Juan Romero on what is the concept that God has for you
There was a torrential rain on the night of May 10, 1936 in Monterrey, Mexico. “Juanito,” the subject of our interview, was barely seven years old.
This conversation was conducted by Jaime Lázaro in Spanish and translated to English. Read it in Spanish here.
That night, his mother, doña Maria, wanted to go with her children to listen to a North American missionary at a church from a different faith tradition than their own. But it wasn’t easy as the father of the house, like a true Mexican macho, refused to give his permission. Grudgingly, he let the family leave the house.
That night Juan, his mother, and siblings, made the decision to follow Christ. From that point on they became devout attendees at that church.
Juan, while still a child, became a Sunday school teacher. At age 14 he delivered his first sermon. He was a teacher at several Bible institutes and has written songs that are sung in many countries.
Juan Romero traveled all over Latin America in a prop plane for 15 years, distributing educational materials and training Sunday school teachers. The list of activities he’s carried out during his long trajectory is interminable.
For this interview, as though he were an active young man, we found him working in the CVC studios “La Voz,” a ministry that provides live Christian radio programming to hundreds of affiliate stations around the world. Juan does not believe in retirement.
But before going on with the interview, let us reflect on these comments:
- I imagine Juan as a child, shoeless, disheveled, and poorly kempt, at the altar, making a decision, which at that moment, even he didn’t quite grasp. What elements could have influenced him to do all he did?
- Juan Romero, a legend in Hispanic Christian music, somewhat as a protest, says that it is sad how our community has put the hymns of old aside, those that forged the faith of so many believers. Should these old songs be rescued and their rhythms updated so that they might also be a blessing in this generation?
- One of the last things we asked Juan was if he knew what God thought of him. The attitude of his response was surprise. Do you, dear reader, know what God thinks of you?
Where were you born?
I was born in the city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, on January 11, 1929. That should be a military secret, but I like to say it because longevity is something God has given me and for which I am profoundly grateful.
Can you give me the name of your wife and children?
My wife's name is Aurora, my daughter, Berean, left to be with God at the age of 16. We then had Aurora Esther, Ivon and Juan Carlos. I have 3 grandchildren.
When did you arrive in this country?
We came to the United States in 1950 and settled down in Texas. We worked as professors in the Latin American Bible Institute; I was then a pastor in Mission and San Antonio, Texas. In 1967 we relocated to the South of Florida, and we have lived here in Miami ever since.
Do you remember the day you converted?
It was May 10, 1937. I remember because it was Mother's Day and it was raining torrentially. We belonged to the traditional church in Mexico and my father was the typical Mexican macho, with a mustache like Pancho Villa and everything. He reluctantly let us attend a protestant church. We arrived all wet because it was raining. That day, a missionary presented us with the Plan for Salvation. My mom, my younger siblings and I accepted it, and since then, we have been walking with the Lord. I was only 8 years old.
Were there missionaries in Mexico at that time?
She was a very young lady called Louise Jeter. She went looking for souls in the poor neighborhoods and found a barefoot kid, hair uncombed, ignorant, dirty, and she spoke to him about Christ. That kid—who is me—believed and with time became a missionary.
Do you know what became of her?
