By Richard Drebert
© Good Catch Publishing
Would the villagers kill to possess what Papa unearthed? The leathery-faced town elder made the sign of a cross, and leaned close to my father’s burly chest.
“I’ve seen the fire rising from our ancestors’ graves, Don Porfirio. The gold is buried with them at the foot of the giant pine tree!” He crossed himself again as the greedy villagers stepped aside for him to limp past.
A worried scowl crossed my father’s face as he started up the old bulldozer, and he noticed concern in my eyes too. “Its okay, Hijo (Son),” he reassured, but I wasn’t convinced.
The D-7’s dozer engine snarled to life, and the villagers shrank back as if its roar was an evil omen. My father hoisted himself up to the seat beside me, and I glanced at the men and women nervously holding pry bars, spades and shovels. Few villagers in the roadless tropics of southern Mexico had ever seen an earthmover, and they followed like a flock of cathedral pigeons as Don Porfirio eased toward the gravesite, unmarked except by a mystic’s vision of fire.
The mountain dwellers of Michoacan, Mexico, called my father el operador, the don with a bulldozer, who helped the farmers clear jungle for new pastures, and build roads for merchants to haul fruits and vegetables to market. Our family lived in a small town about 100 miles from Acapulco called Coalcoman, where a strange union of idols, fantasmas (evil spirits), and Catholic beliefs ruled our lives.
My mother was the spiritual matriarch of my family, with a thousand years of Spanish-Indio blood and superstitions guiding her heart. Papa had more Indioblood than Mama; he was from Oaxaca(pronounced Wahaka), and his ancestors were farmers and builders who fought the Aztecs and traded with the Mayans before the mid 15th century when Spain’s Conquistadors invaded.
Papa had purchased a home in Cualcoman, married a woman from a good Mexican family who bore him 10 children, and now he held a respectable position in his community. I was the oldest son in the family, and by 12 years old I was familiar with every gear and bolt that held Papa’s 1954 D-7 earthmover together. In the summertime I perched with him like a prince as he cleared the land – and slogged with him in the mud remounting thrown tracks or patching spurting hydraulic lines. Someday I would attend college in Mexico City to become a mechanical engineer, and then perhaps I too might be honored as “Don” Porfirio, el operador or el ingeniero (the engineer).
The roots of the upended tree reached into the air like a bruja’s (witch’s) gnarled fingers. The great pine lay exactly where Papa chose its collapse, and he was maneuvering the dozer blade to shove it to one side when several women yelped delightedly and disappeared into the gouged earth before the blade. Papa braked the rotating tracks when more villagers swarmed in, to frantically root in the soft earth and comb loam off burial trappings: broken shards of pottery, paper-thin rusty utensils, a rotting leather bag… and bones.
Suddenly terrified screams rose above the rumbling dozer; chills tickled my sweaty shoulders.
“Crotalos! Dios save us!”
I sprang up to peer over the heavy blade where villagers scrambled out of the cavity. At their feet dozens of rattlesnakes spewed from matted roots, coiling around the remains of the dead, slithering out of holes, and winding about our dozer tracks.
My father chuckled loudly and I doubt that the grave robbers heard: “Here’s your gold!” while a woman beheaded one rattler with a shovel; a man stoned another as it writhed; others stomped and shook out their clothes fearing a tiny stray might slither up a pant leg. Papa motioned me to sit, and levered forward, spinning tracks atop the evil incarnations, backward and forward, crushing again and again. Then he powered up his iron champion to an RPM suitable for lifting and shoving the tree with his blade. He resumed breaking a survey trail for the municipality, as if the whole event was all in a day’s work.
I loved camping with Papa after a day of running our dozer; with him I felt as safe as if I curled under my bed quilt at our brick home in Coalcoman. A billion friendly stars twinkled back at me as I lay on my back gazing upward from my sleeping roll, and the foothills of the Sierra Madres were alive with night sounds: a puma growled at our campfire from a rocky cleft; armadillos scrabbled through underbrush; jabali (wild pigs) rooted and grunted in muddy furrows; deer padded along trails to drink from creeks, and above us darting bats – splotches against a blue-black moonlit tapestry – banked and dove for insects. And along with the pungent blend of excavated earth and tropical smells, the tang of diesel wafted in the warm air as the old dozer rested weary iron, creaking, pinging, cooling.
