How I Came to the Lord
Manna 80: Summer

Erick Enrique Flores Perez— Guatemala City, Guatemala

GROWING UP IN GUATEMALA

From Catholicism to Protestantism

Protestant Christianity arrived in Guatemala at the end of the 1970s. It was a breath of fresh air after many years of government restrictions and alliance to the Roman Catholic Church. By the 1980s, the Pentecostal movement had experienced a massive boom in the number of its churches and members. These churches’ teachings were mainly influenced by their US counterparts. Most of us were fed the prosperity gospel—the doctrine which asserts that God will bless us with health, wealth, and success, if we proclaim our faith in Him—something that appeared to be the right weapon to help Guatemalans battle extreme poverty.

In 1990, when I was eighteen, I converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. Eight years after my conversion, I thought I knew everything there was to know about God, Christianity, and the church. It also seemed that God loved me so much He was willing to satisfy any desire of mine.

At that time, I remember feeling very annoyed by the social divides I observed, and the church’s corresponding helplessness or inaction. I felt that there was a distinct dichotomy between what was taught in church and what was applied to help society. For example, the inside of the church was always beautiful, nice, and clean. But once we stepped outside the church, into the neighborhood or surrounding areas, there was a plethora of social and spiritual problems—drugs, street kids, pornography, sexual abuse, and violence against women.

Struggling With Sin, Learning to Serve

Personally, I was also struggling with sin. I battled an inclination towards pornography, suicidal thoughts, deep depression, and hate. I often wondered whether I would ever be good enough to be accepted by the Lord. Could I really free my life from sin? The Catholics of my childhood and the Pentecostal Christians both told me the same two principles: first, faith is not about thinking, but only believing what the priest/pastor says; and second, “We the Catholic/ Pentecostal Church is the only true church, and there is no other way to reach heaven except through our institution.”

In the latter part of 1998, I stumbled across the Guatemala City garbage dump. I was horrified to discover that many families lived there amidst the rubbish: young children, elders, single mothers, all rummaging through the rubbish for scraps of food, for survival. I never imagined humans could live like that; I had grown up in poverty but never to the extreme I saw that day.

On the same day, I met some Christians working with the garbage dump community. As they needed more volunteers, I joined them. For the next five years, I volunteered on weekends. After that, I worked for an additional year as a paid full-time staff at the NGO running the project.

Our work was focused on children and teenagers. But these were no ordinary teens. Most of them had undergone all the traumas that a hostile environment could hurl at them: violence, sexual abuse, lack of a father, addiction to substances, etc. Working with these youths was a formidable challenge. It was then I realized that perhaps God had allowed me to experience the same issues while growing up as a way to prepare my heart to understand and have compassion towards others.

Later, I joined forces with a friend to open a shelter for a group of twenty-five children who used to gather near the garbage dump and were addicted to glue sniffing. This house operated for just six months. it was not as easy as we thought it would be to change someone else’s life by getting him or her to read the Bible, sing hymns, and pray. We needed more help and training. There were spiritual forces at work, and things beyond our understanding. The children had to undergo detoxification processes, but we lacked the know-how. This was when I was first learning how to serve others.

FROM GUATEMALA TO TAIWAN

New Life, New Challenges

In 2004, a friend of mine, an ex-volunteer in the garbage dump program, recommended me as a candidate for the Taiwanese Foreign Affairs Scholarship Program. I did not expect to be selected, but God had a different plan and He worked through my friend’s influence with the Taiwanese diplomatic bodies and government. I was granted that scholarship. We ran the shelter right up to two days before my departure.

Taipei

I did not have an exact image of what to expect when I got to Taiwan. But nothing would have prepared me for that modern and rich metropolis. I had to attend language school to get my Mandarin up to speed. I really felt out of place because my classmates were the children of high-level Taiwanese diplomats and government officials, but I tried to just get on with my Mandarin lessons.

I attended a church in Taipei, the Ling Liang (Bread of Life) Church, which had a very large congregation. The worship atmosphere was very similar to churches in Guatemala—throbbing music, flashing lights, shouting, dancing, and exciting messages about how to become wealthy, prosperous, and successful in life.