Yes, coincidentally I just finished interviewing a brother in Chimbote, Peru. She (Louise) went to live in Peru, where she published a pamphlet called "Little Jewels." I was assigned to teach a Sunday school class when I was just 14. And Louise would send us the pamphlet that was our didactic material. At that time, there were no Christian education publishing houses, so it was a treasure. As the years went by I was invited to Brussels, Belgium, to make a recording about Life's Greatest Questions. It is material that is published in all the languages of the world. I'm not sure why Spanish was the last one to be produced. I had just finished an evangelizing campaign in La Paz, Bolivia. With the elevation and cold weather, my throat almost closed up. I arrived very hoarse. They all noticed I was hoarse. They told me, "What are you going to do? We begin recording this afternoon." I said I came because I wanted to fulfill this commitment. Miraculously, God gave me back my voice and at 3 in the afternoon, we began to record. They had reserved 7 days for the recording of the 12 chapters, but because of my experience, I did it in a day and a half. They asked me to stay an extra day to share in the service that this organization had. I shared my testimony and at the end they asked me whether I remembered the name of the missionary that had spoken to me about Christ. I told them that to forget her name would be like forgetting the name of my biological mother because she was my spiritual mother. It's Louise Jeter, I said. They were all shocked and I asked them why such an exclamation? They said, "Look, 50 years ago Louise went to that poor neighborhood in Monterrey of which you speak to find you. As if God knew that with the passage of time—50 years to be exact—we would bring you to do the Spanish version of what your "spiritual mother" wrote.
When was born the desire to serve the Lord?
I believe God chose me from when I was in my mother's womb. The other day I saw a sister that told me, "I've been listening to your songs since I was a little girl." And a brother who was there told me, "That's nothing brother Romero; I would listen to your songs even before I came to this world." I said, “One moment, what do you mean?” He answered that when he was in his mother's belly, his grandmother would come and say, "Samuelito, I'm leaving to go work, but before I leave I want to sing the song that I sing you every morning." And she would sing: "There were 100 sheep in his flock…" The brother adds that when he was very little, he would open his eyes very wide to see where that song was coming from. I tell you this because I believe God chose me from within my mother's womb. But at the age of 14 I was asked to teach a Sunday school class for children that were almost all my age. I can tell you that that was my launching point, even though since my conversion, I've had a type of charisma that children follow. I would teach them lessons. In 1948 I graduated from the Bible Institute. From that moment on I was officially a preacher of the gospel. Later the missionary call would come and send me around the world to preach the gospel.
Was there a special event in your life when you were called to serve or to compose?
Well, yes. After I converted, since I did not grow wings on my back, I was a child just like any other and sometimes was even a bit more mischievous than normal. One day I heard one teacher tell another, without them knowing I was listening to them, "That Juan isn't worth three peanuts." Upon hearing that, I developed a significant inferiority complex. I grew up with the absolute conviction that I wasn't worth a thing. One day a fervent preacher arrived at church. His name was Roberto Fierro. He preached about going all around the world preaching the gospel to all creatures. I thought, “What is this about going all around the world if we are so poor; I hadn't even left the neighborhood where I was born.” But my mom was watching me. And my mother had a way of scolding that was piercing. I thought, “I'm going to go to the altar so that she won't scold me.” I prayed saying, "Lord, I can't fool you, but here I am. I don't know what to do but I would like to talk to you", and without noticing, I discovered I was talking to Him. I said, "You know that I'm not worth anything, but I give you everything I am." I remembered that child that gave Him the five loaves of bread and two fish, and I said, "I only have three peanuts, but they're all yours." As time passed, God took me all around the world and put me on television for 15 years. I felt that through that medium, I was taking the nourishments to millions of people. I was about 14 years old or younger, because at 15 I attended the Bible Institute in Mexico.
What was the first song that the Lord inspired in you?
I've always said that I'm a poet by accident, and I'm a preacher without having calculated it, and I'm a composer by circumstances. I remember that one day I was going to be the speaker at a convention in New York. My great friend and colleague in the ministry, Amy Cortez, who had hosted us, was like a caged lion pacing back and forth. I asked her what was wrong. She responded: "Nothing. A brother who had promised to compose a song for a play that we're going to present hasn't even called me." I asked her what the story was about, and she explained it was about a boy who didn't want to go to Sunday school because his father doesn't go. I told her that I had never written a song but to let me give it a try. I locked myself in a room, and a half hour later a song was born that said: "Juanito, today is Sunday, wake up, it's time, it's Sunday school, it's about to start, wake up." This is the part where the mom tries to wake Juanito up. The boy stretches and says: "Mom, don't wake me up, dad won't go, church is not for him, I don't want to go, I don't want to go if dad doesn't go." What Juanito didn't know is that his dad was listening to him behind a curtain. Suddenly the dad comes out and says, "Juanito, I've heard everything; forgive me my grave mistake, I promise we'll go together and the voice of God, and the voice of God, we will hear." The song finishes with all three singing, "The whole family, we happily go to Sunday school, the great teacher of Galilee waits, and may we all together go and learn." That's how my first song was born in 1956, and I've been a composer since. I've composed 437 songs, and almost all have been recorded.
