Four for Ecuador
Erick and Joanna Paradizo to raise twins in the ‘Republic of the Equator’
BY TRAVIS K. KIRCHER
Of all the days on all the calendars in all the world, it just had to be April Fool’s Day.
When 23-year-old Erick Paradizo was coming to the United States for the first time, he barely knew English. Though he could recite a smattering of English words – “just the basics” – he felt much more comfortable conversing in his native Spanish.
But the language wasn’t the only thing about to change. It was 2010, and Erick was leaving his friends, his family and his native Puerto Rico behind to embark in a new life in a new city. The Music City. And with few friends in Nashville and little knowledge of the culture, Erick truly was entering a new and challenging world.
And he was doing it on April Fool’s Day.
“I had no idea about April Fool’s,” Erick said. “Because we don’t have April Fool’s Day in Puerto Rico.”
But the pilot on Erick’s connecting flight from Atlanta to Nashville knew all about April Fool’s Day – and he wasn’t about to let a good pseudo-holiday go to waste.
“So I got on the airplane, and I’m already nervous,” Erick said. “I’ve never been on the airlines. I’m nervous that the flight attendants will not know Spanish and I will not know what to say to them.”
“I jump on the airplane and am ready to go. But as soon as they close the door on the airplane, the pilot, he gets on the intercom and says, ‘Thank you for flying on Delta Airlines with destination to New York City!’ And I freaked out! I was like, ‘No way! No! I got on the wrong airplane!’”
Everyone else on the plane laughed at what was, to them, a bit of lopsided humor. But not Erick. He didn’t know English. He didn’t know it was a joke. What was meant as a throwaway April Fool’s gag turned into a major worry that snowballed in Erick’s mind as the flight wore on. He couldn’t go to New York City. He was supposed to land in Nashville! How was he going to find his way around New York City, with its screeching taxis, its cold, grey skyscrapers and the garish lights? At least in Nashville, he had a handful of Puerto-Rican friends who were ready to meet him with a place to stay. How would he ever get there?
When the plane landed in Nashville, Erick disembarked, the most dejected passenger on the flight.
“I start looking around, and I’m like, ‘Whoa…this is weird! Everything in the airport says Nashville, Tennessee! Why does it say Nashville? I thought we were in New York City!’” Erick laughed. “That’s when I learned that they do April Fool’s in the United States!”
Re-energized, Erick took the first steps on his new plan to move to the States and learn English. His plan to become an airline pilot and travel the world.
But although Erick didn’t know it yet, his plans were about to hit a brick wall. Alcoholism, unemployment and depression were going to lead him down a different road. Erick was about to find God in Nashville – and he would soon realize that God’s plans are much, much better.
Erick admits that, growing up in Puerto Rico, alcoholism had always been in the backdrop of his family life.
“My dad struggled with alcohol,” he said. “It was very difficult living at home with a father who was very verbally abusive to us. He would come drunk and just say many rude things to us. Anyway, I grew up being very introverted because of that.”
That said, he also recalls fond memories of his father.
“My dad had an auto body shop, and we would go there and paint cars, and sand the cars and fix them,” he said. “Since I was a kid, I had been doing that with my dad. We would also build and fly remote control airplanes on the weekends. He taught me how to work really hard. That was one of the good things that he taught me.”
Religion had little place in his family. Although he was born into a “Catholic home,” Erick said they had “no real knowledge of the love of Christ,” and by the time he was 10, their family had completely abandoned church.
“As a Catholic, I remember us believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying for us on the Cross,” he said. “But the thing about being a Catholic that I remember is that I never had a relationship with Christ. They taught me to pray the Lord’s Prayer – and that was all I prayed my whole life. It was nothing that I would be like, ‘God, please help me to do this,’ or anything like that. I never had a relationship with Christ.”
“If, back then, you asked me the question, ‘Will you go to Heaven?’, I would probably say yes, because I would think at that time that you go to Heaven just by being a good person,” he added. “And I believe a lot of people think that today: Just because you’re good you can go to Heaven. Of course, I was wrong.”
Flying with gramps
Religion may not have been a big part of Erick’s life, but aviation was. Erick’s grandfather was a private pilot, and together, Erick and his grandfather would take to the skies over Puerto Rico in a Cessna 150.
“That’s what I was doing every Sunday,” Erick said. “My grandfather would pick me up and take me out flying. He would let me fly the airplane. That was a cool thing. I was just, like, five or six years old, and he would let me fly the airplane.”
“We never flew to any other airports to land,” he said. “We actually just flew around the area. He likes to take pictures so we would go over my aunt’s house, or the other side of the island, and he would take some pictures or fly around the house. We would just go and see the coast. It was really beautiful.”
