Lou Perez

Lou Perez   Growing up, we used to go roof hopping where you jump between buildings and sometimes we were running from another group of people who were trying to beat us up and things like that. Often, we would sleep on the fire escape and with all the sirens and noise. It's a very tough, we were very poor, and we had little hope for the future. When you're a minority, you're marginalized. My dad worked three jobs and my mom was mentally ill her whole life. So I grew up never feeling loved, but was told by dad, "Hey, I'm paying the bills." That's love, never affection. You kind of grew up feeling abandoned in a way, but that was life.

Helen Todd: Lou Perez grew up in a ghetto in the Bronx in New York City that shaped him into a tough and rebellious kid. And while he had a Christian family background, Lou felt abandoned by his parents. He feared God to a degree but also thought it would be easier to run from God than it would be to repent and follow Him. But all that changed one day when Lou read a scary passage in the Bible, which brought him to church and became the stepping stone in the transformation of his life.

   I'm Helen Todd and Lou Perez is my guest on this episode of the Limitless Spirit podcast. Today he's a podcaster himself, a Bible teacher, and he shares some exciting stories that has changed and help others to change. From a drug-addicted friend who ended up becoming a pastor? Let's hear Lou's story.

Hello Lou, So great to have you on the Limitless spirit podcast. How are you doing today?

Lou: I'm doing great, glad to be with you and just sharing our story today.

Helen: I'm excited to have you as a fellow podcaster. Let's talk about your podcast. What is the name of it?

Lou: Our podcast is called Soul 02 and the goal is to bring oxygen back into the Christian life, and encourage believers and followers of Christ. But we also get challenges and comments from atheists and all kinds of people with different beliefs. I talk about apologetics during the podcast and navigating the rage that is happening today. We're also on YouTube.

Helen: So it's a video podcast. Do you normally just share yourself or do you have guest on your podcast?

Lou: I usually just share myself because I'm a teacher and a teacher wants to teach, but it's also an audio podcast as well.

Helen: I have known you and Louisa for many years. I've known you as a pastor, as a friend, as a fellow missionary, but I didn't know Lou Perez before you accepted Christ. So let's talk about that.

Lou: Before I came to Christ, I lived in a Christian family. My grandfather was a pastor and we had uncles and aunts that were evangelists and ministers. And so we always had a Godly influence even though we were in the ghetto with tough kids. We would do wrong things, but we always had the fear of God in us. We used to go, roof hopping where you jump between buildings and used to hide inside furnaces of abandoned buildings. Our parents would have gone crazy if they knew what their kid did to have fun.

We used to have fun fights with rocks and trash can lids as shields and sometimes we were running from another group of people trying to beat us up. Often we would sleep on the fire escape because it was so hot in the house.

Helen: Well, that sounds fun actually.

Lou: It was.

Helen: But give our listeners a perspective of what life was like in a ghetto in Bronx as you were growing up?

Lou: It's very tough, and we were very poor with little hope of the future. When you're a minority, you're marginalized, but you don't know that when you're a kid. When you're a kid, all you know is this city is the whole world. We actually used to go to the zoo to see the chickens because I'd never seen a chicken or a cow, so you go to the zoo. That's how it was. And so when we first went to the country in Pennsylvania, we stopped to take pictures. God's hand was always upon you. There's at least five times where God's said His hand was upon Nehemiah. That's how I felt.

Helen: Now, many people looking at you don't realize that you are not a Caucasian because you have a fair skin but your ancestors are actually from Puerto Rico and so can you share about your experiences when you felt like you were treated as a minority, maybe unfairly treated?

Lou: Yeah. When I first went to high school in Pennsylvania people sometimes would make remarks when they knew my nationality. But the weird part is that when you are fair-skinned and you have long black hair, the other minorities think you're Caucasian. So I got it from all ends. It was kind of funny, but not all the time.

Helen: So perhaps, you may be felt like you didn't belong at times? You mentioned that you had pastors in your family and that always had an influence on you in certain ways. At what point do you remember that Jesus was God?

Lou: Well since I was a boy really, I knew it but I ran away from it and it was easier in my mind to run away from God and the consequences of having to change your life. Then it was easy to run away than to repent. I knew that I had to get right with God even as a kid. I always had the fear of the Lord in me, but sometimes God uses circumstances to stoke that fear.

