Jonathan Pacheco was severely disabled at birth when his spinal cord was nearly severed, and he has lived his entire life in a motorized wheelchair.
Jonathan shares what his journey of faith has looked like as he has come to grips with God’s sovereignty in all things, including his disability and more.
This is Part 1 of Jonathan Pacheco’s story. Listen to Part 2 here.
The following is a summary of the podcast interview above with Jonathan Pacheco. Many more details are included in the original podcast episode and we encourage you to listen.
Something Was Wrong
When Jonathan Pacheco was born, his parents noticed right away something wasn’t right. He was lethargic, was not breathing well, and seemed to have several other medical issues.
The doctors told Jonathan’s parents to say goodbye to their infant son because there was not much they could do for him; he was destined to die any moment.
Two Different Reactions
Jonathan’s father, who was a pastor, was crushed by the news about his son.
In his eyes, he was doing God a favor by being a pastor and telling people about God’s love. The fact that his son had received such a terrible diagnosis left him reeling. He felt completely betrayed by God and started to doubt God’s existence. Eventually, Jonathan’s father turned his back on the church and left the pastorate.
Jonathan’s mother, on the other hand, clung closer to her faith. She held on tightly to God’s grace and provision while she cared for her baby boy.
Disabled, But Alive
The doctors were wrong. Jonathan didn’t die; he survived. Years later a doctor finally sat down with Jonathan’s parents and explained that Jonathan’s spinal cord appeared to have been nearly severed during his birth.
Shy of decapitation, Jonathan had received the worst injury imaginable to his spine, and he would deal with the physical ramifications for the rest of his life.
Unlike other children his age, he was unable to walk, had limited use of his arms and hands, and his growth was severely stunted. Jonathan was given a motorized power chair as a child which significantly increased his mobility, but, even then, Jonathan needed help to perform the most basic of tasks like dressing himself or using the bathroom.
So instead of participating in recreational sports or physical activities, Jonathan was encouraged to pursue academics, and he quickly became a voracious reader.
Thinking About God
By the time Jonathan entered middle school, his father had returned to the church. This was due in large part to Jonathan’s older brother, who had gone down a dark path involving a lot of drinking and drug usage. Desperate, Jonathan’s father had turned to God for help.
He had begun preaching at a nearby church, and, naturally, Jonathan had begun thinking about God as well.
In Jonathan’s mind, God owed him a favor. Jonathan reasoned that, because of his disability, God was obligated to treat Jonathan well on earth as well as give Jonathan a guaranteed entrance to heaven.
An Outspoken “Christian”
Jonathan admired his father’s fiery sermons, and Jonathan soon began imitating his dad.
By the time Jonathan was in high school, he was an outspoken “Christian.” He led Bible studies and was the youth pastor at both his father’s church as well as another local church.
While Jonathan was quick to pronounce his love for God and his desire to serve God’s kingdom, deep down inside, Jonathan’s real aim was to make a name for himself.
Jonathan was proud he could draw a crowd of young people to his two churches. He enjoyed his identity as a highly vocal and visible “Christian” in his peer groups, and he especially relished his father’s praise and approval.
The Rock Band
But what excited Jonathan the most was the band he started with several other friends from school. Jonathan loved playing concerts and soaked up the attention he received. His dream was to sign a record deal, go on tour, and become famous.
The dream had become an idol for him. And, in the summer after Jonathan’s high school graduation, it seemed like it might actually come true.
Someone donated a professional recording studio that had over $250,000 of music equipment for Jonathan’s band to use exclusively. In addition, a popular musician heard their music and said he would help promote them and give them a shot in the industry.
To Jonathan and his friends, it looked like God must be opening these doors.
An Uneasy Feeling
But Jonathan couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling he had about the band and couldn’t quite bring himself to sign a record deal and go on tour. Even though this had been his dream for so long and opportunities seemed to be miraculously falling into his lap, something just didn’t feel right.
Jonathan couldn’t exactly place his finger on why he felt the way he did, but he partially attributed it to his fear of using public restrooms. He knew if he went on tour, he’d have to use public restrooms everywhere they went, which was quite an ordeal. So, finally, he brought up his unease with his fellow bandmates.
At first they laughed at Jonathan. But when they realized he wasn’t joking, they quickly sobered. Jonathan excused himself from the conversation to go pray.
He asked God to remove his unease. But instead of removing his discomfort, God did the exact opposite. When Jonathan finished praying, he was even more uncomfortable than before.
A Life-Changing Sermon
So Jonathan changed tactics. He pulled out his phone and quickly did a YouTube search for “inspirational youth message,” hoping he would find something to break his mood.
