by Debbonnaire Kovacs
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
submitted July 30, 2014
|I chose to use this photo, even though it's blurry, because it shows the real spirit of Herb Orellana when he talks about his Lord and describes the size of God's love. Taken at the bikers' camp meeting.
A while back, I promised you a profile of Herb Orellana, the keynote speaker at this year’s Ohio Rev It Up! Revival, the camp meeting for bikers. The attendees at the camp meeting were hugely impressed by Orellana’s testimony, and speaking for myself, one extremely important reason was that, despite a dramatic conversion story, Orellana mostly loved to talk about Jesus. Sometimes we hear a speaker spend thirty minutes on the drugs, gangs, and violence he came from, and then five on the turnaround that God wrought. Not Herb. He kept flinging out his arms and saying things like, ‘God loves you! He loves you! I don’t care what you’ve done or where you’ve been, the God of the universe is bigger than your sin. He’s big enough to forgive you, big enough to change you. He can use you for His work, if you’ll just give him a chance.”
Sure enough, nearly the first thing out of his mouth when we were finally able to connect for an interview and I asked him to retell his story was, “I like to praise my God, not Herb. I like to hide behind the veil of Jesus. I don’t want to spend too much time on the bad stuff.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I promise not to spend “too much time on the bad stuff.” But I do want to show the kind of background God was working with when he raised up this passionate preacher.
When Herb Orellana came from El Salvador to the United States as a five-year-old, there had already been one major miracle in his life. At four, while living with his grandparents in El Salvador (his mother was in New York, working to bring her children to join her) he was kicked in the face by a horse. For a month, he lay in a coma and no one knew if he would live or die. Not long before his mother arrived to bring him to the States, he suddenly came out of the coma and began to speak. His medical treatment then continued in New York. Today, there is no apparent clue to this life-threatening event. God had plans for Herb Orellana, as indeed, God has plans for every child.
At first, Herb didn’t know that. During his youth in the U.S, one of twenty siblings, the directions life was taking him seemed mostly downhill. He never had a father in his life; he says his father didn’t know he had a son until Herb was three. His mother was baptized into a Seventh-day Adventist church in the Bronx, and Orellana remembers riding the train two hours each way every Sabbath. His feeling today is that at first, although she made changes in her life, she was “just going to church.” It was later that she actually gave her heart to God. At that point, she began to make changes she hoped would improve the lives of her numerous family. She took courses, got better jobs, and moved them into their own housing.
Unfortunately, this meant housing that was once called “the projects,” a euphemism for what was, in fact, a very rough neighborhood. Drugs, violence, murder, and police presence were a daily reality.
He remembers his mother as saying, “I don’t have the time to give you kids a lot of love and affection, but I’m going to do my best to make you good men and good women, to make me proud.”
“Today I must say that my mom is an angel,” Orellana continues. “She’s 85, all of us have always been in her prayers. There was a lot of confusion in our family, but we now have doctors, managers, pilots, all kinds of professionals. It was hard work, but we all made it. My mom enjoys her retirement, her children, grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.”
Orellana wouldn’t have guessed all this, as a boy. He remembers when he had the brilliant idea, in his early teens, of starting his own business—stealing bikes from neighborhoods in higher income brackets and selling them. He already had gifts of leadership, and he soon had other boys working for him. His life went from bad to worse, to selling nickel bags of marijuana, and moving further into crime and gangs from there.
Like most young men who get into the drugs/gangs/crime lifestyle, young Herb Orellana gained a sense of belonging and importance this way. “Everybody knew Herb. I could walk down the street at midnight and everybody would say, ‘Hey, Herb, what’s up? What’s happening?’ But it was tough, man. Every weekend, it was like, ‘Hey, who got killed? Who got stabbed?’”
Somehow, the sense of belonging and power wasn’t satisfying. He spent some time in jail, and sometimes that made him want to turn his life around. School had always been very hard for him, with failing grades. At one of the points where he was trying to do better, he says, “When I got my first D+, I was jumping up and down with joy. Everybody thought I was crazy, but I felt like I’d really accomplished something!”
