Saved to save others
Finding a new life at The Salvation Army
When Bobby Aguirre underwent two brain surgeries in 2005, his family didn’t expect him to pull through. He came home from the hospital to find his clothes in storage.
“I wasn’t supposed to come home,” Aguirre recalls. “It wasn’t easy for my family to live with. I was almost the living dead. I wasn’t the person I am today.”
Today, Aguirre is a proud severe brain injury survivor and an integral part of the Derry, N.H., Salvation Army, where he volunteers for several programs. He also has suffered more than 35 strokes, but none of that seems to slow him down.
“Bobby has a huge heart for God and for others around him,” says Lieutenant Kathryn Alban, the assistant corps officer in Derry. “He is always wanting to reach out and help people that others turn their backs on. Every chance Bobby has, he invites people to come to church or to our programs. He strives to put God above everything and others above himself.”
His amazing story of God’s grace begins when he was 12 growing up in Corrales, N.M. He was on his bike—without a helmet—performing “Evel Knievel jumps” when the handlebars struck him in the back of his head after a nasty spill.
Back from the brink
“I didn’t know until 2005, but that pushed my brain outside my brain sac,” he said. “I was constantly in pain—pain that I lived with, but it was pain all the same.”
Aguirre, who had a career as an auto sales manager before his health issues became critical, had just stopped drinking alcohol while managing a Ford dealership in Oklahoma.
“I drank because I had head pains,” he said. “My life was going pretty decent otherwise. I thought it was going pretty well. I stopped drinking and it dehydrated me considerably.”
Doctors ran tests and found that his brain sac had broken open and that his brain was outside.
“No one expected me to be alive,” he said. “Nobody did. But I am and I’m definitely doing well.”
Aguirre had three brain surgeries—a lobotomy, craniotomy, and a brain shunt.
“I had half my skull off for over 12 hours during the craniotomy,” he said.
During one doctor visit, Aguirre said he was waiting alone in the examination room when God spoke to him and said, “I tell you, the people in your life in the past, now, and in the future, are going to be in a better place when they leave. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Aguirre answered.
“Good,” he recalls the voice saying.
Drawing close to God
“I think everyone in the city had to have heard that,” Aguirre says. “It was that powerful. It shook me.
“That pretty much changed my course,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get myself healthier and healthier and waiting for another talk from God and what to do next. I want to live the very best life I can and heal myself.
“It’s hard to imagine what people go through when you lose part of your brain, but it’s not just an everyday thing.”
Aguirre didn’t walk straight and had problems speaking immediately after his surgeries, but his spiritual life hit an all–time high.
“I drew so close to God that God had to remind me that this is a fellowship world,” Aguirre said. “I started to converse with Him only.
“When you look in the mirror, and you’re all of a sudden deformed, everything changes. A lot of the people you had around you in your life really don’t look at you the same.”
Aguirre, 51, is more than willing to talk about the comeback from his brain injury, but what really gets him excited is his work for The Salvation Army. He moved to New Hampshire in 2007 to be near his sister and got involved at the Derry Corps when he was looking for a volunteer opportunity.
What he found was so much more.
“The Salvation Army is my church,” says Aguirre, who has been coming to the corps since 2008 and has been an adherent since 2010.
“I take great pride that The Salvation Army does a significant amount for the world. If there’s anything I can do to be a part of it, I feel good about being a part of it. I’m very honored to be a part of The Salvation Army. They’ve been very good to me.”
Alban said Aguirre picks up the items each week for the food pantry, helps with distribution, carries the bags to people’s cars, and cleans up afterward.
“When Bobby is not calling to check up on some of the people in the church, he is driving them to Sunday and evening programs and to get groceries during the week,” Alban said. He also visits nursing homes and an assisted–living facility each week.
“Bobby is always available to help out in any other way when we need him,” Alban said. “He has a personal relationship with most everyone that walks through our door on food pantry day. He takes time to ask individuals about themselves and listens to how they are doing and what their needs are.
“Many of our corps members started coming to church because they were invited by Bobby. We are grateful to have a volunteer and corps member like him.”
Aguirre explains his involvement by saying he has a “huge heart for God” and wants to reach out to others.
‘I have a purpose’
“God loves me,” he says. “God loves everybody and He is blessing me beyond belief with being able to hit the lowest lows and be able to carry on. He has me here for a reason. I have a purpose.
“This is not something that takes a lot for me to do. I have the extra time. It comes naturally to me. I enjoy it. I want to do something. I’m supposed to be doing this. The Bible tells me to. I see the need and I have the ability to do something.”
For the last eight years, Aguirre has facilitated a peer support group for people with mental or physical illness. The group, called Circle of Life, meets at the corps every other Friday.
“The Salvation Army has been with me from the beginning on this,” he said. “They accept everyone who comes to church. A lot of the parishioners are challenged in a lot of different ways.”
Aguirre said he has found love and help from Alban and Lieutenant Kathryn Mayes, the corps officer in Derry.
“They’re dynamic,” he said. “They’re the real Salvation Army lassies. They work hard at what they do. We’re a real hometown church and it’s growing in every direction.
All about Jesus now
“The Salvation Army has inspired me. I’ve got a good family in The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army and me are one and the same.”
Aguirre said he is getting healthier every day with the help of his girlfriend, Edith, whom he met while standing kettles and helping the corps raise $7,000 last year
“I’m by no means a picture of health,” he says. “I try to take my vitamins and eat right and cinch up on my health.
“I just want to be a good example all the way around—not only mentally, but physically and spiritually, but especially spiritually.”
From his days in the auto industry, Aguirre thinks of his Bible as an “owner’s manual.”
“I’ve had the time to go through the Bible cover to cover and learn what I should have known a long time ago,” he said.
Since his eyesight isn’t what it once was, Aguirre listens to the Bible on audio in the morning and evening.
“If I know Gilligan’s Island reruns like the back of my hand, I should know the Bible,” he quips.
Aguirre said he takes no drugs today—not even aspirin—to deal with his health. He wants to remain clear-minded for the mission ahead and has also given up alcohol and tobacco.
“I see all the people around me and how beautiful they are,” he said. “I’ve been through pain and I know I’ll still go through pain and agony in my life, but I’m here for others. I’m not here for myself anymore. I love my Lord Jesus and that’s who I’m here for now.
“God carries me through everything. One of these days, I’ll be with Him.”
by Robert Mitchell