By Ximena Urra
I was born in Chile, the third of four siblings. Although I did not come from a Christian family, my parents believed in God in their way. When my dad proposed to my mom, he wanted to get married in a Methodist church. However, my mom was a nominal Catholic. During that time many believed that if you didn’t get married by a priest in a Catholic church, you weren’t really married! So my mom, under tremendous pressure by her family, was very apprehensive. One night my mom had a dream about Jesus. In the dream, He was blessing a bride – just like the priests do. When she awoke, she thought, “God is giving me the blessing to get married in the Methodist Church.” So they married.
My dad decided that they would raise us to believe in God but not in idols, and he wanted us to have the freedom to choose what religion to follow. I mention this because salvation came to my family through my father’s testimony.
My parents worked at a children’s rehabilitation hospital. My mother was an auxiliary nurse, and my dad was an administrator. Both worked long, hard hours to support our family. Even though we didn’t have much, my parents taught us to share everything we did have. One Christmas they couldn’t afford to buy us presents, so they called us together to explain why. We learned that being together was the real gift, and then they challenged us to give away one of our own toys for the homeless kids. So each one of us cleaned up one of our toys, and we gave them away.
As a child, I was a daddy’s girl. I found refuge only behind my dad’s legs. For some reason, I was always afraid and very shy; yet when I was with Dad, I always felt protected. I struggled in my early teens. I was so insecure! I felt people would be better off without me. I felt little, unloved, and unwanted. The feelings were like a seed, growing stronger within me until I contemplated suicide. The thoughts tormented me. I unsuccessfully attempted to end my life in several ways. I recall running into the street with the hopes of getting run over by a car, but my youngest sister stopped me. I felt hopeless. Life was just too hard.
It was only when I sang that I’d feel better. One day I asked my mom if she could listen to me and tell me if she thought I had a good voice. Of course I asked her to look away from me as I was just too shy. As I sang, she suddenly turned around and said excitedly, “You can sing!!” And I believed her!
During that time, my father became a Christian and started to share with us about Jesus. One by one each member of our family accepted Christ as their Savior, all except my mom and me.
When I was 18 years old, I had the opportunity to audition on TV as part of a singing competition and won a scholarship to study music professionally. It was a dream come true! My mom was my biggest fan. My father continued to share with me about Jesus and invited me to church. I did attend occasionally, but I loved music so much more. The sound of the applause made me feel the love and acceptance I longed for.
One day I was invited to sing at my father’s church. I’ll never forget it because it was the first time God spoke to me. I wish I could say God spoke a word of encouragement, but on the contrary, it was a reprimand. As I sang “Amazing Grace” (in a miniskirt no less, as well as a sleeveless blouse and black nails that matched my heart), I heard a voice say, “This is MY place! If you want fame, go to the world! THIS is MY place.”
Fear rushed over me. I started to shake. I forgot the lyrics. I was a liar. I didn’t understand what amazing grace was. I wasn’t that saved wretch. I didn’t know the One who freely gives that grace, but apparently He knew me well. And I was about to get to know Him.
As the time passed, I couldn’t shake the encounter I had with God. I knew Jesus was calling me. I was at a crossroads. I couldn’t avoid Him. The following Sunday I went to church and without waiting for an altar call, I kneeled at the pulpit. With eyes full of tears, I confessed my sins. “Lord, I don’t love you. I love music more. But if you are the God of my father, please help me to love you more than anything. My life is yours. . . . ”
In that moment, I did experience amazing grace. Music had been my idol, and I decided to give it all up for Christ. I left my singing career behind . . . so I thought.
My church didn’t believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They taught that the book of Acts was only history. Even so, our youth group was longing for more of God; therefore, we decided to get together just to pray. As we prayed, God baptized us all in the Holy Spirit, and suddenly I started to worship in a language I’ve never spoken!
This created a lot of problems at church; however, our testimonies and passion to share the gospel with everyone around us was evident and real. Who can tell God what He can or cannot do? What God starts man cannot stop! The Holy Spirit was for today too… And I believed!
Months later during a youth retreat, the guest speaker shared about “finding your ministry.” God spoke to me that night and said, “You will preach through singing, and I will take you out of the country.” And I believed His words!
