My name is Rodrigo Merino and I grew up in the San Fernando
Valley where I was raised by immigrant parents from El Salvador. The emphasis
my parents placed on my brother and I was to do well in school and to work hard
to get in a better position to live in better areas and live an overall better
life. We played baseball constantly and we were very competitive, but we
learned the value of discipline and respect for others. My parents sacrificed
themselves to have my brother and I attend private Roman Catholic schools. I
can’t say I really learned much about Christianity or the gospel of Jesus
Christ in those schools. At best, I remember coming to God as some sort of
genie, where all I wanted was for Him to provide me with safety and to grant me
my wishes. I did not seek to know who He was and the Bible seemed to me a list
of rules with some interesting fables.
In high school, I began to really focus on
excelling in my school work. I sought to become popular and pursued
entertainment constantly even at the expense of others. I began to conclude
that life was merely working hard to acquire wealth, perhaps one day settling
down and seeking to find pleasure in everything I was doing. The idea of the
American Dream was so appealing to my flesh and I constantly sought ways to
prioritize that over truly focusing on helping other people. In college, my
mindset did not change. I constantly lived for selfish motives of ambition and
entertainment. I began partying and drinking quite a bit. I was seeking pleasure
and meaning in the pursuit of the distractions/material of this world. Although
I could often recognize that I was lost and empty with a fearful heart, I
rebelled further from God and simply thought I had to figure things out all on
Upon graduating from college, I landed a
well-paying job that allowed me to travel and really be on path towards the
American Dream. The problem was that after only 1.5 years I was let go and the
only job I could find after that was a low-paying entry level analyst position.
I hit a new low. I was well off my desired path—I was in my mid-20’s with
nothing but meaningless relationships focused on partying and entertainment. By
God’s grace I began to realize that my selfish ambitions and my approach to
relationships had really toyed with people’s emotions and I had hurt people’s
feelings with no remorse. I came to understand that I was a sinner in desperate
need of a Savior.
God opened my eyes to the wisdom and truth found
only in his Word. For the first time in my life, I started to understand that
life was about more than chasing my own ambitions and success. Life was about glorifying
God because He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Although I would
lose popularity and even an entire set of friends, I knew that I had to repent
of my sins and give my life over to Jesus Christ for Him to be my Lord and
Savior. It wasn’t easy to let go of the lifestyle that I had, but God’s
providence and faithfulness were constant as He placed great Christian people
on my path, including my lovely wife. Through faithful Christian friends, pastors,
teachers and radio ministries, I truly came to understand that I had only given
up my old life that was completely worth losing and I had been reborn upon
which I gained eternal life. Jesus changed my life. I began to have a deep love
for his Word. I still struggled with many things, but I realized that by His
power and because of His purpose I could trust Him to help me through anything
that I was going through.
God has been so faithful for the last 8 years or so now that
I have been a Christian, yet I continue to realize that I am so unworthy of His
love. I still am learning to trust in Him more, to be more faithful to His Word,
and that all of my struggles are helping to conform me into the image of
Christ. I have realized that my idolatry has kept me from being as mature,
sanctified, productive, and God-honoring as I should be. However, I know that He
is working in me and by His grace I am not what I used to be (1 Cor 6:11). I
pray that God helps me to continue to grow and become a more productive member at
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend CrossCon, a missions conference which exists “to mobilize a generation to lay down their lives in the pursuit of the glory of Jesus Christ among all the unreached and unengaged peoples of the world.” Not only did we have the opportunity to listen to a group of amazing speakers (John Piper!! in the flesh!!!), we learned about the reality of what missions is and the urgency of God’s calling for us. Here are 3 of my takeaways:
possibly disregarding this because “I don’t think God’s calling me” (personally
quoting myself), here are a few things I had to consider:
knowledge of the glory of God is not a question of whether it’ll happen; it’s
what role will I play in it.”
handicap missions as if it’s an optional extra in the Christian life. If we
have great news, we should want to share that with others.”
“Christians care about all suffering, ESPECIALLY eternal suffering.”
Personal holiness: Pursuing God before missions.
speakers REALLY emphasized the importance of being equipped with the knowledge
of God, seeking first our personal relationship with him. We believe that in
our sin, Jesus not only took our place and died on the cross for us, but He
also rose from the dead to become our King! As David sings, he worships God for
his marvelous works, his splendor and majesty, and his strength and beauty
(Psalm 96:3,6). Naturally, from knowing, loving, and worshipping God, missions
becomes essential. Missions is an act of worship itself! We need to know why
the gospel is good news before we can share it with others.
Right view of missions: Thinking locally before globally.
doesn’t happen by aviation.” We can’t expect to suddenly start sharing the
gospel in another country unless we’re already doing it here. Live a life
pleasing to God NOW: Suffer well for the gospel here, be disciplined in reading
the Bible, commit to your local church.