My time in Taipei caused a crisis of faith for me. In Taipei Ling Liang Church, I felt that my value as an individual was related to my economic status. Overwhelmed by life in Taipei, I moved to the countryside as an attempt to cope with life. I enrolled in Chung Cheng University, at the College of Social Sciences in the Political Science Department in Minghsiung, Chiayi, Taiwan.

Minghsiung

I started attending Sunday services at the Minghsiung branch of Ling Liang (Bread of Life) Church. Before long, I started feeling uncomfortable about some of the church’s teachings and practices. First, the church leaders ate dishes prepared with blood (e.g., xie gao—glutinous rice and pigs’ blood). Second, some members (as well as some of the leaders) continued to worship idols in the temple and participated in ancestor worship rites at the request of their non-Christian parents. When I questioned them, they would give me the stock answer: “All these non-Christian practices are acceptable since we are now under grace and not the Old Testament Law.”

This left me quite puzzled. These Christians and Christian leaders had been richly blessed economically. According to the prosperity gospel, this proved that God is abiding with them. But their practices went against His teachings. Why would God bless us if we do the things that He has forbidden? Specifically, if we can eat blood “under grace,” would we then need to keep the other commandments Jesus gave?

To be honest, I too wanted to have a share in such blessings of material wealth. However, I could not help feeling that the fundamental basis of the prosperity gospel did not match with the experiences of those found in the Bible. For example, the apostles all led simple lives; they were not focused on realizing their dreams or getting rich. Hence, all this time, I kept feeling that there was something wrong with me and my faith. It seemed that I had never been able to please God.

 

It was a tough time. I was very lonely. I prayed and asked Jesus to give me a wife, but I did not set any conditions for my ideal woman. I told the Lord I would yield to His will.

About two months later, I met the girl who would become my wife, Lee Pei Pei. She was a twenty-four-year-old Chinese Malaysian, and a first-year student at the Political Science department where I was finishing my third year. It was love at first sight for me. Her cheerful, down-to-earth and happy outlook on life brought me great joy. I knew she was the one I would marry. We started living together, with the intention of marriage. But before we could get our marriage registered, she got pregnant. We were terrified, so we decided to have an abortion. I never thought I would be able to take such a step. I knew this was the consequence of doing things our own way instead of God’s way. Six months after we first met, on May 29, 2010, we registered our marriage in Taiwan and had our wedding ceremony in the Ling Liang Church in Minghsiung, Chiayi.

Encountering the True Jesus Church

Getting married did not cleanse us from our sin of fornication. Nor was it a panacea for all our past issues concerning our differences in faith, culture, language, and values. On the very night of our wedding, as past offences emerged, we fought, yelled and even talked about divorce! The following days brought no resolution. As days went by, things became even more aggressive and violent. I started slamming doors and hitting walls; she was leaving home for hours without telling anybody her whereabouts.

We knew from the start that we needed urgent help to repair the sinking boat of our marriage. Our church leaders could not offer this because they too had marriage problems. We started to look for other churches that could give us some spiritual support, and point the way towards healing and restoration. We spent almost three months searching. We attended service after service, but found no peace. I told my wife we might even have to leave Taiwan in order to find a church where we could find real peace.

Then one morning, I recalled that during my first year in Chung Cheng University, when I was not able to understand any Mandarin or local Taiwanese, I had attended a Sabbath service at the True Jesus Church (TJC) in Minghsiung. This first visit to the TJC had come about because of the perseverance of a servant of the Lord.

This particular member of the TJC collected used cans to recycle for a living. We met each other every morning—I would be jogging and he would be pushing his old bicycle on his collection rounds. He would call out the same thing to me in Taiwanese every morning. Since I did not understand, I did not respond to him until, one day, a Taiwanese friend interpreted his morning greeting for me. My can-collecting friend had been telling me, “You have to go to church. You ought to go to church.” He was not going to give up inviting me to his church, so I finally agreed to go. Because no English was spoken during the service, I understood almost nothing and thus decided not to return. I then completely forgot the whole incident.

