Church Family’s Love Overwhelms Burn Victim, Family

Post a Comment » Written on May 2nd, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

KERMAN, CA (May 2, 2008) – Joe and Mago Garcia were standing beside Splash Mountain at Disneyland, waiting for their three children to finish yet another ride. The couple could hardly believe they were at the theme park this week.

“The first two days we were just in the wow stage,” Joe said.

The trip had been unplanned – unimagined actually – except by members of two Evangelical Covenant churches and the entire community of Kerman. At 9 a.m. last Saturday, 100 of the Garcias’ closest friends showed up at the family’s home with a surprise announcement.

HouseThe crowd was there to remodel the small three-bedroom house and send the family on an all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland for a week. It was the community’s way of showing love to the Garcias, whose lives were nearly devastated four years ago.

In 2004, Joe almost died when a West Hills Oil tanker truck he was working on mysteriously exploded, seriously burning him and a coworker, Ryan Cain.

Ryan, whose family owns West Hills Oil, attends Kerman Covenant Church. Joe is one of the founding members of La Vina, a Hispanic congregation planted by Kerman Covenant.

Ryan was released from the hospital after four days. The road to recovery proved to be much longer for Joe, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his face, chest and both arms. He spent weeks in the hospital, where he underwent numerous surgical procedures to save his life, says Michael Jordan, pastor of La Vina.

The doctors were unsure if Joe would ever lead a productive life again. No one knew what the change would mean for Joe, his wife, Mago, or the children, including Joey, who is now a junior in high school; Leslie, who is in sixth grade; and six-year-old Mateo.

When Joe returned home, he required almost constant care. Joey took on the task of changing his father’s bandages.

Initially, Joe was unable to speak and could only communicate by writing notes.  He later was able to speak again, but only with the assistance of a tracheotomy, which was needed because his windpipe had been so severely damaged. He would place his thumb over the hole so he could talk. Finally, after four years, doctors were able to repair his windpipe in February.

Joe was able to voice his excitement on the day his friends made the surprise house call. “He said ‘God is good,’ and everyone answered back, ‘All the time,’ ” says Stacey Greely, Kerman Covenant’s youth pastor.

Limo“We were just so totally surprised,” Joe said from Disneyland. “We had no idea that this was taking place. We were just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.”

“I was in shock,” his wife added. “They were showing us all that love. All the people I love were there.” To see additional photos from that special day, visit An Act of Love.

In fact, Mago really didn’t want to leave. “Seeing both of those churches together, I just wanted to stay and fellowship,” she explained. “I stop and think about it and I just start crying again.”

Over the years, the Garcias have continued to be a blessing to others who have been impressed by the family’s faith. “They’ve really stayed strong in the church through this whole thing,” says Greely.

The churches initially submitted the idea of remodeling the home to the popular ABC-TV show Extreme Makeover in 2004. When they didn’t hear from the program, the friends decided to take matters into their own hands, Jordan said.

They quietly distributed flyers and enlisted the help of the community. Businesses throughout the town donated items. (The specific details of those gifts remains a secret so as not to spoil the planned surprises.)

In recent weeks, Mago had been suspecting something was afoot, but never imagined what her friends had planned. She picked up on clues that the church might be donating an air conditioner.

“When I looked out and saw all those people, I thought, “I don’t think we need all the people for that,” Mago said, laughing.

The friends, who initially had gathered about a quarter mile away (accompanying photo), arrived at the house wearing blue t-shirts emblazoned with “Mission Remodel” on the front and “All things new” in English and Spanish on the back. A local TV news crew accompanied them. To view a video news segment, please see Extreme Makeover.

FriendsJoe was amazed the church and town had been able to keep quiet about the event for months. “They had to tell some lies,” he said, laughing.

Others were amazed at the Garcias’ reaction. “Joe and Mago were pretty speechless the whole time, which is unusual for them,” Greely quipped.

The Garcias were told they would need to leave in several hours. Their friends helped them pack, but not just the items they needed for the trip. Everything was removed from the house and is being stored elsewhere. “In less than three hours, the house was empty,” Jordan boasts.

Not all of the remodeling will be a surprise for the Garcias when they return. Project organizers brought color samples from which the family could choose.

After the packing was completed, everyone ate a barbecue lunch together. The friends cheered as the Garcias then climbed into a limousine that drove the family to Fresno about 15 miles away. There the family picked up a rental car that had been provided so that they could drive to Disneyland in Anaheim.

The Garcias are staying in a suite across the street from the theme park. “This vacation has been awesome,” Joe said. “We have never done anything like this with the family.”

While the Garcias have been playing, Kerman residents have been working – and having a good time. Seven small groups from the churches are each taking a night to bring dinner to serve the workers and then help clean up after the day’s construction.

“We’re ahead of schedule on the building so far,” Jordan said.

The family was scheduled to return to Kerman today (Friday), but unlike in the TV show, they won’t be able to immediately move back into their home. “It’s looking like it will be the end of May at the earliest,” Jordan said.

Until then, the family will stay in a home that was vacated by a family in the Kerman Covenant Church when they purchased another home. With his customary laugh, Joe said he doesn’t mind.

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