Gary Reconnects With God After Years Away

“I grew up on a small island in the South Pacific called American Samoa,” Gary said. “I only had three goals in life: to speak English without an accent, get a college degree—check, check—and to leave that island and never return. It was too small. I loved my culture, but I wanted to see what else was out there.”

Gary left the island to go to college in Missouri after earning a football scholarship. “It was a culture shock,” he said. “Two weeks in, I quit the team and told my mom I was coming home. She said, ‘Where are you going to live?’ My mom told me to go apologize to the coach, get my scholarship back, and get an education.”

Gary received his degree, met his wife, had a son, and moved to St. Louis. But when his mother passed away, Gary’s already regularly drinking got worse. After three years of heavy drinking, Gary remembers standing in his garage on a Friday morning when his son came out to walk to school. “I was drinking, doing my thing, and I said, ‘Bye, son, I love you.’ And he just said, ‘Whatever.’ When I asked him what was wrong, he said: “How can you tell me you love me when you are the same man trying to kill my father?”

Gary and his wife divorced and he moved away. Earlier this year, he traveled to Oxnard for his cousin’s wedding. “I was sitting on the porch, talking to another of my cousins, and I said, ‘There has to be more to life than just drinking.’ She said, ‘I know a place if you’re serious.’”

Gary’s cousin is a volunteer at the Mission and knew it would be a good fit. “Nothing big happened,” Gary said. “I wasn’t in trouble or running from anything. I was just headed down the wrong road, and before something was going to happen, I decided to do something about it.”

Three months into the program, Gary’s family showed up at the Mission with the news that his brother had been found dead in a hotel room. He had overdosed. “My family is still mad at the fact that I didn’t leave with them, but I thought the safest place for my soul was in the midst of God’s hands—and that’s right here,” he said. “I knew exactly what was going to happen. The old me was saying, ‘This is exactly the excuse you need to go back to drinking. Blame it on your brother.’ I probably did more for his wife and their kids staying here and praying for them.”

Gary said he’s now “fallen in love with Scripture,” and dreams of becoming a missionary. “In Samoa, the culture is very religious,” Gary said. “On Sundays nothing is open, and there is still a curfew. At 6 p.m. you hear a big loud church bell and you go inside for 30 minutes, for worship. You hear families singing and praying. I love that. I was always connected, but I’d lost that. Then I came here.”