by Cocolo Rivera
“I walked with Satan, but my God delivered me.”
I was born December 15, 1946. I was only six when my father separated my brother and me from our mother. From that moment on, I became a rebellious, disrespectful, and skeptical child. I reached adolescence with the same characteristics. Not knowing much about my God, since my father never took me to a church, I only heard about God in school.
I decided to enlist in the Armed Forces. In 1965, when war began between the United States and Vietnam, I wanted to unleash my anger on the battlefield. Those who knew me branded me as a madman. In April 1966, my wish came true, and I was deployed to Vietnam in southeast Asia.
Although I had never visited a church, I talked with my God every morning. Each day, I felt protected. I survived many dangerous situations for eight long months until, in November, I was struck by a sniper. For several weeks, I remained in a coma.
One day after I awoke, the attending doctor asked me, “What religion do you belong to?”
“I have no religion,” I replied. “I just talk to God every day.”
Smiling, he replied, “Well, you have very good communication with Him, because He brought you back to life.”
I was discharged from the Armed Forces and returned to my home town. My faith grew, and I felt safe. Although I was addicted to marijuana, alcohol, and prescribed morphine, I sensed that Christ would help me again. He gave me a wonderful wife, a young woman from my neighborhood named Margarita. We grew up in the same neighborhood, almost under the same circumstances.
Poor girl! She had no idea that, by marrying me, she would have to face a tough test. She would have to deal with a rebel, addict, and mentally ill person. In 1968, a month before our first daughter was born, I lost my memory. I was admitted to a mental institution with a syndrome of combat.
Only Margarita’s love and faith in God could give her strength. By 1972, we had our home and three other daughters. Margarita continued struggling with a madman. Though I never physically assaulted her, I did with my attitude. She believed in a powerful God and instilled her faith in our daughters. In my spare time, I worked with children and youth. I did not want them to become addicts like me.
In 1989, we decided to move to Orlando. It was a positive change for our family, because our daughters learned more about God and began a close relationship with Him. That led me to visit the churches they were attending. In spite of my condition, Margarita and my daughters were determined to take me in the path of the Gospel. It was an arduous task, but they never gave up.
In 1991, I met the owner of a radio station and started working as a sports commentator, something I had not studied or known. Now, I believe God was leading me in the path He wanted me to go.
In 1992, Don Manuel Toro gave me the opportunity to collaborate in his weekly newspaper, La Prensa, as a sports columnist. My God allowed me to succeed in the media and, for a time, on the small screen. However, with this success, my ego grew, causing more problems for Margarita and my daughters.
My friend John Torrado, owner of radio broadcast La Fantástica, gave me the opportunity to work in his program. My popularity with the Hispanic audience was tremendous. I met many people of faith who prayed for my salvation. By the end of 2000, I met Lucimar, producer of a morning program, and started working with her. By 2009, my popularity had grown. I was awarded on several occasions. Apparently, God had an ongoing plan, although I did not see it at that time.
One morning as I was preparing for the radio broadcast, I heard a sublime voice that said, “It is over.” I thought it was Margarita, but it was not her. Two weeks later, at the same time, I heard the same voice, this time more assertive, “Enough, now you will work for me!” My hair bristled; yet, I understood the message. It seemed like, in my heart, I was already wanting to quit. I did not resist or feel discouraged.
I went to the station and told my colleague that this would be my last week on the radio. She was surprised and asked me what happened. I gave no explanation, for she would not understand. At the end of the week, I said goodbye to my listeners. There were a lot of callers wishing me a restful retirement. At the same time, I was struggling with cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, so many listeners thought that I was retiring due to health problems..
During my 18 years in sports communications, I met three of the Gonzalez brothers: Oscar, Pucho, and Samuel, who are Seventh-day Adventists. They, like me, are sports fans. Oscar invited me to attend the inauguration of the new Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Deltona on April 19, 2009.
Although I did not belong to any Christian denomination, I was a believer in Jesus Christ. Every morning, I communicated with Him and thanked Him for his kindness to me and my family. After my retirement, in my conversations with Jesus Christ, I asked Him, “Now, what shall I do? I do not know much about the Bible.”
When the inauguration date came, Margarita and I decided to go. Upon our arrival, we noticed a large number of people in the church’s courtyard and I looked for Oscar among them. When he saw us, he immediately came to greet us and introduced us to his wife, Gisela, his in-laws, retired Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera, and his wife, Fela. I also had the honor to personally meet Oscar’s parents, Guarionex and Santi, and other relatives. I was introduced to many members of the church, and some recognized my voice from the radio. Margarita and I felt welcomed and warmed by the hospitality of the Seventh-day Adventists.
