‘I was not looking for God … He was looking for me!’

I was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and grew up in a very nominal Catholic family. We did not own a Bible and I had never heard a clear gospel presentation. My mom left Monterrey when I was young and came to Dallas to start working there at a nightclub to make money to send back home. My dad stayed with us—me and my three sisters—in Monterrey, and we waited about a year. Then my dad told us he wanted us to come to the U.S. for the sole purpose of learning English so we could be bilingual and then come back to Mexico.

So back in 1985, we left Monterrey and came here with a tourist visa, which is only supposed to last six months. We extended our stay in ’85 and reunited with my mom. We lived in South Dallas. My mom was working at a nightclub, and then my dad started working there. I started helping clean the nightclub, and that was what we did on the weekends to make money. And then my sister and I started going to school and learning English. I actually stopped speaking Spanish because I received a lot of discrimination from other Hispanic kids because I didn’t speak English. That made me want to stop speaking Spanish and avoid Hispanic kids; I would only speak Spanish at home. 

We moved to Garland when I was 15, and one Saturday morning, two students from Criswell College in Dallas were going through the neighborhood and knocked on my door. They asked me if I died that day, where would I spend eternity? I really didn’t know how to answer them. And then they shared with me that God loved me and had a special plan for my life, and that eternal life was offered to me in Christ. That was the very first time that I ever heard the simplicity of the good news of Christ.

I did not make a decision to follow Christ that day, but they did invite me to go to their church, Northridge Baptist Church in Richardson. They even came to pick me up the next day. I walked into this medium-size church, predominantly Anglo, but felt right at home, loved, and accepted. Dr. John Avant was the pastor there. I don’t remember anything about the sermon, but when he gave the invitation to come to Christ, I did that. A few weeks later I was baptized at Northridge. 

When I graduated from high school, I thought God was leading me to go to medical school, but because of my immigration status, I was not able to receive scholarships. Unbeknownst to me, the deacons at Northridge Baptist Church and the pastor, Manley Beasley Jr., had arranged to pay for my first semester at Criswell College. They met with me one night after service and said they knew God had called me into the ministry. They wanted me to prepare and thought Criswell College was the best place for me to be. I had no idea what a Bible college was. I had no clue what Criswell was. But at 19, that’s where I started my first semester, studying systematic theology with Dr. John Pretlove.

"When I was not looking for God at all, He was looking for me, and He used His servants to share the hope of salvation."

Once I began to take that class, I just fell in love with Scripture and doctrine and learning to interpret it correctly. I finished in five years. By that time I had completed the 12-year process of gaining U.S. citizenship and was able to spend a year on the mission field, then I came back and started my master’s at Criswell and working at local churches—Hispanic churches. God allowed me to fall in love with the Spanish language and Hispanic culture all over again after I had been ashamed, really, for many years to be a Hispanic, or specifically Mexican, because of the hurt I faced as a young man.

Once I did that, the Lord opened up the doors for me to do mission trips, partnerships with Hispanic churches, Vacation Bible Schools, evangelism—it was just amazing. It was on a mission trip to Mexico that I met Wendy, who was serving as a translator for another team. Wendy’s pastor in Brownwood was John Avant, the pastor who baptized me. Wendy and I were married 19 years ago! 

After I graduated from Criswell, I served in a Presbyterian church for a couple years, and then I served at an Anglican church for another two years. A friend of mine from Criswell College encouraged me to pursue PhD studies at Southwestern Seminary. At that time, there was a special scholarship for Hispanic PhD students, and that program was directed by Dr. Mike Gonzales at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).

I had no idea what the SBTC was. I didn’t even know what a convention was. When I met with Brother Mike, he started asking me questions about my life and testimony. He gave me a little translation project.
I thought that was all being done so I could get the scholarship, but he told me he had been looking for an associate to help them with Hispanic ministries at the convention. That was in March, and then by May, I was accepted as an associate with the convention. It’s been about 11 years now that I’ve been serving with the SBTC.

God also saved my family during these years. My mother came to faith in Christ about eight years after I did, and then all my sisters came to Christ, as well. They were all baptized at Northridge Baptist Church. My dad had not believed, but he was always introducing me at his job and to his friends as “the pastor.” I think after many years, he learned to respect the calling that God had on my life. Then God placed a pastor at his job, serving as a security guard, and this pastor shared the gospel with him.
I rejoice that my dad gave his life to Christ before he passed.

I’ve kept up with those men who first shared Christ with me. One’s a pastor in Mineral Wells and the other one is a lay leader at a Presbyterian church in Plano. So many people have been used by God to help me. Just looking back, I realize that God was orchestrating all of this, and it’s a very humbling thing.

So what’s my story? When I was not looking for God at all, He was looking for me, and He used His servants to share the hope of salvation. I long to have that same burden, the same compassion that those two young men once showed me.

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SBTC Hispanic Ministries
Jesse Contreras
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