It’s a typical August day in Central Texas, hot and humid, and while everyone else is in search of shade, Leilisa Garma, Tia Freeman, and Chris Gamble stand out in the sun unfazed. Every few minutes they’re interrupted; everyone knows them and asks to take a selfie. After the hugs and the “how are yous,” they go back to laughing amongst themselves.
“Television, movies, drawing… lots of drawing, that’s how we became friends,” Tia mentioned in another burst of laughter.
“And I met Chris ‘cause we were in band together; I played saxophone and he –” “I played trumpet,” Chris interrupted Leilisa, and yet again, more laughter.
Leilisa, a member of the Church Of Christ, grew up in a military family, which led to their being stationed in Killeen, Texas, home to the largest U.S. military installation in the world, Fort Hood. It was while she attended classes at Patterson Middle School that she met Tia. Their mutual love for drawing and anime led them to countless sleepovers at Leilisa’s house.
“She (Leilisa) always just brought me to church,” Tia said. “If she was there, I was there; we used to have church (worship service) on Saturdays, so I would sleepover at her house and just attend that morning.”
It was Leilisa’s consistency in inviting Tia to attend the various activities of the Iglesia Ni Cristo that sparked Tia’s interest in learning more about the Church, even at a young age.
“I was used to going to a church where their form of worship was very loud and very rowdy,” Tia said. “I couldn’t get to heart of whatever message they were trying to portray, and when I did it wasn’t anything substantial. In the Church Of Christ, the worship is solemn and calm, but most of all the Message comes straight from the Bible.”
“It’s also homier here,” Chris interjected, “like everyone is so warm and accepting, like family. I didn’t get that where I was going before.” Chris joined the Church in 2014, introduced in the same manner — by Leilisa’s consistent invitations.
Now, four years later, they have all moved away from Killeen; Leilisa is studying nursing in El Paso, where her family is now based, Tia is studying forensic chemistry at Sam Houston State just outside of Houston and Chris is studying cyber security at Texas A&M. But on this hot August day in Killeen, Texas they’re reunited, not to hang out like old times, but to celebrate God’s continuous blessings, in the place they consider home, even after all these years. They’ve each driven hours to Kileen to be part of the dedication of the house of worship of Copperas Cove officiated by the Executive Minister. In his homily, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo stressed how true members can maintain and increase their efforts in the true worship to the Almighty God. As he continued in his lesson, he focused more closely on the youth, sharing his concern on how easy it is nowadays to fall into sinfulness.
“I don’t really know what I would be doing if I wasn’t in the Church,” Tia mentioned. “Just being in school is not easy, and living far away from home — I need that place where I can turn to, where I can always call on God.”
The Executive Minister’s concern for the youth is not new to Leilisa. Born and raised in the Church Of Christ, she always made an effort to invite her friends to Church activities even in her youth. “It was important for my friends to join the Church, because this is God’s last work of salvation. There is no time to waste, and being able to know my friends and I will see each other in the Holy City just makes me happy and it also brings glory to God.”
Like what was mentioned in the lesson taught by Brother Eduardo, Leilisa’s prayer is that the ones she introduced to the Church at a young age continue to stay firm in their faith, until the end.
“You know, when Chris went to school in San Antonio, I called one of our mutual friends there just to make sure he was still attending the worship service,” said Leilisa. Chris gives Leilisa a puzzled look; he had never heard this story from Leilisa before. “And I asked: ‘Does Chris still attend worship services?’ Her answer surprised me; not only is Chris still attending worship service, but many times he’s the first and last to leave the chapel.”
Chris’ face quickly breaks into a smile and the three erupt once more in laughter, more proof that God not only kept strong their friendship, but more importantly, their faith.
As the day came to a close, and the three head back to their new homes, new school year, new challenges, they leave thankful to have witnessed the local congregation of Copperas Cove celebrate a new era in their history, and thankful that a new house of worship now stands for many more generations, regardless of age, to be introduced to the truth. Just like they were not too long ago.
Written by Tyler Toledo
Tyler Toledo has lived most of his life in Southern Midwest. As an organist and the Multimedia Bureau Director, he spends a lot of time on the road, going documenting the various activities in the district and performing in worship services in the growing number of congregations in the district. When he’s not performing his duty, and he always is, he’s catching up with friends at a local coffee shop, in whatever city he might be on that day.