HUNTLEY, Mont. (BP) — Judy Seiwert had been visiting her grandchildren and was flying home to Montana, eager to pass the time with a book on her new Kindle. Seated next to Hector Esquivel, however, she was stirred to begin a conversation.
Esquivel was returning from his mother’s funeral that week in 2011, and he had been annoyed by a group of Christians praying over him at her wake, he told Baptist Press. In obligatory small talk with Seiwert on the plane, he mentioned his mother’s death and said she was in a better place.
“She goes, ‘Oh, she’s Christian, then?'” Esquivel remembers Seiwert asking. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ She asked me if I was Christian, and I told her I wasn’t.”
The truth was Esquivel was suicidal at that point in his life.
“I had a lot of problems. I was super heavy into drugs. I was drinking a lot,” Esquivel said. “I was on a very, very bad path.”
It’s particularly interesting, Esquivel said, that Seiwert spoke to him on the plane that day. “People tend to back off from me,” he said. “They take a look at me and go, ‘Oh, man, this guy looks like trouble. He looks like problems.’ But not Judy. She wasn’t scared at all.”
Seiwert knew a conversation about eternal matters with Esquivel was more important than her Kindle, so she asked him if he wanted to know how he could see his mother again.
“I just shared the ABCs of being saved. I shared with him that if he admitted he was a sinner and believed in Christ — that Christ died and went to the grave and rose again — and would commit his life to the Lord, then he could be saved,” Seiwert told BP.
“I said, ‘But you have to ask Jesus into your heart. I can’t do it for you. I will share with you. I will start the prayer, but you have to finish and you have to ask.’ And he did. I started off praying, and then I stopped and he picked it up. He was very emotional, and I knew that he was changed.”
After Esquivel prayed to accept Christ as his Savior, he and Seiwert talked all the way to Billings. She learned his truck needed a repair, and she told him not to worry about it because her husband Art was a mechanic and would fix it for him. Sure enough, when they landed around 1 a.m., the Seiwerts had Esquivel follow them home.
Art fixed the fan belt on the truck, and the couple invited Esquivel to spend the night. He declined and left around 6 a.m., he recalls, to return to work in a North Dakota oil field.
During the past eight years, Esquivel and the Seiwerts have kept in touch. When he left North Dakota to return to California, he drove through Montana and stopped to visit them, and he went to a service with them at Valley Baptist Church in Huntley.
“He has called my husband when he’s down or struggling,” Seiwert said.
“One day I was out in my husband’s parking lot waiting to go to lunch with him and Hector called. He said, ‘Sister Judy, I just have one question for you.’ He said, ‘I met this woman,’ and he started to share some things, and I just said, ‘Run, Hector, run.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘She’s not leading you down the right path. That’s not biblical.’ He said, ‘OK, sister.’
“Another time, he called and said, ‘Sister Judy, I just had to tell you I’m standing here in my backyard, looking up at the sky, and I said a prayer that someone would be led to the Lord like you led me.’ That touched my heart so much,” Seiwert said.
Esquivel told BP he believes God put Seiwert beside him on that plane for a reason.
“I’m no longer a drug addict. I no longer drink. I think of the stuff once in a while, but I don’t do it,” he said. “I’m still not married, but I don’t go out with all these girls like I used to before. So it’s been a huge change. I found a church.”
In an attempt to not appear mean, Esquivel said he cuts his hair differently and shaves differently now.
“I’ve been going to church ever since I met Judy. Judy got me going. I don’t know what she did. It was the Holy Spirit, of course, but she planted that seed in me, and she planted it deep,” he said.
“All my old friends aren’t my friends anymore. Everybody turned their backs on me because of this change. They don’t like the new Hector. They like the old Hector,” Esquivel said.
The Seiwerts send Esquivel cards occasionally, and the three of them text or talk by phone sometimes. “Bro. Art still prays over me,” Esquivel said.
Seiwert told BP, “I’m just so thankful we have Hector in our lives. It was a highlight of my life because here I am thinking I’m just going to enjoy this last moment of my trip, and yet God used it in a different way, and that was pretty awesome.”
Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, met the Seiwerts when he preached at Valley Baptist Church this spring. The couple took Duke and his wife to lunch after church, and when they were talking about evangelism, Esquivel’s story came up.
“The depth of spiritual maturity and commitment to the Lord flowed out of her and her husband once we started talking about the things of God,” Duke told BP. “Just to look at them, you wouldn’t say there was anything unusual about them. They present themselves in typical Montana style — quiet, reserved and stoic. But that’s just the learned response to life in rural Montana.
“This couple turned out to be far from any of those characteristics. They are deeply passionate about life and the world, fully engaged in spiritual life, and loving,” Duke said. “They reminded me that rural America is still very much alive with faith and passion for Christ. Christians in rural America have a lot to offer the church and the world. Denominations ignore them to their own loss.”