Joe Morales, Braden River UMC, Bradenton
My name is José Morales. I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a US territory since 1898. My choice of becoming a disciple of our Lord Jesus dates back to a personal experience I had when I was 11 years old.
On that particular day, I remember coming home after school with a bloody nose and facial cuts, the result of me being attacked by two neighborhood bullies. As soon as my mother saw me, she started yelling, blaming me for the fight, while at the same time cleaning and treating my superficial cuts. I reacted so angrily that I pushed her away and left the house.
Full of anger and confusion, I walked into a nearby forest and sat on a rock near a small water fall. Once there, I started crying while - at the same time - talking aloud to no one in particular. After a few minutes, I started regretting my disrespectful and uncalled for reaction toward my loving mother. I remember exclaiming over and over - "...why did I treat my mother that way? I know that she loves me..." Why...! I also remember asking God ...over and over "... please God forgive me for having done that. I love her with all my heart!" After a few moments... an inner, never felt before, peaceful feeling overwhelmed me! I felt truly forgiven!
Suddenly, I stood up and ran back home and found my mother in the kitchen. I embraced while crying and asked for her forgiveness over and over, telling her how much I loved her. Silently, she took me in her arms and we both cried together.
Many years passed and I continued my growing up and getting older. However, I could not erase from my mind that special experience. I often wondered what that 'peaceful feeling' was. It was not until - under different circumstances - I felt it twice again.
The next time, it was on the evening of a pleasant spring day at a place near my college campus. I was walking home from its library and approaching the nearby town's athletic field. When I reached it, I saw a large group of people gathering at its grandstand bleachers. Curiosity got the best of me, and I joined the crowd.
From their friendly behavior and the pleasant music being played, I concluded that it was not a sports rally and decided to stay. Soon after my arrival, I was surprised when the people there started singing Christian music. Then, shortly afterward, the music stopped and the master of ceremonies introduced a person named Billy, who was the main speaker. After listening to him for a few minutes, his words of love for humanity and how our creator loves its servants impressed me in such a way that I remained for the entire presentation. At the end of it, he asked people to come to the front if they wanted to accept and follow Jesus as our savior. Without hesitation, I was one of the first ones to do so. I noticed that there dozens of people around me. Kneeling down, with my head bowed in prayer, I suddenly felt a hand on my head and heard a person praying for me. As he prayed, I felt - for the second time in my life - that 'peaceful feeling' I had experienced many years before while sitting at that rock in the forest near my home. Curiosity prompted me to look up and see that it was the main speaker, the Reverend Billy Graham. He was in Puerto Rico conducting one of his Christian crusades.
A couple of years went by and I graduated from college. Then, after working for a while as a math and science teacher, I married Lucy and, soon afterwards, joined the US Army. There I served for over 40 years, first on active duty and, after my retirement, as a civilian employee.
It was during my last year of my civilian employment that my third “special” experience - with what I now know as the Holy Spirit - happened. It was an early February 1997 morning, and I was at the intensive care unit of the Bethesda Navy Hospital in Washington, DC after having a heart cauterization procedure done under emergency conditions. Shortly after being connected to a series of plastic tubes and electronic monitors, the nurse noticed something on the monitors that prompted her to call the doctor on duty. I remember feeling real weak but still mentality alert. Soon after the doctor arrived, he directed the securing of my body to the bed and to place my head lower than my legs to insure that my brain had sufficient flow of blood to it because I was bleeding internally from a ruptured abdominal artery.
While I was in that inverted position, I glanced up and saw a Navy officer with a cross as part of his uniform. Calmly I asked the doctor to allow me to pray together with chaplain. He agreed and surprisingly, all in the room joined the chaplain in prayer.
During this prayer, I felt - for the third time in my life - that "peaceful feeling" of forgiveness, peace, love and hope that I had previously felt twice before. Soon after the prayer was over, I went into an induced coma. When I woke up the next morning, I felt at peace. It was then that I told my wife Lucy that I firmly wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to serve our Lord Jesus.
Yes, my life has indeed changed ever since. I feel at peace with myself and everything I do; I do it for His glory. Though I have had many different experiences in my life such as combat duty, fighting guerrillas, dealing one-on-one with national political and civic leaders, responding to queries from national and international news media; suffering undeserved and uncalled public humiliation because of my ethnic background, and - the most personal and painful one - losing my son to brain cancer five years ago, my faith in Him gets stronger every day.
In every one of the above situations, I felt His love! No doubt about it, He guided me to properly deal with every one of those experiences, clearly demonstrating that - indeed - He is my life's guiding light. Humbly serving Him brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction and peace.
In closing, as a member of the Methodist Church, I hereby renew my promise of - with His help and inspiration - making more disciples for Him as long as I can. Praise the Lord!
Up Next Week…
Karen Janota, Crystal River UMC
“How does one describe growing spiritually? To begin with, it is a process that started for me in May of 1996, when I went in search of something that I had no idea what I would find. After all, they kept telling me, “Don’t anticipate!” Yes, it was Walk to Emmaus no. 62 in Fruitland Park, Warren Willis Camp. Since that weekend, God has absolutely turned my life around.”
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