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From Zen Buddhism to church planting

MIAMI, Fla. (BP) — Aldo Leon, a self-described Cuban-American Miami boy, recently moved back to Miami from Los Angeles to plant Reconcile Church Miami with the purpose of reaching the lost in south Dade County.

Leon, 33, married and a father of two, wasn’t always so passionate about the Gospel. He says that he grew up in a home that was very “unreligious,” and in college he had very liberal professors who fed his dislike for religion — Christianity in particular.

“I was taking criminal justice courses, and the professors would attack Christianity, and I would swallow it all,” Leon said.

In his 20s, Leon had a girlfriend — now his wife — who is a Christian. Every time she invited him to church or talked about God, he said, they would fight.

“That was the extent of our conversations about religion,” he said.

Leon became involved in boxing and as he trained and became more serious about the sport, his trainers suggested he read up on Zen Buddhism because some of its aspects would be beneficial to his boxing.

“I wanted to be this great fighter, and I really got into this religion,” Leon said.

He bought all the books, read all the articles, watched videos and really delved into Zen Buddhism. In the midst of his studies he came upon a chapter that suggested to Westerners to get familiarized with Jesus. For Buddhists, Jesus is another enlightened being. 

Leon got his hands on a New King James New Testament to learn about Jesus like his book suggested.

“Not because I was looking for the Jesus of the Bible, but the idolatrous Jesus of Buddhism,” he said.

Everything changed after that.

“Something happened to me that I haven’t gotten over since,” Leon said. “I began to believe what was written about Christ. It was very strange for me because I wasn’t really looking for Jesus, but He was finding me.

“One month prior I was arguing with my wife and ripping her away from her faith, and the next I’m battling to stand on biblical truths and morals.”

That all happened in 2007. 

After completing his ministry education at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, Leon came back to Miami with the desire to plant a church.

“I felt a need to attack areas of great [Gospel] need and do it with passion,” he said.

Conversations with Al Fernandez, a regional catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, and Jose Abella, lead pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami, confirmed God’s calling for Leon to plant in Miami. Reconcile Church Miami is set to launch in October.

Gary Johnson, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association, heard Leon’s story during a new works meeting in July. He felt that it was one of those stories that just had to be shared. Johnson, however, was more interested in seeing Leon join the Miami Baptist Association — like many other millennial pastors are doing.

Leon said joining the Miami Baptist Association makes sense because church planting is not something that can be done alone. Not only that, but being part of the association makes him and his church a part of something much bigger than themselves, and that is important to him. 

Leon noted he’s often thought about the similarities between his conversion story and the apostle Paul’s. While the Zen Buddhism aspect of his conversion story is an interesting one, he says that what really drives him to share the Gospel is his realization about how lost he once was and how miraculously he was saved — much like Paul.

“I’ve never gotten over the fact that I was a person who was lost and is now saved,” Leon said. “When I converse with lost people, there is an empathy and understanding of where they are at.

“Some Christians don’t know how to have a conversation with a lost person, and they can kind of say these cookie-cutter things but not really connect. When [lost] people ask questions and say the difficult things that some [lost] people say, I’m able to respond to that.”