Catching A Burning Ember From My Grandfather’s Flame

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My grandfather, Francisco “Frank” Navarro, or Opa (German for grandpa), as our family called him, passed away earlier this year in March of 2019. He met my Oma (grandma) in Germany in the 1950’s while stationed there in active duty for the United States Army during World War 2. My grandparents traveled the United Sates and had 6 children together, my mother Marina, is the eldest. My Oma gave her life to God in the late 70’s and my Opa gave his life to Christ shortly thereafter. In the early 80’s, my grandparents who were members of Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship in Ontario, California, were sent out to open a church in Northern California in a city called Hayward. A year later, they were called out to the mission field and were sent back to the city they had first met and lived together when they were married to pastor a church in Germany. Growing up In the 80’s was interesting for me, a good interesting. I was born and dedicated as a baby into Praise Chapel Ontario in 1980, the same congregation my grandparents had been sent out of . I grew up with a strong relationship with Jesus and knew my church to be like family to me. After all, my Opa and Oma were pastors from the church, my mom was involved with children’s ministry alongside my aunt who was also the church’s secretary for almost 30 years. I had uncles and my father who were also part of the usher team at the church for various lengths of time as well, although, the men in my life, did not appear to be as spiritually strong as the women in my life, as most of them struggled with addictions among other spiritual battles and never remained consistent in their faiths for long extended periods of time.

I knew from a young age that there was something about me that set me apart from other boys in my family and peer groups. The “rough and tumble” boys of my era, fascinated with sports, skateboards, G.I. Joe figurines and Legos, contracted strongly against my interest in puff painting, arts & crafts, Care Bear toys, Rainbow Brite, and treasure trolls. I found being the only boy in my private grade school art and t-shirt making clubs, while my male cousins who i attended school seemed a world apart from me as they spent their extracurricular time playing tether ball, basketball, and kickball, out on the blacktop with all the rest of the guys in my school. It didn’t bother me much, except for a few times older snobby girls teased me for being the only guy in these groups. I recall one time a girl named Janet, bullied me to the point of tears, she didn’t understand the weight of her words on my impressionable young mind and ended up apologizing at the orders of the school office aids. I had Jesus though, and a handful of female influences in my life who valued me and my interests. My mom, my aunt Melinda, my sister Leah, and my cousins Naomi and Jasmine always made me feel special and enjoyed doing the things i liked to do like craft work, baking, and putting together dance skits. Whether it be choreographing a dance to Amy Grant (my moms favorite Christian Artist of that era), dressing up as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine to sing for the other kids at church, or baking sugar cookies and piping the icing on a random afternoon, I had a group of family members who i felt i had some sense of security with.

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My dad has always been present in my life. I knew when i was young that my father loved me, however, i had bitterness and built up resentment towards him for various reasons. In my adolescent years into my early teens, I understood that my dad had a rough upbringing, but did not understand why he sometimes treated my mom the way that he did or why he struggled with certain issues. Pornography in the house was a big issue as was drug use and alcoholism. My dad had bouts of anger and rage stemmed from his being drunk and/or under the influence of methamphetamine which many times led to him taking off overnight or for several nights in a week. At times his anger manifested physically to the point of pushing, shoving, restraining, throwing objects, etc. It seemed that every time, his anger resulted in horrible verbal and mental abuse abuse to my mother. There were times growing up that I swore i hated my dad. I had no strong spiritual men to turn to during those times. My only strong spiritual influence in my life at that time, my Opa was what seemed like millions of miles away doing mission work in Germany. Him and my Oma would visit once a year and I cherished those visits. I would look forward to hearing about their ministry work and hearing stories of their street outreaching, those stories really intrigued me. I saw my Opa as a hero as I would hear of how he’d witness at the bonhoff (train) stations amidst neo-nazi groups who would still conjure together during those years. I looked up to my grandparents, who were at the Berlin wall in 1989 when the wall was torn down, and I would later and to this day revel at pictures of Opa and Oma standing at the Berlin wall, chisel in hand, tearing down the wall. My Opa always talked about Jesus and taught me and all my cousins important lessons in faith from our earliest memories. From him, and my Oma, i knew from a young age about spiritual warfare, the reality of satan and his tactics, the influence of worldly music and toys, and the importance of salvation, being born again and living for Christ. “You gotta be ready at all times Mikey Poo” my Opa would say, “We never know when Jesus is coming back, so we gotta be ready.” Another thing he would always tell me that always stood out to me growing up, and is so important to my testimony and in my walk today is “You gotta be RADICAL for Jesus Mikey, Radical! There’s no other way.”

