Tribute to Amy Serrano
Amy Serrano was an incredible woman who loved the Lord and showed it every day by her selfless love for the Worldwide Heart to Heart Ministry. On December 26th, 2018, she became suddenly ill and was gone within 2 hours. Amy was 43 years young. She was the beloved wife of Oscar (the national director of WWH2H), mom to Sarah and Rachel and mommy to the over 120 children over the last 20 years. Her impact was enormous and her love for the Lord Jesus and the children were beyond words. She will forever be missed.
Video from her incredible keynote at the H2H Banquet - Nov 2018
Amy's Christmas message to all of you - December 2018
Honestly, I am shocked that I ended up part of this great work of God. The truth is, I had never succeeded at anything. My friends in high school knew me as a clown, but I knew I had died inside. My mom passed away when I was 9 years old. Later, my dad married a woman who suffered from severe mental illness, and the next 4 years of my life were filled with physical and emotional abuse. By the time I was 14, I lost all hope and the desire to live. I had come to believe what my stepmother repeatedly told me, that I was the one who killed my mother because of my selfishness.
I was born late in my mother’s life; she was 40 years old. But according to my dad, I was not an accident. My mother always wanted a big family; but after nine years of marriage, my mother had not become pregnant. She prayed to God and began a series of treatments with her doctor. My mother suffered from irregular and painful periods. Her doctor finally told her, “Jackie you are sterile. Why don’t you just get a hysterectomy and be done with it?” My mother sadly agreed, and the doctor planned the surgery. My mom shared these plans with her sister and my aunt wisely advised her, “Jackie why don’t you get a second opinion?” My mother took her advice, and to her great surprise, was three months pregnant with my sister! And as she was nine years behind on her dream of having a big family, she had children until she couldn’t any more. My mother had other physical problems as well; she had a severe heart murmur and asthma. She died suddenly of a massive heart attack at 48. For years, I was told I caused her death because she was too sick and old to be having children, and because I was a selfish brat who had sucked the life out of her.
I can’t pinpoint the final straw but remember having a fight with my only friend and found myself at rock bottom. I recalled learning in science class days earlier that the best way to commit suicide was by using aspirin. My parents were at work and I found a small bottle of aspirin and lots of other random pills. I remember frantically swallowing mouthfuls of those chalky pills. After desperately downing every pill in my parent’s medicine cabinet, I went and lay down on my bed and waited to die. I believed in God. I was raised Catholic and was taught about His reality. I truly believed that God was good, but I believed even more that I was not. I can remember lying in bed and asking God to take me away from there and closed my eyes and fell asleep. I remember waking up disappointed, thinking I couldn’t even kill myself right! I got up and went to make dinner. By that time, my parents had come home from work. I ate dinner, did the dishes and went off to my room to start my homework. I don’t remember anything until I woke up the next day in the hospital. My dad said he called to me to bring out a detention slip he had to sign, but I never answered. He went to my room to find me and didn’t see me. Just as he was about to close the door, he saw the night stand on the other side of my bed begin to shake. He walked around the bed to find me having a seizure.
I spent a few days in the hospital and then a month in rehab, where people repeatedly questioned why I would want to kill myself. My dad realized that my stepmother was the reason, and they separated. We moved back to my home town and life became more bearable. It was then I began a spiritual voyage that would take me from new age to devil worship. I loved witchcraft and the occult, because they made me feel powerful. However, through all my searching, I kept coming back to the Christian faith I had been raised in. Jesus Christ held a powerful fascination for me and each time I looked away, I knew I was turning away from the truth.