How many albums have you recorded?
I've recorded 29 albums.
What differences do you see between praise and worship?
I think any song that considers itself Christian must be tripartite. First it must be worship, because man matures abundantly when learning to worship. It is proven that sung worship is the most expressive. The second is praise and the third, which is only few times taken into account, is edification. It can be self-edification: in other words the same composer/interpreter are edifying themselves or are edifying others. The didactic value, the sensory communication, not just the emotions, but the spiritual aspect. A singer must worship, praise and edify or teach. It must have a message because if it is purely a phonetic repetition, as is sadly the case today, in my opinion it is not worth listening to.
Is the role of praise and worship important in the church?
God is a musical God. How do we know? Because the "anthropomorphous" man He created, he did so as a musical instrument. I think He might have wanted to create a flute. But the human body has rhythm; we have an inner drum that goes "tun tun." And, when it stops doing so, it is because it is dead and they better bury him. But He gave it a melody as well, because it is unexplainable how people speak with different accents and modes. Each ethnic group has its peculiar way of speaking, with their own music, folkloric, vernacular, and traditional. I am projecting this to say that the expression of music, praise and worship is something that cannot be contained.
Are you saying that it is a manifestation of the musical instrument that God made, which is man?
Exactly. Man matures at the point where he says, "I must worship my Creator." And the easiest way is through music. People ask me whether I no longer write songs. No, I no longer write them, but I sing them almost every day because I start praying and end up singing. When a song comes along that I think has some potential, I record it. Then I do it up, then down, I extend it, etc. and then a song is born.
For you, what is a worshiper?
A worshiper is not only one who expresses his affection for God, in the most sincere manner, from the chords of his heart. But also one who incites those who listen to him to worship, next to him, the author of life, our Father who is in heaven.
Do you think the Latin Church would be the same without music?
Definitely not. No Christian church would. Moreover, I heard a person who is knowledgeable in this subject say, "Churches who began to fall were the churches that stopped singing." Song is the expression of the soul. And if we don't use our soul or the spirit in this case, that church will irreparably die.
How much do you think worship influences discipleship?
I would say that it influences in such a way that becomes essential. The most basic or elementary lessons, as well as those with a more elevated level, are learned better with music. Remember: "2 plus 2 is 4 and 2 are six. Six and 2 are 8 and 8 is 16." In Mexico, we were taught the multiplying tables by singing. God gave us the receptive capability to learn better when we sing. What's more, people with speech impediments, with melody speak perfectly.
You are one of the few witnesses of the evolution of praise and worship in the last decades. Do you think it has changed much?
It has changed so much that sometimes the hymns that helped us grow spiritually are ignored and not recognized by the current "worshipers," as we call them today. For example, I was at a conference given by one of those famous preachers. All of a sudden, a couple mentioned that they had just learned a hymn that "we are sure you're going to like and we are going to sing it for you now." And they did so here: "When the trumpet sounds on that final day…" For them it was new. I am not opposed to contemporaneous music, though I confess it is not my favorite, but I love seeing youth singing hymns to contemporaneous rhythms, with lyrics extracted from scripture. My soul rejoices when I see multitudes of youth receiving them with a blessing. I do long for, with deep profoundness, those hymns of yesteryear with which I grew up.
What do you think are the spiritual elements that worship must have?