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My Opa and Oma moved back to the states in the early 90’s. I was now a teenager and struggled with same-sex attraction. I had stopped going to church around the age of 14, and started exploring my sexual curiosity with other young guys and men via the underground rave scene of the 90’s here in southern California. Originally I began this course of my life around the age of 12 or 13 with my cousin Eileen as we would dress up with funky clothes made of fur and fabric flared and Jnco brand pants which completely covered our shoes. We’d adorn ourselves with gas masks, backpacks made out of emptied cardboard Tide detergent boxes, and dozens of pony beaded necklaces charmed with pacifiers, whistles and sesame street characters. We were known as “groovers” in the Inland Empire rebel party dance scene- funky dressed, hallucinogenic drug taking, dancers and had found a circle of friends who “preached” P.L.U.R. (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) which introduced us to the underground warehouse and desert rave scene. The fun , sexual encounters, and drug taking lasted until I began having very surreal spiritual LSD trips. The fun trips of acid use were now resulting in deep spiritual convictions every time i would drop , to the point where i stopped taking the drug all together. I just couldn’t bear the “bad” spiritual trips any more, looking back, i know God had his hand in this situation the entire time, despite not serving Him or living my life for Him at the time. During all of this chaos, my Opa continued to minister to me and pray for me. He never judged me for my lifestyle choices, he never judged my friends, although he hurt for me, he still loved me. An addiction to meth from the age of 19 to 24, saw my life spiral more downward, i grew distant from my family, and my grandparents. False promises to visit them followed by excuses for absences from family events seemed to be the norm for me. The devil had his hands around my throat and I was believing his lies. Lies that told me I’d always be gay. Lies that told me I would always be an addict. Lies that my family didn’t like me and talked about me my back even though it was I who chose not to participate in family events due to my state of mind. Lies that I was worthless. Lies that I had no future. Lies, lies, lies, the devil is a liar. I finally cleaned up and stopped the meth use in 2005. I thought my life would get better, but unresolved, deep rooted issues from my past still surfaced and manifested in unhealthy sexual choices and life decisions. I replaced my addiction to meth with Alcohol and found myself now drinking to numb my pain. I would call my Opa and Oma for prayer when I would hit rock bottoms: loss of jobs, spiritual emptiness, wrecked vehicles, in times of desperation. My Opa must’ve heard me repent to Jesus numerous times and ask for forgiveness , each time asking God to come back into my life. These moments of “empty salvation” never lasted long, as i was only seeking salvation for a quick fix to dire situations. The Lord knew my heart, and I wasn’t ready. Although His hand was and had always been on and over my life, it was free will that take me to darker and emptier places than the bottom i thought I had reached. Regardless, my Opa still prayed for me. He would always tell me that God had plans and a purpose for my life, that when i was finally ready to give up the world and live radically for Christ that then I would see what the Lord’s plans for my future was, but I had to meet God halfway. Through it all, my Opa, the strong, spiritual, God fearing, soldier of Christ that he was, along with my Oma. kept on pressing forward with their prayers over my life.

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In 2018, at the age of 37, My life had brought me to that bottom of all bottoms that I never imagined could’ve existed. In October 2017, I had moved out of a house where I was sharing a room with a cousin whose alcoholism gave my alcoholism a run for it’s money . The spiritual warfare in that household was too intense for me and I had finally moved out, sleeping on the floor in my parents house, until finally renting a room from a neighbor of my folks’ renting out that November. I drank my way through that New Year into 2018 and my drinking alone in my rented room in Ontario, California had reached an all time high. A personal situation at work in April 2018 involving having sexual relationships with a “curious” male co-worker, resulted in me being suspended from work while the situation was being investigated. I was hooking up daily with random men I would meet off of hook-up apps in my neighborhood and surrounding areas. I had switched drinking whiskey to Vodka in attempts to control my alcoholism as i had become immune to Jack Daniels brand whiskey and could drink a 750 ml bottle like it was a bottle of water. I thought I’d slow down on vodka but found myself consuming literally a gallon of vodka through the day, every day. Out of control would be an understatement in regards to my drinking. I was to the point where I was throwing up blood, my eyes were yellowing, my nail beds were deteriorating, and I couldn’t produce saliva to properly breakdown food. I developed a strange disorder known as Pica disorder which caused cravings that would only be satisfied by biting down on tiny pieces of crushed up Chlorox bleach tablets. I had replaced eating with drinking and my body was shutting down on me. To top things off the spiritual battlefield around me was under intense warfare as i would hear demonic voices outside my window at all hours of the evening.  It was May 28th, 2018 where I had decided I had enough. I was done. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was so upset and disappointed with myself for letting alcohol control my life the way it had. In those hours of desperation, exhaustion, and spiritual brokeness, i cried out to God to deliver me from the alcoholism. I told God that I had finally had enough, that I didn’t want to lose my life over the excessive drinking. I promised God that if He took away the cravings, the desire to drink , that I would live my life for Him. This time around, my prayer was different than all the “empty salvation” prayers of the past. This time I meant it, this time, I wanted it, not just for the quick fix, but for a lifetime. This time, my heart and soul cried out with every ounce of feeling I had left in me. This time, the Lord knew my request was real. This time, the Lord delivered me. And like just like that, over a 2 day process, ALL and any craving, desire, or itch to drink was completely delivered from my body. I had no withdrawals like i had experienced in the past. No tremors, no hallucinations, no shaking, no dry heaving, no pain in my gut, no throwing up, absolutely nothing. The spirit of alcoholism had been completely cast out and delivered from my body, and I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, that it was God, and only God, who had healed, delivered and restored me, completely.