Papa and I lay side by side, me positioned a little farther out from beneath the dozer so that I could experience the stars. The heavens above invited me to ponder who had framed them – and who had created me – and sometimes I spoke about these things with Papa – though he was a man weighted down with reality. He believed that “religion” chained his wife to superstitions – often in the night Mama moaned and gnashed her teeth in agony, haunted by something or someone who tormented her mind – and her unwavering faith in the Catholic Church never vanquished the evil spirits. What good was religion if it could not protect her?
“Why do you search the stars, Porfirio?”
“I want to be somewhere, way up there when I die, Papa,” My eyes were heavy with sleep, but my heart stretched light years beyond what I could see.
From deep in Papa’s troubled soul he breathed a sigh. “Don’t think about dying, Hijo – it will come soon enough.” Papa was the wisest man I knew, but I still hungered to know where I would go for eternity – I hoped that Mama’s church would guide me to the truth.
We knew we were damned when my best friend dared to open The Book, and I whispered the words aloud: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
George and his devout father maintained the Coalcoman Catholic Church, stocking the wine for communion, replacing candles, and completing other holy duties – but a Holy Bible found its way into George’s house through his brother, a heretic Methodist. I had never seen a Bible, except the gold-embossed sacred tome the priests read aloud during Mass. Touching the holiest of all books without the sanction of the Mexican Catholic Church was akin to blasphemy, but these secret words in Genesis made George and I hungrier than ever for “forbidden” knowledge.
At high school my teachers were meting out a contrasting view of the origin of man – evolutionary theory – so, as I grew older I set out to refute this heresy and embrace Mama’s religion, body and soul. When I was 16, during Lent (a 40-day period of prayer and fasting before Easter), I stole into the back pew of our Catholic Church everyday, determined to learn from my elders how to “find” God. But while keening over their rosaries, my selfish mentors mistook my passion for Truth as irreverence, and their scornful attitudes squashed my zeal. I stuck to my 40-day pledge, but angrily left my childhood Catholic faith in that candle-lit chamber full of muttering crones. In their examples I saw no mercy, no hope, no savior. If there was a God at all, He had rejected me, and I turned my back on God to study “partying” with school friends, easing my pain from the spiritual rebuff.
Bound In America
I stared down at the dark-haired woman beside me, combing through the previous week for a sober moment to jog my memory about why I was married! My mind was still a blur of flowing dresses and riotous dancing. Backslapping and brandy had flowed like water – intoxicating, like the older woman my mother had chosen for me. I was 17 years old, and in a drunken moment I had married Margarita, whom I knew for just one week. My new wife was the daughter of my mother’s close friend, a 23-year-old with one child, and she hoped to persuade me to come back to California with her. Papa wasn’t pleased, but Mama had bulldozed him into agreement – after all, Mama said they needed to find good Catholic spouses for all ten of their children.
George had been away visiting in Mexico City, and when I told him about Margarita, I thought he might hit me.
“Estupido!” His face reddened like a beet, and he clenched fists in frustration. “What about our plans, Porfirio? You barely know the woman. Why…?”
“It just happened – and you know how Mama is. I had to…”
“This changes everything, Amigo,” he said, and I knew he was right.
Margarita and I spent just two weeks together in Coalcoman before she left for her home in theU.S.I stayed in Mexico to finish six months of college, and after graduation I moved to Bakersfield, California, to begin my new confusing life as migrant worker and husband. I yearned to find satisfying work using the skills my father taught me, but my life revolved around my new Chicano family. In this strange country I wrestled with the English language, picked fruit, and partied heavier than ever while Margarita “schooled” me in living the American dream – including how to deal pot and cocaine. And though I was fenced in by our common language and customs, my father’s words rang like a church bell in my soul: “Hijo, whatever you do, I don’t want to hear that you use or sell drugs… if you do, you will shame me.” I honored my father, but shunning drugs was perceived as an insult to my wife and her family.
Mama swore that if I divorced Margarita, I was in danger of eternal fire – but in the fruit orchards around Bakersfield, I felt like I was already there. My back ached from loading wooden crates with plums in 119-degree heat, and I longed for the gentle tropical breezes of Mexico. A blistering bitterness against Margarita vexed my soul for forcing me to take on duties I was unprepared for, and it took over a year for me to glean enough English to travel so that I could leave my wife.
