January 1, 2015

The Place of Full Surrender

The home I grew up in was a Christian home. My father was and still is a pastor, so I went to church for as far back as I can remember. However, as a child I loved playing with my friends who were not from Christian homes. It seemed to me that life in their households was not as limited; my mom and dad did not allow me to do everything the other kids were doing, and church attendance was a requirement.

We had special meeting campaigns regularly in the Dominican Republic, and often a pastor from another location would visit. Since my mom knew them all, she would have the visiting pastor pray with me for salvation. I would say the prayer, asking for forgiveness, but never sincerely from my heart. This happened many times, year after year, without me receiving salvation.

My desire for the things of the world only grew. I would fight my parents about going to church, and by the time we got there I would be angry. The Christian lifestyle felt extremely restrictive to me. It wasn’t that I wanted to do terrible things; I just wanted to spend my time with my friends, doing what we wanted to do. Often I wished to stay home and watch something on television instead of going to church—because it seemed that without fail, the best movies, shows, and sporting events were always during church. At age twelve, my attitude became even stronger. I didn’t want any part of church, and my conflict with my father escalated.

I am the fourth of five sons, and I was the only one who was resistant to the Gospel. My father told us that in his house, we were all going to be Christians. One day he had a meeting with me and said, “While you live under my roof, you must go to church; that is my rule. Now you must make a decision and tell me what you are going to do so I can decide what I am going to do.” I agreed to go to church, but in my mind I planned to just put up with his rules until age eighteen, and after that move out and do what I wanted.

During that time, I started experiencing deep depression. There was an emptiness inside of me which caused me to cry a lot. My mother would ask me what was wrong and then say, “You need God.” I didn’t want to accept that answer, although now I know she was right: the way I was feeling was caused by the Spirit of God convicting me of my sins. I needed to repent, but I told myself the sadness was because no one in my home loved me. That was not true; my parents really did love me. It was not the love of family I needed—it was God.

When I stood up, I thought I was going to fall down because I didn’t feel the ground below me—it felt like I was walking on air.

At age twelve I went to our Thanksgiving service and sang the hymns and listened to the message as usual. When the preacher finished, I knelt during the prayer time. Though not expecting to give my life to God, at that moment the Holy Spirit came and powerfully convicted me of my sins. I felt such a need for God! After crying out to God from noon until 2:30 in the afternoon, He saved me! When I stood up, I thought I was going to fall down because I didn’t feel the ground below me—it felt like I was walking on air. Even though I hadn’t been doing anything so very evil, I knew I had been a sinner and that God had forgiven me. And afterward, there was a change in my life.

Because my father was a pastor, I knew very well the price a person pays to be in full-time ministry. While I was still at home, my father resigned from his place of employment because he felt that he could not do his secular job and simultaneously fulfill his responsibilities in the ministry. Thank God, my mom was able to start working then. She had decided to go back to school after she had her children, and it was God’s plan for my father to stop working just as my mother finished school and started working. I didn’t understand what was happening, and I remember thinking, Why isn’t Dad going to work? This is not good—we’re going to have less money! But it was God’s plan. My father had a study room where he would spend hours and even entire days reading the Bible and praying. He had always been that way; even before he quit working he spent a lot of time in his room. After resigning he was there even more—sometimes ten or twelve hours at once. It made me think that anyone involved in the ministry could not have a social life. I was also discouraged by the way some of the congregants treated my father as their pastor. My father is someone who is faithful to God, not men. I saw some people who were not supportive of him and caused conflicts in the church. That would upset me, and it made me reluctant to be involved in full-time ministry, but very soon God put that call on my life.

The first time God spoke to me about the ministry was at a funeral when I was fifteen. I understood that to be used of God in a powerful way, a person must be deeply consecrated and live in close communion with Him. That would require much prayer and fasting, and I did not want that for my life. However, I also did not want to leave the Gospel. I just wanted to be a Christian and be faithful to God, but not be involved in ministry. I wanted to participate at church without a real commitment. So my answer to God was no, but from that time on He continued calling me.