Helen: How did it happen for you?

Lou: I would get beat up on the streets and get tired of it. You're like, "Okay, God, I give up." I started reading the Bible by myself and that was a big deal because I'd rather be outside playing with my friends.

Helen: So you just had a Bible in your house or where did you find one?

Lou: My mom always had a Bible even though she was mentally ill. She was always sowing seeds of faith. Once in a while she would be lucid and just say these things with great wisdom that were right on, and then she would go back into her darkness. But she always had a Bible in the house and so I took her Bible and started reading it. I started reading the Book of Revelation and reading about these creepy creatures. They're good people, but I didn't want that to happen to me so I started going to church.

Helen: Wow, whatever can get you to church, right?

Lou: Yeah, but you learned later on as a teacher, that fear can only go so far because you can't scare a person into love. Love has to be the basis of our relationship with God's, so patient,
Helen: That's a great point. So at first, it was fear that compelled you to church. How was it that you actually accepted invited him into your heart?

Lou: Well, I went to the Spanish Pentecostal church where my sisters were attending because they were the first ones really to come to the faith in my immediate family, and they would urge with me, "You got to come to church." And all this and I'm like, "No, I'm good." And I used to curse like a sailor and cursing was like saying hello in the Bronx. I went to church after all this fear stuff, and the minute the pastor gave the call, I ran up there in my 70s clothes with the big platform shoes and bell-bottoms and I got saved.

Helen: I just interviewed someone not long ago who also have the salvation experience at the young age, probably nine or ten years old and she said, that she actually felt a change in her. Did you have a similar experience?

Lou: Yes, I felt presence of God, something that before I had felt kind of like the pull of God, but now I felt like he was there and that my life was about to change.

Helen: How did that change happen?

Lou: Very gradually because even after I got saved-- like I said, I used to curse like a sailor and just had bad habits and just go out with my friends till late at night and just come home whenever I wanted. I was rebellious; I was selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, and even at that age of 13. They say that at 12 that you start thinking, concretely and God began challenging me about my language first. Because I would say, curse words like you say hello and how that I didn't please him and so I started changing that slowly and really salvation is-- I see salvation as a process, it's not just a single account but salvation has four tenses past, perfect, present, and future. In a sense, yes you were saved but you're still being saved.

That's why Paul said to those who are being saved; it is the power of God. And so slowly, he started changing the way that I think and that process, I believe will never end until His return.

Helen: Great point too because we tend to think that salvation is that moment when you invite Jesus into your heart, but in reality this is just the beginning of a process that is ongoing. So that is a very good point. So in what ways do you feel like God directed your steps? Because you life could have turned out very differently, had you not made that decision of accepting him growing up under the influence that you did. How do you feel God, directed your path to bring you where you are today, a pastor, Bible teacher podcaster?

Lou: Well, almost immediately I wanted to preach and I heard of a man who had gotten saved and within eight hours of being saved, he was preaching the gospel on the streets. I said to myself, "Wow, didn't have to go to Bible school or anything." Even though I did, but God can work with you at any time in any way he wants. And so I would listen to like RW Shambach on the radio or Robert Schuler. I also loved to listen to Billy Graham and Bishop Fulton Sheen, the Great Catholic bishop.

   I began learning, not just how to preach, but how to communicate and how to talk to people. As the world was changing, of course, you don't know when you're young, but it was becoming more evident which means that when you preach to the average person, they may not necessarily believe in absolute truth anymore. And so all that was changing and God was teaching me how to navigate and how to speak to people - not preach at them and what fuels prayer or what fuels preaching is prayer. And so, for a long season, I was praying, maybe two hours a day or more.

   Even as a young person, I would pray long time and just spend time with God, and I would fast. I was always hungry for God and no one ever taught me this, I kind of learned that on my own. My pastor in Pennsylvania said, "God's already called you, but I think he waiting to knock you on your head and tell you to go to Bible College." I went to Valley Forge. Valley Forge Christian was a College and now it's a university.

   I got my bachelor's in Science in Bible and then I was an evangelist for like three or four years and travel all over the country. And then a church called me and said, "We want you to come and be our pastor." I felt like God was releasing me to do it. And this was a place called Schenectady, New York, which is near New Albany. That church had had five Pastors in 10 years. And so when I got there, people were looking at me like fresh meat for the grinder, and God told me He was going to do a great work there.

