EDITOR’S NOTE: The following feature was first published in the Pleasanton Express on Sept. 30, 2015, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Since 1987 when Pastor Juan Florez accepted the call to become pastor at Hosanna Baptist Church in Poteet, he has seen many changes. What was once a small church has flourished and expanded into other churches throughout Atascosa County.
He and wife Elva have also endured the painful loss of two of their children: Reba in August of 2012, who was 19 and Xavier in August of 2013, who was in his mid-30s.
Many in the community questioned how something could happen to such a family. However, Florez’s advice is, “You need to prepare for the storm, before the storm.”
Florez was born in Carrizo Springs. At the age of 6, his family traveled back and forth to Colorado as migrants. He remembers being at a Spanishspeaking Presbyterian church and sitting in the front pew while listening to a preacher from Cuba. He told himself he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up.
His siblings learned how to play music and sing and their father used their talents to play at dances, quinceañeras and other events. This resulted in Florez getting away from attending church.
“At the age of 28, God knocked on my door and said, ‘I am here for the request you made at 6,’” said Florez.
When he was older, Florez was pursuing a career as a Tejano singer.
“At 28, two weeks before going to record, they spoke to me about Jesus. My lifetime dream had been fulfilled to come to Texas and be a musician. I went to record and two weeks later, I turned my back on Tejano music to go study at Baptist University of the Americas as a Baptist minister,” said Florez. (Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary at the time, in San Antonio).
Florez started in 1985 and arrived at Hosanna Baptist in 1987. It seemed like the perfect fit, as Florez was looking for somewhere closer to school, since he was still in Carrizo Springs.
He went to Colorado and learned how to start churches from Oct. 1997- May 1998. He then sought others to start churches and it started growing. They now have churches in Leming, Pleasanton, Charlotte and just started one in Jourdanton. They are looking at Rossville now.
They hold a Spanish service at 9 a.m. and all- English service at 11 a.m. He has seen many different backgrounds and races attending the 11 a.m. service.
He said they exemplify the gospel through their food pantry, recovery program, classes for those pursuing college, computer classes and Bible study. They also have a small recording studio, children’s building, nursery and Prayer Garden.
Preparing for the storm
Florez discussed the topic of dealing with loss, in the sermon, “Praising God Through the Storms.”
He advises others to be ready for difficult times by reading their Bible and standing on the promises of God.
“A world without God, is a world without hope. If we had not had God in our lives, it would have been disastrous for us, to lose those two children … Xavier, who played the guitar and composed songs and Reba, who just started going to UTSA.”
Reba had wanted to study to be a doctor. Her plans included going to Africa and India and ministering to children. A few weeks into her studies is when her vision problems began. Doctors told her she had a mass. After surgery, she battled it for two months and then passed away at the family’s home.
“Faith leads to hope and hope leads to peace. If you don’t have faith in anything, then you don’t have hope in anything. If you don’t have hope, you are trying to find something to hold onto. But because we placed our faith in God and His promises, that we will see our children again, that is what we hold onto.”
At the same time that the Florez family lost Reba and Xavier, nationally known pastors Rick Warren and Greg Laurie each lost a child. Florez said it brought them strength in a way, knowing they were not the only ones.
“Our question should not be, ‘Why us?’ but, ‘Why not us?’ Why are we so special?” said Florez.
“God knows our hearts and He knows that whatever the storm, at the end of it, we will still be standing.”
Florez also reminds everyone that just as the storms of life come, they go and they do not last forever.
“We couldn’t believe it was happening to us, after our son passed away, we pulled back, sat down and thought, ‘Why not us?’”
Florez shared a story about a woman who lost her husband and then lost her son five months later.
“As long as we are living on this earth, we live in the dangers of this world.”
“Bottom line, do we believe what we preach, or are they just words? For example, when I was at Methodist Hospital with my daughter, a pastor called and said, ‘We have been preaching faith, hope, courage, comfort and now it is time for you to live it.’”
Florez said his family’s loss has opened up the door to many who want to talk to them. They want to know if they are feeling normally, thinking normally. They question if how they feel is a part of grief.
Pastor Florez also heard from a lady in Houston who had met Reba at the hospital. She shared how people need to pray for their pastor and his family, because many are looking up to them and they are very scared. In other words, other people are thinking, “If this happened to them, who are close to God, can you imagine where we would be if it happened to us?”