After weeks on the road, my bus pulled into Coalcoman – a slice of heaven on earth – where my mother tried to crush my happiness for “deserting” my dysfunctional California family. She lashed me with Catholic guilt, and I dutifully accepted the flaying like a candidate for sainthood – secretly rejoicing at my deliverance from California purgatory. I was home!
“Porfirio, I am having your baby…” George had been right – my decision to marry Margarita had changed “everything.”
Before I left California, I had blazed a trail for consequences to follow me back home. Margarita returned to Coalcoman to reclaim me, and in my small town, I had nowhere to hide. Prompted by my furious mother, I recommitted my life to the wife I despised, to my stepdaughter, and to my new baby girl. It was my destiny, my duty, and I determined that we would stay in Mexico. Little did I know that my nightmare was only beginning when my stepdaughter contracted an illness that required expensive treatments in my homeland.
I sat, head in my hands, after opening envelopes filled with bills from the hospital worth thousands of pesos. “Where will I get this kind of money?”
“Only in the United States, Porfirio…” Margarita said, and I knew she was right. We packed up and moved back to the U.S.A. In Bakersfield a friend gave us a ride to Wenatchee, Washington, the Apple Capital of the World, for the harvest season, and we moved into housing provided for the migrant workers. My goal was to find work as a heavy equipment operator, but as always in the States, my poor English and lack of proper papers banished me to working in the orchards. My Hispanic coworkers moved to warmer climes in California, but I decided to stay in Wenatchee for the pruning season.
I was 21 in 1978, when icy rime encrusted tractors and pruning tools, freezing all hope of any winter work for months. Like tropical birds blown off course in a storm, my family huddled in our trailer with our last food eaten. We were friendless, and I had been drinking with a new intensity, hating life more, and plotting an escape to Mexico again – when it occurred to me to pray… but I was embarrassed.
“God, I m not worthy to ask you for anything, but I have no food for my children. What am I going to do?”
The next day a couple from a local church rapped on our thin trailer door and left us three bags of groceries, along with a message: “Jesus love you,” and though I was too weighed down with depression to acknowledge it then, I knew that God had answered me. We survived for a few more weeks until the cold snap ended and pruning in the orchards began again.
Of Demons and Drink
“Porfirio! Where is the milk?”
I hated my wife for shaming me again. A large bottle of beer sat on our kitchen table like a grinning idol – alcohol so controlled my life that I had grabbed beer at the grocery store instead of milk for my children without realizing it. These days my pool hall amigos at the Monitor Bar saw more of me than my wife and daughters, and I often weaved a crooked path back home, drunk and tortured with guilt. My father would have been ashamed of me, but I believed that I had a good reason for drinking: Demonic creatures clamoring inside my dreams vanished when I sank into oblivion – at least until the next day.
One gloomy evening, while hellish voices taunted me, my old Monte Carlo lurched into a 4-mile straightaway between the small communities of Monitor and Wenatchee. Mountains of regret piled high in my soul until tears began overflowing into my lap.
Turn into the river, and end it. Kill yourself; you are not worthy to live…
The sneering voices were right, and I agreed with them aloud: “I am a failure. A drunk. I’m a bad husband and father and …”
I tensed my arms planning to steer headlong into the roiling Wenatchee River– but my car seemed locked to the road. I used all my strength to turn, but something or someone held the steering wheel steady. A surge of adrenaline revived my good sense.
“What am I doing?” I screamed, and slowed the car, trying to sort out my feelings: An evil power had tried to steal my life, and I barely resisted. My stomach retched as I realized that I struggled against the same demons that tormented my mother in Mexico!
Perhaps if I stop drinking, they might leave me, I reasoned, but even during my weeks of sobriety evil, accusing fingers clawed at my weary heart; I had fallen into my own grave, groped by dead men and coiling serpents… and the demons grew bolder when I resumed drinking. Emaciated leathery creatures hoisted me high above their heads in triumph, taunting me, nourished by my night terrors. A day after my 24th birthday, a bitter cold front gripped the Wenatchee Valley again, and God rescued me from suicide a second time.