Instead of an inspiring sermon to lift his mood, Jonathan found himself watching a video of Paul Washer exhorting American youth to repent of their hypocrisy, pleading with his audience to be humbled by the majesty and glory of Jesus Christ, and asking them to turn away from pursuing their own selfish desires. He begged youth pastors to examine the sin in their personal lives and to stop following the ways of the world.
Jonathan was floored. He was convicted about his own personal sin and struggles that he had dealt with for years but had never been able to overcome. He was keenly aware of how he had used the name of Jesus to advance his own name rather than God’s Kingdom.
Jonathan fell out of his wheelchair and onto his knees and cried out to God for forgiveness. For the first time ever, he gave his life over to Christ.
A New Creation
Nothing about Jonathan’s physical body had changed, but, without a doubt, he was a new creation. He couldn’t wait to share his newfound faith with everyone he knew.
Jonathan quit the rock band on the spot and encouraged his bandmates to follow Christ as well. Their response was muted.
He called up old high school friends he used to lead in Bible studies and repented to them of the way he had been advancing his own fame in the name of Christ.
Tension At Home
When Jonathan told his family he had finally found Christ and had quit the band, they were confused. And when Jonathan said he wanted to stop being a youth pastor, his parents assumed Jonathan was on a hyper-religious kick and decided to humor him.
But, as Jonathan began digging deeper into the Bible for himself, instead of just for appearances, he realized he was developing new beliefs about God. Beliefs which contradicted what his father was preaching on Sunday mornings.
Jonathan shared with his dad his new understanding that God was in control of all things, including even his disability. That God not only knew his spinal cord injury would occur, but had actually ordained it.
His dad was incensed and replied, “I could never serve a God like that.”
This was only one of many sharp disagreements Jonathan and his dad had about God’s character and gradually the two began drifting apart.
Little did either of them know the difficulties ahead that would bring them back together.
An Old Friend
A couple of years after coming to Christ, Jonathan was attending classes at a community college when his old friend Justin came up to him during lunch. Justin was a former bandmate who had been crushed when Jonathan had quit the band. They hadn’t really spoken at all since that day, and Jonathan was surprised when Justin approached him on campus.
But he was even more surprised when Justin said he wanted to introduce Jonathan to the girl standing next to him.
Immediately, Jonathan became defensive, thinking it was some kind of twisted joke. He brushed Justin off and ignored Justin’s friend, barely glancing her way.
Justin left with his friend, and immediately Jonathan was convicted about his rude behavior, especially about the way he had ignored Justin’s friend.
“Was I Supposed to Share the Gospel?”
For weeks, Jonathan was plagued by his behavior. What if God had wanted him to share the Gospel with Justin’s friend?
Soon, Jonathan found himself thinking about the girl during random moments throughout the day. He couldn’t understand what was going on because he had barely seen her face, let alone spoken with her. Yet he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Jonathan began praying, asking God to help him stop thinking about the girl. But he couldn’t get her out of his mind. It was almost like he was obsessed with her without wanting to be. Privately, he began wondering if he was going crazy.
Finally, after several months went by, Jonathan worked up the courage to call his old bandmate Justin. They were able to connect and restore their friendship, and Jonathan casually asked about who the girl was.
He learned that her name was Ellena and that she worked at Best Buy. Jonathan, however, was too shy and embarrassed to admit to Justin that he was looking for her.
Jonathan began visiting the Best Buy on multiple occasions, hoping that he would run into her. Finally, after several weeks of searching, he found Ellena working in the mobile phone department.
Jonathan introduced himself, and, after a very lengthy and awkward conversation, began a friendship with her. They begin studying the Bible and listening to sermons together, and, shortly afterwards, Ellena gave her life to Christ.
A few months later, Jonathan revealed his affections for her, and they were soon married.
A Striking Similarity
Jonathan’s life experience has been very different than most of ours. His severe disability has prevented him from doing some of the most normal things that any of us do including walking, dressing ourselves, or even opening a door.
But, from a spiritual standpoint, all of us bear a striking resemblance to Jonathan. Like Jonathan, during his time as a youth pastor, we can all too often pay lip service to God but privately be wrapped up in our own selfish desires and pursuing our own glory.
Thankfully, God is willing and ready to work in all of our lives and to draw us to him.
This is Part 1 of Jonathan Pacheco’s story. Listen to Part 2 here.
The message that led Jonathan to salvation:
One of Jonathan’s favorite quotes about what the Bible is:
“…the light to our paths, the key to the kingdom of Heaven, our comfort in affliction, our shield and sword against Satan, the school of all wisdom, the glass wherein we behold God’s face, the testimony of His favour, and the only food and nourishment of our souls.” – Preface to the 1560 Geneva Bible
Contact Jonathan directly: firstname.lastname@example.org