HOUSTON (BP) — Jesús Guillén says he should’ve died a dozen times over, twice at the hands of his wife.
“For 10 years, I was a very bad husband. I did everything wrong. It was a hell for her,” Guillén, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Redención, a Hispanic church in Houston, Texas, says of his past. “I made her life so bad that she tried to kill herself three times and kill me twice.”
He’s got the knife scars to prove it.
It’s hard for people who meet Guillén to believe that’s the way his story started, that the gentle pastor with the big smile was planting marijuana and drinking himself silly at age 9 in Mexico.
Or that at 15, because of Guillén’s skill with a pistol, a wealthy man hired him as his bodyguard.
“He said, ‘If anyone tries to hurt me, kill them and I will get you out of jail,'” Guillén recounted. “Fortunately, I never had to kill anyone.”
After three years of dangerous work as a bodyguard, Guillén married and moved to Texas looking for freedom.
But he found he’d brought his troubles with him — drug addiction, alcoholism, abuse and trouble with the law. During that time, Guillén’s wife tried to take her own life and his too.
That’s also the phase where he wandered into a Baptist church in Houston.
“As I was standing there in the church, I said to God, ‘Take away these addictions, and I will follow you.’ And God did,” he said. “Nobody believed I could get away from alcohol, but God did it. And I’m so grateful to God that I want to be part of the work of His Kingdom.”
That’s why pastor Guillén spent the next few decades planting 23 churches, training pastors and recruiting missionaries to take the model to other countries.
He also watched his sons go to college and law school, got his GED and became a grandfather.
“When God wants to use you, He can do anything,” said Guillén, who is helping lead his church and church plants in an overseas mission effort to reach street kids in Senegal for Christ.
“Many people in our churches in the past have said, ‘Why would you go all the way to Senegal to do this (meet needs and share the Gospel) when there are needs right here in our own state?'” Guillén said. “But we have to do it at home and in the whole world. God prepared us for this, and He told us to.”
Guillén said he was looking for a place for Iglesia Bautista church — and the churches he helped plant — to get involved overseas. And after meeting with Jason Carlisle, director of Hispanic mobilization for the International Mission Board, he thought the West African country of Guinea-Bissau might be the place.
“That was in 2007, and they were having a strike, so we couldn’t go,” Guillén said. “Jason asked me if I would consider Senegal instead, and I said that was fine with me…. I didn’t know anything about either of them.”
It was God’s will that Guillén went to Senegal instead, he says. There he met a family of Costa Ricans committed to taking in boys and girls, providing them with food and an education and teaching them about Jesus.
Over time, other Spanish-speaking missionaries joined them, thanks to Guillén’s recruiting — people like Jorge Reina, a bread maker and former drug smuggler; people from Guatemala, Chile, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama and the United States.
A group of Hispanic pastors in the Houston area started to meet regularly to pray for the Senegal ministry and to talk about ways to encourage their churches to get involved.
And Guillén kept dreaming.
“In Senegal, as they expanded the ministry and built more homes for the kids, I knew they needed ways to sustain themselves financially,” Guillén said. “Gilbert, who led the ministry, suggested that they start a farm to raise chickens for money….”
He shared his dream with his church, and three weeks later they took up an offering of $18,000 to start a chicken farm.
That farm now boasts thousands of chickens and provides about $1,700 a month in income for the ministry.
“We as a church realized it was God’s will to help them,” and so they did, Guillén said.
They also support the ministry monthly and have sent shipping containers filled with things like welding machines, commercial bread makers, even a car. At the homes, the children learn to bake bread, weld and retread tires.
And the children learn how to share their faith.
“We are expecting … God to send [some of them] to other countries. We want to make sure they are ready to go,” Guillén said. “Gilbert, Jorge and the others teach them the Bible day and night.”
Every weekend some of the older children and teens go out with the Hispanic missionaries to remote villages previously unexposed to the Gospel. These villages are wide open to hear the story, thanks to gifts of medicine and food the missionaries have been able to offer.
“In several villages, they are planting churches,” Guillén said. “There are at least four villages with 40, 50, 150 meeting.”
It’s going so well it’s nearly time to move on, he said. “They are nearly ready to sustain themselves here, so we will be thinking about what country to go to next.”
Guillén spoke this summer at the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas annual meeting, hoping to drum up interest from other Hispanic churches that might like to play a part in reaching the world.
“I’m trying to involve as many churches as I can,” he said. “When people work as a team, God blesses.”
And God is calling people out, he said.
“Every time I go to a meeting (in Latin America) there are people who feel God is telling them to go but are waiting for someone to send them,” he said. “I meet dozens who want to go to different places, and they are serious about it. I hope I find some churches in the States to help send them. We can show them how.”
Guillén’s church isn’t a big church — it runs about 90 on a Sunday, he said. “But God can do anything through anyone if they are willing to give what they have. Whether it be having a lawn-mowing business and using that money to give to missions or going yourself, God can use anyone.”
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).