I was heading home after partying; I had been listening to jeering, condemning voices for miles when the moonlit Wenatchee River suddenly glinted out my driver’s side window again. This time I romped on the accelerator, felt my tires thump the center median strips, and I dodged oncoming traffic as I crossed one freeway lane. My speedometer glowed 100 mph and I whispered, “God, forgive me, but I don’t deserve to live anymore…”
My car flashed across the lane nearest the steep riverbank and I closed my eyes, but a sub-zero chill engulfed my body – it seemed like the freezing Wenatchee River had sloshed into my face – and I lost my breath for an instant, instinctively jerking back to the road. I felt the median thumps again, and swerved back to my original lane, astonished at my timely second “deliverance.”
Power in Friendship
“I’m working at a chicken farm, Porfirio. I’m coming over…”
After college in Mexico City, my best friend, George, had accepted a job in Sunnydale, Washington, just a few hours from Wenatchee. I was overjoyed to see him, and after a long emotional embrace, he sat on our couch while I studied his face – this wasn’t the same George I knew back home. He was older, sure, but there was something else.
It was like we had never been apart as we reminisced, but during a pause in conversation he said, “I need to tell you something, brother.” George began to tell me about Jesus – how He loved me, and how he had save him and…
“No mas!” I jumped to my feet for another beer. “I don’t want to hear about all that stuff – anything but Jesus, man.”
A flash of the old George emerged for a few seconds – dependent, directionless – and a feeling of satisfaction stole over me; I still exerted my old power over him, like when we were teenagers. He took a deep breath and… smiled. The new (annoying) George was back. He stayed hours more as we talked about old times in Coalcoman, and finally he gathered up his coat.
Dread swept through me when I realized that darkness had fallen – the demons would be waiting for me to go to sleep. “Stay tonight, por favor,” I said, hoping that George couldn’t hear the shudder in my voice.
“No, no. Got work tomorrow. I’ll come back again.” I followed him outside as he stopped and turned to me. My old friend was crying.
“Barahona, I love you, man – and Jesus loves you.”
His words thudded against the door to my hard heart. “I wish,” I breathed wistfully, pretending not to notice the tears glistening on George’s cheeks in the porch light.
“He does.” There was an awkward silence.
“Hmm. That’s good…” I chuckled without humor, embarrassed; a single beam of God’s light had penetrated my soul, and I waved to George as he drove away. I needed a few drinks…
My life eroded further into a living hell after that night. I stayed drunk as much as possible, spending most of my time at bars in Monitor with other drunks. I was terrified to be alone, feeling powerless against the evil spirits that devoured my peace.
The springtime signaled an end to my marriage as Margarita made plans to leave me. “Porfirio, it’s the best thing. I’m afraid one of us will kill the other!” and I knew she was right. Even as she spoke, my failures pounded like a drum inside my brain. I owed my children and Margarita a better life…
“I’m so sorry that I’m not a real man; go – save my children.”
Margarita began to pack clothes in suitcases for my daughters and son.
I must change for the sake of my children… I thought, but my resolve seemed weightless, like corn silk drifting in a Mexican breeze. I could never change. Suddenly we all stopped to listen: Gravel ground under tires and brakes squeaked outside. The children ran to the window.
“Papa. It’s your friend…and people are with him!” My children danced up and down on our old sofa as we invited George, his wife, and two children inside.
I had always been the leader while we were boys in Coalcoman – whether hiking to see an active volcano, or stealing communion wine from church – but obviously those days were over. Intensity showed in George’s face, like a fire burned in his belly, and after dinner I tried to steer the conversation to the old days – but George followed an agenda, not his own.
“I have a message for you, Barahona – from God.”
Heat rose to my head, and I sneered in my heart – but I could not speak a word. Instead I surprised myself as I said, “Okay, okay, brother.”
George told me about God who loved me, a Person; God was not someone to be feared as we had been taught in the Catholic Church. This loving Person had sent a part of Himself, His own Son, to die for me, despite all my failures in life. Jesus had paid the price for all my sins, and I could have peace in my heart now, and would spend eternity with Him if I changed direction. All I had to do was invite Him into my heart and believe that He would save me.
I said, “But you don’t know how ugly I am inside, man.”