   God began to move in a mighty way and Revival really happened. In the sense that every week people were being transformed, people were coming to Christ, and I would confront people in love and I would say, "Look, you've been attending this church 30 years, but do you know God, do you really know God, do you know Him and have a deep walk with Him?" There were people that wanted to become members. I would interview each potential member myself and some of the leaders." And often we felt, they weren't ready for membership even though they were thoroughly indoctrinated with the knowledge of the church because the church didn't really know God, God did not grasp them. This was the kind of message that God worked in my heart of transforming people so that they can know God.

   That church grew to probably over 300. That's when we took a church in Niagara Falls, and then started another church after that. And so that that's the short version and I got my master's degree in the middle of that short version of it.

Helen: I know you got your Theological education, but do you feel like your growing up to become a shepherd, a leader, a spiritual leader because it perhaps gave you more insight and compassion into people's struggles?

Lou: Yes. In the sense that the city toughens you up and gives you a certain kind of temperament which sometimes it can be good, sometimes it could be bad because since I met my wife I will look at things and say, "Stop talking to me like I'm Robert De Nero or like you're Robert De Nero." And I had to tone it down. I had to say, "Okay, I'm sorry honey." Because that's because Robert De Nero was from the Bronx, and the Bronx have a certain way that they communicate that can be tough because you kind of grew up on your knuckles, but in some ways it probably did prepare me in ways I don't even realize that to shepherd and to teach. Living in the city was simply spending long seasons in the backside of a spiritual desert.

Helen: Very true. Well, when we experience that change within us from Christ and for you it happened at the young age, but this is what compels us to help others experience the same thing, and I'm sure as a pastor, as a spiritual leader, you probably had many occasions when you help someone else to experience that transformation. Is there a story that is the most memorable perhaps for you?

Lou: There are quite a few, but I could only get a couple. One of them is a very successful pastor, pastor at the Church of Pennsylvania of a thousand people, and I had forgotten this, but I saw him recently. We went to high school together, and he was like the main druggie guy, and he was like on the wrestling team. He was very tough, but he also had a drug and party life. He told me that he said," You know that I'm a pastor because you witnessed to me when I was 17 and then the Lord dealt with my heart and brought me to him." Then other people like that are in the ministry because I connected with them.

   We've had people who wanted to commit suicide, but we had a chance to speak into their life and give them hope and raise them up and just validate them, strengthen them.

Helen: So this pastor that you ministered to at the age of 17 and you were probably about the same age at the time, do you remember how that happened? Because my understanding you attended a pretty tough school that was known for fights among the boys. So it was probably a dangerous environment. So how did that happen that you decided to witness to a druggie and probably a violent guy in some ways?

Lou: This was right after I left the large school, we have 5,000 boys. It was called Dewitt Clinton and like a lot of famous actors came out of there, and I went there for two years and then when I went to a school in Pennsylvania for two years. The school in Pennsylvania was the one that I was the only Latin one in there. So it was really weird and that's where I met this man, but I don't remember the conversation. That's the funny part. Only that it happened because he told me and so he's a great pastor now, great guy.

Helen: Probably wasn't a big deal for you, but surely was a big deal for him.

Lou: Yeah, you never know. When Jesus talks about being salt and light, it's more than words, it's literally broadcasting who you are. It's letting God reflect His light through your life. And that's what in my humble opinion of being a witness more than words is. It's letting the Imago Dei which is the image of God, right? In Hebrew refract through your life to someone else. That's how they get it most of the time because I believe in apologetics however, apologetics are very limited because you can probably talk anyone out of an argument and debate anybody but it's not the same as broadcasting your heart and this is why it's so wonderful that anybody can do this without being an apologist.

Helen: I couldn't agree with you more because so many times on the mission field, our biggest impact that we made was not through the sermons that we preach, the teaching that we presented, but it was just through some small insignificant acts in everyday life. I remember, and by the way, one of the mission trips that you went with us was to China and I want you to talk about that in a little bit, but it was actually in China when we were eating at the restaurant with the team. A group of waiters called our interpreter aside and they asked her who these people are? There's something so special and different about them the way they treat each other the way they treat us, and so our interpreter was able to tell them, "Well they are Christians. They are missionaries that share about their faith in Christ."

