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Wife’s new birth, son’s rescue stirred Puerto Rican to faith

PONCE, Puerto Rico (BP)–Other Baptist leaders in Puerto Rico affectionately call Ernesto Rene Pereira the “pope.” But he has not always worked for God’s Kingdom.

“I was an alcoholic,” Pereira said plainly during a meeting at his church in Ponce with leaders from the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board March 28.

Today, Pereira is pastor of Glenview Baptist Church in Ponce, the largest Southern Baptist church in Puerto Rico, and the largest of any denomination in the south of the island. He also is president of the newly formed Convenciòn Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico), which also covers the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Years ago, Pereira was a professor and director of the biology department at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, also in Ponce.

He had a prestigious job, a wife and children, but he was not fulfilled. He used alcohol as an escape.

One day, his wife began to change.

“An SBC missionary came to our area,” Pereira said. “My wife was raised in an evangelical church, but she was not saved. She met a friend that invited her to a Bible service with that missionary. My wife started going to those services.”

Pereira noticed a change in his wife, but he was jealous of the time she spent at the church.

“I tried to stop her from going to church,” he said. “I would say, ‘You made me my lunch every Sunday before. But now you go to church, and I don’t have lunch. You have to make me my lunch.’ I was jealous of the church.”

Then his wife started getting up early on Sunday so she could fix his lunch before going to church. This piqued Pereira’s curiosity even more.

“One day I went to see what was going on there, but that was my mistake,” he said to laughter from the group.

“I went to argue,” he said. “You can fight people, but it’s difficult to fight the Word. That’s why I don’t preach opinions. My preaching is expository. I just say, ‘This is this and the Bible proves it.’”

Pereira was immediately impressed by the love he felt from the people at the church.

“I drank on Saturday, and when I went to the church with my wife it was like … a dragon,” he said. You give me a match, I was so alcoholic with my breath, I could light it. But people loved me. They didn’t reject me because I was drinking. They still loved me.”

Pereira’s wife prayed for the Lord to move him.

“My wife told me later that she’d put my children in the bed every night to pray for daddy. They did that behind my back,” he said to more laughter.

It took a while for those prayers to be answered. Despite Pereira’s positive experience at church, he still was reluctant to give his life to Christ.

Then a major event caused him to rethink his priorities.

“One day my wife wanted to go to a Christian concert on a Saturday,” he said. “I said ‘I will take you, but this is Saturday and I’m going to have my drinks with my friends.’”

Pereira took his wife to the concert, while his then-12-year-old son, who is now a pastor, stayed home alone, not wanting to go to the concert.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but he was trying to be like Dad,” Pereira said of his son’s lack of interest in spiritual things.

After dropping his wife off, Pereira went to a friend’s house. The two began talking and drinking as they did frequently.

While there, Pereira said he began having a feeling unlike any he’d ever had before. “I felt an urgent concern for my son’s security,” he said.

“It wasn’t the only time he’d been left alone, but at that time, I felt there was something wrong in my home on the other side of the city.

“I told my friend, ‘I think I should go back home. I don’t know why, but I’m really concerned about my son. Something is wrong’

“He said, ‘Ah, forget about it; have another drink. He’s at home. The windows are closed. He’s OK.’”

Pereira tried to put the feeling out of his mind for some time, but eventually he couldn’t resist the sensation that something was wrong. He told his friend goodbye and drove across the city to his home.

When he arrived at his home, two burglars were breaking in the window.

“My son was hysterical,” Pereira said. “He was so scared. He was yelling and screaming. I don’t know what would have happened to my son if they [had been] able to go inside.”

Pereira said the Lord knew it would take something so monumental to reach him.

“Something special really was needed,” he said. “I was so proud of my knowledge. I had to be broken. I understood that all my life could be gone in a minute. I could have lost my son.”

The miracle that happened that day is why Pereira said he doesn’t “swallow” the “natural church.”

“The church was designed to be a supernatural institution,” he said. “I don’t like anybody that doesn’t believe in miracles. They can’t work for me. I don’t care if he has three Ph.D.s and four Doctor of Divinities. If you don’t believe in miracles, I don’t need you. I don’t want you to be around my church.”

Pereira gave his life to Christ. Eventually, the missionary at the church his family attended left to become director of the Baptist seminary in San Juan. Pereira was called to lead the congregation. He resigned after one year.

“Not even my wife got emotional when I preached,” he said of the brief stint. “I thought being a professor was enough. The Lord told me, ‘I don’t need professors. I can do the work with people like Peter, James, fishermen. I don’t need professors. I need people broken.’”

Pereira cried and asked for forgiveness, resigning himself to be merely a servant. Then things started to change. Now the Lord is blessing his ministry at Glenview beyond what he could have imagined. The church has baptized hundreds of people in the last year, both at the church and at a nearby federal penitentiary. They are also filling their 1,000-seat auditorium three times each Sunday and teaching 800 students in their Bible institute each Wednesday.

The overwhelming feature of their auditorium is a huge mural covering the entire wall behind the pulpit. It depicts the Old Testament tabernacle surrounded by tent dwellings as far as the eye can see.

“It represents the prophecy of Jesus,” Pereira said. “I use it to preach.”

He said the flame over the tabernacle was God’s presence. When it moved, the people followed it. Then, at Pentecost, the flames came and landed on the believers’ heads, indicating that Christians are now God’s presence in the world.

“It’s not symbolic. It’s real now,” he said.

Pereira has now been at Glenview 30 years and sees no end in sight for his ministry there.

“I don’t think I have a right to resign from the church because somebody offers $2,000 more. For me that’s a sin. That’s part of the American way of life, but it’s not the biblical way of life. Prosperity and success are not the goal. The goal is obedience.

“I am anxious every morning to come to the church. No one has enough money to take me away from the pastorship.”