Walls came tumbling down.
When Julio came to the ministry, his face was hard. His eyes were cold and his heart was closed. He pulled up on his modified motorcycle, his girlfriend Evelyn hugging him from behind. He revved the engine more loudly than needed and he pulled into the gate quickly and making a sudden stop. He removed the dark helmet that had covered his stern face. His earlobes were pierced with “0” gauge bearings, and everything about him screamed “back off.” His girlfriend, a bit chubby, dyed hair, wore clothes that barely fit her or covered her mid-drift. Neither looked like the type we usually get in the ministry. They looked, rough. With no emotion, they entered the office and signed up for classes, Julio in welding and mechanics, and Evelyn in Sewing.
The first day of class, Julio and Evelyn showed up in similar fashion as before, revved motorcycle and frowns. As I typically do with people who intimidate me or seem tough, I walked right up to him with a smile, stuck out my hand and said welcome. Julio stared me down, then hesitantly took my hand. I smiled bigger. He did not react. Per Rina’s prompting, I asked Julio to take his earrings out for class. He protested a bit, but complied.
Over the next few weeks I observed Julio. He would come out of class during break and instead of running to the cafeteria like the others, he would distance himself, sit alone, or talk with his girlfriend. He wasn’t getting the relational side of studying in the Ministry. He sat at the far end of the sidewalk with his cellphone out, hiding from the world. “Hey, Julio!” I would yell as I came and sat next to him giving him a big hug that felt like hugging a stiff statue. “How’s it going today?” “Fine.” No matter what I asked him, he could only reply in two words or less. I found out he spoke English, but he would not speak it with me. I found out he had lived in the United States and he seemed bothered I would know something about him. Every advance I gave was counter attacked. I did not give up though; one of my Godly traits has been persistence. I also decided to do some counter attacking myself. Without telling Julio, I started to pray for him and for all the spiritual battle going on inside of him. I asked the Cocal board to pray specifically for him too and for us to see what God would do.
After a few months, Julio finally asked me, “Why do you always come and talk with me?” I said, “Because I like you and God likes you. He’s got a plan for you.” And just like that, the door was open. I started to talk with Julio more and more about Jesus and I befriended him. One evening Julio stayed late after class and we both ended up sitting on the tailgate of the Toyota and talking about life. I shared how amazing God is and all the times that he had shown his amazingness in me, and Julio listened. Then he told me about him, his scars, his wounds, his bitterness and un-forgiveness. “I cannot forgive,” he confessed. “Don’t worry about that. God wants to help you with it. You don’t have to do anything before you come to Jesus. Jesus will take you just as you are with your entire burden and he will help you forgive when you are ready.” Julio sat with his eyes glossy, his skin flush and I knew the spirit was working on him. “Do you want to live with Jesus?” I asked. Julio sat in silence for a moment and then his wall came flying back up and with a set jaw, flatly he said, “No. Some other time.” I smiled big. “That’s ok. God loves you and he’ll keep after you, showing you how good he is. Can I pray for you?” He agreed and I prayed over Julio that night.
If you remember, I wrote about Julio in an update last year because as time passed, Julio lost his job. He struggled to stay in our classes. Evelyn left him, and he discovered he had herniated two discs in his spine that gave him terrible pain. He worried what kind of job he would be able to get in his condition. “You know, we can pray for your back and you can be pain free.” I would say to Julio. “Do you want me to pray for you?” Every week I would ask him and every week he would say no. I joked that he was like pharaoh who wanted the plague of frogs to leave, but when asked to give a time he said tomorrow. Why wait for tomorrow when you can have relieve right away? Julio stood his ground and did not let me pray for him until Wendy, another student, told him her back testimony and how God had healed her with a prayer. When he heard her, he finally said yes, but I did not pray for him. Wendy did. She prayed for him just like Bill had prayed for her and Julio said he felt nothing. But over the next week he said his back seemed better. I offered to pray again for him and he allowed me to. I was also still praying for Julio in secret, breaking down his walls.
Then Julio got a new job right before the end-of-semester party that he was sure would not allow him time off to go. “But Julio, if you want to go to the party, all you gotta do is ask Jesus.” Julio began to protest and before he could finish I began to pray for him to get the Saturday off from his new job so he could go to the party. That week, he texted me saying that he still had not talked with his boss, but that his boss rather had called him to give him the Saturday of the party free. Julio could not believe it. Unfortunately riots over the elections broke out the week before the party and Julio spent his day off stuck in Choloma, unable to cross the riot lines and get home. Then he disappeared, not from life, but from us. Rina and I went to the states and classes were on break and we did not hear from Julio.
February, sign-ups started and we tried to contact Julio but he did not answer. Sign-ups closed and he did not return to finish classes. Then mid-semester he showed up! “JULIO!” I was so happy to see him. In his monotone voice with little emotion he answered my how are you question. “Bien.”
I started in, “We have missed you. Are you going to take classes?” “It’s possible,” he answered, “but I don’t have a job. I quit because my boss did not want to pay me and I was working later and later hours. It was exploitation.” “All the more reason to finish what you started,” I shot back. “We want to train you to get jobs!” “But I don’t have money.” “Eh. So what? I’m not making you pay. There is always more time to pay, but not more time to study. But if you want a job, you can come help us build the second level. If you need a job, I can pay you. It isn’t much though, so I might be exploiting you.” I explained. “It’s not exploitation if we are friends, Brian.” He answered.
The next day Julio was on the job. The following week he helped me put the roof on. He came to worship service and God met him. He was wrecked. God spoke right to his heart, right to his need. “Do you want to follow Jesus?” I asked. “Next week,” was his reply. The following week, as promised, Julio came to service. Jesus touched him again, and he gave his live to him. He said he felt really good finally deciding, and that he had peace. He went home and got rid of all sorts of things he felt he no longer needed in his new life, and he has come to all the services. May 30, Julio is getting baptized along with the others who have come to Jesus in the ministry.
I have yet to tell Julio, but I knew how this story was going to go way back when. He had to live it, but he was marked by God. He was prayed over by name, and God moved. When God moves, look out, because anything is possible and even the most calloused heart can be healed. If you are a Christian, pray because what you pray has weight. It releases the kingdom on earth and pushes back evil. I love Julio’s testimony and I know there is more to it than what I know. I know God has been wooing him for a long time. I am so thankful and so glad to have a new brother in Christ!
The Ministry is going really well. Our classes have been great. Mario, our painter, has taken over our storage room and has done an amazing job re-organizing it. He is helping me catalog every tool and keep track of who uses what. It has been a huge help! Julio, Isvat and a bunch of our first level welders have continued with the construction project and are learning as well. Our big tent sale was held at the end of April. I was so proud of the student body. This was the best sale we have had in the last few years because the students took initiative; they worked together not only on their own team, but across teams! I saw students get involved with good attitudes, and they had a great day! I am so proud of the student body this year. We have come a long way since our first sale, and it shows.
We have baptisms on May 30, and will be renting a bus. So far we have about 10 or more who will be baptized. Pray for the day and for the activity. July 7 is our end-of-semester party and also when my mom’s team comes to help us! We are so excited to see them. I cannot explain it, but this year is a special year. Something big is happening in the Ministry. The students are different, more involved, more serious. God is raising leadership, and it is a good year. Pray for us as we continue to move forward. It is a blessing to grow, but also a learning curve. New growth brings new problems and we need your prayers.