When Gary Hernandez lost his wife suddenly in 2009, he was led into a profound time of questioning what God had in store for him. Becoming more involved at St. Andrew’s in his search for life’s meaning, a series of interactions led him to Alpha – evenings where people gather to share a meal together and talk about their life and faith. This is his story …
My name is Gary Hernandez and I am a member of St. Andrew’s. I found and accepted Christ while attending Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. During my college years in the 1980‘s, I began attending St. Andrew’s. I meet my wife and we were married at the church in April 1991. As our family grew, we got more involved here. Our children grew up in the church; we served as ushers, were involved in children ministries, vacation bible school, and attended services regularly.
Then, tragedy hit our family in 2009. My wife developed breast cancer and our whole world was in shock. On September 9, 2015, my wife lost her 6-year battle with cancer and suddenly passed away with little time to prepare. I was able to witness God’s grace and presence throughout this process. As I look back, I see how the Lord was with us through this journey, preparing us. Our family and faith grew stronger, yet it has nonetheless been very difficult for us. We found ourselves asking the question – why? I was stuck in life, not knowing what to do. I went to counseling, a grief group, and I began getting more involved with the church to find direction and meaning. Then, I started attending the first LABS courses here at St. Andrew’s on January 11, 2017, where Chris Greer was my instructor. It was there that I first heard about Alpha.
The topics at Alpha seemed interesting and focused on the questions I was asking myself, like “why am I here?” … “what is my purpose?” and “where am I heading?” There had to be more to life than this. During that season, I prayed and asked for daily guidance from the Lord. As the date for Alpha approached, I was finding every reason not to go – I was too busy, I was already in LABS, I didn’t have time, my family needed me, I’m already a Christian … However, the Holy Spirit made his presence known.
One Sunday, I was running late to services when I saw a greeting card by the parking lot and a lone flyer flew off the cart and landed in front of me. As I picked up the paper, I looked and saw it was an Alpha Brochure. As I listened to the message that day, Bryan Eckelmann spoke about “belonging” – opening your heart, expanding your table, and challenging yourself to look for God’s directive on your life. Call it a coincidence, but I felt that God was telling me that I should attend Alpha. That Wednesday night, I attended dinner at the church prior to my LABS class. I sat at an open table with Chris Greer and two others and listened as they began discussing Alpha! Chris encouraged me to attend and it was there I made my decision.
My time in Alpha and our group was amazing! I had prayed for guidance, understanding, and new friends – and all were provided! The videos, food, conversations, and interactions made Alpha a wonderful experience where I was able to ease out of my social isolation and open my heart to others. We asked tough questions, listened to each other, and shared our experiences. I realized that I was not alone in my doubts and questions and that others had concerns they were struggling with as well. It came to be that as a group, we could help each other through these difficulties.
The highlight of my Alpha experience was the weekend away. Though I was apprehensive at first about leaving my teenage son alone and I had some stress at work, God provided and cleared the way for a wonderful experience. The best part was the topic of the gathering – the Holy Spirit. It was wonderful to have different churches and people of all ages interacting and glorifying God together, witnessing and sharing in his glory. I felt a burden lifted and the Holy Spirit working in my life during this retreat.
Alpha as a whole was amazing and I grew because of it. I encourage the members of our church to participate if they feel led. The experience taught me the importance of belonging to a church community and to have intentional fellowship, encourage others, share and discuss our faith with others, and to talk about difficult things in a safe place. This experience has encouraged me to be more active at church, to seek God actively and learn all I can. I kept the brochure that crossed my path that very first day to remind me of the fact that God is always working in my life. Life’s journey is filled with great times and hard times, but God is with us through it all, giving us comfort, joy, and help. We just need to ask for, listen to, and accept his grace.