Timothy 2:1-9 teaches us that we can’t get entangled in the “civilian pursuits”
that Paul mentions, perhaps manifested in our lives as “normal life events”
that distract us from the gospel (school, social media, sports). We must
imitate the “hard-working farmer” who toils 24/7 for his crops. How are we
sharing the love of Christ with people in our lives now?
What’s the difference between a goer
“As a follower of Christ, you are
either a goer, a sender, or disobedient.” Everyone is called to be involved in
missions!!! I realized how easy it is to just sit back and passively live my
comfortable life, disregarding lost people who have never heard of Jesus
Living life as a missionary is
ordinary: It’s living life as a follower of Christ in a different context.
The reality of going on missions is
that missionaries might face persecution and even be martyred. As one speaker
put it, “There’s a sobriety and a seriousness about the reality of the wrath of
God, the reality of lost people, the reality of hell that causes us not to play
games. We are seriously joyful.” There’s joy in knowing that God is using
missionaries to risk their lives to save the lost.
It’s not a passive role: It’s an
ongoing relationship that involves praying, financially supporting, video
Are always ready to be sent as
goers: Even though God may be calling them to send right now, senders are
always ready to obey and be sent.
They aren’t JV: there are no junior
varsity or varsity teams in God’s kingdom. We’re all sinners who are graciously
used by God to play a part in the advancement of his kingdom.
of the statistics show that even if every single believer shared the gospel
with every single unbelieving person they knew, and if every one of those
unbelieving people miraculously believed the gospel upon hearing it, there
would still be 3 billion people who don’t know the gospel because they do not
know of any believers.
called to take the resources we’re given to learn, equip, and obey God wherever
He calls us. God used this conference to reveal the huge urgency there is for
missions from the lack of people who know the gospel. God graciously chose to
use all of us as His instruments, so long as we surrender ourselves to be used.
In the end, we can have hope in knowing his kingdom will come because “We’re
not the future of missions, Jesus is.”
My parents brought me and
my siblings to church at a young age after being invited by the
Mandarin-speaking pastors at a local church. At the time, my parents weren’t
believers. Since they had only recently immigrated to the states, they figured
it was good to find a community for them and their children (us) to be a part
of. I don’t remember much of my early days in church, but I do remember that I
didn’t particularly enjoy it. I remember crying one time because all of the
kids were going to participate in the Christmas choir concert, but being the
shy boy I was, I just cried and my parents took me home. Nonetheless, my
parents kept going every week. However, as the sinful kid I was, I was
reluctant to go to church. Now, I remember fondly how I escaped the
“routine” I thought my parents were putting me in. Almost every
Sunday (for a while), I would pretend to be sleeping in my bed before church
started as my parents kept attempting to wake me up. Being the kind-hearted
souls my parents were, they probably thought, “Oh, let the kid sleep, he’s
probably tired.” And just like that, I was able to skip out on church.
my childish attempts, God was able to instill something into me that changed
the way I looked at church. It was in 3rd grade after Sunday school when I
suddenly started to enjoy church. It might have been because I started making
friends or because my friends and I started playing “cops and
robbers” after service. I still don’t know, but all I know is that God did
something that day. From that day on, God continued to extend his grace towards
middle school came, my father sent my brother and I to participate in the Boy
Scouts program. At first, the program seemed hard for my brother and I to adapt
to. We were two little, shy inklings who definitely didn’t know how to properly
tie a shoe or swim in a 5ft pool. For us to join the scouts? Absolute shocker.
However, we stuck to it and with my father’s support, we started to grow a lot
from the program. Whether it be survival skills, cooking skills, leadership
skills, these skills definitely shaped my brother and I into boys who were
equipped for the “world”. Despite the progress we had done in the
program, my father was quick to realize that he was neglecting ours and even
his involvement in the church. For all of middle school, we pretty much skipped
out on church because of how time-consuming scouts was. When my brother and I
were one rank shy of becoming an “Eagle Scout”, my father told us we
weren’t going to do scouting again. Both my brother and I were frustrated. We
spent countless hours going on outings, going to weekly meetings, leadership
meetings, but we ended our journey just like that. My father realized that
staying with the church was more important for us.
my father was right, and more importantly, God is right. High school was when
church became more than just a weekly routine. In my freshmen year, one of the
uncles at my church asked me to help out on the worship team. I had no idea how
worship worked let alone know how to play the guitar. He told me not to worry
about it and offered to teach me the basics. After a few weeks of learning, I
found my passion in playing the guitar. I spent hours upon hours playing the
instrument; learning different chord progressions, techniques, etc. During the
summer before my sophomore year, I practiced over three hours each day on
average. But more than my guitar ability, it was God working in me through my
playing. As I started helping out on Friday nights with the youth worship, I
started to learn just how powerful and loving God was. Worship through music
became an avenue for me to realize my sin and the depravity of it. In light of
my struggle and other’s struggle, I always came back to worship. Through
serving on the team, I realized that Christianity wasn’t just a mere religion,
but it was a relationship that gave believers a purpose in this life.
