The poor, backward town of Itapucumi, Paraguay, did not have much of a future to offer five-year-old Miriam Merlot. Her single mother had left her in the care of her uncle, Silverio, in order to find work in the city. When measles outbreak hit the area, Miriam fell ill along with many others. The nearest hospital in the capital city of Asunción offered free medical care, but getting there cost money. Hope slipped as more and more people died. Surely frail little Miriam?s life was at risk.
About that time, the town gossips whispered about some foreign doctors traveling down their coastline on a boat called El Mensajero (The Messenger). The boat stopped at each port and offered hope in the form of vaccinations, medical care, and Bible school lessons for children.
However, the local priest, also privy to the news, forbid the townspeople to receive the Evangelistas (Evangelical Christians). This was typical for South America in 1957, when all attempts made by mission groups outside of the confines of the Roman Catholic Church were stomped out. So El Mensajero was only allowed to drop its anchor in the river waters. The sick would have to wait.
But Silverio knew his niece would not survive the wait. One cloudless night, he scooped up the feverish girl into his wooden fishing boat and silently rowed out to the deep waters and up to the starboard of El Mensajero. Throughout the night the Christian doctors worked attempting to lower her fever. When Miriam was finally able to sit up and eat, she remembers a Doctor Elsa tenderly caring for her.
Itapucumi was buzzing the next day with the news of Silverio's betrayal, as well as Miriam?s recovery. As a result, the priest could do nothing but relent and El Mensajero was invited to make its landing. For a week, the missionary doctors treated the entire town and held Bible schools for the children. Miriam remembers learning her first Sunday school songs there. By the time El Mensajero left Itapucumi, Miriam had been saved twice. The miracle of her healing did not mark her memory as deeply as the simple prayer of salvation she repeated with Doctor Elsa.
When Miriam was 22 years old, she embarked on a journey to better her life similar to what her mother had done 17 years earlier. Except, Miriam crossed the border to Argentina, and arrived in Buenos Aires'the city of opportunity.
Her beginnings were difficult, but by the time she was 35, she was a wife and a mother. Her son, Edgardo grew, as did their family businesses. Miriam and her husband had soon acquired rental properties and established small but successful businesses. Despite the fact that her husband was not a believer, Miriam could not forget her covenant with the Lord.
Grief struck the household the day that Miriam lost her husband. As a teenager, Edgardo allowed sadness to lead him to rebellion, a life of parties and gambling. In her pain and loneliness, Miriam?s prayers seemed empty and flat. Young Edgardo used his winsome personality to talk his way out of complicated situations. His creativity made his lies believable. Soon, this rebellion began to strip Miriam of her savings, her peace of mind, and her faith. Yet she could not relinquish the belief that God could heal and mend lives. Edgardo?s behavior became more extreme, especially with regard to gambling. Although his father?s death played a role in Edgardo?s rebellion, gambling had become an addiction. Edgardo knew his actions were destroying his mother, but he could not stop.
When Edgardo's addiction landed him in jail, Miriam was at the end of her emotional rope. She spent the last of her savings to cover his debts and pay for his bail. She was even forced to sell her car to pay off outstanding loans.
In the midst of her desperation, a friend invited her to visit a small neighborhood Nazarene church. Miriam testifies that in that first service the pastor spoke about the power of righteous living through the Holy Spirit. Miriam shares:
'Something moved within me that morning and I realized that the message of salvation which I had heard as a little girl was not limited to eternal life. It was also the promise of abundant life here on earth. I knew this was what I needed, and was convinced that this was the only hope for my son.'
When the service ended, Miriam introduced herself to the pastors and stated, 'I have found my church home!'
That next week, the church began promotion for Nazarene Youth International (NYI) camp and Miriam begged the pastor to invite her reckless son. That afternoon, Edgardo walked into church with a cool swagger. He casually stated that he wanted to go to the camp, but the family had no money. The pastor took a risk and paid for Edgardo?s camp fees while praying that the experience would change the young man?s perspective.
It was at that camp that Edgardo chose Christ. He later testified that as he watched the other youth, he realized that being a Christian was more enjoyable than the life he was living. Quickly, Edgardo quickly began an incredible process of transformation into freedom.
Previously, his charisma and charm allowed him to con others. But now he was a magnet for Christ. His friends began coming to church because of his example. People like Pamela, who at one time had attempted suicide| Nestor, a former drug addict| el Chino, a fellow gambling addict| and Diego, his cameraman friend, came to know Christ through Edgardo?s witness.
Today Edgardo is studying to be a film director. The first movie he plans to make is a documentary about the realities and devastation of gambling. He now leads the drama ministry in his local church and is one of the main characters on a Nazarene TV show for preteens called Industría X, www.industriaxtv.com. He was elected to be a delegate for the 2013 General NYI Convention in Indianapolis.
Because the Lord has blessed him over these last three years, he was finally able to purchase a brand new car for his mother. As he drove up to surprise her with the gift, she gasped. She read the words he had decaled on the windshield'testimony of the spiritual heritage that had begun with a small missionary boat. By the way, the new car was named El Mensajero.
Robin Brunson Radi serves with her husband, Carlos, as global missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene in Argentina.