After the traditional ribbon cutting, we went inside the temple—a beautiful building worth offering to our God! After listening to the words of gratitude from several pastors, including Oliver Mastrapa who was the leader of the congregation at that time, Florida Conference evangelist Rolando de los Ríos presented the main message for the occasion. The words of his message touched me deeply!
At the end of the meeting, we all went to the social hall, where they had prepared a hearty Adventist-style lunch for everybody. I met the rest of the Gonzalez family and others who later would become very important friends to us: Carmen and Víctor Rodríguez, Carlos and Rosa Matos, and singers of the quartet, Harmony.
After leaving the temple, I told Margarita, “I think I found the church that I sought.” She nodded firmly, “Me too.”
We decided, in spite of the distance from Orlando, to attend services every Saturday at the Deltona Spanish Church. Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera offered to instruct us in Bible studies. I was beginning to see God’s work in me. Although I was a miserable sinner, He was offering His forgiveness and parenthood to me.
The third Saturday we attended, the preacher was Carmen Rodríguez. Incidentally, that day I learned that she is Executive Secretary at Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Her message was very spiritual, and it touched my heart. After the service, I told Margarita, “I want to be baptized,” to which she answered, “So do I. For 42 years I have been waiting for you. Thank you, Lord!”
That day, as we gathered in the social room, we informed Oscar about our decision. You can imagine his excitement! Both Pastor Oliver Mastrapa, and Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera volunteered to help in the preparation for this solemn moment. The joy of Carmen, Victor, Carlos, Rosa, and the Gonzalez brothers was very evident.
We agreed that the date for our baptism would be June 20, 2009, the same week of our 43rd wedding anniversary. I knew that during those 43 years, Margarita had always wanted to confirm our marriage vows in a church. And the Lord said, “This is the time.” I wanted to surprise her and made the arrangements with the pastors to have the confirmation of our wedding vows before the baptism.
The long-awaited moment came. I will never forget that date. It was a joyful moment for my wife, Margarita; my daughters, my brother, Victor, and his wife Mari, a Seventh-day Adventist all her life; and their daughter Dana, my darling niece.
Confirmation of the marriage vows took place first by Pastor Mastrapa, and the baptismal ceremony was officiated by Pastor Julio Cesar Rivera. The temple was full of brothers and sisters. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the church. Thank you, my God!
The same day, Margarita had a very pleasant surprise. Pastor Rivera arranged to reconcile her with her sister in Puerto Rico. They were distanced for many years, but her sister sent a letter which was read at her baptism. It was a very emotional moment for Margarita.
We became Seventh-day Adventists! My God released me from the chains that bound me to drug addiction, alcoholism, and bad eating habits!
Some weeks after that great event, Margarita and I enrolled in the Hazkell Institute. This seminar to prepare lay Bible instructors was taught by Pastors Oliver Mastrapa and Emilio Ruiz every Wednesday night at the church. Finally, we graduated.
Weeks later, I was approached by Oscar Gonzalez who informed me that a brother in Christ was interested in hosting a Christian ministry on the radio, and he had recommended me for that purpose. During the week, I was telling my God, “Aren’t you going too fast? Remember, I do not know much about your Word.”
I made arrangements with the owner of La Fantástica radio station to have a space every Sunday from 7:00 to 8:00 pm . With the blessing of the Lord, the radio program launched on November 1, 2009. Exactly one year later, the Lord had confirmed the panel of participants: Joel and Aitza Ruiz; Jose Acevedo; Gabriel Fragos; Margarita, my wife; myself; and guest speakers, Pastor Oliver Mastrapa, Pastor José LeGrand, Carmen and Victor Rodríguez, and others. On the last Sunday of every month, the youth ministries of our church, under the leadership of Juan Rivera and myself, host the radio broadcast. A number of other brothers and sisters in Christ who wish to remain anonymous help with monetary contributions to pay the expenses of the radio program.
This year, 2011, I became a Sabbath School teacher. Day after day, I knelt down to talk with my God and said, “God, I think I’m going too fast, but I trust you and with your help, I’ll move forward in your name.” I thank God for allowing me to be His son.
Now, I understand God’s purpose in directing me down the road of communication for 18 years, even though I interpreted it wrongly. My life has had a 180-degree turn. Although Satan, the enemy, will not accept that God has delivered me from his chains, I am convinced that my life belongs to my God. Thank you, Father!