Up to this point, I felt like my testimony is complete. However, now that I think of it, my testimony here isn’t over. My sinful nature still fails over and over. I lose my battle to things of this world and worldly desires. But the one thing I know for sure is that God’s grace will always be there. In the moments where I’m lost in sin, lost in anger, lost in loneliness, and utterly broken, I can lean on God because He loves us even we don’t love Him. As my life goes on, God continues to put challenges and opportunities likewise in my life. Just like the song (Give me Faith) says, “Give me faith to trust what you say, That you’re good and your love is great, I’m broken inside, I give you my life” May this be a reminder for me and all of us as we continue to live in this world and more importantly, become living testimonies in the new life God has given to us as his children.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
I was blessed to be born and raised in a loving Christian family. I grew up going to church, attending Sunday school, and had accepted Christ as my Savior at a fairly young age. However, when middle school came, I began to have trouble fitting in with my peers. Because of that, I turned to the sport of table tennis. My faith wavered as I felt that table tennis, and not church, was the only place where I was accepted. The more my peers pushed me away, the more time I spent on the table. Table tennis became my source of relief. It was my one outlet to escape from the pain of being left out from my peers. I skipped church when I had tournaments and soon, table tennis took up the majority of my time. My training regimen also became more and more rigorous. I set high goals for myself to improve and resolved to make the national team. That way, I would always have an excuse to say that I was too busy for others because of my busy training schedule. Eventually, I began to reach my goals. I traveled the around the nation to compete and won titles I never thought I would be able to achieve.
Throughout this time, I maintained good grades in the midst of traveling and competing. I strove to be the girl that had my life put together and perfectly planned out. I thought I had it all—my grades, my sport, and my happiness. Yet, before my first World Competition, I sprained my ankle. I was disappointed with myself and questioned that if God was truly sovereign, then why would He allow me to get injured? Somehow, I thought I’d be okay. I knew sports had its ups and downs, so I believed that I would bounce right back up if God was good. Despite my optimism, I sprained my ankle again and again, especially right before or even during major tournaments. Halfway through one of these major tournaments, my ankle was bruised and swollen, and I was competing with a slight limp. My coach suggested that I should default the rest of my matches so that I would be able to rest my ankle and let it heal, rather than making my situation worse. After all, if I couldn’t play to win then, why should I compete all? She asked me, “What do you have to lose by defaulting these matches and pulling out of this tournament?” I had nothing to say. That’s when I realized that the only thing I had to lose was my own pride.
I had put so much of my hope and dreams into table tennis and realized that if I ever had to stop playing the sport, I wouldn’t know who I was anymore. Being able to rest my ankle for a couple months and take a step back from the busyness of life allowed me to realize there was so much more to life than just table tennis. There were college decisions approaching, time with friends whom I’ve neglected, family members that I needed to learn to love more sacrificially, and most importantly, a growing desire to know and love the One who had been constantly pursuing me.
By God’s grace, I was later accepted into UCLA. Coming to UCLA and joining AACF was the first time where I experienced the joy of fellowship and could truly see the power of God’s love. I am so thankful to have found a family of brothers and sisters who constantly point me back to the cross. At the cross, Jesus claimed victory over sin and death. In Christ, I found forgiveness, truth, and freedom. Psalm 103:11-12 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” I learned that my identity was no longer tied to this world because of what Christ has done for us on the cross. I was not just an athlete, but a child of God and loved more than I could ever imagine.
Even though I was learning about God’s love, sovereignty, and wisdom, I still struggled with placing my identity and trust in God alone. I continued to find much of my comfort in other things rather than God as I sought to prove my identity through grades, internship opportunities, and approval from others. Throughout my time at UCLA, some of these dreams that I had treasured so highly were ripped from my heart. As I went through these struggles, my identity was challenged again and again. I felt so broken during these times and asked why God would even allow my heart to shatter at these times—just as I had asked God when I had sprained my ankle. It was only by God’s grace and perfect timing that I had gone through these difficult circumstances. I learned that I had to fully lean and depend on God’s strength and that I could not flourish in anything out of my own strength, whether it was with school, family, friendships, ministries, sports, or extracurriculars.
In addition, I had often worried about how I would be able to love others well when I myself was going through a rough situation. But as I learned more about who God was, I realized that love is, and never was, a mere transaction. In humility, Jesus took our cross and shame. There was, and still is, nothing I could ever do to pay for that price. As I had been raised in a Chinese household, this new definition of love was startling. I had often seen love demonstrated in my family by fighting over restaurant bills, doing chores out of obligation, and showing respect because of cultural expectations. However, God’s love and grace was overflowing and resulted in joy. Seeing how God’s love is not transactional has transformed my understanding of how I am also called to love others. This love we are able to show others comes ultimately not out of ourselves, but stems from the love that Christ has first shown us through his death and resurrection. I know that the journey onward to follow Christ’s example of an ever constant, humble, and sacrificial love will not be easy, but I strive to continue to find joy and encouragement in remembering how sovereign and faithful God is through all the small instances of grace that we can see, and the many more moments of grace that we may not even recognize.