The flash of a raging apartment fire forged the physical and emotional marks of Eduardo Perez’s life. When his mom pulled his three-month-old body out of the flames, he had third-degree burns over forty percent of his body. His father made one visit to the hospital that night and stayed long enough to tell his wife, “I’m not dealing with this.” He walked out and never came back. After six months, the baby left the ICU and got relocated to the Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston, Texas. The next fourteen years brought many surgeries, semi-annual hospital visits, and permanent scars.
A lot of fatherless children call Houston’s near northeast side home. Kids picked on Eduardo because of his scars. He never did meet his father. “My mom tried to raise us as best she could. She worked nights cleaning offices and left us—my older brother and me—alone. He got involved with a gang, and I wanted to follow him, so I got involved too.”
Eduardo had a personal relationship with Christ. “The whole time I lived in nonsense—doing horrible things—the Holy Spirit’s conviction never left me. In my mid-teens, late teens, early twenties I’d come in the door and fall on my face and ask God to forgive me. That was behind the scenes. No one in the gang knew I was a believer living contrary to what I knew as truth. But living in sin destroys your assurance. I was sure if death found me gang-banging, I would not see God in eternity. The anxiety was too much to bear. I finally asked God, ‘if you want me out of this, get me a door out.’ Overwhelmed and exhausted, I walked away from the gang. I had participated in it for twelve full years.”
At eighteen, whenever he was not in jail, Eduardo worked in the electrical trade. He excelled in the business and received a journeyman’s license at the age of twenty-four. Eduardo became a foreman overseeing million dollar installations. His wages “went through the roof” and he built a house for himself.
During that time a co-worker kept telling Eduardo, he needed to come to church. Eduardo describes his friend, Tony, as “this random white guy who never lived a life anything like mine.” Tony had both parents. “He was a stand-up guy—a good genuine believer. He practiced what he preached, and that impacted me.” He asked Eduardo, “You believe in Jesus?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then come to church.”
“No, I need to clean things up and then, when I’m ready, I’ll go.”
Tony said, “It doesn’t work like that. Those things will fall off in time. Come and worship, and let God clean you from the inside.”
So Eduardo and his girlfriend finally went to church with Tony. Eduardo started to grow in his relationship with God. After a couple of years, they asked him to teach a Sunday school class. “I realized right away I couldn’t make heads or tails of the Bible. I didn’t know anything about the Scriptures. They gave me a curriculum to use to teach college kids. I thought, ‘I earned my GED in the Harris County jail at eighteen years old! I used to lead a gang; I can wing it!’ Well no, to teach Sunday school, you’ve got to know the Bible. I muddled my way through the curriculum and God tugged at me to go back to school to study the Bible.”
When his wife sensed God’s direction and leading, she responded, “I don’t want to be a mom; I don’t want to be a wife. The thought of life with a preacher bores me to death.” She left. And Eduardo got custody of his five-month-old daughter, just like that.
For the next ten years, he raised his daughter by himself. Eduardo didn’t know what to do. “I’m a hard-hearted former gangbanger. And God knew fatherhood was what I needed to mature. He gave me this responsibility.” His daughter became an excuse to avoid going to school. His other excuse involved money.
In reality, both proved false. Eduardo could afford it. He just didn’t want to spend the money. As a journeyman electrician, Eduardo enjoyed the only “big money” he had ever earned. He continued to sense God’s nudging, however. He kept telling himself, “I need to do this for my daughter as much as I need to do it for myself. How can I tell her, ‘You need to get an education,’ if I haven’t gotten one myself?”
In 2008 when Hurricane Ike blew through Houston, Eduardo heard God’s wake-up call. He had boarded the windows of his house and gone to his mother’s to help her. His daughter had fallen asleep on the couch. “When my brother and I finished the work at my mom’s, I said, ‘this neighborhood floods; we’ll all be better off at my house. It doesn’t flood over there.’ But my mom refused to leave; so we all stayed at her house.”
Safe at his mother’s, the storm hit his neighborhood. The winds pushed a huge tree over on to his house and a branch had pierced through the area where his daughter normally slept. “I had used my daughter as an excuse not to go to school. In an instant I realized God takes care of her anytime he wants; I’m only a steward.” And saying he couldn’t afford it proved wrong. His experience in construction allowed him to serve as general contractor during repairs. He legally had to pocket a significant portion of the insurance settlement. “God took every excuse I had and knocked it down.”
Learning and Growing
Eduardo enrolled at the College of Biblical Studies (CBS) and thrived. His professor, Dr. Paul Shockley (ThM, 2002) noticed immediately. “Eduardo is a natural leader and diligent in his studies. He asked great questions. Among hundreds and hundreds of students, Eduardo stands out. He takes the Word seriously and seeks to implement what he learns. His passion is ministering the Bible as it is. He is concerned about what the text says.”
Learning had always come easy for Eduardo. Before he went out on the streets, he received highest marks in school. “I would hide my grades from my cronies, because half of them couldn’t put a sentence together, and I was an honor student!” Now in college, he worked full time. His mother insisted on keeping his daughter. On his way to work early every morning, before his twelve-hour shift, he took her to his mother’s. “I’d work all day, rush home, take a shower and a short nap and then go to school.” But every night he picked up his daughter. “I never let her believe she lived with anyone but her father.”
