Years ago Javier Garcia and a buddy would saunter into a smoky bar and challenge any takers to a game of futbolín (table soccer, or foosball).
Men hanging around the foosball table were quick to lay down their money, taking the youngsters for easy marks. Little did they know these slim teenagers could thrash anybody in the barrios of Zaragoza, Spain.
The 2 won game after game, often doubling the stakes, until they had scooped up everybody's money. Then they scurried out of the bar -- sometimes running for their lives to escape the angry losers.
Javier no longer hustles people for money, though he still has that same confident spirit, which he puts to good use as director of Agape Europe (Cru in Western Europe). But confidence is just one side of this Spaniard's personality.
"Look at the sea," Javier comments as he nibbles fried octopus. "Isn't it beautiful?" It turns out he loves the sea, along with swimming, painting and walking on the beach with his wife, Gema.
Such activities bring balance. And Javier would say balance is vital to long-term success. Though the many facets of his character sometimes oppose each other, he's learned to maintain a healthy tension between them.
Javier is a man of action, yet needs time for contemplation. He's a leader among Spanish evangelicals, yet has excellent relationships with believers in the Catholic leadership. And though a visionary, he can lay out practical steps to meet a challenge.
This last quality is sorely needed in Western Europe. Agape works in 15 countries, with many cultures and languages, and historical roots going back to the time of Christ. Yet Europeans have largely abandoned their Christian heritage and have little hope for the future.
When Javier began leading Agape Europe 2 years ago, a chief desire was to see staff members live out the hope that is in the gospel. He believes that if God's people are visible in society, and united, then the world will realize there is hope.
Such convictions do not come naturally to believers in Spain, where Javier led the ministry for 18 years. Spaniards today deeply suspect anything to do with religion, and evangelicals comprise less than 1 percent of the population.
Javier's views may well stem from the faith-stretching days when God stirred the Spanish staff members to believe that He could indeed fulfill Christ's Great Commission to make disciples in all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) in their generation.
"This internal conviction of the Spirit gave us new wings," says Javier. "We began to believe it was possible to reach the 4 million adolescents in our country, the 1.5 million university students, the 22 regions. Our vision grew, which drew youth, for the greater your vision, the more attractive you are."
Javier first became aware of the gospel message when he was a high-school student. Staff member Félix Ortiz saw Javier and his friends in a park and asked them to take a spiritual survey.
The survey led to the Four Spiritual Laws, an evangelistic booklet, and then to a Bible study about the uniqueness of Jesus.
Though Javier had grown up with a religious background, his family seldom went to church, and he knew nothing of a personal relationship with Jesus.
After 5 meetings with Félix, Javier gave his life to Christ.
Two years later, tragedy marked his life. His father went in for routine surgery, and a medical error caused his death. "This pushed me into ministry," says Javier today. "I saw that life was short, and we must help people understand the gospel, because you never know what will happen tomorrow."
In college, Javier joined the small band of believers in Agape and learned to tell others about Christ. One student caught his eye -- a spunky young woman named Gema, which means "gem" in Spanish.
The 2 married in 1981, the same year they joined Agape, and eventually had 2 children, Lidia and Josué. "Gema really is a precious stone," says Javier. "I'm fortunate to have such a jewel as my wife."
Once married, Javier and Gema continued to reach out to students any way possible, whether that meant plastering buildings with "I Found It!" posters or carrying a coffin across campus to advertise a multi-media outreach called "If I Should Die."
As the years went by, the couple worked with or helped launch nearly every Agape ministry in Spain -- campus, high school, Athletes in Action, humanitarian-aid work and more. At age 28, Javier became the Agape director for the country.
"In many ways," says Javier, "I am the Cru prototype -- contacted through a survey while a student, trusted Christ through the basic materials, grew in discipleship and leadership within the movement."
Such far-ranging experience gives Javier a well-balanced understanding of the ministry, for he has lived nearly all of it.
As the Spanish ministry prospered under his leadership, however, Javier's life grew slowly out of balance.
"Sometimes when one is in charge," he explains, "you begin to think you are everybody's father." So concerned was he about staff members that he tried to solve all their problems, which led to deep anxiety and, ultimately, panic attacks.
"I had to take medication for three years," he says, "but the Lord taught me He is over all things. We are simply His servants, broken vessels He can use."
Over the years, this perspective has allowed him to balance national responsibilities with personal ministry, mentoring a diplomat and several businessmen, while also counseling couples.
Even today, despite his heavy leadership responsibilities, Javier gives attention to personal ministry. He works closely with EMSI -- a medical mission organization -- and has helped lead mission trips to Burkina Faso in Africa.
"Javier shares my vision of using medicine as a channel to transmit the gospel," says Angel Olmo, a surgeon who leads EMSI, "and he has helped me integrate my medical work with God's call on my life."
"Javier knows how to motivate people," agrees businessman Joan Marc Monso. "In 2002 he encouraged us to begin a group promoting spiritual growth and evangelism among businessmen in Spain." That group became Synesis, another key avenue for Javier's personal ministry.
In fact, Javier feels quite comfortable connecting with influential people in society. Had he not joined the ministry, he might well have become a leader in business or politics.
On his first trip to Rome, Javier visited the Forum. He stood in the middle of the room where the Roman Senate had met, enchanted, thinking of the influence that once radiated from this spot.
"I would have liked to be a Roman senator," he whispered to Gema.
"I like the world of politics," he explained later. "But politicians are limited to bringing change through legislation. The spiritual world can produce change on a more profound level."
So he and Gema criss-cross the continent, motivating believers to be people of hope who represent Christ with pride and courage.
And when work allows, Javier grabs a paintbrush or slips away to the beach. There's nothing like sand between the toes to add a little balance in a busy life.
Students across Europe are willing to hear an ancient story when it is presented in one of many new ways.
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