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The Call That Stopped a Revolution

1965 - Luis Palau hosts a live call-in show called "Respond" on HCJB-TV in Quito, Ecuador.
1965 - Luis Palau hosts a live call-in show called "Respond" on HCJB-TV in Quito, Ecuador.

by Luis Palau

It's a challenge to counsel someone by telephone while a million people are watching you on television. Yet those pressure-packed minutes in the studio have proven to be some of the most fruitful in my entire ministry.

A friend of mine at HCJB dreamed up the idea of doing live counseling at HCJB's TV studio in Quito. I would talk for a few minutes, then invite viewers to call in with questions. When I stepped before the cameras for the first time I had no idea what would happen.

Once we went on the air the phones never seemed to stop ringing. The program was called "Respond," and the people certainly did.

One November night in 1965, shortly after launching "Respond," I had just prayed with a woman who received Jesus Christ as Savior. The next call was brief. A high-pitched, squeaky voice requested an appointment the next day at 9:30.

The next morning, a small woman walked through the gates of the HCJB property, followed closely by two huge men. As she entered the office, her eyes traveled to every corner before she finally sat down.

"You pastors and priests;' she began with disgust. "You are a bunch of thieves and liars and crooks. All you want is to deceive people. All you want is money!" She went on that way for more than 20 minutes, swearing all the while and smoking every last bit from each cigarette she lit.

I prayed silently, "Lord, how shall I handle this?" Finally, she was finished. I began, "Is there anything I can do for you? How can I help"

She stared at me then broke into uncontrollable sobs. When she was spoke again, the edge was gone from her voice: "You know my 38 years, you are the first person who has ever asked me if he could help me:" She was was Maria Benitez-Perez, which I recognized as the name of a wealthy, influential family. "I am the female secretary of the Communist Party in Ecuador," she said. "I am a Marxist-Leninist and I don't believe in God:'

With that she took off on another breathless tirade against me, all preachers and priests, and the church.

"Why did you come here?" I broke in. "Just to insult me?"

For the next three hours, she told me her story. Maria had left home and run away from a religious school as a rebellious teenager. The communists befriended her, and she became a party leader.

'When my mother died and the bishop came to officiate at the ceremony, I mocked him while my mother's body lay there in the casket;' she said. "And I've always felt a little guilty about that, even though I don't believe in God, of course:' 

Every time she got onto the subject of God, she became enraged. But just as often, she would return to her mother's funeral.

"Hey, Palau;' she said, "supposing there is a God--which there isn't- but just supposing there is, do you think he would take a woman like me?"

I had read once that when dealing with a professed atheist, the best approach is to take one truth from the Bible and stay with it. The Lord gave me Hebrews 10:17.

"Look, Maria, don't worry about what I think. Look at what God thinks:' I opened to the verse and turned the Bible so she could see.

"I don't believe in the Bible...."

"But we're just supposing there's a God, right?" I said. "Let's just suppose this is His Word. He says, 'Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.' "

She waited as if there had to be more. "But listen, I've been married three times, and in bed with a lot of men:'

I said, "Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more."

"But I haven't told you half my story. I stabbed a comrade who later committed suicide."

"Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more."

"I've led student riots where people were killed."

"Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more."

Seventeen times I responded to Maria's objections and confessions with that verse. Finally I asked, "Would you like Christ to forgive all that you've told me about, and all the rest that I don't even know?"

"He can't do it," she said.

"You want to try it?"

"It would be a miracle."

"Take a step of faith. Invite Him into your life and try Him. See what will happen."

Maria stared at me for a long moment, and then bowed her head. "All right," she whispered.

I led her in a simple prayer, confessing her sins, asking forgiveness, and receiving Christ Jesus.

She returned a week later to tell me she was reading the Bible. An HCJB missionary helped disciple her.

I didn't see Maria again until January. Her face was disfigured; several of her front teeth were missing.

She had told her fellow communist leaders, "I am no longer an atheist. I believe in God and in Jesus Christ. I am resigning from the party. We are all a bunch of liars. We deceive people when we tell them there is no God:'

A few days later, four of Maria's former comrades attacked her. She was forced to hide in the basements of churches and in the homes of missionaries.

"There's going to be a revolution in June," she told me matter-of-factly. "We've had it all planned for months." It was to be a typical Latin American uprising, students and agitators causing a disturbance in the streets, luring out the army, which would then be attacked and overthrown. The chairman of the Communist Party for Ecuador would take over the country.

Maria remained on the run until June, when the Marxists' network of spies tracked her down. But she talked her four captors into retreating to a farm, where they could rest and read a few Christian books she had chosen for them.

On the morning of the revolution, the Communist Party leader came out of hiding in Colombia to talk to Maria, his long-time friend. "Why did you become a Christian?" he asked.

"Because I believe in God and Jesus Christ, and my faith has changed my life."

"You know," he said, "while hiding out, I have been listening to HCJB shortwave radio, and those Christians-they almost have me believing there is a God!"

"There is!" Maria said. "Why don't you become a Christian and get out of this business? Here, take this Bible and this book [Peace With God, by Billy Graham]. You can go to the farm and read them."

He accepted her offer. Later that morning, the disturbance that was supposed to trigger revolution fizzled into chaos, because the leaders were off on a farm, reading.

What a tremendous impact TV and radio have on the "untouchables"- people who for one reason or another live completely outside the influence of any Christian witness... except what they might hear on the air. I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to learn that lesson at HCJB's TV studios many years ago.

Copyright 1990 by Luis Palau.

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