Revisiting the True Jesus Church

Four years later, and desperate to find a church that could be a source of healing for my marriage, that first visit to the TJC suddenly came to mind. My wife agreed to attend the Sabbath service at the TJC. By this time I was able to understand Mandarin and some Taiwanese. On that visit, I felt as if I had come home. I just loved it. I felt peace and knew that God would take care of everything.

Within six months of attending services, my wife received the precious Holy Spirit. Both of us received water baptism on May 1, 2011. After I was baptized in the name of Jesus, in living water, I felt different. Words cannot adequately describe it, but I somehow felt imbued with power to overcome sin in my life. A long and secret addiction to pornography, and the shame it produced, came to an end. I knew, too, that God forgave me for the abortion, even though the healing of our marriage still had some way to go. I started praying earnestly to receive the Holy Spirit.

Previously, when Pei Pei first attended Ling Liang Church and noticed the lack of good role models, she wondered why I insisted she convert to Christianity. What is the difference between being Buddhist and Christian? Why be a Christian if our behavior is no different from non-Christians? After we came to the TJC we learned that if our faith is based on people, we may fall away one day. We had to turn our eyes away from man and towards God.

More importantly, our search led us to God’s truth. Isaiah 58:13–14 teaches that the church of God ought to keep the Sabbath. I also knew that in the Acts of the Apostles, the believers kept the Sabbath on Saturday, not on Sunday, which is the Catholic Church’s holy day based on their teaching of the Lord’s Day. Even before coming to the TJC, we had decided, as a couple, to keep the Sabbath day. In the TJC, a church that observes the Holy Sabbath, we found a confirmation of our beliefs.

When we started attending Sabbath services in the TJC, we thought we knew all about God and salvation. However, teachings from our previous church that we thought were from God turned out to be non-biblical. For example, it is wrong to think (and teach) that believers can influence God’s hand through their actions. Famous pastors from mega churches teach that giving money to the church is like planting the seed for God to give us returns and blessings. These pastors say that by giving, we are producing and creating faith, and God will then move for us. Thank God for leading us to the truth.

FROM MINGHSIUNG TO TAIPEI

Life as a TJC believer

After graduating from university, I found a job at Taiwan International Radio, so we moved to Taipei. After I started working, I hardly had any free time. I really enjoyed my job, so I would work from early in the morning to late at night. Because of this, I read the Bible less and prayed less. My conversations with my wife were reduced to wishing her goodnight.

My church life suffered too. I would attend Sabbath services, but my intention was to rest and catch up on my sleep! I slept through the sermon and prayers, only to wake up when I heard the phrase, “This concludes our service today.” I was physically exhausted and my relationship with my wife was also showing clear signs of fatigue.

Things came to a head during a spiritual convocation in Muzha, Taipei. A Holy Communion service had been scheduled, so members were encouraged to prepare their hearts before attending. But I did not fully appreciate the deep significance of the sacrament and so I did not treat it as important. Besides that, I had become complacent about my spiritual cultivation and pursuing God’s love and will. On the morning of the Holy Communion service, I told my wife to leave first, promising to follow twenty minutes later. An hour and a half later, my wife called and woke me up. “Didn’t you say you were coming to church? Why aren’t you here?” We started to argue and I finally retorted, “Why don’t you go by yourself?” I bluntly told her I would not attend service unless I had a proper rest.

On that very day, my wife took her passport and some of her things, and left home without saying a word. Later, she rang me from the airport, saying that she was going home to stay with her mother in Malaysia. I was very angry, and told her, “Fine, if you want to leave, don’t ever come back.” I thought my threat would make her change her mind and stay, but instead, she hung up on me.

That night, the realization that my wife was really gone hit me. I also realized that I had a lot of physical complaints because I was overworked. Worst of all, I realized that I had drawn so far away from God, from my Father in heaven, that I could not bring myself to pray to Him.

Several nights later, in my stubbornness, I thought: Look at me. My body is ill; I have ulcers and intestinal bleeding. It’s all my wife’s fault. Maybe I should just divorce her and find somebody else to marry—I’ll be much happier. I was trying to comfort myself. Indeed, I started to cheer up because I thought a fresh new start was exactly what I needed.