Around nineteen or twenty years old, Herb decided he would try going to church like Mom and see if that would turn his life around. When he arrived at the church that day, an adult, one who was active in the church, one Herb might have looked up to, asked him, “What are you doing here? Did you come to pick up girls? Get out of here, there’s no place for you here! You’re a loser! You’re nobody, you’ll never be anybody! Get out of here and don’t come back!”
At camp meeting, when Orellana told us this story, he said, “That was an active member of the church, and he said that to me! I had been in a lot of fights. I’d been beaten with baseball bats, but nothing in my life hurt me like those words. I cried all night. After that I hated church, I hated that person, and I hated Christians. I went back to my old life. I became a very rebellious young man, and for the next three years I wanted nothing to do with God.”
The worst tragedy of all was, he believed it. As his life continued to spiral downward, he thought he truly was a loser, someone that even God would never want. Then one night he had a serious accident in which his Cadillac Coupe de Ville (of which he was very proud) hit a freeway ramp at high speed.
To this day Orellana has no idea how he ended up in his own apartment at home. "I like to think it was my angel," he says. He described graphically the scene as he sat in his apartment, locked in, black curtains pulled closely together to keep out all prying eyes and all light. He felt that he had come to the end of the road. So many of his friends were dead, killed by others’ hands or by their own. He knew that some of them could be chalked up to his own account, even though he had never actually murdered anyone. He had encouraged others in evil and dangerous ways. “Who do I have?” he asked himself, and answered, “I have nobody.” He believed God would not want him—and he believed God was right. He was worthless. He put his gun into his mouth.
A knock sounded at his door. Herb assumed someone had come to kill him. “Who is it?” he yelled.
It was a church elder. Herb just laughed. He pulled his drink bottles around him and kept his gun in sight, wanting to look as bad as possible. He let the man in. The elder looked at him, but said nothing. Then he asked, “May I come in?”
“You’re already in,” said Herb.
The elder looked around. “May I sit down?”
“Sure.” Herb waved his arm expansively. “There’s plenty of floor. Sit anywhere.”
The elder sat down by the wall. Herb held his gun and ignored him. There was silence.
“He sat there for a while and he never said anything,” Orellana recounts. “Finally, he got up. He stood over me and asked, ‘Which is the worst of your brothers?’” Herb named one of his brothers, though possibly he secretly thought he was the worst of all.
The elder asked, ‘Does your mother still love him?’”
Herb glared at the man. “Of course she loves him!”
“Well, then,” the elder said quietly, “if your mother still loves the worst of her sons, imagine how much Jesus must love you.”
And he turned and left.
Herb just sat there. It was the first time in three ugly years that hope moved, just a little. Was it possible? Could Jesus really love him? Did God want him?
“That was my turning point,” he says today. “It really hit me. It opened up a door or a window of hope. I didn’t think there was any hope. Who would want a guy like me? I just screamed, ‘Jesus save me!’”
There is still awe in his voice as he describes what happened next. A beam of light, he says, suddenly poured between those tightly closed curtains. “I swear to you, there was no way light was getting through those black curtains. I knew it was Jesus answering me. There was no turning back. Everything changed, and now all I want to do is travel the world, preaching the Word, telling the world about Jesus.”
Orellana says that when he gave God his heart, he told him, “Use me as you wish and take me anywhere you want.” As a father, (“I want my kids to do better than Daddy did”), a customer service manager for Honeywell, and as a translator, he has devoted his life and all the talents God has given him to whatever work he can do for God. But he says his strongest point is preaching the Word. Besides traveling the United States especially in Florida and the Southeastern Conference, he has been to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, and Italy. He works on weeks of prayer, youth weekends, and other events, often translating either from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English. He is also a motorcyclist, and the national treasurer of Adventist Motorcycle Ministries.
He can also speak “street talk.” He wants people, young and old, particularly those who are in the dangers of the lifestyle he left, to know, “It doesn’t matter where you’ve been in your life, how deep you’ve gone, God’s arm is long enough—there is hope, if you give him a chance. That’s my message.”