One hardly imagines that a person would find Christ as Savior at, of all places, a biker’s party. But then, God is in the business of doing the unimaginable.
Major Raphael Aspeitia is the corps officer at Albuquerque Citadel, an Adult Rehabilitation Program (ARP) pastoring some 50 men and their families. And although he still has his Harley—which he is often seen riding on the streets of Albuquerque, in his uniform!—you might be surprised to learn that this born-again biker used to be an angel of another sort.
In 1975 Raphael built his first motorcycle. Yep, he built it. Buying a frame that he suspects was involved in an accident, he installed a chopper engine and transmission.
“I used to ride with a lot of guys, going barhopping and getting into trouble—the usual bikers thing,” Major Raphael says. “My lifestyle was out of control.”
In the Summer of 1979 he was invited to a bikers party held at the house of a fellow he hardly knew. He recalls that they were “so far out in the sticks, we could be as rowdy as we wanted.”
His host asked Raphael if he wanted to smoke “some really good weed.”
Now the next part is hard to get your head around, but this is what happened. Out of the blue, Raphael was asked if he had “ever gotten ‘turned-on’ to God.”
“That’s not the sort of thing you’d hear at a rowdy bikers party, complete with drugs, booze, and loud music,” he admits. “But the seed of my eventual faith was planted in my heart that night.”
Raphael says that until April 1981, he continued on a collision course with destruction.
“I was bad before; but from 1979 to 1981 I was really bad!”
One night, as he tried to sleep, a voice within him asked, “If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”
“It scared me,” he says. “I knew that with my lifestyle, I’d go to Hell. I was even afraid to sleep at night!”
As the Holy Spirit continued to convict him, Raphael was feeling the Lord urging him to be saved. As his body began to shut down from the smoking, drugs, and alcohol that years of abuse had brought, Raphael get violently sick with a condition he describes as similar to emphysema.
“I began gasping for air,” he says, “and right there, by myself, I said to God, “I really don’t know if You exist, but I need Your help. If not, I’m going to die!”
With that heartfelt cry, Raphael claimed Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
“I felt a peace I cannot describe. The next thing, I reasoned, was that I needed a Bible.”
When he finally got one, he couldn’t read enough.
“My dad came over one day. He was as big a party-animal as I had been. But on this day, dad noticed a change in me and a smile on my face,” Major Raphael says.
Raphael not only had the privilege of leading his dad to the Lord, but many in his family as well; noticing a new man in Christ.
He got involved with the county “Meals On Wheels” program, which led him to meet The Salvation Army in his Hanford, California hometown.
“It was Thanksgiving Day, and the Corps was feeding everyone, so I took dinners back to some shut-ins he knew.”
The Salvation Army Officers invited Raphael to church that Sunday, and there he found a warm and welcoming “family.” Something he sorely needed.
“They didn’t care that I was wearing bikers grubs,” he says. “All that didn’t matter. That’s who I was, and everyone just loved me.”
Raphael never thought he’d trade those biker’s grubs for red epaulets and a Salvation Army Officer’s uniform. Nor could he foresee his dad becoming a Salvation Army Soldier, proudly wearing his uniform until his promotion to Glory in 2012.
“God put me on a journey and The Salvation Army became my church.”
After 37 years of sobriety and 27 years of ministry alongside his amazing wife, Major Raewyn, the couple oversees a ministry that Raphael can especially relate.
“I can connect with the men, telling them: ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that!’
“And I also know a great God Who comes along side of you and makes a new creature of you.”
The bike he has now is a 2006 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe. On Albuquerque streets, he is a rolling billboard for the Kingdom of God and The Salvation Army.
“What’s kept me all these years is a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he insists. “Get into God’s Word and let Him have control in your life.”
It’s an eternal truth he first heard about at a biker’s party the night he began to consider the possibility of having God in his life.
—Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor