I was a “Jonah”, said Pastor Julio, "But then after three near-death experiences, God got my attention."
After accepting the Lord as a young man, Julio attended a Bible conference where God called him to preach. Julio refused and instead became a chemist in the coca trade.
I stood under the sparse shade of a tree situated along the Amazon River. The village houses were all built in a long row - one after the other - on the highest point of the land because of flooding during the rainy season. Earlier that morning we had crossed from the Colombian side of the Amazon River (where we had spent the night in another village) to the Peruvian village of San Antonio. The hot air was humid from the earlier rainstorm we had experienced while crossing the river. Even under the beaming sun, I was riveted to the story Pastor Julio was relating. I tried to hide the shock on my face as I realized he was telling me that he had been a facilitator in the drug industry!
Not only was I hearing the story of a drug dealer, but he was telling me about his funeral!
Julio contracted a severe case of malaria that rendered him unconscious and unresponsive. His grandmother, the lady who reared him, thought he was dead and called all the neighbors in to mourn.
"Although I was unconscious, I was aware of the men drinking, the ladies crying and the kids running in and out of the house", commented Don Julio. "The next morning as they were nailing the lid on my coffin, I awoke, startling the mourners", he laughed. "The frightened drunks ran from the house; the ladies screamed and cried, and my grandmother was ecstatic. From that point on I began to recover."
"Years later," continued Julio, "as I was hunting in the field, I noticed ticks had covered my legs and were biting me. I came to a stream of water and jumped in to wash the ticks away. A freshwater stingray stung me and injected his fast-acting poison into my foot as I exited the water. The pain was so severe, I could only drag my leg to walk. Finally, I stopped to remove my boot and noticed that my whole leg was swollen. The skin broke open as I pulled off my boot. I rested a bit, found a stick to help me walk, and continued to drag myself farther toward home - I had to stop often to rest. At one stop, I heard rattling but couldn’t move away quickly with the injured foot. A rattlesnake struck me on the same swollen foot. I knew at that point that I couldn't possibly survive, but I wasn’t ready to give up. However I soon lost consciousness and lay there all night. The following morning, I awoke and determined even with waning strength, to drag myself home. I collapsed in the yard as I drew near to the house. My family rushed to me, carried me into the house and began to care for me. I recuperated after a long illness, but my leg was withered, and I had trouble walking. By the grace of God and with other treatments, my leg is now whole."
“This man has more lives than a cat,” I thought, looking at Pastor Julio under the shade tree. And that's when I realized the story wasn't over.
"God had spared my life twice, but I still wasn’t ready to obey the Lord", said Pastor Julio shaking his head. "I moved to a different place and began working on a construction crew. One day while on the job a load of wood accidentally fell on me and knocked me out. Following that incident God spoke to me through a message at church from a visiting pastor. I realized that God might not give me another chance. I had had three near-death incidents and survived. I waited no longer. I surrendered my life to the Lord.”
Soon after his surrender to the Lord, Julio started a church in the village of San Antonio, Peru, and this is the village in which he related to me his story. He was excited to show us the new church building that he and the villagers had built with our financial help.
Pastor Julio is a hard-working servant of the Lord, and thrilled to serve his village. He learned the hard way that making money and living life his way isn’t the way to happiness, and that in obeying God’s plan for our lives we find satisfaction for our souls. Like Jonah, he finally surrendered.