Happily, I returned to my room and I slept very well. But at 3 a.m., I heard a stern voice say, “Erick, Erick.” I immediately recognized the voice of the Lord Jesus. No one had to tell me who it was because the voice carried so much power and authority. It was neither a dream nor a vision; the voice sounded as if it had been amplified by a huge speaker in my room.

As soon as I heard that voice, I replied, “Lord Jesus, You know how much I love you.” But He cut me off and said, “Why have you drawn farther and farther away from Me?” He called me again, “Erick.” I wanted to say again, “Lord, You know I love you.” But He just kept asking me, “Why did you leave me?”

He did not say anything else, but I understood. There are no excuses in front of the Lord. I had no evidence to show I really loved Him. If I could not love my wife whom I could touch and see, how could I love the invisible God whom I could neither touch nor see?

When this realization hit me, my body started to shiver uncontrollably. I wept and wept. I then knelt down to repent and confess my sins before the Lord, and ask Him to forgive my sins. After the prayer, I contacted my wife, and told her how sorry I was. I asked her to forgive me and come home. All these things happened at the end of 2011.

After Pei Pei’s return, a preacher came on a pastoral visit to our home. We shared our problems with him. The preacher then asked me, “Would you like to place all your questions and burdens into the hands of the Lord? If you are willing to trust Him, Erick, you have to prepare your heart, because you’re asking the Lord to come into your life to fix things.” I told the preacher I was willing, so we all knelt down together to pray.

The preacher visited on a Sunday afternoon. On Monday morning, when I went to work, my boss called me into his office and fired me. While I could see the hand of God in this, I did think that He had been quite harsh to take away a job I enjoyed. Nevertheless, it meant that I had more time to read the Bible and attend church services. Importantly, I no longer fell asleep at church.

In retrospect, I recognize God’s wonderful grace and will towards my family. I started to draw nearer to God through reading the Bible, praying, and attending church services. Praying with my wife also brought us closer again. From that time onward, I never slammed the door or punched the wall again. While I still occasionally lose my temper, I quickly apologize to my wife because I always remember the voice that spoke to me. The voice had been so powerful, and so angry, that I did not ever want to hear it again. However, since I have the tendency to immerse myself in my work, Pei Pei insisted that we leave Taipei for a change of environment.

We left Taipei at the beginning of November 2011, returned to Guatemala, and stayed with my mother for a while. About a year later, we travelled to the US and attended church in Irvine. Our baby girl came to this world and our lives were blessed with her shining joy. We travelled to many other places, and spent a significant amount of time at my mother-in-law’s home in Kuching, Sarawak, in East Malaysia. God blessed us with our baby boy in January 2015.

Currently, we are still praying about our future, asking God to help us find a place to establish ourselves. We also pray that He continues to guide us through the process of healing, restoration, and transformation.

Lessons in Marriage

Looking back, it is clear that the Lord had a plan for us: the start of our marriage was the start of our journey of faith.

Even after we were baptized into the TJC, our marriage problems were not solved immediately. We still had conflicts, but we learned to read the Bible for ourselves and to turn to it to tackle our problems. We also learned to talk and communicate a lot more to avoid misunderstanding each other, since that is how a lot of our arguments came about.

In the past we would look for man to help us. But we have since learned to seek God instead. This was why we needed, and continue to need, a church where God abides. In the process of learning to rely on God, the Holy Spirit really gives us strength.

As humans, Pei Pei and I still fight. But these quarrels are nothing compared to our previous arguments. Now, we always manage to find a solution. We may get angry for a few minutes, but we quickly reconcile. Even if we do not want to make up, we know we have to, otherwise we would be playing into Satan’s hand.

Satan tries to sow seeds of discontent in every family and every relationship, especially those of God’s children. He tries to breed disappointment, jealousy, and mistrust in us. We cannot give him a place to work in our hearts. In a married life based on biblical truth, we must learn to sacrifice and be humble.

Most importantly, we thank God that we have learned to rely on God in our marriage. We are always reminded of this:

“But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mk 10:6–8)

Author
Erick Flores
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