Nathanael Velez was just six years old when he was first exposed to online pornography. It certainly doesn’t define the Illinois native, but Velez admits it is noteworthy in that it started him on a dark, dangerous path that would stay rocky for another eight years. He was raised as an Adventist and describes himself as active in the faith.
“I want to be clear,” insists Nathaniel. “This is not a bad reflection on my family, church, or school. . . The bottom line,” he says, “[is that] Satan attacks all of us.”
He admits he got addicted to porn and has struggled with mental health issues. “I wasn’t quite suicidal and don’t believe I was clinically depressed, but I was heavily saddened.” And that was unusual, even unnerving for the self-defined extrovert. “I was worried for the person I was becoming,” he says.
The 19-year-old is open and passionate about his journey — not because it’s unusual, but because it’s more common in the church than some may realize. He urges, “We, as Adventists, need to be honest and open about these things.”
Today, he is a sophomore at the University of Chicago, majoring in Philosophy, and continues to be active in campus ministry (as he was in his public high school), currently as a chapter leader with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Nathanael says his involvement and vision in ministry, along with his healing, was only possible when he finally let God in. He describes how Christ used a caring, committed youth pastor, his own academic interests, and especially the Word to reveal a new path of surrender and responsibility. To this day, Psalm 31 and Proverbs 10 hold a special place in his heart.
He admits he still has his struggles, but his former addiction and sadness are not paths he’s trapped on anymore. “It’s present, but I can walk through,” he says. “It’s not keeping me from God — it’s pushing me to Him.”
Nathanael hopes his story inspires others, not only to turn to God and step out of one’s comfort zone, but also to make long-term, intentional efforts to mentor a young person. He’s convinced it’s what got him over some of his toughest trials.