When I started law school at Berkeley I had one vision for my life: become a corporate lawyer, be rich and famous, live in a big house on the hill, and drive a Ferrari. As the son of social-climbing immigrants from Mexico and China, that vision was always met with great approval. This was my path. Until one day.
At the end of my first year in law school, my life fell apart. I was in my first serious relationship which I thought would lead to marriage, and then it all ended unexpectedly. With my heart in a thousand pieces, Jesus reached out to me and held me. Close. He healed me and loved me. I remember the moment when it all changed. I was at a Bible study at a church in East L.A. and the light switch of my heart turned on for the first time.
Without dramatic fanfare or mysterious emotion, I decided to follow Jesus with my whole heart.
The following familiar verses struck my soul: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9: 23-24. And so, in that moment, I decided to follow Jesus.
After making that decision, every aspect of my life changed. I was soon filled with a deep hunger for God’s Word, and began to immerse myself in it. For the first time I read the Bible from cover to cover. For the first time I discovered loving community who cared for me. Early on in my spiritual journey, I remember being out with my small group one night at an Italian restaurant and thinking to myself: “They have no idea how much I’m hurting inside, and yet, they also have no idea how much they are comforting me right now.”
As God continued to transform me, I began to realize that I wanted to use my life for something more than just making lots of money.
“10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15.”
After being stirred by these words, I went to a park bench near my parents’ house and prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, what do You want to do with my life?”
That simple, yet dangerous, prayer led me to begin again. God soon filled my heart with a new vision: to become a professor and to use the professorial platform to speak and write about issues of race and Christianity. I went on to complete law school, receive a Ph.D. in Latin American history from UCLA, and become a professor. I became an immigration lawyer and pastor, too. I have been a professor of Chicana/o Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA for 12 years now. By God’s grace, the vision Jesus put in my heart back in 1997 has come into full bloom. Bendita sea el Señor por su gracia y gran fidelidad.
Robert Chao Romero was born in East L.A. to immigrant parents from Chihuahua, Mexico and Hubei, China. He is professor at UCLA and a pastor of Jesus 4 Revolutionaries Church in Los Angeles. Together with his wife Erica, he also co-directs the Matthew 25 Movement in Southern California.
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