From Fragile Soul to Faithful Advocate
When Bethzaida Garcia, a pastor’s daughter in Puerto Rico, was 17, she fell in love. But that love turned to shame when she gave birth to a baby out of wedlock.
Because she wanted to take the stigma away, and honor her parents, Garcia married the father of her child.
“In my culture, my condition was a great downfall,” she says. “He was the complete opposite of what I had learned a man should be.”
However, the disgrace continued as Beth’s husband became abusive. The beatings occurred repeatedly, but Garcia continued to think her husband would change. She believed he deserved a second chance, and that she was closing a chapter of shame in her life by staying married to him. And she loved him.
Then came the day that would change her life forever. When she arrived home from work an argument with her husband turned violent, more than ever before.
“He held me captive after beating me with a broomstick in the back, and fracturing my nose with his knuckles,” Garcia recalls. “I remember spilling so much blood, while he dragged me by the hair. His punches would splatter my blood on the walls, as I tried to cover my face.”
Garcia cried out to God, vowing to leave her husband if she survived. That day she felt like a worthless woman who didn’t deserve any love, and even though she had faith, she hadn’t forgiven herself for previous mistakes.
“God heard my prayer that day, and granted my request to live,” Garcia says. With her daughter Beangely, Garcia in 2001 moved to the U.S. as a wounded, depressed woman. She had less than $1,000 as she looked for a place to hide.
“I had to leave all the things I knew, my language, my work, friends and family, and settle on an unknown future,” Garcia remembers.
Garcia’s pastor from Puerto Rico, Isabelita Cruz, came to visit her and invited her to Iglesia El Calvario , an Assemblies of God church in Orlando, Florida, pastored by Nino and Abigail Gonzalez.
“I remember crying in every service as God healed my heart,” says Garcia, who joined the choir. When Garcia learned that her abusive husband was looking for her in the U.S., church members helped protect her. Garcia made the difficult decision to enter the Help Now of Osceola shelter for domestic violence victims.
She was also hired to a teaching assistant position, to work with special education students, and learned how to speak English. Within a year, with help from other agencies, she was able first to rent an apartment, then buy a house. The Mustard Seed of Central Florida gave her furniture and household items. She was then hired as a full-time special education teacher.
“Even though life was getting better for me, every time I looked in the mirror, my nose was a reminder of my abuser,” Garcia recalls. “It was hard to breathe, and even taste.” She received information on a program for domestic violence survivors, called Face to Face, that connects survivors to plastic surgeons. Beth underwent an operation as part of surgeon Edward Farrior’s community philanthropic work.
“Now when I look in the mirror, I see a survivor, not a victim,” she says.
Garcia wanted to develop a support group at Calvario to create awareness and be an advocate, especially to Hispanics. God started waking her up at night, impressing upon her Proverbs 24:11-12, which says, “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.”
After speaking with Nino Gonzalez, who also serves as the district superintendent for the Florida Multicultural District Council, Garcia started a Fragile Soul ministry at the church. Through a seminar to prepare leaders to work with survivors and to create ministries in local churches, many women have been blessed.
“Beth has allowed God to use her own experience as a domestic violence survivor to share His redeeming power,” Gonzalez says. “She has gained the respect of local, city, and state government officials, and has been part of many task forces regarding family and healthy living.”
Garcia has obtained a master’s degree in counseling from the Ana G. Méndez Orlando campus, which helped her develop a broader knowledge of domestic violence. She created the nonprofit organization called Life In Your Hands, which has gained recognition as an authoritative organization regarding domestic violence. Hundreds attend her seminars, and at churches she has trained leaders in starting a ministry to domestic violence victims (see http://women.ag.org/ for some of Garcia’s tips).
Today, Garcia is married to Victor Muños, and they have a daughter, Summer. Garcia has received multiple awards as a result of her work with domestic violence victims. She now serves as a member of the executive board of Help Now of Osceola, the shelter that helped her. She continues to train faith-based organizations to deal with domestic violence, and connects with local shelters and elected officials to make them aware that funds are needed in the community to help fight domestic violence.
IMAGE - Bethzaida Garcia (third from left) participates in a recent march raising awareness of domestic violence.