Zoilita and Osvaldo Garcia

by | Jul 27, 2020

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Ephesians 4:15-16

It seems that marriage has fallen out of fashion these days, and the COVID-19 pandemic might further suppress it. The marriage rate in the United States fell to 7.9 per 1,000 people in 1932, down from 12.0 in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression. The marriage rate reached an all-time high at 16.4 per 1,000 people in 1946. The marriage rate has been falling since 1982, and in 2018 the rate fell to 6.5, the lowest level since the government started keeping track in 1867.

So the concept of an enduring marriage—a long-term partnership in life and love and, in our case, ministry—seems mythic, almost like an unattainable goal.

As I write this, many of us are praying for Shirley and Charlie Castles. Shirley suffered a massive brain aneurysm in the night between Friday and Saturday this weekend, and though she was sent by ambulance to Huntington Hospital, she has been in a coma and is now in palliative care. Given the COVID-related restrictions on hospital visits, it was all Charlie and his daughters could do to get in to visit, but they were able to spend one hour with her, and brought in an iPad so that Shirley’s mother and a few other family members could join them virtually. On last report, Shirley is resting on a bed of morphine, and while they would love a miracle to happen, the family is bracing to lose this life force of love, energy, and care for so many, including many at Monte Vista Grove Homes, where the Castles live. Once Diane Frasher and I were talking about a group activity she was planning to start at Monte Vista that Shirley had once led, and when I asked if Shirley could help with this, Diane said “Well I can ask, but she’s already doing like 75 other things right now.”

Charlie shared how he is grateful for 43 years of life together, for their two daughters, for some travel they have done recently, for enjoying their first grandchild (who is all of 7 months old), and for the perfectly lovely day and weeks before the aneurysm, which came with no warning at all. We pray that the Spirit of healing and comfort may fill the hearts of Shirley, Charlie, and all who love them.

Along with this prayer of concern, we also have much to celebrate. On July 21, 1960, Osvaldo Garcia was ordained into ministry, and on July 25, 1960, Osvaldo and Zoila were married. This last weekend, Zoilita and Osvaldo’s loving and lively family held a “drive-by” 60th wedding anniversary celebration, marking six decades of love and family and ministry.

Zoilita told me that it was important that Osvaldo was ordained first, if only for a few days. Back then, the Presbyterian Church in Cuba was part of the Synod of New Jersey, and Zoilita’s father was the superintendent of the Cuba ministry for the Synod. The expectation was that seminarians should not be married, so he needed to be ordained before their wedding! Then as now, they did things in an orderly but very efficient manner.

Osvaldo graduated from Matanzas and was ordained to serve the Presbyterian church in Sancti Spíritus in Las Villas Province, Cuba. This was a large church with a Presbyterian school, with good Cuban Presbyterian teachers. Zoilita remembers with gratitude the strong witness of teachers and pastors, and the wonderful fellowship and gathering of churches each year for an intensive week of fellowship, fun,

and studying the Bible. All this laid the basis for a strong spiritual life for many, a fruitful ministry that continues today. This was noted when several PC(USA) leaders visited the Sancti Spiritus church in 2018. A Presbyterian News article describes the work—and dance!—they are doing with children in a poor barrio in the city.

The Garcias came to Southern California in 1972 and served Emmanuel for 30 years, and they thank God for this long life of joint ministry, enjoying great company and great fellowship in the Presbyterian Church, in Cuba and here in San Gabriel Presbytery.

In my few years with this presbytery, I have many reasons to thank God for their joy and energy, ever present in the life of San Gabriel. I love seeing them at every Presbytery meeting, and presbytery events such as a celebration like La Verne Heights’ 50th Anniversary, and the Presbytery Work Day. Here is Osvaldo clearing cobwebs as part of the 2017 Work Day team, sprucing up Puente de Esperanza’s new home in La Puente.

But I have also witnessed Osvaldo’s sensitive and articulate way of explaining our peculiar Presbyterian approach to the world to a pastor new to our tradition.

What a wonderful witness to God’s faithfulness and love! May we ever give thanks to God for the beautiful partnerships of love and ministry that we see in Shirley and Charlie Castles, and in Zoilita and Osvaldo Garcia. We know their love will last an eternity, and we pray that we all may enjoy their love for many years to come, in spirit and here on this earth. We know that they have made their own loving and faithful imprints on their world: on their children and grandchildren, on their church members, and on all who came to know God’s grace better through their lives.

Whether we are blessed with a life partner or not, we can all enjoy and love and learn from each other in our family of Christ. Thanks be to God!

In Christ’s love,