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DOWNEY - At 40 years of age, Eddie Navarro can honestly say he's living the greatest year of his life right now.
"I'm on cloud nine," he said. "It's a beautiful thing -- and it's just the beginning."
Instead of erstwhile dreams of playing professional baseball, Navarro has discovered a new life far beyond the United States of America.
After years of searching for purpose and destiny, Navarro is now living a new dream as a worldwide missionary, traveling from country to country where he preaches the love of Christ not just through words, but in deeds.
"Someone told me once that I should sleep with my shoes on," said Navarro with a smile. "And I stay ready...whatever opportunities, whether it's one person or 10,000 people - I give it the same heart."
But the Norwalk native wasn't always headed down a road of international ministry.
Once a star pitcher at John Glenn High School, Navarro soon assumed the role of starting pitcher at Cerritos College. By 1993, he was signed to the Baltimore Orioles minor league.
However, his life changed drastically in 1994 when his neck snapped during a season game, damaging the fifth vertebrae in his spine.
"I should have been a paraplegic like Christopher Reeve," he recalled. "I had to wear a halo cage on my head for five months."
Navarro says it was this life-altering experience that challenged him to search for the one he believed saved his life -- God.
"I was not walking with the Lord, but I was determined to change and find this God that changed my life. There was a reason he left me here," Navarro said.
Months later, after receiving prayer, Navarro says the front pins of his halo brace popped out.
"I got up and my family rushed me to emergency. The doctors took the back ones out and said, 'if the bone is healed then you're free,'" recalled Navarro. "They x-rayed my neck and it came back healed. God proved he was real."
Full of passion, Navarro dropped his sports aspirations and enrolled at International Bible College in San Antonio, Texas where he studied for three years.
"I came back and started working for my church, but ministry never manifested -- not behind the pulpit. It wasn't God's timing," he said. "I still hadn't broken through to my purpose in Christ. I got sidetracked and made some wrong decisions.
"I was drinking alcohol -- I didn't even go to church. I thought it would take a miracle for me to get back in ministry."
Navarro encountered that miracle in 2009 when someone found his body on the side of the road near Baker, Calif. after he flipped his car while driving under the influence.
"A helicopter airlifted me to Loma Linda hospital. I was knocked out for 13 hours," he said. "In the hospital room, I cried out to God -- 'if you deliver me, I'll serve you' -- and he touched me. I was re-broken in a magnificent way."
At that moment, Navarro says he felt the call to full-time ministry. Quitting his day job, he devoted his time to cleaning the church facilities and assisting his pastor, Don Metcalf of Desert Reign Assemblies of God in Downey.
"He's the reason I'm at where I'm at," said Navarro. "He [and his wife] literally taught me and raised me up in ministry."
Navarro went on his first missionary journey to Thailand in 2010 and was hooked.
"In 2013, I was invited to Botswana, Africa for 30 months. I preached over 80 times in 90 days at six different churches," he said. "I preached to 900 kids in public elementary school every Friday morning."
As part of the Powerhouse Sports Program, Navarro worked with nearly 1,500 children a week in the village of Botshabelo, teaching sports and demonstrating the character of Christ.
"That's what I did during the day. We'd feed them, give them drink and preach the word," said Navarro, who had an interpreter with him at all times. "I used the language of love -- and they just felt you, man."
Although extensive in scope, Navarro says the experience was worthwhile.
"Thousands of souls were led to the Lord and I experienced the power of God," he said. "On the mission field it's 100 percent giving. They'll take all you give. I came back to my room each night spent. It was quite a challenge, but a life-changing experience."
And Navarro isn't slowing down. The self-described "minister of pain" just returned from Kamchatka, Russia and Beijing, China.
"When I got back from Botswana, Pastor Don said, 'don't unpack your bags, you're coming with me to Russia,'" said Navarro with a laugh. "I preached at one of the biggest churches in Russia."
Using his testimony as a backdrop, Navarro is determined to inspire others to faith in God -- all around the planet.
This October, Navarro is heading to the Philippines with Pastor Jason Neville of Praise Chapel Downey and he's already been invited on a missionary trip to India in 2014.
"It's not about your ability, but your availability...I'm not the best preacher, but the Lord can use me," he said. "I've been to nine countries, but it's just starting...I humbled myself in the form of a servant and the Lord has highly exalted me to the nations."
Navarro's advice to anyone with a dream? Take the limits off what they can do and trust God to do what only he can do.
"What we can do is limited, but he is unlimited. We think locally, but he thinks globally," said Navarro. "Trust him, fully surrender your life to him -- he'll blow your whole world wide open."
Published: Sept. 12, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 22