I only met Juan Garcia once. I was asked to visit him on September 15. For a couple of hours in a cold room in Livingston, Texas, we talked. With an unforgiving deadline approaching fast, the last things were at the forefront of our minds. For most people, eschatology or the study of destiny is a theoretical conversation. When one is scheduled to be executed on October 6, you're not all that concerned with the theoretical.
"Do you think I'm going to die?" The question was the toughest I'd ever encountered. Despite the fact that I knew the answer, I had to name it. "I cannot imagine a circumstance in which you won't be executed." Though I felt like my response was cold, the words loosened Juan up. We began our journey back to the future.
The stories of persons on death row always begin far before the murders. Drugs and abuse are common elements. In a short period of time, Juan tried to tell me all that he could. On multiple occasions, I got lost in the intensity of it all. When Juan expressed his regret over the murder, I looked him straight in the eye and said, "You're forgiven."
"What is salvation?" I don't think about the definition of salvation too often...I'm too busy living it. Nevertheless, I blurted out what came to my mind first, "We are saved when we place our faith in love." Since God is love, I have always believed that love is our only way of knowing the divine. "I choose love." Even as time has put distance between us, Juan's answer festers in my soul.
The last topic was one we all think about...whether we admit it or not. "What will the judgment be like?" Growing up, I was always terrified of death. Our pastors constantly talked about fire and damnation. I was never able to shake the belief that the flames were for me. When I accepted the call to ministry, I promised God I would never talk like that. I haven't. After a quick silent prayer, I leaned in and declared, "Imagine encountering a love so powerful that it burns up all the evil within you and transforms all the love within you into something eternal." Juan's eyes started to water up. "I believe." In the power of that moment, I knew that I did too.
Knowing that our time was coming to a close, I didn't know how to say goodbye for the first and last time. In the agony of trying to think of the right words to say, I was paralyzed. Sensing my timidity, Juan smiled and said, "I think I know what will draw us together again."
Our shared faith in love remains.