With a Difference
It’s not unusual for college freshmen to get homesick. But when Cesar Hernandez moved from San Antonio, Texas, to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to attend the University of Northern Iowa in 2000 what he experienced was more like culture shock. He missed his family. He missed his mother’s cooking. And his Hispanic heritage made him stand out on this predominantly white campus.
“People were constantly asking me what country I was from,” Cesar recalls.
That’s one reason he was interested in the spiritual survey a group of Navigator students were taking at freshman orientation. The loneliness he had been feeling 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 students had to offer.
A week after filling out the survey, Cesar got a phone call from two students, John Payton and Luke Demarest, who were part of the Navigator group on campus.
“John shared something with me called The Bridge™ illustration,” Cesar says. The illustration provides a visual image of how mankind is separated from God and how Jesus bridges that gap. “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, and Scripture memory. Cesar got involved in the weekly Navigator meetings. He joined the worship team and participated in the Bible study the team did together.
The following year, Cesar joined the Navigators Student Leadership Team, and 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 Navigator conference called the Main Event, which was going to be held on the UNI campus. “I was hoping that a handful of the students might join me,” he said, “and all 25 kids from the Hispanic club ended up attending the conference. 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. He was back home, but he didn’t return home the same person. He had been permanently changed by his experience with The Navigators.
“Now I’m a youth leader at my 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 it is his Navigator training that is enabling him to establish young believers in the Word of God.
Cesar has gone on to complete a master’s degree in education from Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, and is considering pursuing a doctorate because 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.” That will be true no matter where Cesar calls home.