I eventually wound up in a drug rehab facility with a counsellor who was a born-again Christian. I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with her about God and spirituality. I was being fed powerful truths. I began praying each night before I went to sleep, looking out of my window and speaking with God. Within the next few months, I gave my heart to Jesus and started attending church. I got baptized in the Holy Spirit and started to have the desire to live my life for Jesus. One day in church, the pastor addressed the youth saying, “Who knows? Maybe some of you will end up missionaries in China.” I clearly heard a voice in my head say, “You’re one of them”. I knew it might not be a call to China, but would be somewhere on the mission field. Later, a visiting pastor came for a special service at our church, and he called forward all the youth who wanted to go onto the mission field. All the pastors’ and deacons’ children went forward, and I felt I did not deserve to stand among them, so I stayed in my seat. “Lord, here I am. Send me!” I was thinking perhaps I could scrub toilets for these great men and women of God. Little did I know, I would be heading out soon to be a missionary and would never come back “home”.
I grew up 30 minutes southwest of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the church I attended was located. The church had cell groups in my town. About six months after becoming a Christian, the ministry, “Park West Children’s Fund”, later known as “Friendships”, came to the port of Baton Rouge and joined forces with our church. The cell groups in our church “adopted” missionaries on the ship and ministered to them by taking them to the dentist, eye doctor, movies, and into our homes. It was through contact with missionaries from Guatemala, that I knew I was supposed to be on that ship.
One night after coming back from a cell group dinner, I told my dad and his third wife, “Guess what? I’m going to be a missionary on a ship. Isn’t that great?” My dad responded, “Oh, wonderful sweetheart,” without looking up from his newspaper. I sent my application in and waited for the response. When my parents realized I was serious, they were strongly opposed. My dad believed I needed to get my life in order first. I decided to honor them and let God change their hearts if He wanted me to go. I believed my parents’ change of heart would be confirmation that it was God’s will. I finally got my response. The letter said, “Dear Amy Rills, We would love to have you come and be part of our ministry at our main offices in San Pedro, CA.” I can’t recall many times in my life I have felt so joyful! But I had made a promise to God that I would obey my parents and their decision in this matter. I was nervous as I brought the letter to them, not knowing what their response would be. I pulled it out of the envelope and said, “I’ve been accepted to the ship I told you about.” My stepmom leapt out of her seat with excitement. To my astonishment, my dad also smiled and said, “Wow, that is wonderful!” I responded by asking about their change of heart. He told me he was never really against it but didn’t think they would accept me. I was so young, and he didn’t want my heart broken. Now that they had accepted me, my parents were elated and even agreed to pay for my ticket to California!
My cell group spiritual leader also believed it wasn’t a good idea for me to go. When I got my acceptance letter, I brought it to her. She said, “Why don’t we talk to our pastor about this?” The next Sunday, we met our pastor after service. I watched as my leader and pastor read through the letter. They discussed it, and then called me over. The pastor warmly told me he was very excited and felt this was God’s will for me. Two weeks later, I was on a plane to Los Angeles. I spent three wonderful years on the ship and married my incredible husband.
I want to tell you about my “dangerous” prayer. I was serving on the ship but did not understand why. I was compassionate but did not understand poverty. I was raised to believe that hard work and pulling your own weight brought success. I did not understand places existed in the world where a person could work 14 hours of hard labor each day and not make enough to feed their family. My eyes were blind, and I knew it. One day at devotion time with the team on the ship, a girl stood in tears, passionately praising God for the privilege of loading crates of mayonnaise on the ship. I thought, “I just don’t get it.” I went to the bathroom, sat on the floor and told God, “If I am going to stay here, You need to show me what the rest of them already know.” I couldn’t stand another day of loading pallets, without understanding. So, I simply prayed and asked the Lord to open my eyes. It took Him five years to thoroughly open them, but once they were, everything changed.
A couple days after I had prayed that prayer, I was in the dining hall on the ship. There were some Christian magazines on the coffee table. It was 1994 and the headlines from that year were all about Rwanda. The magazine had a long article detailing the atrocities going on at the time, but one part of the article overwhelmed me. It was a picture of a young boy with no legs on a skate board with a man standing over him beating him with a belt. The child was born with legs, but since he was an orphan, they had amputated his legs to make him a better beggar. The man standing over him was his “boss”, and he was being beaten because he had not made his quota begging that day. Holy anger rose up in me. The injustice was more than I could bear. Why weren’t children protected from this? It was at that point that I started to “get it”. Beyond my safe, clean world, was a world that was broken, bitterly unfair and crying out for help because it was helpless.