“Barahona, if you were the only man in the world, Jesus would have died for you alone. He will clean up the mess…”
As my friend spoke I began to open the door wider for Christ to come inside. In my 24 years I had never heard this message about Jesus, and never read a gospel tract. George and his wife stood up to go, and they bowed their heads. George prayed for my family, naming each of us, then ended with, “Father thy will be done in this house. I am done here – You do the rest…”
There were no tears in George’s eyes this time. “If you want Jesus, give your life to Him. If not, that’s your choice.” He smiled the grin I remembered from our childhood, and grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me. “I believe in you, Barahona. I know you’ll do the right thing.”
Anger welled up inside me as George and his family drove away. He had deserted me, leaving the biggest crisis of my life for me to resolve by myself; I drank a couple beers and fumed. But the longer I sat on our old sofa by myself, the more my heart began to soften, until I asked the question that broke me.
Can a holy God love a miserable wreck like me? God’s voice answered me fresh and strong: Jesus, loves you Porfirio…
In a few hours it would be Sunday, and I suddenly felt the same hunger for God that I remembered as a boy lying beneath the stars – but this time I spoke to my Heavenly Father who understood my need. Tears came slowly at first, then like releasing a dammed up river I broke, confessing my sin and accepting Christ’s forgiveness unconditionally. The room shimmered in cleansing light as the Holy Spirit washed me inside, and hours passed as I spoke to God about my life, my family, and my future. Could my wife understand what was happening?
“This is real, Margarita. Please don’t leave. God has changed me.”
My wife agreed to stay, and accepted Christ into her life too. The demonic oppression that had followed us from Mexico left my home as we opened our hearts wide to Jesus. The next day I gathered up my family and we drove to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the same town where I shot pool and drank beer days before. So dramatic was God’s transforming power in me that I surprised myself: I yearned for spiritual teaching like a starving man – from communion to catechism classes – and the elders at St. Joseph’s noticed…
I had only attended church for a few weeks when the church leaders asked, “Porfirio, could you teach a class for our Chicano children? We will supply all the books you need…”
I was taken aback at first; they barely knew my character, but I agreed, and they quickly loaded my arms with junior Catholic books on catechism. I was shocked that the material shaped young lives to fit “religion” rather than Christ. The kids should learn about my Jesus from the Bible, I reasoned, so I replaced the curriculum with a used New Testament Bible (that I bought for $3.29). As I learned, I taught it, inserting true-life illustrations about how Jesus had changed me. In three months the children’s group expanded from a “pew full” to a room packed with excited children.
In a few months I added a young people’s Bible study to my busy schedule where I told about the darkest days of my life and my God’s saving grace. “…And this same Jesus who rescued me from demons and drowning in the Wenatchee River will save you today!”
Thrilling stories circulated about young people at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church turning their lives upside down for Jesus – and the community noticed. Non-Catholics began attending our meetings at St. Joseph’s, and I welcomed them with open arms. I found common excitement about Jesus in George’s church; God touched me with a new measure of his Spirit, and I carried home a new boldness to St. Joseph’s – and Satan noticed…
“Porfirio Barahona, you are accused of heresy, and it is our decision that you be excommunicated from the Catholic Church…”
I had been a “good” Catholic for only nine months before a bishop from Yakima convened a meeting to officially throw me out – but they were right: I taught about Jesus from the pages of the Holy Bible. I embraced other non-Catholics as Christian brethren, and if this was sacrilege, I certainly was guilty.
But through my exile, God suddenly opened new paths to serve Him. Thirty hungry Bible believers asked to meet at our house – and it became a Chicano home church for several months. In just over a year the group had grown to 60, and we rented a building for services. I submitted to the oversight of the Pentecostal Holiness Church and Porfirio Barahona became a full-time ordained pastor!
Miracle in Mexico
My heart pounded when I sensed the ancient pagan spirit coiled like a serpent around the home of my beloved family, and the dark, hungry eyes of Papa and Mama pierced my soul as I stood up. God, give me your words and open their hearts, I prayed, and smiled as I felt God’s peace displace anxiety in my mind.
I had arrived in Coalcoman (my hometown’s name means snake with arms in the indigenous Native language) carrying a 7-year burden for my family, and fortified with years of prayers for their salvation.
“I know you are all curious,” I began, “and you want to know about my life in the States… Family, my life is all about Jesus.”
