By Cesar Parra
I was 21 years old when I almost lost my life fighting in an Italian bakery in Toronto. Without Christ, violence and the night life were a weekly norm for me. My mother, a single mother, did all she could to keep me out of trouble but violence on the streets of Jane and Finch was inevitable.
My grandmother Melania had just arrived from Chile to visit us. She would place her hand on my head and pray for me as I left my house. “God, please send someone to tell my grandson about You. He needs You. May he give his life to You!” That summer, she would often repeat, “Cesar, you need to give your life to Jesus because if one of these days you die, without Him, you will surely go to hell.” I admit that as I left the house, I would think about dying and not having any hope of what would happen. Months prior, I had lost a good friend who had been shot in the chest and I often thought that I could be next.
The day Grandma spoke about would be the reality that would make me consider what would happen with my life. We stopped at an Italian bakery in the area of Jane and Finch after my soccer game. Hungry, I ordered my favourite: veal on a bun with peppers and mushrooms. Some of the players from the team we had just beaten in the finals were there and sure enough, the fight that would change my life broke out. In the end, my hand was almost completely severed; I had to hold it because it was almost cut off. Blood was squirting all over the bakery like a sprinkler; I had cut my tendons, veins, nerves and a major artery.
I was about to pass out from severe blood loss when Grandmother ran in, screaming, “Cesar, don’t close your eyes, or you will die. Without Jesus, you will surely go to hell!” She ripped part of my shirt, wrapped my wrist where the cut was, and told me to keep my arm elevated and my eyes open. Minutes later the ambulance arrived. Finally I could not fight it anymore and my eyes closed.
Lying on the hospital bed with my eyes closed I could hear the doctors discussing the choices they had: amputate my hand to save my life or risk more blood loss and lose my life as they try to save my hand. “No!” I sat up and yelled, “Please try to save my hand!” They injected more anesthetic into my arm and the doctor said, “Son, relax. Think about whatever you like; you have three minutes before you will be out.” I think he was trying to tell me, “This could be your last three minutes.” I looked up at the three operating lights staring back at me and could only think of one person: Grandma. I asked myself, what would happen if I died today? My fear and desperation led me to one thing: for the first time in my life I prayed to the Jesus Grandma had mentioned.
“Dear Jesus, if You exist and can hear me, please save my hand and my life. I promise I will never fight again, and I will seek You.”
I woke up in the recovery room and saw my elevated hand wrapped in a plastic cast.
I was in rehab for a year trying to regain full function of my hand. Eventually I was able to get back to soccer and my life, but the world hadn’t changed; there were still fights on the soccer fields, in bars and night clubs. I kept my promise to Jesus, however, and would walk away when fights broke out. Nobody knew what was going on; friends could not understand the change, but I knew there was a promise to keep with the One I believe saved my hand and my life that night.
When Grandma left for Chile, she said to me, “Cesar, find Christ. I will always be praying for you, but only He can change you and bring peace and joy to your life.” I don’t think Grandma knew how to lead me to Christ, but she knew how to pray. Her prayers led me to the day God would change my life forever.
My mother was the first to convert, followed by my sister Andrea. On May 21, 1993, three youth from my mother’s church, Iglesia Bautista Betel, knocked on the door of my apartment to share a message. Francisco Rios, accompanied by Francisco Maninero and a young lady named Mary Ruth Aular, shared with me the greatest story I had ever heard. Jesus came to die for me, for all my sins, in order to give me eternal life and a personal relationship with Him. A new life with a new purpose to live. I could receive this life if I would repent and believe.
“Cesar, do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that if you repent today and receive Him as your Lord and Saviour you will have eternal life?”
“Yes, but first answer these questions:
Are you sure He died for all my sins? I have lots!
And secondly, why do you ask? Do you mean that some say no?
Yes, yes, I want to repent and receive Jesus today!”
As I prayed that night, I finally understood Grandma’s words, “Cesar, you need Jesus!”
Christ saved me that night. I believe God heard the prayers of a prayer warrior on her knees every day for my mother, her granddaughter and me. My Grandma Melania was my prayer warrior who rocked heaven with her prayers, who insisted that her grandson, as crazy as he was, would receive Jesus one day.
Four years later I married the young woman who sat at my table the day I heard the Gospel. We were sent to Jane and Finch to plant Emmanuel Baptist Church, a church that has now planted nine churches. We went to serve as missionaries in Spain and helped plant churches there. Currently for God’s honour and glory, I serve at CNBC and Mary at our seminary, and we are helping to plant a Spanish church in Calgary.
On September 2, 2019, I phoned my grandma in Chile because she wasn’t doing well with her heart disease. “Cesar, you probably don’t know this, but I have a little rug by my bed where I pray for you every day on my knees. I prayed that you would know Jesus, that you would be a pastor, a godly man who would fearlessly preach the Gospel that transformed you. He has answered my prayers; you are the pastor of our family. Now live a life worthy of your call and never stop preaching His message. My time is up; it is time to meet Jesus. I’m not afraid, for He lives, and I will live with Him. See you soon!”
“Grandma, relax, you have way more life to live. Don’t say that!” I replied.
The next day, on September 3, my prayer warrior went to be with the Lord.
Evangelism is not just sharing the Gospel, it is also praying and weeping on our knees for the lost. Jesus wept for Jerusalem; He prayed for all of us to know Him.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20, NIV). Paul teaches us that we must pray for an open door for the Gospel to be heard.
“Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3, NIV). Pray for your family, and for friends that are lost. Don’t ever give up. Jesus does change lives and does hear our prayers. I know because I lived it through my prayer warrior, my grandmother Melania.