In 2001, Mario Lopez, a Mexican American teenager, felt compelled to take action after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As soon as he was able, Lopez enlisted in the Army and, like many brave young men and women, jumped at the opportunity to go to Iraq.
The former Army Specialist recalls enjoying every part of being a soldier and being deployed to Iraq in 2005. “I loved what we were doing for the Iraqi people, they started voting, thought we were spreading seeds of freedom,” he says. After Iraq, Lopez was looking forward to his deployment to Afghanistan.
In 2009, under a different command, a different mission and harsh weather conditions, Afghanistan would turn out to be brutal. A few months into his mission, he found himself pinned with the vehicle hatch closed on his arm, and on fire. “I just looked up and I was like 'alright Lord, I’m coming to meet you',” he recalls.
He was pulled out of the wreckage and flown to Germany and then San Antonio. The Criminal Investigation Command Unit believed the explosion to have been caused by a 300 lb. hard-lined improvised explosive device (IED).
With over 60 reconstructive surgeries and burns over 40 percent of his body, Lopez entered a fight for his life. The road to healing was arduous and he would have to learn to do things without his right arm and his right eye. His body was badly damaged and his spirit crushed. He said he felt "abandoned by God," and he placed his faith in the doctors who were helping him.
Ultimately, that didn’t work out so well for him. One evening, after taking his nightly dose of medications, he thought about the reality of dying right there and then, “I can go now,” Lopez recalls thinking. “I had sacrificed a lot, I should go to Heaven,” he went on, and that’s when he "crossed over into the supernatural" and dropped down toward hell. He describes descending and seeing a “pinhole of orange light and then hurricanes of fire” and knowing what burning alive felt like. He described the pain as far worse than fire; more like acid burning him.
Lopez expresses the deep sense of hopelessness he felt and described “hatred” as toxic and tangible and demons pulling to draw him closer. After he woke up from this horrible experience, he visited several doctors who told him he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — this left Lopez even more confused, depressed and farther from faith.
That all changed for Lopez when he nearly died a second time because of complications during one of his surgical procedures. His temperature spiked to 108 and the nurses packed him up with ice and tried to bring the fever down. As he blacked out, he crossed over and could see the demons again, this time sitting at the foot of his bed waiting to take him. “It was like he was trying to separate my spirit from my body,” he said.
Lopez couldn’t move but he could see his mom at his bedside his praying. Just when he thought his fate was sealed, an enormous angel came from the ceiling with a sword and struck down all the demons. Lopez says he remembers waking up and telling his mom “it's all real, Hell is real, Heaven is real.”
Changed by his experience, Lopez searched for God, and has since started with his wife Danielle the website "How I Know Ministries," which they describe as "a means to help strengthen one's faith and share the message of the Gospel."
With a full spirit and one arm, this miracle man creates beautiful paintings and touches people's hearts with the Gospel. His paintings have been shown in art galleries across the U.S. and the most notable piece is "The Journey Begins."
GiGi Erneta is a Fox News Latino Contributor, a Radio Host of Standing Freedom, and freelance writer.