Erick would go on to pursue his pilot’s license. The only thing that would spoil flying for him would be bouts of motion sickness that would persistently plague him – all the way up to his private pilot checkride. Erick says the day of his checkride was particularly hot and bumpy.
“Halfway down the flight, I got very, very sick,” he laughed. “And I told the examiner, ‘Can you take the controls?’ He said, ‘Sure. Why?’ I said, ‘I need to throw up.’ And he said, ‘Oh! Okay!’ So I took the bag, threw up in the bag, closed the bag, put it on the side and said, ‘I have the flight controls.’ And I finished the test, passed my private pilot certificate, and I continued flying after that.”
“I overcame,” he added. “I overcame that motion sickness. I never got sick after that.”
Later, as a flight instructor, Erick would go on to share this story with students who needed a confidence boost, or who faced similar challenges.
Erick knew what he wanted to do: become an airline pilot. But he had a lot of work to do. He started by getting an Aviation Management degree at the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico, while at the same time earning his instrument rating at Isla Grande flight school, a Part 61-type school in Puerto Rico. That’s when he knew he needed to move to the United States.
“If I want to be in the airlines, I need to know English,” he said. “And I didn’t know English. So I decided, ‘You know what? I need to come to America.’ And that’s when I came here.” Which brings us, again, to April Fool’s Day.
A girl with a mission
In Tacoma, Washington, a little girl named Joanna Richard had experienced a very different childhood. “I was raised in a Christian home,” Joanna said. “My dad was a really strong believer. Yeah, I really loved growing up in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a beautiful place.”
From her birth, through childhood, church and Bible studies were a major part of Joanna’s family life.
“I really felt like I had a personal relationship with Jesus from a really young age,” she said. “It was really real. That was a blessing for sure.”
That relationship caused her to cast her eyes overseas. After high school, she joined the Youth With a Mission Discipleship Training School and went on mission trips to Thailand and Malaysia.
“I felt more at-home in these other cultures than I did in the States,” she said. “It just – being overseas, whether it was Thailand or Malaysia, it really made me come alive, spiritually and as a person. It just felt really, really right.”
An ambitious missionary – even at 19 years old – Joanna said she was ready to take risks, and let her leaders know about it during a mission trip in Asia.
“I actually had made plans to relocate on a long-term basis to Cambodia,” she said. “I had arranged my train ticket up to Cambodia, and arranged a placed to stay and secured funds for it. So I told my YWAM leaders. Mind you, I was, like, 19 at the time. The trip I was on was only supposed to be two months. They said they’d pray about it, and then they turned around and said, ‘You know, we actually can’t allow you to do that. That would be a liability for us.’”
“So anyway, it didn’t work out,” she laughed. “But to me that just shows – I don’t know, it’s hard to explain – that just the passion for reaching out to someone from a different culture for the Lord…it really was just very strong.”
But Joanna admits that passion was about to flicker.
After Joanna graduated from high school, she moved with her parents to Boise, Idaho, where they retired and she started going to college.
“I got sidetracked,” she admitted. She became a musician, got her Associate’s Degree and began teaching music at the School of Rock in the Boise area. She dropped out of church. She had a band, and she had boyfriend who had a band. She played the piano, the guitar, the ukulele and became a singer / songwriter.
“I could hold my own in Boise,” she laughed. “In Nashville, not so much. Nashville is a really tough place to play music. But in Boise I did alright.”
“That was really fun – a super-fun time in my life,” she said. “But I’d sort of been walking away from the Lord at the same time. My spiritual life had been waning.”
Meanwhile, Erick was having a hard time adjusting to life in the States. Although he was slowly learning English and working on his commercial pilot rating, depression was taking him on a downward spiral.
“By 2012, I pretty much hit the bottom of my life there,” he said. “I was very depressed. It’s kind of strange, because my whole life, I’ve been kind of depressed and I think it’s because of the way I was spoken to when I was a kid. I really felt like I was just very isolated and that I wasn’t worthy of life.”
That depression led him to alcoholism.
“I was very much drunk every day,” he said. “I lost my job at the airport. I was working for Delta, on the ramp. I was parking the airplanes and towing the airplanes out of the international airport. I loved that job, because it just made me really proud.”
“I was messed up,” he summarizes.
Then he thought of the one person in the United States who really cared about him: Steven Sevits.
Steven Sevits was his former supervisor. When Erick first came to Nashville, he started working as a maintenance technician for Vanderbilt Properties – essentially fixing and restoring apartments when tenants moved out.
While Erick was working for him, Steve had done something no supervisor had ever done for him before. He prayed for him.
