ENNIS, TX — There’s something different about Martin Torres. At first glance, it’s difficult to see exactly what that difference might be. Perhaps it’s his dark, deep eyes that put those around him at ease. Or perhaps it’s the soft, happy smile that seems to always be spread across his face.
Today, Martin seems different because he is different. Martin was born in a mountain village in Guatemala with birth defects that caused severe facial deformity. The complications causing his birth defects also took his mother’s life. Not long afterward, his father packed up his brothers and disappeared, leaving Martin to be reared by his grandmother. “For me, growing up wasn’t like it was for most people,” Martin recounted. His days were spent being mocked and mistreated. “People didn’t like me much,” he shared. “And when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t really like myself either.” At that time, life in Guatemala was hard, but for young Martin it was even harder. Having a different appearance made it tough for him to fit in with other children.
Needless to say, his childhood was not one filled with the good memories most take for granted. His main source of comfort came from somewhere deep inside himself. “Sometimes at night I would hear a voice,” he explained. “It would tell me that everything was going to be OK.” Martin remembers a time when a missionary came to his village. “He gave me my first job building a church,” he said. Though the missionary tried to give Martin more work, he wasn’t ready. “One day while we were eating lunch, the pastor asked me if I would like to know Jesus,” Martin shared. “I told him, yes I did. He prayed with me, but I didn’t feel any different.” The one constant in Martin’s life, however, was the voice in his head, always reassuring him that one day things would be better.
Looking for that better life, Martin left the little village in search of opportunities in Guatemala City. Things improved, but only marginally. Martin found himself washing cars, making just enough to live on. But things were about to change in a big way. “It was a Sunday, and I was washing an American lady’s car,” Martin said. “She asked me if I had ever thought about seeing a doctor. I thought to myself, I’m not sick. What do I need a doctor for?” The American lady had bigger dreams for Martin. December 14, 1984, was the first day of many firsts in Martin’s life. Just one month after he met the American lady, he was traveling on an airplane to the United States!
That’s when he met a woman who would make a lasting impression. Her name was Phyllis. She had been asked by her pastor in Arlington, Texas, if she would be willing to give Martin a place to stay. Without any hesitation, Phyllis took Martin in, along with two other refugees who had also come to the States for medical attention. “The first time I met Phyllis, she came up to me in the airport and gave me a big hug. I didn’t know what to do, because no one had ever given me a hug before,” Martin said, remembering his friend. “I just knew it felt wonderful.”
Once in Dallas, he met with Dr. Kenneth Salyer, founder of the World Craniofacial Foundation. Over the course of four surgeries, Dr. Salyer changed Martin’s life in ways he never could have imagined. Growing up, missionaries would visit. They would try to check his eyes, but the deformity was so bad they were unable to get the equipment up to his eyes. That’s no longer the case. After the surgery, he was fitted with glasses. He was able to look in a mirror and see his reflection for the first time. “And I liked what I saw,” he admitted. At night, when he lay quiet and still, Martin still heard the voice that reminded him that things would be better. “I had a new face, and I looked different,” he admitted, “but inside I was still the same.” Before long Martin found a job and was teaching himself English by listening to American oldies music on the radio and watching American television. One of his favorite things to watch was television evangelists. “They had a way of speaking that was very easy for me to understand,” he recalled with a grin. One day as Martin watched, the pastor on television pointed at the audience at home and asked, “Do you know Jesus?” Martin knew the minister was talking to him. A wave of a feeling like Martin had never felt before swept over his body. He prayed to a Jesus he had always heard of, but had never really known. “I knew immediately what the small voice inside my head had been saying,” Martin said, clutching his Bible and remembering that pivotal day.
“That’s when I knew what my life had been about, and what God wanted from me.” Today, Martin can be found at Palmer First Assembly of God Church, where he ministers to the Spanish-speaking people of Ellis County. To look at him you might never guess the ordeals in his past, but it’s easy to see he is different. “God has taught me a lot,” Martin said. “Ask and you shall receive. If you ask in faith, God will answer. But He won’t do it until we are ready to receive the answers He has for us.” That is Martin’s message, and it’s one he delivers with enthusiasm to anyone who will listen. “I spread the Word in my Spanish service, and whenever there is a local pastor who needs help, I’m always ready to go minister.” Martin likes to joke with his wife as he looks in the mirror. “I sure am a handsome man!”
When Martin says it, he means it as a joke, but nothing could be closer to the truth. And for Martin, that handsomeness comes from within and from above.
Written by Jon Peeler.