I had a supernatural experience with Jesus Christ in 1979 which radically altered my whole life.
Though my family had been Catholics in Cuba, it was simply in name, because we hardly ever went to church. I remember as a four-year old kid during Good Fridays in Havana, that radio stations would only play somber and quite messages commemorating the Christ whom had been crucified for the sins of the world. I still recollect sitting in my father’s car as the announcer spoke austerely about Jesus, and I peered into the graying sky of dusk just knowing that there had to be a God.
I never prayed growing up as a teen. We lived in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands in the late sixties. There I had to do a Catholic confirmation. I went to a priest who was sitting behind a dark grail and had to confess all my youthful sins. I was so darn nervous.
At the age of fifteen I began drinking beer. I was accepted to Vanderbilt University in Nashville at the age of 18 and left my family in the Caribbean as an absolutely lost, frail, and totally insecure young man. It wasn’t more than a few months later that I was smoking tons of marijuana from bongs and reefer, abused my body with bi amphetamine 50’s ( black beauties), during midterms and finals, took some occasional Quaaludes, went to TGI Fridays, got bombed, dated girls…..the whole scene.
Vanderbilt is called “The Harvard of the South” and fitting is that title. At Vandy one must be a relatively decent student to get C’s, an excellent student to get B’s and a zombie study fanatic with absolutely no social life to make A’s. You can imagine me on drugs, so lonely, lost and insecure. I was making D’s!
I began to date a girl who had serious psychological issues. One night she telephoned me in an extremely depressed mood. She was suicidal. As I desperately tried to encourage her on the phone I heard her open up a bottle of pills. As I frantically talked to her, she passed out on the phone. Madly I ran a mile to the girl’s dorm and told the security guard what had happened. The RA and other girls barged into her room and found her passed out. They were able to make her vomit and by a miracle of God she did not die.
That night, I think that I came close to recognizing what a nervous breakdown is. I felt like a vegetable. I could not think, I could not function or process and I felt paralyzed and comatose. I regained my senses, but in the ensuing weeks I developed a deep insomnia and persistent chest pains.
One night after that I laid crumpled on the bed of my tiny room in the Carmichael Towers, totally engulfed with self-pity, hopelessness, and fear. I had made an appointment the next day to go the campus nurse because I was petrified of the chest pains which I was getting.
My brother George, who is now deceased, was a freshman at Vanderbilt as well. He came to visit me. He had an experience with Jesus Christ through the folks from the Campus Crusade for Christ. As I laid on my bed, George told me, “Why don’t you ask Jesus to heal your heart.” After speaking to me a bit more he left.
In the darkness of my bedroom I cried out in desperation to the unknown God whom I had never prayed to. I said, “God if you are real please heal me!” After crying out some more, I suddenly felt an invisible hand reach into and inside my chest. It felt like a painless spiritual surgery. I passed out into a deep sleep similar to what happens when you are administered sodium pentothal in a surgery. In the morning, I woke up and realized that I had missed the appointment to the campus nurse. All of the chest pains and anxiety were gone. I was absolutely healed.
I began to hang out with the Campus Crusade for Christ folks. I will never forget that even in those lost and dark days, there was something so different about them. Their love, kindness, peace, and holy living not just to me but among themselves attracted me in a mysterious way. I could not put my finger on it then, but I knew that they were unlike me and all of my druggie friends. One day I asked them that if I followed Jesus I would have to give up my partying. I was so scared that this Jesus was out to rob all of my fun. All that I knew were the serious and somber Catholic priests whom I had met and seemed to have no fun as Christians. The Campus Crusade people told me that I in some way would have to give up my partying.
I turned my back upon Jesus and went back to the bars and drugs of Nashville. Five more years of this lifestyle finally did me in. I dropped out of Vandy as a junior and went to Key Biscayne, Florida where my family was now living. When I flew in to Miami my parents were in the heat of a divorce after twenty-eight years of marriage. My father packed up his bags one day and left our home, never to come back.
Two more years passed. I was unemployed, drinking and taking more drugs. One night I was with a girl at Rickenbacker Causeway. We had the pipe and a baggie of pot out in the car. All of a sudden a brilliant and blinding light shone through one of the windows of the car. It was a policeman. I know now that God was protecting me though I hardly knew Him. The cop just told us to get out of the beach. So many times I drove to and fro from Joe Flannigan’s Big Daddy’s wasted, stoned, and dead drunk through the streets of Miami, yet without getting into an accident. The gracious and Almighty God protected me. His love is so great.
In 1979, my father hired me to be a file clerk at his insurance company on SW 1st Street and 13th Avenue in what we call with endearment “Little Havana.” By that time my life had hit the rock bottom. I went to see a prestigious lady psychologist who had treated me in Cuba twenty years earlier for a severe speech impediment. Now in her 70’s, I recounted to her how messed up my life was. She said to me “Jose, get close to God” At that moment a light darted through me. I remembered the kindness of the Campus Crusade people whom I had met five years earlier. I am sure now that they had prayed for me all of those years.
Next to my father’s office was an empty Episcopalian church which was always opened. I was so broken, so fearful, and so helpless. During my lunch breaks, I began to go into the empty church and pray to the God whom I did not know. I had done some spiritual searching and had read about tarot cards.
I did not know if God was Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Krishna or Confucius. For about ten days I went to the empty church, got on my knees and cried out to the roof of the church for help and mercy. Nothing happened; there were no bright lights, no voices, just stark silence. Close to the tenth day a Presence of the sweetest, most innocent, and most delightful love came upon me and enveloped me. I instinctually knew that this Presence loved me, could be my very best friend, and was totally pure, innocent, and trustworthy. I knew that this Being would never play a mind trip or a head game with me. I was so hungry for more. I visited the church again and came into contact again with this wonderful being.
I was to realize later that this was the magnificent Holy Spirit. As I my encounters continued my heart was impelled to go to the nearby Christian bookstore and buy a Living Bible. As the weeks and months progressed I realized that this was Jesus, not Mohammed, not Buddha not the crystals, not the energy or an aura and not Krishna. This glorious Presence had drawn me only to Jesus! I had a born again experience all by myself.
God changed me and healed me and has given me the most fantastic wife, beautiful children, a wonderful global Christian family and the most fulfilled life possible.
As I got to know Jesus, I came to realize that everything that I had been always seeking in girls, money, drugs and drinking, Jesus was the answer. I realized that He was the key to my heart. I was enthralled and captivated by His tender love and friendship and by a continual protection over me that only a mother hen can give to its chicks.
Thirty years later, my friendship, love affair and hunger for more of Jesus continue unabated. He has never stopped being my friend. He tenderly guides me and my family from moment to moment. As the song says, “Oh what a friend I have in Jesus.” All you need to do is ask Him to be your friend as well.