“Like when he would see me, and I was down, or some situation was happening to me, he would always lay hands on me and pray,” Erick recalled. “Honestly, I had never seen somebody doing that for me. Nobody ever prayed for me before. And I remembered that. When I was hitting the bottom of my life, I remembered him. I remembered that person who really cared for me and loved me – even when I was messed up.”
So Erick called Steve. And Steve had a simple answer for him.
“He told me, ‘Hey, you know what? How about you coming to my home every night and reading the Bible and eat with my family?’” Erick said. “And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’ve been trying everything I can to stop drinking and stop being depressed. Yeah, sure, I can try something new.’”
Erick said it was the start of “something beautiful.”
“Because his family pretty much welcomed me at their home,” he said. “Every night they would cook food for me, and after that, all of us would be at the table reading the Bible. We started from the very beginning. We started in Genesis. I just wanted to know who was this God that really cared for you and loved you.”
He was still an unbeliever. He was still drinking. He was still doing his own thing. So what Steve did next completely floored Erick.
“One night, they decided to tell me they wanted me to come and live with them,” Erick said.
The decision was a no-brainer for Erick, who was living in an unstable environment at the time. He moved in with the Sevits family the next day, bringing only one bag.
“It was really cool, because I got to see how they live for Christ,” Erick said. “I got to see that. They were Christ to me at all times. It was not like they were hiding who they were. They were like that all the time.”
Those new and improved living conditions were also a challenge for Erick for one simple reason: Erick didn’t like kids. And the Sevits family had three, ages 10, 8, and 18 months.
“I was like, ‘There are three kids and they’re driving me crazy!’” Erick laughed. “Believe it or not, I fell in love with those kids.”
Then came the moment the Holy Spirit wore down Erick’s defenses and finally broke into his heart.
“A month after moved in with them, I was on my knees giving my heart to Christ and surrendering everything I have,” he said.
Erick says the change in his life was undeniable.
“He completely set me free from alcohol that very same night,” he said. “That was six years ago, and I have not drank since then.”
God was also about to replace Erick’s plans with His own. Erick was about to get a new plan, and a new mission.
“In 2013, I was really crying out to the Lord,” Erick said. “I really knew I had a purpose now in life – I knew I had a calling – but I didn’t know what that call was.” The answer came while Erick was driving home from work late one night.
“I remember telling the Lord, ‘Lord, whatever you call me to do, I will, I will do. I will give up everything if I have to, just to follow you. What do you want me to do?’” Erick recalled. “That’s when I heard the Lord calling me to missions.” Not just missions, but mission aviation. Erick says he didn’t really know what the term meant, but a quick Google search led him to Mission Aviation Fellowship.
“I was like, ‘Wow! Yeah! This is what I was made for! This is exactly it!’”
Four for Ecuador
At the same time, God was moving in Joanna’s heart as well.
“My spiritual life had been waning,” Joanna said. “But the Lord pursued me all the way through that time of wandering — and when the time was right, He brought me back to Himself.”
She moved to Nashville to live with her older sister, Mary, whom she regards as her “spiritual parent.”
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go back to church and get some discipling,’” Joanna said. “Mary had a great church community out here.”
In fact, Joanna started to go to the same church Erick was attending.
“I think his first, like, memory of me really was at a New Year’s Eve party at our church, because I was playing some music in front of everybody,” she laughed and asked Erick. “Who did you think I was? Carly Rae Jepsen?”
“I thought she looked like a musician that I like,” Erick replied, laughing.
The pair was married in 2016. Soon, they will be headed to Ecuador. Erick will serve as a pilot-mechanic, while Joanna plans to use her musical talents in worship. They are currently in the midst of fundraising.
TO DONATE TO THE PARADIZO FAMILY, CLICK HERE.
But it won’t be just them going. Joanna is pregnant.
“The main thing to pray about is to pray for our babies and this pregnancy,” she said. “Because it’s twins and it’s a really high-risk pregnancy, so we’ve been running into complications. I actually have to be admitted into the hospital for eight weeks so that the babies can be monitored.”
Erick agrees, adding – in perfect English – that they are hoping to make a real difference in Ecuador.
“We want to be there right now, because we know that they have such a need for help,” he said. “But we know that it’s not all up to us to fill the gap. We know the Lord is at work.”
And so it is that the man who thought he didn’t like children has already fallen in love with two before they are even born.
The Good Lord does have a sense of humor. And it’s not even April Fool’s.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Just before this was written, Joanna Paradizo was admitted into the hospital for the eight-week observation period before the scheduled arrival of her babies. Please keep her, Erick and the children in your prayers.
TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is a ministry advocate for MAF. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.