News

When faced with Hurricane Maria: 'God is planning something greater'

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Apr 3, 2018 5:00 AM
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Luis Garcia (Photo: Doug Watson/WITF)

(Lebanon) -- After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, thousands of people decided to leave their homes in search of relief in states like Pennsylvania--people like Luis Garcia.

When the hurricane hit, he was just settling into retirement after serving as a pastor for decades. But now Garcia feels like God is calling him down a new path.

Garcia worked as a pastor for 25 years in Ponce, the second-largest city in Puerto Rico, which sits on the southern coast of the island. He helped establish six churches and two bilingual schools there.

But in May of last year, he decided to step down to spend more time with his family. He moved in with his college-aged daughter in Gurabo, in the eastern part of the island.

"And the days passed happily until Hurricane Maria came," Garcia said through an interpreter.

Garcia had only been retired a few months when the hurricane destroyed his home and his plans.

"We watched the trees bending, pieces of houses blown off, cars being tossed around," he said of the storm. "Terrible. Horrible. It was an experience that I've never lived through in my 60 years. I've never seen it, and neither had Puerto Rico."

His daughter only stayed another five days before deciding to leave and live with her mother in Florida. Garcia hung on for about a month after the storm on the island.

"I realized that the damage Puerto Rico suffered was terrible, and it would take more than ten years to recover," he said.

So, he travelled to the mainland to move in with a sister who's been living in Jonestown, Lebanon County for about a decade.

He said the change was a bit disorienting.

"I decided...to look for a job, because I couldn't sit and do nothing," he said. 

The state-run CareerLink and AARP found a job for Garcia, coordinating social services at the Salvation Army.

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Luis Garcia chats with Captain Ernesto Portillo in the Salvation Army of Lebanon. (Photo: Doug Watson/WITF)

He's growing more and more comfortable in his new home. Though he's not serving as a pastor, Garcia enjoys helping connect people to the services they need.

"I have faith that in the middle of a crisis, God is planning something greater," he said. 

Faith has played a crucial role in Garcia's life. It was forged during his service in the Vietnam War as an 18-year-old, when he served as a medic. Garcia said he always carried a bible in his front chest pocket.

It's clear the experience is important to him. When asked about his life before Hurricane Maria, it's the first thing he mentions.

"I could see there, the death, the bombs, the gunshots. It swept me up in the faith of Psalm 23, verse four, which says, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me," Garcia said. 

After the war, he started a career in accounting and finance but felt called to something more. Garcia left his corporate job to become an evangelical Christian pastor, building his ministry in Ponce.

After all these years, his faith is still guiding him, he admits in sometimes-mysterious ways.

Take, for example, his search for a place of his own in Lebanon. After a three-month search through apartments and houses, he found a home because the owner--who is also pastor--was leaving to return to Puerto Rico. They close on the house on April 4th. 

Garcia is looking forward to having family come to visit at his new home. He's happy with his new life aiding people at the Salvation Army.

"Because of that, I understood my calling is still not over," he said. "The Lord has me working here, helping people, for the glory of God."

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