When his mother’s small office cleaning business grew, she paid Eduardo to do sales and quotes for her. That allowed him to quit the electrical trade. It gave him the flexible schedule he needed to take some classes offered only during the day.
CBS requires each student to do a Christian service project. The Harris County Jail had an agreement with the school and allowed some CBS students to do their service projects there. When a friend suggested Eduardo volunteer at the jail, he responded, “That’s the last place I want to go! I used to live there. Come on! I have a record. They won’t even let me in. And if they did, I’d be afraid they wouldn’t let me out!”
Back to Prison to Teach
Eduardo applied. No response. Semester’s almost over. Then one day, a phone call. The chaplain met with Eduardo over breakfast and told him he could get him in. But because of his background, it would take a chain of permissions. The process went quickly since most in the chain said, “We need twenty more like you.”
Eduardo preached every Friday and liked it. He asked the chaplain to let him know if a job became available. They hired him right away. Two years later a new sheriff took over and canceled everyone’s contracts. But after two weeks he invited Eduardo to come back. They did it because of his education, particularly because he studies the Bible at DTS.
Besides overseeing volunteers, Eduardo teaches theology courses, first-year Greek along with first-year Hebrew to inmates incarcerated for capital murder. He teaches three fundamental doctrines: man, sin, and salvation. “I train prisoners who will go into the Texas Department of Corrections as missionaries. I also teach the ones who will go home. These men will pursue a trade and will seek to fellowship with a local church, those two in tandem. I tell them how I did it. I share the two things that saved my life—a trade and a walk with God.”
Professor Shockley adds, “Now the dividends yield profits. A fellow recently received a sentence to serve lifetime imprisonment without parole. But right before his sentencing, Eduardo used apologetics to help lead him to Christ. The man told Eduardo he would have committed suicide had it not been for what he did to bring him to saving faith.”
Ironically, Eduardo also teaches workplace literacy part-time at the same institution he got his GED (as an inmate). Houston Community College hired Eduardo to teach classes in the jail.
Stepping Up to Lead
When leadership changes at his church made it difficult to remain there, Eduardo sought the advice of his mentor, former CBS president Dr. Bill Boyd (ThM, 1965.) At Dr. Boyd’s suggestion, Eduardo held worship services on Sunday mornings at his home with only his extended family. As he preached through one Bible book at a time, Acres Homes Bible Church was born. Now his garage-converted-into-chapel holds the twenty adults and fifteen children he pastors.
And Eduardo continues his studies.
When he had ninety undergraduate hours, he enrolled at DTS-Houston. He completed nine DTS hours of dual credit while finishing his bachelor’s degree at CBS. His DTS professors observe the same dedication Eduardo exhibited as an undergrad.
Dr. Will Johnston (ThM, 1994; PhD, 2002) declares, “His desire for mastery of his skills is contagious. He influences others around him and drives his friends to push their limits. I see these traits as an outgrowth of his devotion to God and His Word. He’s seen the transformative power of the Word in his life and wants others to experience it for themselves. Of course, it delights me as a teacher to find out Eduardo multiplies the Greek and Hebrew I’ve taught him by passing it on to others.”
Exasperated after praying for a wife for ten years, Eduardo cried out, “Okay, God, if you want me to stay single, I’ll stay single. I’ve done enough. I’ve worked hard. I’ve done the degree. I’m in seminary, and this is hard stuff. Tell me if you want me to stay single.”
Then Sarah, the childless widow of his longtime friend who had died of cardiac issues, walked into his life. Eduardo’s daughter and extended family love Sarah. Her family loves him. When her father found out Eduardo likes to fish, he went out and bought a boat! Sarah loves and serves the Lord.
Eduardo understands why he had to wait. When Eduardo and Sarah married in August 2015, they included a mutual foot washing in the ceremony. “I wanted the guests to see what a marriage should be—partners serving each other as Christ served the church.”
Today, a different type of raging fire forges the marks of Eduardo Perez’s life. The last seven years have brought many changes, unexpected developments, and permanent transformation. “I have come full circle. I have a full-time job and two part-time jobs that all allow me to encourage people as I glorify God. I have a proud mother. I deal with a pre-teen daughter who loves the Lord, a beautiful wife, and God has blessed my family. I study the Bible and will receive my ThM next May. I am way better than I deserve.”
About the Contributors
As an adjunct professor in Educational Ministries and Leadership, Dr. Karen Giesen mentors and advises students who take classes in Houston. Dr. Giesen has served as Director of Christian Education for her inner city, multi-racial, economically diverse church. Her earlier positions include directing publicity and promotion for a large church music ministry and teaching children at a Christian summer camp. She has lectured on Strategic Planning for Ministry at the Logos Bible Conference in New Zealand. Her numerous published articles include a Kindred Spirit profile of J. Dwight Pentecost which received a national award from the Evangelical Press Association.