As Bill Conard, Vice President of International Ministries for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, explains, “The Latin American church is remarkably mature and has very good leaders.” Pablo Sanchez is one of those leaders. He is the National Coordinator for the “My Hope” television project in Paraguay, a South American nation of about six million people. The TV programs will air Oct. 16-18, 2003, across Paraguay, and Sanchez will be there overseeing the broadcasts and follow-up. A missionary in Paraguay for the last 15 years, Sanchez has come a long way from his days as a gun-toting youth, fighting on the losing side of a military coup in his native Chile. This is the story of how he came to faith in Christ.
September 11, 1973.
It was a day like no other day in the history of Chile, the South American nation.
Pablo Sanchez hunkered down on the first floor of the office building adjacent to Chile’s Presidential Palace. Bullets ricocheted off office walls … tanks rumbled through adjacent streets … cannon fire shook surrounding structures. The military coup everyone had expected was finally under way.
As a 16-year old idealist, Pablo Sanchez had joined the Socialist Party that helped elect Salvador Allende in the 1970 Chilean presidential elections. As pressure against the Marxist government grew, the party sent Pablo to Cuba to train in military and security techniques. Following months of intensive training in weapons, covert action, and crowd control, Sanchez returned to Santiago to protect his beleaguered president.
It had been a stormy three years for Allende’s government and for Pablo Sanchez. And he vowed to give his life for the cause, if necessary. As he ducked the bullets, the moment of ultimate sacrifice seemed very near.
Pablo heard jets approach the Palace. A moment later explosions shook the floors and walls of his hiding place. He was pretty sure his comrades in the Palace had not survived the aerial bombardment. He peeked out the window. Flames and billowing smoke engulfed the Presidential Palace. The battle was over.
An eerie silence descended on the square. Pablo found a quiet place to think. Would this be his last day on earth? Was he ready to die? What would happen next? Months before, a socialist friend had told him about her conversion to Christ. At the time, Pablo had dismissed it. But her changed life had impressed him. Now, in the silent terror of this moment, he offered a deal with the Almighty, “I know this is crazy for an atheist to be praying to You. But if You are real, please give me an opportunity out of this mess. I want to live.”
A soldier’s command interrupted Pablo’s prayer. “Come out from your offices and surrender your identity cards.” Pablo crawled through an open window and laid, spread-eagle, on the cobblestone pavement. He could see military forces dragging off other members of the security forces who had fought against the coup. A commander demanded his security card. The end had finally come. Either there was no God, or He chose to ignore Pablo’s prayer.
Then he heard words he couldn’t believe. “Get up off the ground and go directly home. We will come for you later.” Bodies littered the square, blocking Pablo’s path. With each step across the blood-splattered pavement, Pablo expected a bullet to end his life. When he got to the main intersection and turned toward his home, he couldn’t believe it. How had he survived when so many had fallen?
At a nearby intersection, angry soldiers demanded his papers. Was this the end? Before he could explain his situation, the soldiers pursued another person fleeing the scene. A shot rang out. Pablo never looked back.
For two days he waited for the security forces to arrive. On the third day a knock came at his door. It was the same friend who had shared Christ with him months earlier. She had come at great, personal peril to find out if he had survived. And she came with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Pablo knew that God had miraculously delivered him. He acknowledged the reality of a Living God. And he asked God to forgive him through Jesus Christ who died on the cross for his sins. He also offered to serve the cause of Christ with all his heart–the same way he had served the Marxist cause of Salvador Allende.
It took seven months for the military to finally come for him. Instead of fleeing the country like many others, he began attending church with his friend. In those months, Pablo had learned much about the grace and ways of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. As he was taken into custody, a church body prayed and fasted around the clock.
Pablo had determined to tell the truth about his story. But he also refused to inform on any of his former comrades. After a brief stay at the local police station, Pablo was blindfolded and taken to a notorious military prison in the center of Santiago. From this torture chamber, nobody was known to have survived.
The days of his interrogation stretched into weeks. Pablo lost all sense of time. When footsteps approached his cell, he prayed. He asked for strength to endure all-night questioning sessions. He prayed for integrity. He asked for deliverance from torture. And God answered.
Pablo Sanchez was never tortured by the military police. He was thoroughly questioned for weeks. He told them his entire story. And he refused to implicate others. When he was finally turned back over to the local authorities, the precinct captain couldn’t believe his eyes. Other officers came to touch the young man who had passed through the secret police. No person they surrendered had ever returned. Pablo was a miracle of God’s deliverance.
Pablo kept his promise to serve Jesus Christ. He has served the Savior faithfully for the past 15 years as a missionary in nearby Paraguay. Now, Pablo is the National Coordinator in Paraguay for “Mi Esperanza” (“My Hope”), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s campaign to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to entire countries through nationwide television broadcasts. Local Christians will invite friends and neighbors into their homes to view the campaign’s evangelistic programs and later will personally follow-up with those attending.
Pablo Sanchez knows firsthand God’s miraculous ability to deliver anyone who calls out to Him. That is the message of hope he brings to Paraguay.
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