Above all things, communication with God. Man is a creature of communication. And if man is to have a sublime, supreme, divine communication, it is with the creator, with God. If that communication is not obtained, then time has been practically wasted.
With regard to the songs: Do you believe that God is now projected in a different manner? In the sense that before we sang of a much farther God, above, in His throne and now He's much closer like the air we breathe.
I wrote a song that has been recorded by other musicians that says, "I believe in you, as I believe in the sun that warms me…" One finds metaphors in that which he knows. Perhaps those composers have hit the jackpot in that which is perceived and acceptable by the generality of human thought. One talks about the unknown through the known. And what is more known than the flowers, the sun, etc.?
Have you ever written songs considering the social reality of immigrants in the United States?
Well, yes. I have a few compositions such as "The Foreigner," which is a poem where I present God as a foreigner who left his "habitat" in Heaven to come to an earth that, even though he created it, is not where he lived. And he sent His son to represent him, not just as a symbolism, but as family. Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen my Father." If there's anything that Jesus came to do, it was to show us reality, not from a vanishing Father that dissipates and ends, but one that is eternal and identifies us as His children.
Have you ever expressed your political conviction in your songs?
No, never. I'm not sure how good or bad it is, but I can tell you that when I began writing songs, I saw a commercial on television where I saw several African Americans from New Orleans that were promoting beer using the music of the song, "Oh when the Saints,go marching in." There were several voluptuous women, with little clothing singing. I said, "Ah, ah, they will not do that with my songs." So I began the habit of registering all of my songs. It's not that I register them so that no one will record them. In fact, I encourage singers to record them. Some are afraid that I may charge royalties. I don't charge royalties, but I accept them. When they (the singers) notice that I am a retired man, without a salary, they will sometimes send me a check…and I don't return it. I have never commercialized my songs. I wrote "Dawn," after I buried my 16-year-old daughter. My writing is born from my experiences.
How is the heart that God has given you?
I am very sensitive. I cry easily. One day I was at a convention. When I listened to the opening sermon, it touched me so much that I was covered in tears. The next day, the Vice President of the organizing body preached and the same thing happened. I was so moved that I cried almost from beginning to end. The next day, the Secretary gave a report that contained numbers and numbers, and I was crying because I thought, those are souls that he's reporting and that God has saved. And I said: "Lord, let me tell you something: don't you think it's too much crying? If you knew that I was going to be in this line of work, why did you give me such a weak heart that cries over anything?" Because I turned to look at the congregation and the ministers and no one was crying. I was the only one crying. I can't tell you that I heard with my normal ear, but I felt God say to me, "Oh yeah, you think you have a weak heart? Well wait because I am going to change it. I am going to give you a heart like everyone else and you will no longer cry." At that moment I thought about all the risky situations I've been in on an airplane, others in deep valleys or on a boat in the ocean. All of a sudden I felt a touch from the Lord and I said, "No, no, leave me like that Lord; let me cry." Ever since, I've keep crying.
What is the influence that you would like to have on people?
Don Francisco, the host of Sabado Gigante, while celebrating his 50 (career) years, was asked how he would like to be remembered when he is no longer here. He answered, "I will be okay if people say that Don Francisco was a good man." I thought that he was asking for very little, because when people die, even if they were a demon, people say, "Oh, he was so good." I thought about how I would like people to remember me. I long to have just one, though I know it will be many in heaven who will say to me, "Hey, Juan, thank you for that song or for your television programs, for your sermons at the stadium or in the church. I am here because I accepted Jesus Christ." I was given a Grammy, a Premio Arpa in Washington where the President of the United States assisted, an Arpa de Oro in Mexico and other trophies. But everything I say, that I do and that I am, I owe it to Jesus Christ. My greatest pleasure will be to put those trophies, along with my worship, before the feet of the Lord, when I arrive in heaven.
Machismo is a presence in our community. Has your music at any moment challenged the Machista mentality?
