FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Having won only one game in three years, the Thomas Jefferson Patriots needed hope.
Luis Lama, a Southwestern alumnus who now serves as associate minister of Prestonwood En Español, spent 10 weeks this season as this Dallas high school football team’s chaplain. For the first nine chapel services, Lama went through the book of John to teach the team about Jesus in the context of athletics and what a real man looks like. Knowing that he wanted to end the chapel series with an invitation, Lama attained permission from the team’s coaches to host an off-campus breakfast for the final chapel service, Nov. 9, during which Lama showed Billy Graham’s “My Hope America” video. The result, Lama says, was a miracle.
“They were captivated,” Lama says. “They were focused. And at the end of the video, I got up and gave a testimony and I prayed and gave an invitation. And I believe that was the best possible way that we could end the chapel series with these students, because 15 students [and one coach] came to Christ.”
Born in Lima, Peru, Lama’s early life did not indicate such a fruitful future in ministry. For the first 10 years of his childhood, his family attended Pentecostal house churches.
“As a kid, I never wanted to go to church,” Lama says. “The music was loud and scary, people would faint left and right, and everyone, with their eyes shut, was screaming a language I wasn’t familiar with … and I thought I understood it all, being bilingual!”
After encountering a pair of Mormon missionaries, Lama’s entire family was baptized into the Mormon church.
“I was a faithful follower along with my family,” Lama says, “until my senior year of high school. Being a part of religion didn’t compare to the other things the world had to offer. The pursuit of being entertained became my quest: money, fashion, pleasure, the night life. ‘Give me fun, just don’t talk about Jesus and ruin the mood’ was the way I looked at things.”
This life of sin persisted until God intervened. Lama, 26, had a major arrhythmia attack. The EKG registered 280 beats per minute. Unable to open his eyes, control his breathing or communicate coherently, doctors in the ER injected him with a tranquilizer. The moment they did, he flatlined, but then his heart immediately started back up at 86 beats per minute.
“Never had death become a probability until it was a reality,” Lama says. “I spent the following weeks seeking the help of cardiologists to help me with my physical heart, but also in prayer to help my spiritual heart. I started attending Prestonwood a few months later.”
This ultimately led to Lama’s salvation.
“The moment of decision came at a men’s conference,” he recalls. “On March 31, 2007, my knee caps were shaking as I stood up and received Christ by faith as Lord and Savior. The only thing I remember about the message was that it made me take an honest assessment of myself … I was a sinner in need of forgiveness. The cross finally made sense to me. It was an overwhelming rush of love that covered me.”
Following this, Lama pursued God through discipleship classes, service opportunities and missions. While on a five-month stay in Argentina, Lama sensed the call to ministry. Upon his return to the country in January 2009, Prestonwood offered him a student ministry intern position. He was admitted into Southwestern that same year, graduating with a Master’s in Missiology in December 2011. He now serves on staff at Prestonwood En Español, working specifically with students.
Regarding how his time at Southwestern equipped him for what he does today, Lama says Southwestern helped him in two ways.
“First, since I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I was taught the doctrine of God,” Lama says. “I was taught the Bible from the best professors in the nation.
“Second, Southwestern organized the balance of my time. The life of a pastor is not a simple one. I believe that my coursework pruned out the unnecessary of my life. Only the activities that truly matter are given attention when your time is limited.”
This focus on ministry eventually led Lama to work with students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. Lama says his ministry’s largest obstacle is the presuppositions held by the student population, which is almost entirely Hispanic.
“Usually a second- or third-generation Hispanic student will have a flawed Jesus background, full of rules and rituals,” Lama says. “Other times these students have been burned through sensationalist experiences.”
This past summer, Prestonwood decided to participate in Billy Graham’s “My Hope America” outreach program, which comprises video testimonials with an evangelistic focus, as well as follow-up discipleship lessons. Because Prestonwood En Español is the largest Spanish-speaking congregation involved with the program, the Billy Graham Association filmed a video about Lama’s fruitful experience with the football team, Nov. 9. (This video is available on http://billygraham.org/video/varsity-football-victory).
Since that day, Lama has begun discipling students with the follow-up lessons provided by the Billy Graham Association. He is also planning, along with the coaches, a community service project for this December, which will be followed by the team’s attending a church service together, during which time those students who gave their lives to Christ will be baptized.
“The people feeling the win are the students from my student ministry,” Lama says. “They have been really supportive through prayers, fundraising and attending the games. I feel that the students have had a front-row seat to the workings of the Spirit of God.
“It is possible to meet new people, invest in them, share God’s message and invite them to respond.”