A lot of college freshmen get homesick. But for Cesar Hernandez, moving from Texas to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to attend the University of Northern Iowa in 2000 was more like culture shock. He missed his family, his hometown of San Antonio, and his mother’s cooking. His Hispanic heritage made him stand out on this predominantly white campus.
“I kept getting asked what country I was from,” Cesar recalls.
That’s one reason he was interested in the spiritual survey a group of students offered at freshman orientation. His loneliness had turned into a spiritual search.
“I’d grown up going to church, but it was more of a social activity than a genuine act of faith,” he said. He wondered what these guys had to offer.
A week after filling out the survey, Cesar got a phone call from two students, John Payton and Luke Demarest. They were part of the Navigator group on campus.
“John shared The Bridge™ illustration with me,” Cesar says. “They shared the true Gospel and I decided to turn from wrong and surrender my life completely to Jesus.” And he never looked back.
Jim Luebe, who was the campus director at that time, says, “After Cesar came to faith in Christ he immediately developed a passion to walk deeper with God and to influence his friends for Christ. People were attracted to his welcoming spirit and his genuine love for others.”
Luke and John continued to disciple Cesar, meeting with him weekly, teaching him about prayer, Bible study, Scripture memory. Cesar got involved in the weekly Navs meetings. He joined the worship team and the Bible study the team did together.
The following year, Cesar joined the Navs Student Leadership Team. He was also the president of the campus Hispanic club. He led a Spanish Bible study and mentored students one-on-one.
That fall, he told his Hispanic friends about a regional Navs conference, Main Event, that was going to be held on the UNI campus, hoping a handful of students might join him. “All 25 kids from the Hispanic club went to the conference,” Cesar recalls. “They said it was life-changing—that they finally understood the Gospel.”
After receiving his degree in electronic media, Cesar was offered a job in San Antonio. Back home. But he didn’t return home the same person. He had been changed by his experience with The Navigators.
“Now I am a youth leader at my Hispanic church,” Cesar says. “I apply all the principles I learned from The Navigators, like keeping Jesus at center of your life, obedience, prayer, and reading God’s Word daily. Sometimes I’ll walk in on the junior high Sunday school class and see them studying a classic Navigator tool, like the Word Hand. They don’t think of it as a Navigator tool; to them it is just the basics of the Christian life.”
But Cesar knows. He knows it is his Navigator training that is enabling him to establish young believers in the Word of God.
Cesar went on to complete a master’s degree in education from Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, and is considering pursuing a doctorate. He’d like to be a college professor one day.
If that dream comes true, you can bet Cesar will do more than teach. He’ll make disciples.
He says, “I will always be a Navigator at heart.”