January of 2009. I walked into a cozy little structure at the basement of Baguio’s Laperal building.
Fourth time’s a charm for my bestfriend Ging. For three straight weeks I had evaded her enthusiasm to take me along during Sunday service. I wasn’t exactly a very open camper back then. I had my doubts. I had my preconceptions. And I had zero motivation to “practice religion”. But for the love of my bestfriend, having ran out of excuses, I just gave up and went along.
Walking past the rows of MidCity, I felt so out of place. Ging insisted we sat on the second row up front and I was nowhere thrilled. I went along and awkwardly clapped with the congregation praying silently between curses that this day end quickly.
The service was brief and I was not entirely focused, really.
After, a man who had the warmest smile reached out his hand and greeted Ging and I heartily. He was their pastor, and soon, my pastor— Pastor Conrad Garcia.
The agony in writing these things down is in solving the question How do you squeeze in the depth and the width of the life a person lived in just a few paragraphs?
Pastor Conrad lived a life as humble as I can bring myself to imagine. He was not simply a father to one or a few, but he managed to be a father to ALL. Even today as an adult, I felt that. And I am certain every single soul he touched did.
As a father, Pastor was not perfect. He made decisions that were tough not just for the people he shepherd, but also for himself. But he carried on according to his faith and the many nights he spent in prayer. As a father he was not one to mince words. You would hear it as it is if he knew that was what you needed to be kept on the right path. He would rather you hurt now, than suffer a multitude of penalties later. That is not something his fatherly heart can bear. But as a father, he cried with us, lamented with us. His heart was crushed for the same thing that broke ours. As a father, Pastor Conrad wept with us as bitterly as though he felt exactly, if not more, the pain that threatened to sweep us away. As a father though, Pastor Conrad was the first to be excited, to be overcome with joy and thanksgiving when he saw his children reach new heights. Our laurels were to him fruits of every single evening he spent kneeling before God whom he loved the most, praying that he sees the persons — the professionals — that he envisioned us to be. As a father, whatever made our young hearts flutter, with his eyes rolling in jest, he delighted in listening to every single one of them. As a father, there was never a day when Pastor could not be reached, could not be held onto, could not be consulted. Despite having no children of his own, he had many who looked to him as such without a doubt.
As God’s minister, Pastor Conrad always led with a steady and resolute mind. His hand over his people was like Moses’ over his’ when God called them out of slavery in Egypt. As a minister, like any other, he sometimes grew tired, but never close to weary. He coursed through disagreements among leaders and members, and calmly came up with solutions which would serve the greater good the most. As a minister, he was diplomatic yet firm. He was determined to pursue the vision and the mission which God placed in his big heart, yet he was never one to invalidate an earnest opinion coming from a brother or a sister. As God’s minister, he never lost sight of any opportunity to shepherd people to God’s love. Once you were in his fold, you had this palpable sense of always having a home to feel safe in and one that you can return to no matter how badly or how far you’ve strayed. You never had to look back too far. He would run after you, stay up for you, and he will be there smiling cheerfully once you found your way back home.
As a worshipper, Pastor found his place at the foot of God’s throne as though he was always meant to be there. He knelt and called out to God in tears of joy and with arms wide open as he finds solitude and ease in his Maker’s embrace. As a worshipper, he sang to God with love in every word and with Jesus ever present in his heart and in his thoughts. As a worshipper, every ounce of his strength was dedicated to glorifying God and encouraging His people. As a worshipper, he sought only to bring to God the best service and the utmost praise that he can muster. There was never to be a half-hearted offering or a sullen praise. As a worshipper, Pastor Conrad would be content to simply breathe a Hallelujah all the days of his life, until his last.
You see, Pastor Conrad lived a life so fulfilling, his heart never failed to touch the lives of any person he came across. It did not matter if you were a believer, you were just on your way trying to build up your faith in God, or if you’ve been born into the faith. He saw no reason to discriminate. He left no doubt unaddressed when it came to what his mission in life was to be.
Pastor Conrad Garcia only sought to love, to teach, to reach out, to comfort, to worship, and to be there for people. And his presence, as big and as loud as it was, will be missed immensely for generations to come.