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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Remade by God

By Tegan Hanlon and John W. Kennedy
Jan. 19, 2014

Martin Oliva Torres glances into the mirror, his coal-black hair perfectly in place, his smile wide.

“Man, I’m so handsome,” he jovially announces. His wife, Delores, laughs.

It’s a phrase he wouldn’t have uttered three decades ago as a young man in Guatemala. He was BORN with a horribly deformed face, and his kin treated him like a MONSTER.

Today, after a series of surgeries and a heap of faith, Torres likes to see what GOD HAS ACCOMPLISHED.

Thanks to a team of generous doctors, Torres no longer has the widespread eyes and bulging forehead that often brought him scorn and ridicule.

But it was his own resolve that finally granted Torres comfort and direction.

He taught himself English, found a steady job as a high school custodian, and married a loving woman.

Torres, 53, preaches regularly at the Assemblies of God church he attends 30 miles southeast of Dallas. And, perhaps most importantly, the Palmer, Texas, resident learned to forgive.

He endured a childhood of gunshots, manual labor and dirt floors. He was born in a small village near Guatemala City. His mother died three months after his birth.

The cause of her death was unclear, so the blame fell on the youngest of the three boys, Martin — whose father abandoned the family.

The Guatemalan civil war raged nearby, and bodies fell into the river where Torres did laundry and fished.

He says he was beaten by his grandmother, treated as an outcast by neighbors, and fed scraps, specifically chicken feet.

Torres wasn’t allowed to go to school, and his facial deformities barred him from employment. He began drinking at age 12.

At 23, he found a job washing cars in Guatemala City. He used the money to buy alcohol and cigarettes. His deformities impaired his vision and his breathing. Anger welled up within him.

That all changed the next year, 1984.

One Sunday, Torres stood in the street, soliciting business, when an American woman, Angie Glick, pulled over in a Jeep. She asked Torres if he had been able to visit a doctor. He replied that he didn’t feel sick.

Glick, who now lives in Palm Coast, Fla., told Torres to go to the address on her business card. She would take him to the U.S., she explained.

Eventually, Torres complied and checked out the address. It turned out to be an orphanage for disfigured children. Torres saw children who looked just like him. He felt less alone.

He filled out the necessary paperwork, packed his tattered clothes and a blanket, and prepared to board a flight to the U.S.

A Spokane, Wash.-based nonprofit, Healing the Children, flew Torres to Texas. In Dallas, a craniofacial surgeon would change Torres’ life forever.

But when he arrived in Texas, Torres had no place to go.

Zane Jude was in his truck when he got a phone call. Jude’s wife, Phyllis, said their pastor wanted to talk to them about three disfigured boys in need of a home — Torres and two younger Hispanic children. The Arlington couple began preparing for the arrival of the Spanish-speaking trio. They knew they’d only be able to communicate with hand signals.

“Would you believe me if I told you I didn’t even see their deformities?” says Jude, 63, who now lives in West Virginia.

It didn’t take long for the Judes to bond with Torres.

“Phyllis came up and gave us a hug,” Torres remembers. “It was something, because I never had that from my own grandma.”

For the first time, Torres had regular meals and a bed.

In 1986, a little more than a year after he arrived in the U.S., Torres became a patient of Dr. Kenneth E. Salyer, who founded the World Craniofacial Foundation. The surgeon would fix Torres’ face at no expense to him.

Salyer says he doesn’t know whether Torres’ disfigurement stemmed from poor prenatal care or genetics because little is known about his family’s medical history.

“All I knew was here was another young human being who was absolutely not accepted by society and was totally down and out,” Salyer says.

Torres underwent his first surgery at Medical City Dallas Hospital. The doctor removed 20 millimeters of bone between his eyes, rebuilt his forehead, and created a new nose with excess skin.

Salyer performed a series of operations on Torres during the next decade. The doctor details the procedures in his new memoir, A Life That Matters: Transforming Faces, Renewing Lives.

As his face began to take on a new shape, so did Torres’ life. He began teaching himself a new language by reading Bibles in English and Spanish side by side, as well as singing along to oldies on the radio.

But even as life was looking up, something was missing. Torres couldn’t let go of the anger. He couldn’t forgive.

“It was awesome to see the change in my face,” Torres says. “But the inside wasn’t changed.”

Torres remembers the exact moment he let Jesus Christ into his life. He was still a young man, living with the Judes. One day, alone, he watched a televised Christian sermon by a local minister. Torres doesn’t remember the man’s name, but he remembers his own decision.

“I started praying with him,” Torres remembers. “At the end of the sermon, he said, ‘I want those of you watching at home to lay your hand on the TV; I want to pray with you.’ I felt electricity on my body.”

Torres simultaneously received salvation and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

“I started confessing my sins to Lord Jesus,” Torres says. “Then I started speaking in beautiful tongues for about 45 minutes. It was not English; it was not Spanish.”

Torres found strength in his newfound faith, which turned the hate he had carried with him for so many years into joy. Jesus took away the pain and enabled Torres to forgive his grandmother, his many other tormenters, and himself.

It’s forgiveness that Torres preaches today.

Once a month, he delivers a sermon in Spanish at Palmer First Assembly of God, where he has attended since January 2012.

“It is amazing how God has blessed my life,” says Torres, who posts positive Scripture references daily on his Facebook page.

“Any message he ever preaches, he always ends up talking about forgiveness,” says Delores, whom Torres met at church. “He’s my inspiration.”

“He loves to pray for people,” says Palmer First AG Pastor Carmen Ingram. “He’s very sensitive in the Spirit.”

Torres also preaches a message that all life is precious.

“No matter how you look, God has made you for His purposes to serve Him,” Torres says. “No matter what people may say, Scripture says in God’s eyes we are wonderfully made.”

Martin and Delores have been married for seven years. Delores, a widow for a year and a half after 31 years of marriage, rebuffed Martin’s first two proposals because she is 10 years older than he is.

“I was reluctant to marry him because he was still young enough to have children with a younger wife,” Delores recalls. “I tried to discourage him.”

Martin persisted, professing his love and desire to spend his life with Delores. Upon his third — and final — wedding request, Martin brought along backup.

“What if God tells you to be my wife?” he asked.

Delores consented to pray about it. Two weeks later she had heard from the Lord.

“He is the most likable person I have ever met,” Delores says. “He has a sweet spirit about him that I don’t even understand. I love this man dearly.”

Salyer is gratified by the turnaround in Torres’ life, from outcast to proclaimer of the gospel.

“He became spiritually aware and started preaching whenever he was given the chance, spreading the Word of God and the importance of faith and belief,” Salyer writes in A Life That Matters. “In the end, Martin touched me in ways as significant as those in which I touched him.”

For Torres, the trip to the U.S., the corrective surgeries, the marriage, and the preaching all are evidence of God’s sovereignty.

“The hand of the Lord has been with me, even before I was born,” he says. “He already had plans for me, and His purpose for my life.”

If Torres ever writes a book, he plans to call it The Touch of the Master’s Hand.

“I have been touched by two masters,” he says, “Dr. Salyer and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

TEGAN HANLON is an intern with The Dallas Morning News.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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