By Anna (Salisbury) Lee, Class of 2004
It may not have been the first time Jonathan Borges Pamelá had heard the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus, but it was the first time he really understood it.
“When I connected with Peter, it was a major turning point in life,” he said.
Matthew 14 describes a storm-tossed ship on a dark night.
In it were 12 grown men cowering in fear—fear of the weather and fear of a ghost they saw coming through the wind. When they realized the ghost was actually their master miraculously walking out to them on the water, one among them made a courageous choice.
Peter called out to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Jesus simply replied, “Come!” And Peter came, stepping out of the boat and walking out onto the water.
But the miraculous moment of triumph didn’t stop the wind or the waves, and when Peter turned his focus to those, he began to sink. Though crying out to Jesus brought immediate salvation.
For Borges, hearing the story of the brave but sometimes distracted disciple suddenly opened his eyes to his own story and the desperate need he had to grasp the offered hand of Jesus in the waves of life.
Borges’ life has had a few waves in recent years. The first was a tidal wave, and it hit back in 2014. He met a scout after a national tournament game for his semi-pro soccer team in his home country of Venezuela. This man offered him the opportunity to be placed in a U.S. college to play soccer and also offered his family help navigating the process and paperwork. Borges immediately began an immersive language program and dedicated five to six hours a day for six months learning English.
Out of a few choices the recruiter offered, Borges and his family selected Coffeyville Community College as the school he would attend in the U.S. In a tiny town in Kansas, Borges would have few distractions from soccer and his education, and the school was NJCAA Division 1 with a solid team. On August 29, 2014, he arrived on campus.
Peter climbed out of the boat.
That’s when the plan—the brave plan—fell apart. No one at Coffeyville knew the name Jonathan Borges Pamelá when he stepped onto campus that day. Borges and his family had been scammed. He had no place on the soccer team, no place to go.
He called his parents in despair. He just wanted to get on a plane and go home.
“My mom encouraged me to make it work. ‘Be brave. Fight for yourself,’ she said. ‘Community College is only two years. Get your associate degree and then decide what to do next.’” So that’s what he did. He spent the semester at Coffeyville struggling through classes, making poor choices, following bad friends and pursuing the college experience as he thought it was supposed to be. All the while, he was resentful about not following his dream to advance his soccer career.
But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid.
At Christmastime, his mom called him on his attitude. His parents noticed his depression and encouraged him to make the most of the situation instead of giving up. Again, Borges rallied and became determined to earn the place on the soccer team he had thought he already had.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before fall classes started at Coffeyville that Borges finally heard the news he’d spent the summer waiting for: he was on the team. Back on campus with a new roommate and a new perspective, things were starting to looking up.
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.
Borges’ roommate, Matheus Ribeiro, was also an international student and a soccer player, but, unlike Borges, he possessed a solid Christian faith. Borges couldn’t help but wonder about this guy who prayed on his knees every morning in his dorm room. Ribiero invited Borges to join him at a local family’s home each Sunday. The Mitchells were a Nazarene couple who hosted international students from the community college in their home for lunch each Sunday, taking them to church and leading Bible studies for those that were interested.
“They loved on me so much that it was almost off-putting,” Borges said of the Mitchells. Their love was infectious, so he began attending Independence Church of the Nazarene with them and Ribiero, eating lunch with them after church and even going to a Wednesday night Bible study led by the Mitchell’s son, Joshua.
One Wednesday night, they were discussing Matthew 14. Borges saw himself in Peter’s story.
“He had the courage to get out of his comfort zone, to step out of the boat. I was brave enough to get out of my country, to step out of my boat,” Borges said. “As soon as he gets off the boat, he gets scared. I did the same. It was a major turning point when I connected with Peter in that story.”
Borges saw how Jesus was extending his hand to him through the people placed in his life.
“That was the day I decided to commit to Jesus fully. It felt like falling in love. Soccer was going well, too. I was named second team All American, and we went to Nationals for the first time in school history. It was a dream season,” Borges said.
Riding high on their successful season and spiritual commitments, both Borges and his roommate began hunting for the four-year school they would attend next together. Out of hundreds of schools, NNU was one of the first to respond, so they both booked a visit. Borges was offered a place on the team, but Ribiero ended up with an offer to another school. Borges’ spiritual safety net felt ripped away.
Still, he decided to be baptized surrounded by new family in Christ only one week before heading to NNU. He was more than excited about the next chapter at a Christian school playing the sport he loved.
Then things fell apart again, and Borges began
“You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Shortly after Borges arrived at NNU, he and the coach discovered that a problem with the transferability of three of his credits made him ineligible to play. Devastated and having flashbacks to his first semester at Coffeyville, Borges attempted to transfer. Nothing worked out because the semester and soccer season were already in progress.
This time, however, when he felt himself sinking into depression, Borges knew how to take the offered hand of Jesus. He came out of his dorm room and immersed himself in the campus spiritual life, going to Timeout, Bible studies and retreats. He began attending College Church, where Dr. Diane Leclerc was his Sunday school teacher.
From the friendships he made at NNU, he learned what it meant to have meaningful relationships.
“Once again Jesus was saving me from out of the waters and putting me on solid ground with great people,” he describes. “It’s about spiritual formation here. People are investing every single day into your spiritual life. Everyone on campus—from faculty to staff people to the janitors—is an example of that. Everybody has this idea of the college experience and how it is going to be. I had my ideas, but NNU was better.”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
By his senior year, Borges was established in the community, playing soccer again and working with Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His roommate was a fellow player in whom he saw his former self; the student was only interested in having his idea of the college experience and doing all the things Borges had tried when he was a freshman at Coffeyville. But Borges’ joy in Jesus was infectious, so, after a time, the student was reading the Bible and interested in going to church. Borges’ story had come full circle from reluctant disciple to discipling another.
NNU had become for Borges like the boat on the waters, full of other disciples, worshiping together regardless of the waves of life.
“NNU is not just a place, it’s a tradition, it’s a feeling,” he said.
Like NNU, Borges is now here for good, taking his infectious faith and the community spirit of NNU wherever life leads next.
Jonathan Borges Pamelá married NNU alumna Colette (Coco) Gall (’18) at College Church of the Nazarene, where they had met in Sunday School, on December 21, 2018. Dr. Diane Leclerc performed the ceremony. He currently works at the YMCA and plans to return to NNU to pursue a Master of Marriage and Family Counseling.