At college I met a girl named Leidy who was not a Christian. I invited her to church many times, as I did all of my classmates, and eventually she came and was saved. Then God brought us together. After we married, we lived in the capital city, Santo Domingo, where she had grown up. We attended the Apostolic Faith Church in that city. I had participated in some activities in my home church, but in Santo Domingo, God started to use me more. Because of my upbringing, I knew a lot about church work—much more than just the areas in which I had been actively involved. I realized that in order to participate effectively, I needed more of God, so I began seeking the deeper experiences of sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. As I consecrated my life to God, He sanctified me!

Then even more responsibilities came to me at church, and I knew I needed to consecrate my life more deeply to God. I started to seriously seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, because it felt wrong to tell the youth that they needed to have all three Christian experiences when I was lacking my baptism. I started praying earnestly for that experience, and at special meetings in Santo Domingo, God filled me. Finally I could testify that yes, God had saved, sanctified, and baptized me with the Holy Spirit!

My goal was to become a person of renown—a professor at the international level—and I was setting myself up to do just that.

However, after receiving the baptism, my commitments at church became less. Eventually I was working three jobs—as a private practice dentist, a university professor, and in a security position at the airport. My wife and I had two sons and a daughter, and in order to advance in my profession, I also began taking classes to earn a post-graduate degree. The Lord was still with us and was doing wonderful things for us, but when He laid it on my heart to enter into full-time ministry, I decided not to accept His call in order to pursue my career. My position at the university was going very well; I had achieved the second highest rank of vice-director. I had made connections with many influential people in the Dominican Republic and was involved in important meetings and discussions. My goal was to become a person of renown—a professor at the international level—and I was setting myself up to do just that. I did not want to leave the Gospel, but I could not achieve my professional goals and also do the Lord’s work full time.

Although my intention was to choose my career over the ministry, God stopped me. My dentistry practice came to a halt, to the point that I did not have a single appointment for weeks in a row. God was speaking to my heart powerfully, making it clear that I could either do what He was telling me to do or be on my own, without His blessing in my life. Finally I yielded and accepted His call to full-time ministry. After that, everything changed. I resigned from my jobs at the university and the airport and dropped out of the post-graduate degree program. My colleagues at the university didn’t understand my decision and I did not fully understand God’s plan either. I simply told them, “God knows what He is doing, and I am going to accept His call.” I resigned, left everything that had been so important to me, and surrendered myself to the Lord.

God already had everything prepared for my future. One year after my resignation, I was surprised when our District Superintendent called and said he wanted me to be a pastor. I was not expecting that to happen so soon, but God had planned it in advance. I had already been working in evangelistic outreaches and holding outdoor meetings, and then God entrusted me with the call to serve in a very poor area of Santo Domingo. This location had a reputation for broken and fatherless homes, homosexuality, drug addiction, and murders. People sell drugs there like candy. And that is where God called me. Many people told me not to go and that I would not make it there, but I accepted the call because I knew God’s power is great and He can change things. At first it was too dangerous for my wife and children to come with me, but God helped me. We rented a building for services and began to work with the local children, and we started to see God change lives in the neighborhood. My family eventually moved there too, and lNow we all participate in church activities.

When I was a child, I used to hear pastors say that God could set free people who were drunk and addicted to drugs, so that when they finished praying they did not even smell like the drugs or alcohol anymore. Yet I had never witnessed such a miracle myself. That changed one night when I decided to hold a meeting in the street. We set up the chairs in front of the church and did the whole service outside. At the end of the message, when I gave the invitation, “Who wants to receive Christ?” one man responded. He had long dirty hair, was completely filthy, and wore old tattered shoes. He smelled like drugs and alcohol, and he said he wanted to give his life to Christ.

At that moment I honestly wondered what I should do with him, because I’d never been in a situation like that before. But we just told him, “Let’s go inside the church.” We prayed a long time with him, and the Lord saved him! When we finished praying, he didn’t smell like alcohol or drugs, and he was in his right mind. At that moment, my experience in ministry was no longer just what I had heard from my parents and what I had seen at church, but God was starting to use me for His work. We have seen the Lord do this for several others since then, as well as free people who were demon possessed.

My life changed when I accepted God’s will for me. The neighborhood where we serve has changed a lot, and today we have over one hundred children in church regularly. The first ones who came to God are now young people participating in the work. God is real, He does not change, and He is looking for people who are willing to do His will and accept His call. And when He calls, He backs you up. He said to Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). I have believed in that promise, and God has been with me even until this day. There is much more to do, and if Jesus tarries, we will continue doing His work.

apostolic faith magazine