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Helping Philippines at Christmas to continue well after the holiday

December 24, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

As Christmas Day approaches, the minister of the Word for the World Christian Fellowship of Southwest Florida, noted that while giving through love to those who need help, the help often must continue.

Vicente Garcia, from the Philippines, is the pastor of a church at 1050 Joel Blvd. that has a membership of about 50 of which the congregation is multi-cultured, he said.

"But a large amount of the congregation are from the Philippines and five families of the congregation have close relatives in the Latin American territory of the U.S. and lost much of what they had, including their homes during the November Typhoon Haiuyan which occurred on Nov. 8 with sustained winds of 195 miles per hour.

Article Photos

Pastor Vicente Garcia and his wife, Camille.

"It was the strongest storm that ever hit landfall," Garcia said.

More than 6,000 people died and at present, there are still 1,779 people who are missing and 27,665 were injured and 11 million people were affected," Garcia said.

He is ordained through The Church of God and also works locally for Homeland Security by day at the Southwest Regional International Airport as he continues to help the church grow.

"It did not take us long to come together as a church and send money to the victims of the families who were affected. It is something that continues even today," Garcia said.

"The Christmas season is about love and the birth of Christ and spreading our love in giving just as God loved us so much that he gave his son to die for our sins," Garcia said.

Garcia is a man well regarded among his congregation.

Michael Swords, one of the members of the seven-member church board, said Garcia is regarded as "a really nice guy," and his personality comes through as one who wants to share his love for his fellow man.

He came to the U.S. from the Philippines and ministered in Tennessee and then Miami and then he moved to Lehigh Acres to open a church. He was in Tennessee for seven years and then in 1996 went to Miami. A few years ago is when he came to Lehigh to start a new church.

At present, the church rents space in the former Elks building on Joel Blvd. Its address is 205 Joel Blvd., Suite 400 in Lehigh. Garcia's wife works for Regents Bank in Lehigh.

"Our church has a significant amount of people from the Philippines in the congregation; therefore the tragedy in the Philippines has hit close to home though loss of life and economic disaster as their homes were demolished.

"There are some who would hope in the midst of this national disaster, that will take decades to try and recover from, that they might be able to obtain hardship visas for their parents and other loved ones to come to the U.S. The church also has close ties through the Church of God for anyone interested in helping to send support for the Philippino people," said Swords.

The Church of God is headquartered in Cleveland, Tenn., and in the Philippines, the main office or headquarters is Makati City, according to Pastor Garcia.

He said there are about seven million members of the Church of God around the world.

"As soon as the disaster hit the Philippines, a prayer alert went out through the church's networks around the world. And the people came together to help those in the Philippines who lost everything they had," Garcia said.

"We sent money to help victims from families of our church directly to them and every dollar is worth 42 pesos which meant that the American dollar went to buy more because of its additional worth in the Philippines," Garcia noted.

When asked how others in the U.S., could help out he said they could go online to the international church's site at: and give through that site.

"It will take a long time before there will be full recovery," he said.

Garcia and his wife, Camille are planning a visit back to the Philippines next November for a major church conference. He said that the Church of God is the only Christian church in Southeast Asia.

The disaster was also personal for him and his wife. His wife's family was affected as they lost their home.

But his mother-in-law who is 83 who was unable to be evacuated, survived in the kitchen. Her bedroom ceiling collapsed and the whole house was flooded. All was lost.

"She has had no water and no electricity since the terrible typhoon. But electricity is being restored slowly and it is extending into the rural areas in which his wife's family lives.

"After a short while when there were no communications, we all prayed for those who needed help. Then we were able to talk to her and we have kept up with her ever since," he said.

One woman of the church and her son returned to the Philippines to see her family. Garcia said she works at Publix on SR82 and they were kind enough to okay her taking off to return to her homeland.

Garcia's church planned a Dec. 22 presentation with the choir performing. And on January 26 of 2014, Garcia said there will be a special program with Dr. Larry Hess as a special speaker from the worldwide church.

Garcia works at the airport without pay because the church is not yet large enough to pay him a salary. He is part of the federal forces who aid people through security lines before they are allowed to board a flight to make sure nothing gets on a plane that can cause problems.

He says Lehigh Acres has a great potential for its future, but he recognizes the fact that it needs more job opportunities which means jobs in Lehigh are needed for local residents.

The church meets on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. for worship and Sunday school is also held there. On Wednesday nights at 7 p.m., the church holds services.

"We are a growing church and we have members from all ethnic backgrounds. We welcome new members to join us. We are a friendly church and we care about people," Garcia said.

"Here at Christmas, we can't forget those in the Phillipines whose families live in Lehigh Acres.

"While it may be Christmas, the love and giving doesn't stop there. We continue to give in God's love for their needs," Garcia said.



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