The story of my youth is one that may surprise many that have only met me as an adult. I was born to an extremely poor, large family and a drunk for a father. My parents eked out a living in the mountains of Peru, sufficient to feed us a monotonous diet of soup. We never knew what toys were and there was little time to play anyway since we worked in the fields from a young age. Our clothes were plain cotton pants and tank tops and we ran around without shoes. In winter months, we wore ponchos, but still no shoes. The frost on the ground would crack our feet and make them bleed. I still remember that excruciating pain.
Despite the hardships, my parents were committed to betting our lives and they sacrificed tremendously to send us to school. I was grateful, but the experience drove me to a disdain for the life we lived. As I matured, I recognized how limited my options were. Most of all, I didn’t want a life of hard labor followed by nights of drunken stupor, so I ran away from home.
I was such a bumpkin I didn’t even know how to catch a bus. I was humiliated after I asked and learned how simple it was. Just raise your hand as the bus is approaching. I went to the nearest city. I didn’t know anything about that place and I didn’t have any skills. I didn’t even know how to use a broom. For a little while I sold pastries in the outdoor market.
That just wasn’t working, so I headed to a smaller town. There I quickly got another job selling pastries, this time at the entrance to a high school. Each night I would help make the pastries and then sell them the next day. One night, I worked all night without stopping, making the jellies and mixing the pastry dough. I was so tired when the morning came, but I still had to be at the high school at 9:00 a.m. to sell the pastries. That morning I fell asleep and stayed that way as the students came out for recess. They saw me sleeping and ate all the pastries. I had to go home with no pastries and no money. The boss told me I would have to work that off, which would take two months. One afternoon, the boss left to go shopping and I knew he wouldn’t be back for a while. I broke into the office and took enough money for a bus ticket and to hold me over for a few days.
I was surprised at how easy stealing was. It became the path of least resistance to survival. I went from town to town, meeting young people that, like me, were more than happy to take what didn’t belong to them. We were aimless youth lacking identification or any formal registration, like animals without owners.
My wake up call came one day after a failed plundering attempt. We were going into a peanut farm and fell into a booby trap rigged with a shotgun. It could have killed us, but a dog tripped it before we got to it. The owner was nearby, however, and he came after us. He hollered after us to be careful because there were the same traps at every entrance to the farm. The flying bullets of that afternoon started me thinking about leaving that life and looking for a job.
I set out walking that day with no food, but for me, it was a marvelous day. I had not previously appreciated God’s creation—all the trees and animals and the birds’ songs – as much as I did on that day. Without a specific destination, I stumbled upon the home of Jose Tiburcio Coronel—he and his wife Emelina Alarcón received me, a stranger, into their home. This Christian family took me in with open arms and provided me with bed, food and work. The work consisted of farming vegetables, planting rice, peanuts, bananas, yucca and corn. For the first time ever I was facing the reality of life: work to live.
Being brought up as a Catholic made me fear this family’s evangelical faith. I was ignorant and listening to their teachings made me feel desperate. When they would sing hymns, my body would tremble with fear. After dinner, they would invite me to read the Bible. Listening to their teachings made me feel desperate. Through the night I would pray to the Virgin Mary to help me keep from being fooled by the evangelicals. I would always muddle things up with a bunch of questions when they tried to explain the gospel to me. Always, I would praise the Catholic Church.
I ended up hanging out with some other foolish young kid like myself and we planned how to destroy the place where the born-again Christians worshipped. We thought this would make them come to their senses and repent of their departure from the Catholic Church. The outcome was quite different. When they saw the destruction, they said, “Narciso must have done this. We must pray for him.” And they did.
I was surprised by God’s love. This family responded to me in patience and tenderness. The family gave me the financial support that I needed to buy clothes, shoes, work tools and medicine —and besides that, they allotted me 74 acres of land to work for myself. They helped me study first aid. I did my practicum in the Regional Hospital of Moyobamba, and I came back with medicine to use in my work with the community. The church began to form prayer chains for me to come to know Jesus. They also held fasts and prayer vigils to ask God for me to surrender my life to Christ. I thought they were wrong for that—wasting their time. “I’m Catholic and that’s how I’ll die!” I would tell them. To this day, I don’t understand how God put it on the hearts of those brothers to pray for me. The important element was their perseverance in prayer.
As staunchly opposed as I was to their beliefs, I nonetheless attended church with them out of sheer boredom. There was absolutely nothing else to do in that small jungle town and a couple of nice-looking young ladies went to church. After one month of faithfully attending services, God touched my heart and opened my eyes. The Word of God began to work and I began to take an interest in it. I began to love the Word of God. I would wait anxiously all afternoon for the evening message, and I wanted the hour for church service to come quickly.
Nine months went by and God was working in my life. In June 1976, a missionary named Omega Vega Ríos arrived and she invited us to come for four days to the church. The missionary preached and presented a Bible lesson and she taught us some beautiful choruses that I have never forgotten. Later that day, Sister Omega invited me to accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior and with great joy I said to her, “Yes, I want to give my life to Jesus.” I went up to the front and got on my knees on the humid dirt floor. After praying together, all the brothers hugged me and that day seemed like a big party. Thirty years later I look back on that day as the happiest day of my life.
With the help of the Alarcón family, I decided to leave for Lima, the capital of Peru, to prepare myself to better serve my Lord Jesus. I entered seminary and have been a missionary in South America ever since.
My conversion is still a surprise to me, even. I am amazed at how God had His plan for my life and brought me to it, despite great odds and opposition.