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“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” -Matthew 6:33, was the scripture my Opa gave me many years ago and always spoke over me. He would recall it literally every single time I would see him. The days, and weeks following my surrender to back to Christ in May 2018 and being born again were so spirit filled. God opened so many doors to me, doors I thought I’d never see open again began to swing open. Everything from finances, work, employment, education, health, mins, spirit, knowledge, you name it, God showed up and showed off. God made his existence and love for me so real, that through His grace, I decided to walk away from my identity i had founded through my homosexual sexuality for 25+ years and find my identity through my Creator, Jesus Christ. As Christopher Yuan might say, I’m Holy-sexual, haha. So much has been added to me these past 17 months being a new creation in Christ. Perhaps one of my biggest and most profound takeaways from me giving my life back to God, were the 10 months I got to spend with my Opa being that new creation and walking in the light. My Opa had prayed for me many years, he always knew God had a plan for me, his loved grandson. I have lost a few family members during my addiction years, years I wasn’t living for Christ, and I had some regrets. Regrets for not being in the hospital with my aunt Julia for example because I was out on a multiple day meth binge, returning home sfter a few days to hear about her passing and wishing I had been sober minded to be there for her. Or regrets for not being in the right state of mind to spend more time with my beloved aunt Alice before she passed, her heart was so big, but I allowed my monster of addiction to be bigger. But those 10 months with my Opa, I know it was was by the grace again of only God, that he gave me those 10 months with my Opa, such a precious gift and blessing. Over the course of those 10 months, between July 2019 and up until his Passing March 8, 2019, I got to spend some great times with my Opa. I know, that he knew that this time, my salvation was the real deal. I could see it in his eyes, sometimes through the holding back of tears, how proud he was of his Mikey-poo for finally getting what salvation meant and the importance of salvation really was. I got to share stories with my Opa of how God was confirming my faith in my life. I got to make my Opa laugh like I would when I was younger. I got to share with Opa about my plans for joining other overcomers who once identified as homosexual and now live for Christ and how I would be joining them for Freedom Marches, marching for victory in Jesus Christ. I got to learn so many tools to add to the treasure trove of tools I had already gained through my Opa’s spiritual knowledge and wealth. I got to pray with my Opa as he prayed purpose, a future, and a calling over my life again. I got a chance to show how excited I was for having Jesus in my life and affirm to my hero that “I have no choice now, but to be RADICAL for Jesus”.  The Lord called my Opa home earlier this year, he called my hero home peacefully. Although I wish I had more time to spend with my Opa being a sold out soldier for Christ, I know where he is, whose he is, and that I’ll see him again soon. Besides,  Opa wouldn’t want to come back to this earthly world now that he’s in his kingdom paradise. My Opa leaves behind a powerful yet humble legacy of being sold-out and radical for Jesus. He was a trailblazer in his earlier years of street ministry, bullhorn in hand, jumping on top of trashcans to witness to the addicts, alcoholics, and non-believers in Ontario and everywhere else ministry led him to. His fire, so strong, set off so many embers along it’s course of life. Like embers of any wildfire, sometimes we have no idea where the winds might carry an ember off to, only to start another wildfire somewhere we’d never have imagined. I do know this, I was one of the lucky ones, for lack of a better term. I was fortunate, and destined to catch an ember from my Opa’s flame, and I made a vow to my God, to never allow the enemy put out this fire that’s been set ablaze in my spirit . I will ALWAYS be a RADICAL soldier for Christ and His kingdom.

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