Handcrafted signs an effective witnessing tool for man who was overlooked as he worked in churches
Wherever 89-year-old Leo Hernandez goes, you can be certain he carries something in his hands to use as a tool to share the gospel.
Most times it is a handmade 3D piece of art, often called a stereogram. Stare at it for a few seconds and you will see a blur of lines transformed before your eyes into the name “Jesus.” On some of the art, the name “Jesus Christ” emerges before your eyes.
The intense desire Hernandez has to tell people about Jesus was fueled by his personal experience — a story that many believers will find unsettling. He worked in churches most every day for four years, but no one ever shared the gospel with him.
Hernandez was working for a stained glass business in Evansville, Ind., and his job carried him into one church after another installing stained glass windows. The churches were friendly to him and sent letters of appreciation to his employer about the great service he provided. But never did anyone in those churches ask him if he knew Jesus Christ as Savior.
It wasn’t until 1982, when he was 52 years old, that Hernandez accepted Christ as Savior. He was visiting his brother, Alex, in Chicago when his sister-in-law, Mary, told him he needed to be born again. His immediate response — “What are you talking about?”
Mary kept talking to Hernandez about the Lord and told him, “Alex will go to church if you will.”
That provided the incentive for Hernandez to attend the service. He doesn’t remember all that was said, but he does remember “the Lord made everything clear to me” about his need for salvation. He saw Mary lean over and talk to Alex at the altar, “and the next thing I knew I was at the altar.”
Two years later, Hernandez and his wife, Paula, moved to Quality, Ky., a small community in Butler County, and they began attending a nearby Pentecostal church. Hernandez related his salvation experience and the fact that people must be alert to witnessing opportunities.
Hernandez recalls the pastor telling him, “That’s exactly what I have been telling my people — they better be witnesses.” The pastor said, “The Lord is going to open those windows of heaven to you as you witness.”
Hernandez reflected on how people had failed to witness to him, and was resolved to not follow that path. He made it a priority to tell people about Jesus through his homemade signs and stained glass/painted glass projects. Making those items proved easy for him — he didn’t learn from a book or manual, but just by looking at what others had created.
His life took an unexpected turn in 1994 when his wife, Paula, died.
Then in 1997, he met a woman named Virginia, and he married her the following year. Soon after they married, they visited Mt. Olivet Baptist Church near Morgantown for revival services, and Hernandez found himself at the altar that night — the only one there.
He prayed, “Lord, make me strong, don’t let me stop.” They returned for the rest of the revival services, and Hernandez was at the altar every night. It didn’t stop when the revival ended — to this day he still goes and with the same plea, “Lord, help me to not stop witnessing.”
God has been faithful to that request. “A little conversation is all I need … I find a way to give them a sign.” That sign, used in conjunction with a gospel tract, gives him the opportunity to have a gospel conversation. “Spreading the Word, that’s what I am doing. You can go into churches, restaurants, hospitals and banks and you’ll see my signs. People will ask me why I do this. I tell them I want to tell them about the Lord, and let Him take care of the rest of it.” And he has pages and pages of names at his house listing the people who are recipients of his signs.
Virginia died in 2019 — now Hernandez lives with his brother, Alex. And he spends much of his time in one of two large work areas in his house, churning out signs so he can witness to those he meets. Hernandez said all his family members have at least one sign from him, and his goal is to leave a sign “wherever I go.”
A Pastoral Perspective
The account of Leo Hernandez working in numerous churches of varying denominations can serve as a wake-up call for Christians to be alert to the spiritual needs of people they encounter in life’s paths.
And it begs the question — how can churches be alert to opportunities to share the gospel?
Joe Bufford, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, said his church has established an intentional practice. “Anyone who comes onto our campus, we will talk to them about the Lord. If we encounter someone on our campus for any reason — HVAC, plumbing or any other purpose — we find out if they have a relationship with the Lord.
“Every week when we have a staff meeting, I ask them to tell me about a gospel conversation they have had that week.”
Bufford recalled the time a man and woman, both single at that time, made a sales call to Hillcrest for the purpose of selling insurance. “They were both unchurched, and we talked with them about their relationship with the Lord.” They later married, and last year joined Hillcrest as members.
Bufford makes it a practice through his preaching to challenge both staff and membership to be evangelistic. “We want to put ourselves in situations to talk about Christ,” Bufford said.
For instance, one of Bufford’s sermons focused on Rahab and the scarlet cord (Joshua 2). “We cut hundreds of strips of scarlet fabric about eight inches long, and asked our members to tie those around their vehicle’s antenna. That would cause somebody to ask about it, and that gave our members the opportunity to talk about God’s grace.” Another sermon focused on the account of Joshua 4, when God told Joshua to instruct the Hebrews to take 12 stones from the Jordan River as a memorial. When future generations would ask what the stones meant, it provided an opportunity to tell their descendants how God stopped the waters of the Jordan and the Israelites walked across on dry ground.
When truckloads of river rock were delivered to Hillcrest for another purpose, Bufford instructed the congregation to pick up a stone and put it in an unusual place — on their kitchen table, desk at work or perhaps a cup holder. “People would then ask them about it. In that moment, they could say how it seems like a memorial, and it would allow them to tell how God had worked in their lives to see them through a (difficult) situation.”
Bufford advises believers to have a two-fold prayer …
1. Ask God to place someone in your path today to tell about the Lord.
2. Give the boldness to talk to that person about Jesus.
“We can pray that way, but then we get so busy and pass up an opportunity to be a witness,” Bufford said. “Then we get down the road and think, ‘I just drove away from the person God put in my path.’”
For Nick Sandefur, pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, having an evangelistic-minded church means “we must make sure the gospel is front and center in our churches. Hopefully we can create a culture where we are talking more about our relationship with Christ rather than we do the starting lineup for the University of Kentucky basketball team. Then we let the Holy Spirit do His work.”
During Porter’s recent construction project, Sandefur said he intentionally started spiritual conversations with workers.
“A lot of people will talk about their knowledge of the church, but a lot misunderstand what salvation is,” Sandefur said, and those conversations allowed him to share a clear gospel testimony.