Papa’s face gathered intensity like he bore down on a stubborn rock with his dozer blade. Mama’s questioning expression registered not the slightest change… It was as if my family had been chained in that garden their whole lives waiting for a messenger to tell them they could be free. I told them about my demonic oppression; about my alcoholism; about my self-hatred and unforgiveness – I hid nothing from them. Then I introduced them to the new Porfirio Barahona, the man Jesus saved.
“How many of you want to know Jesus in the real way?” I asked breathlessly, and barely held back my tears as every hand reached toward heaven.
I had a dilemma the next day – Where would 30 new believers in Jesus Christ go to church for Bible teaching in Coalcoman? A tiny Baptist church near our home grew by 150 percent the next Sunday, and the poor pastor seemed stunned by all the excitement when he preached to about 100 people in a matter of weeks.
Watching Mama delivered from demonic oppression was one of the greatest earthly pleasures of my life. At her home a bonfire’s smoke from smoldering Catholic idols wafted into the streets, and Mama became Coalcoman’s evangelista, praying for the sick and helping others destroy the serpent who came in the night. Now Papa slept in the forest under the same stars, and loving the same Creator as I.
I left for Mexico two months later, exhausted but exhilarated, never guessing that the greatest failures of my life lay dead ahead. My 175-member church was vibrant and growing, and I faced the future with confidence, believing God for miracles as I shepherded God’s flock – all the while my marriage slid toward ruin.
“Porfirio, you don’t love me.”
“Of course, I love you…”
“You love me as a sister in Christ – but not as a woman. You have changed, but only in your spirit, Porfirio.”
“Margarita. We have five children…I love you! Do you hear me? I do…”
“You love me because you love Jesus, Porfirio. You’re not the man I want anymore. I want a divorce.”
In my home our arguments about loyalty and her unfulfilled needs grew more frequent and heated, and in time I indulged in pondering alternatives to marriage – perhaps it was best for Margarita and me if we separated. I did need someone who wanted me… God understands, and so will my Christian brothers and sisters, I reasoned. My reproach will last a short time, and then I can pastor again.
I was in my late 30s when I divorced my wife, and I left the ministry God had blessed me with, in shambles. I found work in the orchards of Wenatchee where the enemy of my soul greeted me like an old prison warden, and as I worked alone among the apple trees again, a razor-sharp remorse throbbed with every beat of my heart: I had no church; the voices of my children were no longer in my home; my Christian friends had deserted me.
A doctor or architect may fail to hold his family together, but he retains his profession – not so with a shepherd of God’s flock. If a pastor falls, his life’s vocation is ruined overnight. I repented. I wept. I grasped hold of God’s promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you…” all the while accepting the sentence pronounced by brethren: “Your ministry is finished.”
I pruned apple trees; God was pruning me.
“Who is that weird guy in the back pew?”
“He used to be a pastor in Wenatchee– he got kicked out of his church…”
“Really? How come?”
“I think it was because…” and the gossip went on. No one took the time to ask me about my spiritual condition, until Pastor John looked me up. He and I shared a common stigma: divorce – he too had accepted the sentence of spiritual exile by church folk – until he awoke to God’s infinite mercy. His true Christian love for me began to pry open the tightening grip of self-pity in my mind, and I dared to hope for a place of trust among brethren someday. God had restored Pastor John to his calling – why not me?
From Failure to Freedom
When I spent time with Mireya I realized that I had never been in love before, and I tumbled into the relationship like a schoolboy. I had known her family for years, and somehow Mireya saw the man I could be, rather than the defrocked, broken pastor everyone else saw. My arms were hungry for comfort, and Mireya answered the need of my heart – but I was morally weak in my spirit, and ill-equipped for any test. God had prepared a helpmate for me, but my loneliness set passions ablaze, and once again I crushed the hope of future ministry.
“Porfirio, I… I’m pregnant.”
How many times had I preached about fornication? How many times had I counseled young people about the danger of getting too close? Any scrap of self-respect that I had recovered after my divorce, I surrendered to the serpent in one selfish moment. I knew better! Waves of guilt dashed against my mind for causing my beloved Mireya to sin. Self-pity had kept me from diligently searching out a church that I could relate to, and I stood accountable to no believers – now Mireya and I both paid the price.
