Heriberto Born Anew



image005Heriberto from Paraguay narrates his life’s story. Though raised in poverty and hardship, and lacking even elementary reading skills, here’s a man who craved not this world’s goods, but simply to get acquainted with his Creator and become a subject of the King!

Heriberto’s circumstances are commonplace in many countries, but Paraguayans have to contend with an added complication. Though able to express themselves in Spanish, most prefer to use the indigenous language of Guaraní. Yet, when it comes to reading, they depend almost entirely on Spanish material, and that includes the Bible.

     Life as a child and a teenager in the easternmost part of Paraguay, near the small town of Fortuna and not far from the Brazilian border, was anything but easy. My mother was single and our economic resources were almost nil. Nor did I get any schooling to speak of; just one year in a rural school. All the same I hoped that, one day, I could be happily married and form a family. Eventually that day arrived and I was united to a good woman, called Marisa.

     We continued to live with my parents, my mother now also being married. Somehow she and her husband had acquired a small book, which was being read aloud in the home. When I found out this was God’s Word (the New Testament), I was pleased and always made sure I was there to listen. It gave me a sense of peace. How I would like to read it for myself!

     Working away on our small plot of land, my thoughts would often go back to what I had heard being read from God’s Word; I felt such a need to read it for myself. On occasions I would stop working in order to express certain words to the Supreme Being. I would talk to him about my desire to read God’s Word. Then, one day, it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually addressing the God of the Book. Lifting my eyes to the sky, I said: “Oh God, how much I’d like to read your Word for myself! I know that You exist because of all the marvels of your creation around me – trees, animals, rivers, even my own life – they all demonstrate to me that You exist. Now, that book that is being read at home – if that is really your Word, and if it indicates the proper way to live, then, please, let me read it”.

     At that moment I heard a voice – whether from above or from below I cannot say. I looked all around, wondering if someone was playing a trick on me, but I didn’t see anyone. The mysterious person that spoke knew of my longing to read, because what I heard was this: “Heriberto, go home, take the book and read!” For a while I doubted, but then, realizing I really was quite alone, I decided to go home. At Marisa’s surprised look, I said I had come for a drink of water, but, taking the book, I started to read. Even though I didn’t understand a thing, this totally new experience made me very happy. Back at work, I was oblivious to the sun’s heat and filled with great joy – the joy of having read God’s Word!

     Not long afterwards the same voice spoke to me again: “Do you understand what you read, even if so many words don’t mean anything to you?” That put a damper on my joy; however a thought came: didn’t I have a wife who knew how to read properly? Surely she could check my readings. So, going back home to talk to Marisa, I explained that I had been praying to God about “that book”, and that if it could truly guide our lives, then it was very important that we must get to know all it said! Couldn’t she take it upon herself to correct my mistakes when reading out loud? She agreed; so again I made an effort to read the book. I managed to read some, but very haltingly. Her reaction was that I had done quite well. Only I should watch the punctuation marks, if not, the reading wouldn’t make much sense.

image009     From that moment on I would light a lamp in the evening and read the New Testament until the early hours of the morning. Of course, there was much I did not understand, yet the readings produced in my heart a sense of peace and joy. Afterwards, as I slept, I would still have the book’s letters in front of me and take pleasure in them.

     Not long after having started my readings, I arrived at Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel, chapter 3 (reproduced at the bottom of this article). I was taken aback to find out it is impossible to see God’s kingdom, or enter into it, unless one is “born anew”. This troubled me deeply; I longed to enter God’s kingdom and be his follower, but how to be “born anew”?

     Eventually I spoke to the Lord about it; I told him that I wanted this experience of being “born anew”. Lifting my eyes to heaven, I said: “Surely there must be some follower of yours in this area of the country… In that case, please, can’t you send him to me so that he can teach me what I so much want to understand?”

     Within three days a man called Pablo Álvarez came to visit. I had never met him before. It turned out that Pablo knew about my parents having recently bought the complete Bible, and he had just come to see if any problems had arisen in the use of it. Being aware that many first time readers have little or no idea about Bible reading, Pablo was ready to offer a helping hand. Grasping the opportunity, I told him that I for one definitely had questions to ask; and that, even with so many pages in the Bible, I was most interested in all it said. “But – I said – what a shame you came so late because we have no electrical light”.

     Pablo then asked what I had been reading, so I mentioned that part where Jesus says that to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born anew. “That’s what I want”, I said, “I want to enter the kingdom of God, if there’s any way at all!” So, in the fading light of day, Pablo read those verses and then explained what they mean and how one can enter God’s kingdom. As I listened avidly, the truth began to dawn on me, and, by simple faith, I yielded my life to God. That surrender, and God’s entering into my life, marked the beginning – it was my new birth. From there on I began to understand many other things, for instance, the fact that if I was now “born” into a “family” – God’s family – then Pablo, more than a friend, was now my brother.

     image011I also began to realize that the way I treated my wife really amounted to mistreatment with a total lack of consideration. Women out in the country have many more responsibilities than their counterparts in the city. What with having to pull up the manioc, find firewood, wash clothes by hand, feed the animals, and then, just like the city woman, look after a husband and kids. By now we were the happy parents of two children.

