When George Aguilar broke into and vandalized a Baptist church, the last thing he expected to find was love and forgiveness. But that November night in 2004 changed the 20-year-old man’s life forever.
That year, Aguilar, a native of El Salvador — who at age 10 came to live with his father in the U.S. as a legal resident — found himself without a place to live. He moved in with some young men in Tulsa who were involved in stealing items and converting them to cash.
An impressionable young man who lost his job and needed to send money to help support his mother and younger brother back in El Salvador, Aguilar said he thought the only thing he could do under his circumstances was to steal.
Aguilar and two other men robbed and vandalized 11 churches in the Broken Arrow/Tulsa, Okla., area during a span of four months. They took cameras, computer modems, guitars, amps and other electronic equipment. They damaged approximately $250,000 worth of church property. At First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, the men caused about $25,000 in damages to the building and trashed what they didn’t take.
The church had just completed a debt-free multi-purpose building that included the worship center.
“All of us were angry that anyone would do that to a church,” Pastor Nick Garland said. “It was especially painful for us because we had worked so long to see the completed structure so soon damaged senselessly. I wanted the person(s) caught who did that and wanted them punished.”
After the thieves were apprehended, Aguilar wrote a letter of apology to each of the churches he had vandalized.
“His letter broke my heart,” Garland said. “He conveyed a genuine repentant spirit and requested that he be forgiven. I felt ashamed that I had been quick to want to condemn him without knowing anything about him. When I read his letter, God moved my heart to show me how poorly I had responded to George’s actions.”
Through the help of a police officer who was a member of the church, Aguilar was brought to Garland’s office to meet with him.
“When I walked in, he was seated at a conference table with his head in his hands,” Garland said. “He impressed me with his demeanor and decorum.”
Garland said Aguilar stated in his letter that he did not think the pastor could forgive him, that the church could forgive him or that God could forgive him for what he had done.
Garland began the conversation by asking Aguilar to look at him. Then the pastor asked the young man to forgive him for the harsh feelings he had against Aguilar without even knowing him.
“George, I forgave you when I read your letter,” Garland told him. He added, “And I know God can forgive you for He has forgiven me, not only for what I felt toward you, but a long time ago. He forgave me for what I was and gave me a new life in Christ.”
Garland shared about redemption in Jesus, and Aguilar prayed and confessed his need of being forgiven. That day, Aguilar asked the Lord to come into his life and transform him.
Garland told Aguilar the only thing remaining on his list was to ask the church for forgiveness. The pastor said he could not speak for the church, but he arranged for a day release for Aguilar to attend a worship service.
“On that morning, I told the congregation that the young man who had broken into our church had been apprehended and had written a letter asking for forgiveness,” Garland said. “I read his letter, told them George and I had met, that I had forgiven him and that George had asked God to forgive him, but I did not know if the church would.”
Garland asked Aguilar to come to the platform and stand with him. Then he told the church they would have to let him know if they forgave him.
“Suddenly, it looked like a stampede of folks coming to hug his neck, weep tears of joy with him, express their love for him and to truly embrace him,” Garland said. “He got offers for lunch, money given to him to help his mother, three job offers and a host of other clear affirmations.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Dana Williamson/The Baptist Messenger