I joined the Navy, November of 1980. I was 22 years of age. I didn’t divulge anything pertaining neither to my medical history nor of my drug escapades to the military, so I wouldn’t be rejected. It was my only way out of the hood, and so I believe God just kept my past from being uncovered so I could make it out. Good thing I left when I did, because all of my home crew started dying off from their fast-lane self-destructive lifestyles. I lost Jimmy to Hepatitis. Lucky and his brother Ray died two weeks apart from AIDS. Their younger brother, Carlos [who I used to hang pretty tight with] also caught the monster and died the year after. Once again God intervened and in His infinite wisdom allowed me to join the Navy fraudulently to avoid my dying prematurely as well.
I went to Great Lakes, Illinois for my basic training. It was a cold winter there that year. It had dropped as low as 40 below, when they had to classify it code blue. They allowed us to march with our gloved hands in our pockets to avoid hypothermia that day. I discovered leadership qualities in me I didn’t even know I had, when they placed me in charge of five other men in my squad. We were like the Wild Bunch, the Dirty Dozen, and the Devil’s Brigade all rolled up into one unit. Half of our company was from the north…the other half from the south. In the beginning we were all constantly fighting and having our own private civil war. By the time our Company Commander (Chief Hidalgo) got through with us we became one well greased machine. Chief Hidalgo was from the Philippines, and no more than five feet tall. We thought the Japanese Navy had shanghaied us all when he so tenderly woke us up that first frosty morning, “Get up; get up, you sons o’ b——”. We instantly bonded, and felt so loved. He was a small midget, but tough. He would not settle for anything less but pure excellence. That’s exactly what it took to whip us all into tip-top shape, and made us pull together as one unit. After winning most of the competitive flags we graduated with honors being the top company graduating from Boot Camp that year. I went on to ‘A’ School stationed at a Naval Air Base in Millington, Tennessee. I joined the Navy Boxing Team and also ran in their Track Team. I tried out for the SEALS, but washed out during the initial swimming phase. One had to pass an underwater obstacle course, and out of 200 participants only about 20 made it. Then it was off to “Hell’s Beach”. It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because “Operation Desert Storm” was just on the horizon. I finished BEEP (Basic Electricity and Electronics Preliminary) School, and proceeded to go home for two weeks on ARP (Assistant Recruiting Program) Duty. When I returned to Millington I entered into the Advanced Electronics Program. It was an extensive program where I attempted to fit 2 years of advanced electronics training into six months. Being the overachiever that I am, I was doubling up the workload and taking two manuals instead of just one. Whatever you took home with you to study, you were expected to know fully by the next day. I was being tested the following day on each manual, and passing was nothing less than 100%. You were expected to ace every test. Once you passed the written test, then you would be practically tested on the actual circuitry. I was doing it for two months, taking two manuals to my barracks, and studying them all night. Being tested the next day, after maybe just a couple of hours of sleep, and acing both tests. It eventually took its toll on me, and I inevitably blew a fuse.
The blinking lights on most of the complex circuits I was being tested on must have tripped something in my mind’s circuitry to short circuit. That and maybe all the stress and duress I unnecessarily placed on myself caused a great strain on my brain. All these combined may have contributed highly to my central nervous system shutting down and thus causing a seizure.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also going through a spiritual metamorphosis. The Lord was calling me out of that dark religious, ritualistic Catholic closet into His marvelous light! I had went to a Sunday Service during Boot Camp one morning, assuming it was a Catholic Mass. When I arrived at this Navy drill hall, I discovered a Chief Petty Officer preaching the Word of God. Men were singing and raising their arms up to God in surrender, and once again I sensed the Holy Spirit but with more intensity. I didn’t know what I had just stepped into, but it almost felt like the Twilight Zone. I knew this definitely wasn’t a Catholic Mass, but I was glued to the seat and I just couldn’t move from there. There was such a tugging at my heart that I seemed paralyzed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I was fighting back the tears when one of the men seated behind me placed his hand on my shoulder and proceeded to say, “It’s alright man, let it go!” When I looked to see who it was, it just happened to be a co-sailor from my company. A NewYorican homeboy from the Bronx named Negron. The dam broke and I immediately began to cry uncontrollably. I was hugged by the surrounding men and prayed for by the Protestant Chaplain. What a release of old pent up emotions. I never sensed anything like that in my life. I was hooked and intrigued to experience more of that curious refreshing feeling of uninhibited freedom and cleansing. I couldn’t wait to graduate from Boot Camp to attend some more of these powerful Protestant Services.
