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Small Victories Victory Outreach Tries To Right The Lives Of Addicts And Criminals With A Mix Of Religion And Discipline

Sun., March 29, 1998

Drugs brought Alvin Moreno to Spokane.

The 37-year-old recovering heroin addict visited six U.S. cities before selecting Spokane as home for his Victory Outreach church.

He knew he’d found his calling when he saw gangs and drug users trading crack and heroin in Spokane’s low-income neighborhoods.

“You have all the evidence here of drugs and gangs starting to come in,” Moreno said of Spokane. “Gang members … wanted to know who we were. They thought we were trying to move into their area.”

In a way, Moreno said, they were right.

Victory Outreach, an international street ministry with more than 200 churches worldwide, uses reformed drug addicts and gang members to get its message out. The independent organization bases its religious doctrine on the teachings of the Assemblies of God church.

“We’re not a mission, we’re a church,” said Moreno, who is not an ordained minister. “We try any method we can to help people.”

Founded by former heroin addict Sonny Arguinzoni in 1967 as Victory Temple, the nonprofit organization focuses on getting street people connected to God. In return, the church asks for help recruiting new members.

There are 16 men and women living in the Spokane church, a rundown former nursing home at 3011 E. Wellesley.

Members live a disciplined life. They sleep on flimsy, cot-like beds, wear hand-me-downs and eat donated food. A typical day starts at 5 a.m. and ends after 10 p.m. with prayer. They fight their own drug addictions without medical supervision or licensed counselors.

Anyone who joins is expected to stay at the church about nine months to get “grounded” in Christianity, said Moreno, a California native.

“Let God use you,” Moreno tells his flock. “We’ve got to get in there knee-deep, neck-deep.

“Conceive the vision in your heart and when you have the vision, you’ll run with it.”

Moreno was given a one-time stipend of $15,000 from Victory Outreach headquarters in La Puente, Calif., to begin the Spokane church. He’ll get no other financial help from the home office.

“Right now, God is here doing something in our hearts,” he said.

He admits, however, that what they really need is for God to put something in their pockets. Rent is $1,500 a month and no one at the church collects a regular paycheck. Ten percent of their income from working odd jobs is tithed to church headquarters. Moreno doesn’t draw a salary.

“Pastors go out with limited or no support,” said John Moore, a Victory Outreach International spokesman. “They grab their knapsack and they go out and that’s it.”

About 90 percent of the organization’s pastors are former addicts.

Moreno, a member of Victory Outreach for about 15 years, came to Spokane in 1996 from Fresno, Calif. He ran a small church from a rental house on West Indiana for about 18 months before opening the permanent North Side site in November.

Fonda Cosner, a 36-year-old recovering heroin addict and former prostitute from Yakima, runs the women’s program, which has three members.

Angry and dying from drugs and alcohol, Cosner said she found Spokane’s Victory Outreach in 1996. The church helped her put her life back together and she regained custody of her five children. She now tries to help prostitutes who work along East Sprague.

“I’ve torn up this town for the devil,” she said. “Now I’m tearing it up for Jesus.”

For Moreno, his worries go beyond the members of his church and their stability.

Like all Victory Outreach pastors, he raises his family among the people he’s trying to help.

“I try never to take my eyes off the boys,” Maria Moreno said about her two young sons. “You never know when you’re going to get a child molester in here.”

Despite her fears, she won’t rob her family of their ministerial calling.

“This is our life,” Maria Moreno said. “There’s always a risk.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color photos

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