Former Gang Member Finds Jesus In America

Franklin Rivas Hodge, a former gang member turned dedicated Christian, says God drew him out of deep misery and lead him through a change beyond his wildest dreams.

The 25-year-old says he suffered from numerous dark and painful situations during his youth and adolescence because he was born into a town in El Salvador where high crime and gang violence were the norm

He was abandoned by his parents as a baby and left to live with family members who sexually molested him beginning at the age of three and continued for many years

He witnessed countless people he loved murdered in front of his eyes. He also saw friends he played with as a boy kidnapped from their front yards.

His adolescence could be described in one word: darkness.

Feeling as though he had no support or true love in life, he began to look for both in all the wrong places.

“At age 9, I joined a gang in El Salvador,” he told The Christian Post in a recent interview.

“I saw that they were united. I saw that they had power. I saw that they had money. I saw that people were afraid of them and that they were respected in a way, and all that seemed really appealing.”

Hodge was a gang member for almost a decade. He was apprehended with illegal weapons and substances on many occasions. As a result, he was in and out of prison for many years.

Running away on foot

Hodge stated that as time passed, conditions in El Salvador became darker and more frightening. As he remained in the group, he began to worry for his life.

At the age of 16, Hodge escaped El Salvador with a couple of his pals to avoid danger. They walked together to the United States for safety.

“I crossed the borders of El Salvador and Guatemala, Guatemala and Mexico and Mexico and then to the U.S. by foot. I crossed rivers swimming. From the moment that I left my hometown, I was on a bus, and then the bus stopped near the river, and I had to get out and swim across the river. And then, I was always getting into trucks, jumping off trucks, walking, hiking mountains, or swimming in rivers or walking through the forest or running. Every day I was either walking, I was running, or jumping into trucks and jumping out of trucks.”

He believed the travel took around a month and a half, though he acknowledged to having difficulties remembering the actual time

“We had men that were helping us along the way and leading us. When we got to Guatemala, we had someone lead us through Guatemala. We had somebody else lead us through parts of Mexico,” he said.

“There were times when they just threw us in the forest, and they were like, ‘Alright, you’re supposed to go this direction.’ And we had to just go. We would just start walking, and we would walk for literally five to six hours without knowing if we were even walking in the right direction or not. We didn’t have water or food.”

“I’m here. I’m in the U.S. now. So I was walking in the right direction. But, in the moment, it was like, ‘I don’t even know where I’m going to go.'”

When he arrived in the United States, immigration officials detained him in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was placed in a foster care facility in Dallas, Texas, due to his underage status, because he had no living parents to return home.

Hodge’s first foster parents were Catholic but not extremely religious. While they showed him love and care, he struggled to accept it because he had never known genuine familial attachment.

Afraid of how to love or be loved

Hodge ran away from his foster family in 2014 and became absent for five months. When he was discovered, he was put with a devout Christian family.

“From the moment that I met them, I knew there was something different about these people. I had come across so many people of all kinds. But, these people are the first ones that I got, and I was like, ‘OK, they are different,’ And I was wondering why,” Hodge recalled.

“It was because of the Gospel. They believed the Gospel. They knew the Gospel. They lived out the Gospel. And so, from the moment that they took me in, they took me to church. I didn’t understand the language, but they still took me to church,” he added.

The family also taught him about the importance of the dinner table as a hallowed location for family members to congregate, speak, and bond. He was struck by their persistent Christian practices, such as praying before meals.

“They would always pray. They would do all the things that we do as Christians, that I do as a Christian now. But, at that time, I didn’t know any of those things,” Hodge said.

“They were the ones that introduced me to the Gospel. And that was the cool thing about it. Because we didn’t even speak the same language. And that’s what the Gospel is about. We should live the Gospel to the point where from the moment that we come into any room people should notice that we’re different because we are a temple of the Holy Spirit,” he continued.

“The family just lived it. They didn’t need words to show me what God did for me. They just knew it. They took me to church all the time.”

Believing but not fully accepting Christ

Hodge started high school in 2019, when he was 20 years old, thanks to his foster family. As an adult attending a school for teenagers, he felt out of place and frequently got into fights, battling the rage from his tragic background.

Hodge believed he had reached his lowest point one evening, when he was overcome by his emotions and burst into tears. They walked him through a sinner’s prayer with the help of his foster family. Hodge welcomed Jesus Christ into his life on that day.

“I was in the living room, and I was in tears. I literally hit rock bottom at that time. And they shared the Gospel with me. I was broken. I needed help and everything, and I ended up accepting the Gospel in 2019. I got on my knees and prayed to accept Him,” Hodge said.

Even with this spiritual acceptance, Hodge admitted that it was difficult for him to fully trust God. His prior traumas had made him distrustful, making it impossible for him to trust anyone, especially God.

Partying for money, fame, and sex

Hodge discovered his niche on the competitive fighting squad in high school. He realized his innate skill in combat sports, which allowed him to graduate a year ahead of schedule.

A professional MMA team from Colorado afterwards scouted him.

“I moved to Colorado for a while and I began kind of like a career as a professional MMA fighter and that’s kind of where I would say I started drifting away in my life because of money. Like I started making money. Fame started coming into my life. I was recognized in places that I went to,” Hodge said.

“It was a weird transition. Literally coming from a background where I literally had nothing. I mean, I went days without eating and to get my food I sometimes had to literally go and kill wild animals and cut them up to eat and survive,” he continued.

“I went through all that, came here, went to a family, and I started being taught how to be in a family. Then, I graduated high school, and I’m introduced to this world of money and fame and kind of getting what I wanted.”

This newfound fame, however, rekindled old vices he’d been exposed to since he was 9 — indulging in relationships, smoking and frequent partying.

“I started living for people. I started seeing how other MMA fighters would act, and I adapted those behaviors and lived that way,” he said.

Between 2017 and 2020, Hodge was deeply immersed in the MMA world, sidelining his faith. At the same time, he grappled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the extensive abuse he had experienced from a young age. He wrestled with depression, anxiety, bitterness and an inability to forgive those who wronged him, including his parents and the relatives who abused him in El Salvador.

“I was spending literally weeks at a time not being able to sleep because of my PTSD. That’s when I got to a point where I started doing dumb things. I started mistreating my [foster] parents and stealing money from them. Even though I was making money but, I was stealing money from my parents to help my people back in El Salvador,” Hodge recalled.

Finding God again 

In late 2019, Hodge confessed to his foster parents about stealing, but they responded with compassion. They showed him the Gospel and loved him, even though they knew he was stealing. Hodge was ready for rejection, but his mother shared the Gospel with him, and he accepted it. This experience shaped Hodge’s understanding of the importance of love and the love of God.


Embracing God’s healing 

Hodge, a former foster parent, has reconnected with his biological mother and established an online ministry. He completed a year-long evangelistic seminary course and is now training to be a commercial pilot. He plans to marry Meghan, whom he calls a gift from God’s blessings, on August 19.

“Jesus changed my life,” he said. “Now, all I want to do is to dedicate my time to sharing the Gospel literally anywhere: in coffee shops, where I go eat or in the streets or with people that I interact with and with different juveniles and in the prison systems.”

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