   And that's so intrigued that group of waiters that they wanted to hear more about who this Christ is and what kind of faith they practice, and we actually ended up giving Bibles to the whole staff at the restaurant. This whole Ministry opportunity came about because they observed something different in the way we treated each other and to me that was the greatest compliment I have ever heard on the mission field.

Lou: Oh yeah. And there's a beautiful scripture that says Revelation 12:11, “That they overcame to Him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony.” I'm glad it doesn't say that they overcame Him by the word of their apologists being an apologist because anybody can give a testimony, and I'm sure you've heard them saying that the person with experience would never be at the mercy with the person with the argument because they can never take away what God did for you.

Helen: And that is very true. So, let's talk about your mission trip experience. As a pastor and a TA Bible teacher, you have knowledge of what your calling is and your desire to go on a mission trip. Was it tough for you to even make a decision to go? Or was it a natural thing for you?

Lou: I'll put it you this way at the time when I went to China, I had a free trip that was paid for to go to Israel by this organization and I felt like God said, I want you to go to China and instead. So I canceled the trip to Israel and went to China because I felt like Israel would have been great and nice to be there but I felt call to go to China. So it was a no-brainer for me to go and God didn't have to really twist my arm to go, I just knew that I needed to go. And there are times where I know when shouldn't go or don't need to go. But that's something you have to pray about and find God's heart.

Helen: What were some of the most memorable experiences? I didn't know that you actually passed up a fully paid trip to Israel. But now thinking back and considering how that situation in China has changed since the pandemic. This was truly God's timing and will. Let's talk about what impacted you the most on that trip.

Lou: It was so much. I mean, I really had great fellowship with the team and your husband Chuck is a great guy. He has an infectious laugh. I'm sure you probably don't feel like that all the time, but I thought it was great. But what really touched me was the reverence that the Chinese have for the word and the hunger they have for the word. In western culture we are plagued by consumerism, and God becomes nothing more than a commodity. And tell God, "Let me just take it a video back to my church." But in Asian cultures there is such a reverence for God that when they worship they give themselves fully to it.

   It's not something they consume, but it's something that they look at and say God is consuming me. I'm Giving Him worship and that's something that burns in my heart for America that America would return to that kind of worship because churches have often become more of a stage than an altar and other things impacted me on that trip too. I had my best meal at a Teen Challenge type facility where they eat the fish from a pond.

Helen: Oh, the drug rehabs. Yeah.

Lou: Yes. That was the best food I got in China and it was amazing. I was humbled. There was a hunger and attentiveness to what everyone said, not just the leaders but everyone. I recall speaking 15 times in six days, I think because there was a lot to do, and it was exciting. One that I recall was more of a tragic event, but it's something that the Lord is always for the outcasts. We went to the house and met a boy who was crippled. In the in the Asian culture whenever you go to the bathrooms instead of saying handicap they say deformed, at least where I was. And so imagine this boy, he's probably 10 years old and the whole world around him sees him as deformed like something's wrong with you and his own father had rejected him.

   We went to visit him, just to encourage him and someone gave me a beautiful gift and I gave it to the boy. He was crying as we prayed with him and told him God is his father and God loves him. Those are things that really blessed me and impacted me. This young boy received the love of the Father.

Helen: Perhaps you're right. When you are sharing the story of visiting that handicapped boy, I was thinking there was a moment in your life when you felt like no one loved you and you felt like you were forgotten by the world and God appeared in your life and changed it all. And then years later you come to a boy who feels unloved and forgotten and you bring him this gift and who knows what kind of transformation that brought to his life. You may never see this boy again on this earth, but I will not be surprised Lou if you see him in eternity. This boy will walk up to you someday and say, "I'm here because of you."

Lou: And that would be the greatest blessing I would ever receive in this world and in eternity.

Helen: And how wonderful it is that you truly listen to God's voice, when he compelled you to go because it is hard to overestimate the impact of just the simple act of kindness and I'm sure you touched many lives while you were in China. This was the first time I heard the story of the boy that you visited, and I feel that was the assignment for which God called you on this particular trip.

Lou: Perhaps, I do believe that sometimes there's one specific assignment within the assignment that it is primary not that the other things are unimportant, but I hear exactly what you're saying and I agree 100%.

Helen: Well thank you so much Lou for coming on the podcast, sharing your story.

Lou's Hearing His Voice Testimony

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