Celebrating Antonio Duarte

When the worship began, I broke. I am talking about that full-blown, sobbing, tear-soaked, sloppy crying. I was in Honduras watching Antonio, my adopted son, speaking in front of a hundred people gathered for church. The moment burst with wonder and the head-shaking knowledge of being part of a story outside my control, a divine narrative played out for two men.

In the beginning…

I met Antonio when he was twelve. He wandered into the church where I was a youth pastor for several hundred rambunctious junior high students. He didn’t want to be there. He had enough abuse in his life that the concept of God as father was as likely as Sasquatch. Our volunteers discerned deep pain in the quiet, introverted kid. 

Antonio and his sister crossed the U.S. via the southern Texas border with his mother when he was six. This single mother wanted her children to have a better life. Several half-siblings were in the States, so there was a place to get to. His home life in America was not much better than in Honduras, but his opportunities for a future were abundant. His mother, a Chrsit-follower, wanted her son in church. When Antonio first entered the youth group, he wouldn’t even look at us. When he left three years later, he was the young man who hugged everyone and cried. 

A new kind of connection

We lost contact for a few years as Antonio moved with his family, state to state, to remain one step ahead of immigration. At the age of sixteen, he was back in Dallas. He gave me a call. By this point, I was a youth pastor at another church. He began attending with our family and becoming a regular at the youth group. But his concept of God had only hardened. He had been wounded by people who claimed they followed Christ yet regularly, in the name of God, abused him. When he called me, he wanted friends, not religion. We could meet that need.

When Antonio was sixteen, he joined me on a mission trip to New Orleans. He worked hard when he served and played hard when we explored. He did not participate in worship or Bible study. On our last night, Antonio publicly challenged God in our worship gathering, shocking everyone. Very unlike the quiet young man, he stood and yelled to the heavens, “I HATE YOU!”  According to Antonio, the Holy Spirit embraces him in all his anger, doubt, and fear. Antonio fell to his face as the arms of God embraced him, reminding him that He’d never been abandoned and that love was abundant in his life.

In that moment of wonder, Antonio became a Christ-follower. When we returned home, he moved in with us and joined our family. 

Living the legacy

Thirty years later, Antonio and I traveled back to Honduras for the first time since he was six. I watched him share his story with a tearful congregation. I wept harder than anyone as I replayed his story, recalling the unlikely moment of wonder that changed everything in Antonio’s life. As we celebrate Antonio’s birthday, I can’t help but replay the subtle, sovereign moments where God meets us unexpectedly. 

Antonio has been a part of Wonder Voyage for 25 years, and he’s witnessed kids have similar encounters to his. He even took on 500 miles of the Camino, following his restless pilgrim’s heart. His story is a special one in our history, and we are thankful for his presence and witness in our lives.

 

 

After a decade working in parish youth ministry Shawn started Wonder Voyage Missions. Over the last 15 years, WVM has led thousands of pilgrims to over forty countries. Shawn is a storyteller and an award winning filmmaker. He is an author who brings the gift of engaging narrative to our journeys. Shawn is dedicated to creating voyages that give people abundant opportunities to encounter God.

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