Another woman who lost a daughter spoke to Florez’s daughter Shellie and said she wanted to talk to her mom, Elva. The woman said she needed to talk to someone who had been through what she was going through.
Photos of Reba and Xavier grace Florez’s office. She was PHS Homecoming Queen and excelled in several sports and band. Xavier composed songs, educated himself in computers and worked at Jourdanton and Pleasanton ISD.
“He had a song ‘Living in a Mansion’ and now he is in a mansion,” said Florez.
He has seen changes in his children Shellie and John. The two have a closer walk with God and realize that you can be here today and gone tomorrow.
Florez shared how he has been on both sides regarding death. Reba’s was a long, 10 months while Xavier’s was sudden.
“Xavier came to my house and was proud of our grandson, because he had shared when he grew up he wanted to be a pastor. It was Shellie’s birthday coming up, and Xavier saw Shellie, hugged her, kissed her and said, ‘I love you, sister,’ and drove off.”
Fifteen minutes later they received a call that Xavier had been in a terrible accident. Two hours later they learned he had died.
“One interesting thing is, he had the sense he was going to go. He told his wife just days before, ‘I am ready to go, but I want God to take me quickly.’”
Xavier did not want to linger in a hospital like his sister.
“He died Wednesday and Friday the investigating officer told us they finished the investigation. It was ruled an accident. The other man fell asleep, no alcohol was involved.”
The officer started walking away then turned and said, “If it is any comfort, your son died instantly.” That is the way he went.
The other man was sent via Air-Life and in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Florez’s grandson was on the driver’s side. He ran to the gas station, called 911 and walked back and not a scratch on him.
In October, the family received a flag from a Sailor who had followed Reba’s story on the Pleasanton Express web site. The flag had been flown half-mast in Hawaii. When Reba passed, the serviceman told Xavier that Reba had impacted his life. He gave them a shirt that said, “Don’t give up the ship.”
The family was comforted by the rather large prayer vigil, over 700 people, that gathered for Reba at the Atascosa River Park before her death.
Shellie gets a lot of messages from people, asking how they are doing. She has been called to sing at women’s conferences and share her testimony. Florez’s wife Elva is working on a book of poetry.
Florez shared a few points as far as what to say to others who have lost someone. He advises that there is a right time and a wrong time.
“We will go out to eat. We are laughing and eating and someone will come up and say, ‘I am sorry, I don’t know what to tell you. I love you all.’ Then they walk away.”
His other advice is to just be there for someone.
“Many times they will not remember what you said, because they are in a daze of trying to take it in. The worst thing is for you to try and remember a speech to give them, when all they will remember is that you were there.”
He also shared how many times spouses need to simply listen to each other and not interrupt, especially in a time of need.
Another gentleman who lost his wife told Florez that he did not appreciate people coming to see him and saying the standard funeral cliches like, “She is in a better place.”
“I know she is,” said the man. “I don’t need you to preach to me. I just need you to listen to me.”
“Paul the Apostle said that it is okay to cry, but don’t cry like those who have no hope,” said Florez. “There are some that say, I will never see them again, crying and screaming… they want to throw themselves into the coffin, because they have no hope of seeing them again. Those that have hope, they know they will see them again.”
“There is a scripture, ‘For to me to live is Christ, to die it is much better.’ As long as I live on this earth, I will live for Christ when it is time for death, I am going to a better place.”
He said at night he will ask his wife if she is ready to go through what Christians in Syria are going through.
“And she says, whatever it takes. Of course, We don’t think a person should take their lives, so we have to wait.”
He also said that when they are in the sanctuary, it is soothing and comforting to see Shellie and John. They have never felt that they could not go back after the loss of their children.
“To see them singing and continuing, and getting better, it is comforting. Instead of us going in there with a broken heart, we go in there with a joyful, anticipating heart.”
When he was buying shoes for Reba, he heard her voice say that you don’t need shoes in heaven.
“We have to believe that there is a heaven. Paul said, if there is no Resurrection, then our faith is in vain, everything we have been telling people is in vain and people are still in their sins and there is no hope. But we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus and because we believe, there is hope for us.”