I went home excited to tell my mom about my experience. At that time she still wasn’t a believer, so when I shared what the Lord told me that night, she smirked and said, “We don’t even have money to take a simple vacation, and you say you’re going out of the country?”
Three months later I was asked to join a Christian music group. I thought, “God, I gave up singing. How can this be?” So I prayed to the Lord, seeking His guidance, and He answered me through Isaiah 12:4-6:
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.
Within five months, I was touring the United States with the Christian music group, and my mom believed, the last member of my family to receive Christ!
Then my mom and I had a healing breakthrough. She didn’t understand why she found it hard to connect with God, to cry. I respectfully asked her if there was something she hadn’t yet confessed to God, so we prayed for God’s direction.
“Nothing comes to my mind,” she said.
But while I was praying, I saw a picture with the word “abortion” on it. The very instant that I pronounced that word, my mom started to cry, saying, “Dear daughter, please forgive me!”
I didn’t understand; I was confused. Why was she asking me to forgive her?
She continued, “When I was pregnant with you, I tried to abort you. Your father didn’t know. We were struggling economically. There was no way we could feed another baby. When I told your father, he was very upset and told me that it didn’t matter how poor we were, we were going to have you.”
The healing that transpired from such a hidden secret was profound for both of us. And I could finally comprehend that the feelings of being unwanted, unloved, and insecure were real emotions that started from my mother’s womb. The abortion did not work because I WAS wanted. God wanted me! God had plans for me! And in the end, my parents wanted me too!
Sometimes sharing our story can bring painful memories, but it also reminds us of God’s faithfulness and that we are still in the process of being more like Jesus.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
God gave me this promise. And I believed!
One day I read a book about the life of Eliza Davis George, a missionary who served in Liberia. Her life story and bravery inspired me. I wanted to be brave too. I decided I would serve God even though I was afraid! So I joined a team on a missionary trip focused on evangelism inside my own country. It was an amazing experience to see God move in such a supernatural way. I knew it was just the beginning of my journey in the ministry.
I met my husband, Pablo, in 1989 during my first trip to the United States. (I was literally followed everywhere by this godly man, but that is a whole other story!) After a year of letters and phone calls, we got married in 1990 and moved to the U.S., where I began working as a graphic designer for a Christian book publisher in Miami, Florida. My boss at that time saw potential in me. She taught me everything she knew and always encouraged me by saying, “You can do it!” And I believed her, so my designing ability blossomed and flourished.
As my career unfolded, so did my desire to serve in missions. But my husband and I were not on the same page. He used to say, “We will serve together, but I’m not going to be a missionary nor a pastor!” Instead of going against the current, I chose to ride the wave in prayer. After five years of laying hands over my husband in prayer (while he slept), in 1997 God placed it in his heart to join his first missionary trip to Venezuela. During that trip we received a word from God: “You will be out of the country soon and join an international ministry.” And we believed.
Many years later, we have faithfully served through various ministries such as Logos II of Operation Mobilization and visited 28 countries sharing the gospel alongside 200 volunteers from around the world while working in the floating book exhibition, being part of the official openings in every country, singing in front of governing authorities in every port, visiting orphanages, schools and hospitals, conducting open air programs, projecting Jesus films in the local languages, and distributing books and Bibles. And through the years we continue preparing short-term groups and leaders through INSTE and serving the local and global Church.
In October of 2016, we were ordained as lead pastors for Templo de la Biblia Abierta in Miami, Florida. Here we are, full circle from where we first began, but the journey of service to the Lord will never end. There’s still so much to do. I keep learning and longing to be used by God to accomplish His purposes while I trust that “everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
About the Author
Ximena Urra lives in Miami, Florida, with her husband, Pablo Urra. They both serve as pastors of Templo de la Biblia Abierta. Ximena also works as a freelance graphic designer. They have visited over 40 countries serving on short-term mission trips on board the Operation Mobilization ship, the LOGOS II, and participating in other ministries. Both received their Bible and Theology diplomas from INSTE Global Bible College. Ximena is part of the National Board of Directors of Open Bible Churches.