     One day, on my way to the plot of land, a strong impression came over me that I must leave the farm tools right there and go back to the house. I needed to talk to Marisa about what God was revealing to me about my character and about the way I had been treating her. So when I got back, I told her: “Marisa, we must talk. It’s now three days since Pablo came – you know, when I gave my life to the Lord Jesus. But there’s something I must tell you. I’ve begun to realize that up till this point I’ve not been treating you right, in fact I’ve been treating you badly… Marisa, all that has now come to an end! From today on we are starting a new life!”

     And so it happened – God began a new thing in my family. Especially the relationship with Marisa was made new. The jobs around the house and the yard, which I would never touch before, became my responsibility. That real change in my life left a deep impact on her; it made her want to get to know the Lord for herself. And as she got to know him, He showed her how to rest in him, spiritually as well as emotionally…

     I continued my Bible reading. When I found out that believers-in-Christ were baptized, it didn’t take long before I too was baptized in a local river, by immersion that is. God kept on speaking to me, for instance, about the need to take the Gospel to other people; and I had the privilege of winning a whole family.

     Then, one day, as I returned from visiting people with the Gospel, a voice said: “Heriberto, think of what I have already done in your life; I have given you my Word and so much more. Now, if you continue like this, I can do even greater things in your life…; I could give you a ministry of responsibility among the believers, like serving me as an ‘elder’.”

     Such a prospect, however, did not please me, and I reacted in alarm. So my answer was a definite “NO”. The thing is, I had become aware of the weight of such responsibility and realized that elders and their families are frequent targets of criticism. Three times the voice spoke, repeating the same thing, and each time I responded with “NO, Lord!”

     After that the Lord’s voice stopped speaking. It is not that I became unfaithful to him and went back into the world…; no it was rather that my experience of the Lord changed – I wasn’t enjoying his company anymore. Still, all the same, He continued to treat me lovingly.

     He also allowed me to fall ill with testicular cancer. It nearly killed me. Two operations were necessary – in faraway Asunción, the nation’s capital. Being hospitalized and desperate, one night, when I’d already lost more than 45 kg, I opened my window and cried out to the Lord with tears. I asked him to have mercy on me and my family, and to, please, forgive the words with which, in my madness, I had responded to his calling. Would He, please, give me a second opportunity…!

     The night passed… Then the Lord’s presence was back! It was a glorious experience. Once again there were times when He would speak to me like He used to. One day, a seriously ill patient was wheeled into the room, and God’s voice said: “Heriberto, preach the Word to that patient; don’t keep silent!” As I obeyed, God gave me a precious time with the man and his whole family, pointing out the way of salvation to them. Both he and his wife responded by believing in Christ. The following day there were more opportunities to witness, and more than one person professed faith in Christ.

image013     I must also share with you that God did truly awesome things on the economic level. All together the medical costs came to more than $20,000, an astronomical amount to a poor farmer who did not have so much as a cent to his name! Even for the bus ride to Asunción, I’d had to borrow money. This situation made us “knock on heaven’s doors”, asking the Lord for his solution. And He was so faithful! In a very special way He provided all that was needed – through brothers in the faith, and even through some not yet converted. This makes me want to encourage every one to trust in the Lord, rather than in men and in material things. Another aspect of his faithfulness was seen in the help and care my family received during my absence – it was more than I could ever have expected.

     One more thing – while the medical treatment was good, it was God who healed me! Why do I say that? The operating surgeon could not touch one part of the malignant tumor – an artery passed through the middle of it and touching it would have cost me my life. Chemotherapy didn’t do the trick either. However, God, in his goodness, guided me to a household remedy…; it is what He used to finish off the rest of the tumor!

     My normal weight came back and now, healthy and happy in the Lord, I wish this testimony of mine to be a help and a blessing to all of my spiritual family in Christ, but equally to many who aren’t of “the family” as yet.


What was the great rejoicing in small town Fortuna one day in July 2009?

     For a number of years the only remaining elder of the Fortuna congregation had been Marcelino. That was because the brother who had shared the eldership with him had moved away. Yet Marcelino and all of the believers, young and old alike, were aware that the situation they now found themselves in was not a normal one. In the New Testament it is made abundantly clear that for the proper oversight, pastoral counseling, etc., more than one elder is needed (Acts 14, 20, 1 Thessalonians 5, 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1, Hebrews 13, 1 Peter 5). Yet what could this group of local believers do…, except look to their Lord in persevering prayer for his provision in his time?

     Sure, it would have been easy enough to follow their own reasoning and initiative. They might have put their heads together, fix a date for some sort of a “vote”, and organize things along the democratic lines of modern Christian denominations. Rather, they preferred to “wait on the Lord” and trust in him!

image015     Then, to everyone’s encouragement, Heriberto was converted and baptized among them, followed soon by his wife and several of their children. Prayer continued… Meanwhile, of course, as Heriberto describes above, God was dealing with him…, preparing him for precisely such a future ministry.

     Slowly, and in different ways, the other believers, and Marcelino, began to be conscious of the possibility that Heriberto might be God’s answer to their prayers.

     Eventually there was complete unanimity, and when a missionary worker had arrived for the occasion, Heriberto was, with the laying-on-of-hands, recognized as one of the elders of the congregation.

     Now he and Marcelino work together – an effective team offering the united leadership which had been lacking for some years.

No wonder the congregation rejoiced…!

John’s Gospel, Chapter Three

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.

In reply Jesus declared, I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.

How can a man be born when he is old? Nicodemus asked. Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!
Jesus answered, I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

How can this be? Nicodemus asked.

You are Israel’s teacher, said Jesus, and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No-one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven— the Son of Man.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.