I had never thought about this. You've put me in unfamiliar territory. I've never thought about my music awakening those areas of Machismo in those that listen.
In your music, do you promote respect and consideration of women?
For me, respect towards women, towards children and the elderly, towards all people, I almost never differentiate. I have sung to a woman, to a wife. Perhaps the Lord is giving me a new jackpot to write another 400 songs before I die.
Do you think that there has been more art incorporated in worship within the church?
Someone said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Those of us here in CVC La Voz have several talents. Just a moment ago, passing in front of the desk of my brother and friend, Erwin Dorado, he called me over to show me on his computer a poem that he just wrote. I know people who do not like poetry. Some have told me so. I also think that horses trample on flowers, in other words that not all of us have the capabilities to appreciate art.
Do you think poems, paint, sculptures, and music are a good form of manifesting worship?
Definitely. Grace is not in conflict with divine appreciation. Otherwise, God would not have given that talent to man.
He would have given us a creation in black and white.
Right! You also have imagination. I have a song that’s called "Colors." It says, "Humanity is of many colors, and in fact infinity is of many colors as well…" It then speaks specifically of each color.
Do you believe that the Hispanic community has responded well to the changes in music, in the rhythms and in the content of the last few years?
It's evident by the number of congregations that have formed and continue to do so with the new rhythms. Thank God, because had that not been the case, we would have lost many people.
Can you give me the names of a few songs that have marked your life?
The first one I would say is "This little light of mine." I came from a religion whose liturgy was comprised of melancholy, sadness, of bleeding images. Prayers sounded like the buzzing of flies, the smell of incense, a man dressed in black from head to toe. Other hymns were "Do you hear like the Gospel,” “Beyond the Sun,” “When the roll is called up yonder,” etc.
Have you seen patterns of globalization and how our cultures share materials and resources?
Yes, I have seen it. Just this morning, looking through my files, I found a song in Portuguese that I really liked. A few days ago, I saw on a television program three young men, very young, that were singing opera songs. They had made them contemporary. They are classical songs that have been promulgated through pop and are having great success. When I began to write Mexican songs, at first people did not like that type of music, and in fact would tell me, "If you sing a hymn with a Mexican rhythm, in my opinion, I also want you to give me some Cahuamas (beer)." In other words, they associated that music with liquor. Thank God that music has been slowly sinking into the Christian hymnology.
So, you yourself during your time suffered that type of discrimination when you began to use popular rhythms with Christian content?
Not so much me. Because when I started, the "Brothers Alvarado" was already singing Mexican music. For many years I didn't write typical music. I had to record when in the other studio there was a group of mariachis drinking tequila and smoking who knows what. I told myself, no, no, that's a different culture. I began to visit the rest of the continent and people accepted me as a Mexican, but they also asked me to sing local music. I asked a friend of mine, named Manuel Gaona, who lives in Monterrey, to let me know when he found a Christian mariachi. One day he called me and said, "Juan, I have them, they're one of the best around here, all of them Christian, and they got excited at the thought that you would come and record with them." A few days later I was flying to Mexico to record my first album with Mexican rhythms.
Who is Jesus to you?
It would be very easy to tell you that He's my everything. It's not just the epitome of Divinity, it’s God himself. To me, it's the Father, represented in one person: Jesus Christ. However, the specific distinction is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I don't want you to misunderstand me, but I think Jesus Christ represented the divinity in all its aspects.
What do you think is the concept that God has of you?
If only I could tell you! I would love for Him to say, "Juan is so good." But, look, I think this is the most piercing question you've asked. I would like for Him to at least say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" God is fathomless; I cannot know what He thinks of me. But my obligation as his child, is to try to win his affection, his approval. This morning I was thinking that I would like to be in the will of God, until my will is God's will. In other words, an amalgamation of personalities. I’m not saying that I'd want to be God, but I long to be like Him. That's due to the transmutation of being. Man does not stop being man, but the divine nature is added, that theologically we know as the New Birth.
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