Life went on. I married and went to Honduras for the first time with my husband in January 1998. The trip was amazing and troubling at the same time. Some friends took us to a local garbage dump. When we arrived, we were greeted by mountains of stinking garbage, and children crawling all over the mounds like ants. These “children” were really babies, all less than five years old. As we walked, we found one little 8-year-old boy who told us that all he wanted to do was go to school. I looked around as tiny people scavenged through the garbage for anything they could find to eat, to keep or to sell. They had scavenged partially eaten tortillas and laid them out on rocks to dry and eat later and were fighting off competing vultures with 7-foot wing spans that were scavenging the same piles of garbage. Suddenly our friends grabbed us and led us back to the waiting taxi. A drunk, naked old man was staggering towards us and the group of little children. I struggled to look out the back window as this man made his way to the children who stood by helplessly as he approached them. I thought, this is not right; get those kids out of there!
On that same trip we went to visit a public hospital. It was a frightening place, especially since I was pregnant for the first time and did not know what to expect. The hospital was filthy, covered in rust and bloodstains. Supposedly sterile gloves were simply washed out and hung to dry to be used again. In the public hospital, they give you a bed and nothing more. You have to supply your own sheets, pillows, food, water, toilet paper, fan (the heat is stifling) and anything else you might need. On the children’s ward, we saw many patients, but one that particularly struck me was a child burning up with fever in a soiled cloth diaper sitting all by herself on a plastic mattress. Her mother had left her there in order to go to work. I was young, frightened and didn’t know much about babies, but knew I desperately wanted to hold and care for her but was too scared to touch her. If it were today, I would take charge of the situation, “Get me a diaper! Let’s buy her food and sit with her until her mother comes back.” But at that time, I didn’t know what to do. Then it happened, the levy broke. The little girl’s wailing could be heard throughout the hospital. She was screaming for the attention she desperately needed. At that point I cowered even more, and we left.
Two years later, Oscar was pastoring a church in Washington State and I was pregnant with our second child, Rachel. We were at the church late and I was tired. Oscar was in a meeting with the leadership, while I stayed out in the sanctuary caring for the kids. I watched as my 1 ½ year-old daughter Sarah ran around and played. Suddenly, I found myself thinking about the children at the dump and wondering what they were going to eat tonight, and where they were going to sleep. I thought of my Sarah being there trying to find a safe place to sleep. Extreme sorrow swept over me. I ran to the bathroom and cried so hard I fell to the ground. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, so I stayed in the bathroom a few more minutes, washed my face and got my composure back. The meeting ended and we headed home.
Missionary friends from Guatemala were staying with us, and Oscar stayed up talking with them, while I headed to bed. As soon as I lay my head down, I thought about the little girl in the hospital and wondered, “What if it had been Sarah in that hospital bed?”. Again, this profound sadness came over me, dramatically stronger than before. I went into the bathroom and sobbed uncontrollably. The sorrow was so deep I thought it might be demonic and began to try and cast it away. It was then I felt God say, “No, Amy, it’s not the devil. Twice today, I let you see what I see.” He used thoughts of my own child to help me understand how he feels about all His children. I sat and cried for thirty minutes on my bathroom floor. The prayer I had prayed five years earlier had been answered. There was no going back. I thought, “So this is reality, Lord? The dark and hopeless truth? It’s all messed up. What can we do?” Suddenly something rose up in me. I got off the floor and looked at myself in the mirror and said, “What you are doing on the floor? Wash your face. You have work to do.” I decided I was no longer going to cry about it. I was going to do something about it. For me personally, WWH2H began that day. When dark realities and gross injustices are put in front of me, I say, “We need to fight harder!” And that is what I have done ever since.