By God’s grace, our love survived my failure, and my great sorrow turned to true repentance – the groundwork for my restoration as a Christian man. Mireya married a humbled Porfirio Barahona, and stood by me on the long road toward full restoration.
In His Time
It was raining again in the remote forests of Mexico.
“Looks like we’ll be walking home,” Papa said, shaking his head. “I’ll have to order new parts from Mexico City this time…”
“Will it…” huff, “…be very long before we get it running again?” I trotted to keep up with Papa’s determined pace along the muddy dozer trail.
“As long as it takes, Hijo.” My father was a patient man when it came to repairing machinery. In Mexico it made no sense to fume over downtime. His bulldozer parts were as likely to be delivered by pack donkey as a truck, so while Papa waited, he prepared – greasing joints, changing oil, or tightening bolts – and in time, when he fired up the old D-7 again, he was confident; he knew that he could complete the job as he promised.
As God repaired my life I remembered the lesson my father had taught me by example, and I kept busy too. My skin crawled after a day of hanging fiberglass insulation, but the money was good; now I provided for two families, and even this itchy job was better than selling cars, (which I had given a try).
I was doing hard physical labor and at 41 years old I felt like a castaway, unconnected to the community around me. Stale guilt still clung to me, but my love for Mireya and my new son, Caleb, stirred up fresh determination to hear God’s voice again. It was as if I was learning to be a good husband and father for the first time, and I set aside all my old expectations for becoming a pastor again.
I stood on a ladder stapling bats of insulation between studs in a new house when Terry, an elder from a church in Leavenworth, hailed me above the roar of the air compressor. Any visit from a Christian brother in Christ I welcomed like spiritual nourishment, and I greeted him warmly as he shook my hand.
“Come to church next Sunday, Porfirio. We have a new pastor and I think you’ll like him.”
I wiped sweat from my forehead with a kerchief. “Maybe. Thanks, Terry.”
I had always liked the name of that church in nearby Leavenworth, “Spirit Life Center.” It spoke of peace – something I craved. I decided to go hear this Pastor Russell alone, without subjecting Mireya to the potential rebuff I had come to expect from people in area churches.
It was Pastor Russell’s first Sunday too, and as he waited for his introduction, I noticed that he made eye contact with his new flock, as if he was searching out their needs. Then his gaze fixed me for a moment, and he thumbed through the Bible, like he rummaged for a particular passage. He rose to the podium.
“Please turn to Micah 7:8.” Pastor Russell preached from the text after reading aloud: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy. Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”
God’s peace – unexplainable, and undeniable – flooded my heart when I heard these words, and I suddenly knew that Jesus had taken charge of rebuilding my faith and restoring my ministry. It wasn’t about me anymore – once again my life was all about Jesus.
At first I hesitated to bare my soul to people at Spirit Life Center, but God spoke very plainly: Do not hide anything from anyone; my people need to see the way you fell and the way I will restore you. They need to know that God loves, forgives, and rebuilds…
My new church nurtured and loved Mireya and me like family, and I grasped hold of God’s mercy like a drowning man. His grace had always been available at any moment, but until I agreed with his word, I had no faith to believe God could restore everything in my life.
Beyond the Fall
Broken, humbled men and women will be used of God even after they fall, whether demons or men say otherwise. I have been zealous to follow the course that God and my Spirit Life eldership laid out for my full restoration. I sat under the teaching of good men and women for years before accepting any formal position in church again, and a dream that I experienced sums up the cry of my heart these days:
From the vantage of a shore I watched tiny soldiers struggling in a churning ocean, crying out, drowning by the hundreds. I began to weep, plucking as many as my hands could hold before they were swept away. God spoke to me: These are my preachers, workers, and evangelists that my Church has rejected because they fell into sin. But I never intended that they be rejected forever; they need to know my love – to be restored. I will use you to help bring them back.
I never say that my failures have been part of God’s perfect will for me; but I am convinced that he has pressed every experience of my life, good or bad, into a plan for service to him. Today, as worship leader, teacher, and assisting pastor at Spirit Life Center, I am fulfilled and laboring harder, at 50 years old, than I have ever worked in my life.
For anyone who is besieged by guilt and failure I say: Open your heart to Jesus and repent. Find a church where loving believers will speak the word of God to your soul, and let Christ take you on the most wonderful journey of restoration you can imagine. He is restoring me still; God will do it for you.