I had been so brainwashed by the ideological supremacy of the Catholic Church being “the only true and Apostolic Church” that I almost felt like I was committing some kind of sin against God by visiting Protestant Churches. Although, I was being compelled by the Holy Spirit to attend services at The First Baptist Church of Millington and I eventually was baptized again. I just didn’t feel like my initial infant baptism counted, after all I couldn’t even remember the occasion. This time I was dressed in a white robe and literally dunked in total immersion of water. It was so great the second time and totally invigorating. I actually sensed the Holy Spirit cleansing me of all past sins. Being the good Catholic that I was, I still couldn’t help but do the sign of the cross just before getting dunked by the Minister. When asked by the other converts, why I did the sign of the cross, I simply responded, “Just in case I drowned!”
I believe when I experienced the seizure, I was actually being delivered from demonic oppression.
At the Naval Hospital, I was stripped of all my clothing and told to put on one of their skimpy hospital gowns. When they asked me to take off the rosary beads I always wore, I hesitated and told them that it belonged to my Grandmother who had it blessed for me. They insisted I remove it from around my neck, but when I went to do so I was compelled to kiss the crucifix like I must have done a million times before. This time something amazing happened. I kissed that crucifix with such urgency, that when I closed my eyes, the crucifix transformed itself into a giant cross with Jesus hanging from it just above my head and bleeding all over me. As I looked into his eyes, he was looking straight down into mine, he didn’t open his mouth, but just spoke into the spirit of my mind saying, “ Nelson, I died for you…this blood that you see being shed all over you, was for you!” This all happened in a twinkling of my eyes, in that split second that it took for me to close my eyes and reopen them I envisioned Christ on the cross at Calvary. It must have been drummed into my head by nuns and priests for so many previous years during Religious Instructions and Catholic Mass, but it never took. I never was able to figure out in my finite little mind how God who’s so infinitely holy and righteous would come in the form of a broken man two thousand years ago and die for me. It just wouldn’t register. Why me? He didn’t know me then, or did He? It took for me to see him on the cross for it to finally sink in…from my head into my heart! I grabbed the nearest tech and with tears in my eyes began yelling out “He died for me!” , Oh my God…Now I know…Jesus really did die for me!” I just continued rambling on to the technicians near by, as they made a gesture to place me in the Quiet Room, which they with a little struggle finally did. It was an eight by ten room with nothing but a cold bare plastic mattress on the floor, and a very small wired window letting minimal sun into that cold dark room. It was Good Friday, and they had explained to me that the Medical Officer had already left for the day, and he wouldn’t be back on duty until the following Monday. I proceeded to spend the entire weekend in that room. But God met me there. I was crucified with Christ on Friday…felt the merciless pain that Christ had endured for me on that bloody rugged cross. All day and night Saturday, God had brought to memory all the illicit, hateful, malicious sin in my life…all the times I had hurt my mother…all the times I had disrespected my grandmother…all the times I had brought pain to anyone who tried to befriend me…all the times I viciously lied, connived, and hurt those closest to me. I felt like I had went to hell with Christ on the Sabbath, but then came Sunday. I felt like I was resurrected with Christ on Sunday, for it was Passover…Halleluyah! “Crying may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!” I found myself, or shall I say they found me, stark naked as a jaybird doing a jig very appropriately on the morning of Resurrection Sunday.
There had been such a release from so much excess baggage that I was carrying around, such an elated feeling of uninhibited freedom, and such an overwhelming feeling of “joy inexpressible and full of glory!” I really couldn’t begin to understand it nor explain it, all I knew that I was so helplessly lost, and for once in my life I felt I was finally found…by God. I sensed the Holy Spirit endow me with such rivers of joy…
”The joy of the Lord is my strength.” As He spoke to me within my own spirit, I heard Him so clearly say, in that small still yet strongly reassuring voice,
“Rejoice… do not be discouraged… For I have not called you into man’s army…but into mine!”