Looking back, Rick Vasquez sees how God constantly moved around him and watched over him throughout his life, even when he faced danger and skirted death.
As chief executive officer of the Houston-based Texas Evangelist Ministry, Vasquez travels internationally, telling others why they should give their lives to Christ.
Vasquez, who also is pastor of Iglesia Crosspoint in Bellaire, hopes that by telling what God continues doing in his life, others will learn from his testimony of God’s fidelity.
Learning early not to trust people
As a child of divorced parents growing up in a low-income household, Vasquez quickly learned to distrust most people. Men, in particular, took advantage of his mother and their situation. So, when a new man showed up in his mom’s life, Vasquez knew he only would stick around as long as it was convenient.
Lacking guidance or supervision, Vasquez also learned to take what he needed to survive, even if it was not his. At 12 years old—after stealing sandwich bread, bologna, chips and drinks from his neighbor to feed his sisters—Vasquez was incarcerated the first time.
From then until age 34, Vasquez went in and out of prison constantly. It would not take long after his release from prison for him to end up back inside. So, most of his understanding of life and maturity into adulthood took place in prison.
His perception of men was reaffirmed, but he also began particularly to mistrust men in prison who professed to be Christians.
“While they gathered together to pray and read the Bible, they would very quickly also come to me and ask for illegal substances and adult material,” Vasquez said.
His distrust of others also worsened, and he turned to violence. Eventually, Vasquez said, he became the leader of one of the prison system’s most notorious gangs.
Hearing God’s voice
Before long, correctional officers decided placing Vasquez in solitary confinement was the best way to protect their safety and that of the other inmates.
But in prison, Vasquez said, he began hearing the voice of God more and more clearly.
In unexpected ways, Vasquez realized God kept calling him, over and over. At some point while listening to the song “Nothing Else Matters” by the heavy metal band Metallica, he finally realized he found no trust in anyone around him.
In contrast to the song, which speaks of a deep relationship between two people, Vasquez recognized he had no one like that in his life.
“As the song was ending I heard this voice at the end of this guitar solo that said, ‘Trust and follow me,’” Vasquez recalled. “That is not part of the song, and it freaked me out, but it still echoes to this day.”
Suddenly, Vasquez felt the presence of God all around him and realized he urgently needed to change his path. He heard the convicting voice of God calling him to follow.
Realizing his life was full of sin and he needed help, Vasquez said, he was told in a dream he had to be honest and admit the help he sought could come only from God.
“I understood that if I had asked for help, then I needed to trust and follow God unless I wanted to be like the fake people I hated,” Vasquez said. “So, I got on my knees and said: ‘Here I am. Show me what to do.’”
New life in Christ
The following 10 years he spent in prison, Vasquez devoted his time to studying the Bible and learning as much as he could about the Christian faith.
“I studied a lot of systematic theology, encyclopedias, Bible commentaries and everything else I could get my hands on,” he said.
Books from Chuck Swindoll, Tony Evans, R.C. Sproul among others served as his path towards knowledge and understanding of the faith.
Around that time David Tamez—who would eventually serve as associate director of Texas Baptists’ River Ministry and now is president of Seminario Teologico Bautista Dr. G.H. Lacy in Mexico—began a prison ministry. Under a prison mentoring program, Tamez came to mentor Vasquez in his spiritual walk.
“He invested time in me, and I still call him my mentor,” Vasquez said.
After Tamez, other teachers and mentors who knowingly and unknowingly taught Vasquez began noticing his passion.
Swindoll’s Spanish publishers contacted Vasquez and informed him he had ordered more material in Spanish than anyone else. That drew their attention, and they continually prayed for him, representatives of the publisher told him.
Called to serve
Throughout his learning process, Vasquez sensed a new calling from God. While he grew up speaking English at home, in prison he saw the treatment non-English-speaking Hispanics received. So, he decided to learn more Spanish in order to help those inmates.
In the early 2000s, Vasquez was released from prison, and he quickly sought areas to grow more in his Christian walk and serve in ministry. His background in prison and his passion for discipleship led him to evangelism and church starting.
About five years ago, after Roger Patterson, pastor of West University Baptist Church and Crosspoint Church, reached out to him, Vasquez joined his staff.
At the time, Patterson told Vasquez about a vision he had. Patterson dreamed of reaching 10,000 people with the gospel by 2020, and he thought Vasquez could be part of it.
Vasquez joined Patterson in the effort, offering support and guidance. By the end of 2019, they had reached more than 20,000.
“We surpassed the goal by the grace of God,” Vasquez said.
As an evangelist, Vasquez said, his call not only involves presenting the gospel to others, but also helping Christians learn how to tell others about Jesus.
Vasquez evangelizes, trains and disciples in countries across Latin America, and he ministers to families of incarcerated people. He also continues planting churches and ministers to people migrating to the United States.
Encounter with heavy metal songwriter
Nineteen years after God spoke to Vasquez through a heavy metal song, a friend from California called him and informed him he had seen songwriter James Hetfield at a church. The writer of the song God used to touch Vasquez’s heart had grown up in a religious home but had not been in church since he was 12 years old.
“I knew he was searching when he walked into that church, just as I was searching when I listened to his music,” Vasquez explained.
Hetfield agreed to meet with Vasquez, who shared his Christian testimony with him. After the two talked for a while, Vasquez said Hetfield reached out his hand and told him, “Let’s do it.”
“He received the very hope and healing I received when I bowed my knees in a Texas prison,” Vasquez said.