to church and I went. I was excited, and I was looking around and I thought, “They are so happy, these people.” I wanted to continue to feel the way I was feeling at the church, which was totally different from the way I lived. It was different from the way I had felt in the other churches. I was very honest with the missionaries. I told them I had drug addictions and I was on a methadone [drug recovery] program and before my baptism, the stake president came to my house and I told him the same thing: “I am on probation and I have one more year of probation. I’m on a methadone program.” I was as honest as I could be. I wanted a different life so I needed to be honest.

My repentance process… I was like, What do I need to repent of? I did not understand that. In the life I lived, there were so many experiences I had that were so shocking that I always thought, All these horrible things have been done to me. What do I have to repent of? I couldn’t understand it.

I was 29 when I started taking drugs. I felt like I was cheated. I was the victim. I had been cheated out of my life. No one wants to be a drug dealer or a prisoner. Everybody has hopes. I had hopes.

After I had two sets of twins my husband left me and I was alone. I felt like everything I tried to do — education, work — something always knocked me down. I had no more strength. I fell into depression. I thought it would be the best thing to go where my family was, in New Jersey, but my brother was a drug dealer. So that’s how I became involved. I wasn’t always that way. Before that I was in the academy to train to become a police officer. So drugs were a big change for me. Changes happened in my life that turned everything around, and I just lost myself. All my thoughts, all my desires. I felt hopeless, and I reached out for family and they weren’t there for me. That’s why I didn’t think I needed to repent.

Did your attitude about repentance change as you approached your baptism?

During those weeks of searching and praying for a church, the Lord was teaching me. He was teaching me how to fast — I didn’t even know what that was! — and He was teaching me how to speak to Him, what to say and how to ask Him. It was spiritual journey because He put into my thoughts the life I had lived. It was like a movie of my life running through my head.

To repent, I asked, “Please show me. I do not understand this.” And He did: All my kids came to my thoughts. And I thought, I have harmed them so much! I just cried and cried. I said, “God, please help me to change this part of my life so I can make amends.” He showed me so much love in those small moments. I felt like I was being embraced. He showed me His love! I couldn’t explain it to anybody, but I didn’t care. It was for me, it was mine.

I started remembering so many things and I started calling my children and having conversations with them and telling them how much I loved them and that I was so sorry for the life that I had brought to them. We’ve always been very close, my children and I, but it was so hard for them to have so much of my life in drugs and not in them. Before my baptism, we talked about the love we have for each other. It was very intense.

What did it feel like to be washed clean after spending so many years harming your body?

At the time I was taking the missionary lessons, I was on a methadone program to help me stop the life I had been in, but I wanted to be done with it. The methadone was just another medication… more drugs inside me. I just wanted to walk away from that life and have everything off of me. I didn’t want any more drugs in my body, even from the methodone program. I just wanted to stop.

My body felt so uncomfortable, while the drugs were leaving my body, cause I was going down really fast. I heard a voice inside me saying, “You have to finish this.” The Lord reminded me of all the times that I had thought I could do it alone and had gotten off the program before and then had just gone back to doing another drug… I thought, Wow, I’ve never finished anything I have started. Education… My children… So many things I have started… And this came so clearly to me. “You have to finish.” So I stayed in the program.

It was hard. Before my baptism, there was one time when I was in the bath trying to get my body to feel better. I just said, “God, please take this away from me.” And He did. As soon as I said those words, something was lifted off my back. Someone pulled a string on my spine… I had no desire to do any drugs, no pains, no aches… And when I got baptized I was clean: I had no methadone in my system, no drugs, I had a clean body. It was such an amazing thing when I went into the waters, I thought my feet went straight up! The missionaries said, “No, you went all the way under.” But I said, “Well, someone pulled me up cause my feet went straight up!” It was an amazing moment for me. I felt so light.

My conversion has helped my children. My son said, “Mom, you did it. You’re such an inspiration to me.” He’s been clean himself now for 10 months. And my daughter is doing so well too. I’m able to sit down and talk with her, not trying to convert her, just letting her know that I love her and that Heavenly Father loves her. He wants us all to be happy. I had my children in bondage, I had them tied up. But today is very different. My children who are members of the Church live good lives. They focus on their families. I think the cycle is broken.

At A Glance

Myrna Castellar

New York, NY


Marital status:

Six (Two sets of twins 34 and 36, 18 and 13 year old)

Disabled and work part time (cleaning, baby sitting and cutting hair), doing service at various community centers and a local hospital

Convert to Church?
November 19, 2006 (My oldest children turned 33 on the day of my baptism. This means so much to me yet I don’t understand why.)

Schools Attended:
Puerto Rico (elementary), NJ (elementary), NY (junior and high schools), NY (Hostos Community College-not finished)

Languages Spoken at Home:
English and Spanish

Favorite Hymn:
“Lord I Would Follow Thee”

Current Church Calling:
I teach the Nursery children which is a great honor for me. In reality they are the ones teaching me! I’m also a facilitator for the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program. There is great need for this program in the Church especially with drug and other addictions. It’s good to know we are not alone fighting these battles. I volunteer at the Distribution Center on Saturdays were I have made many friends.

Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos used with permission.

At A Glance