It was the kind of call no parent wants to get.
“Good evening, Mr. Ortiz. There has been a shooting. We have your daughter in the O.R. Please come right away.”
It was an impossible drive down to the hospital—John’s mind flickering with a flurry of images of Marcela’s past, present, and hope for the future—all of them fighting for position at the front of his mind. He loved his daughter so much. So much had happened to bring them back together. Was he driving there to bring her home?
Or to say goodbye?
The answer would be, neither.
When John Ortiz invited Jesus into his heart in 2002, it wasn’t because he came to the realization that he was a sinner; he had lived by the sin code for years. But as a drug-addled meth head and dealer running from the law, and whose wife just left him and took his daughter, he had finally found the end of a very long leash he had been straining against for most of his life. And now, without any more hope for another reprieve, he was tired, miserable, and done. Suddenly, God’s voice, the one that had called out to him on several occasions, was clearer than ever before. Come with Me. Wouldn’t you like to have a new life?
The feeling he experienced when he said yes to Jesus was greater than any high he had ever known before—and he had tried them all. Each day felt like a gift to be in a relationship with Jesus, God Almighty—his Friend and Savior. John was finally, permanently filled with joy and hope. He could hardly contain himself.
John was finally, permanently filled with joy and hope. He could hardly contain himself.
He thought about his beautiful daughter, Marcela, and prayed a prayer he knew was unique among parents. He didn’t pray for good grades, or a promising career, or even safety. All he prayed was that she would one day be God’s. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else was that good or beautiful.
One evening while at Rock Church, John brought Marcela with him, 20 years old, and found himself praying for her the entire time as Pastor Miles spoke about the love of Jesus. It just so happened, it was one of the very few times when Pastor Miles didn’t make an altar call. “What?” John said to himself. “Of all nights!”
“I want to talk to the pastor,” Marcela said as she stood.
John’s pulse spiked. “We’re going to have to hustle,” he said, realizing that their seat in the last row of the balcony was going to allow a flood of people to get between them and Pastor Miles. Would they ever be able to find him having to fight through that many people? Wouldn’t Pastor Miles, tired from a full day of preaching, already be gone?
Arriving in the lobby after several minutes, they noticed him speaking with a man whose detailed explanation of his life seemed to hold him there longer than normal. John’s eyes lit up with gratitude.
When he was finally able to introduce Marcela, he gave them some space to talk. After a conversation, Pastor Miles led her to Christ right then and there.
It was a glorious day; God had answered John’s most fervent prayer. Marcela now belonged to God.
When John arrived at Marcela’s bedside, her heart was beating—but she was unconscious and not coming back. Earlier that night, Marcela had attended a party where a neighborhood boy was made to feel foolish by another young man. The boy went home and returned with a gun. When he saw the young man’s car, he sprayed into it. Marcela happened to be standing just beyond the car.
Lying in the hospital bed with her eyes closed and her brain shut down, Marcela passed without John getting a chance to say goodbye. It was an unthinkable way to conclude life with his beautiful daughter. She had just graduated and was looking forward to a career in the skin-care industry. Best of all, she was a new creature in Christ, and life together was going to be a joyful sharing of their walk with Him.
It was a deeply painful time, but while John could have plummeted, God regularly reminded him of his prayer.
It was a deeply painful time, but while John could have plummeted, God regularly reminded him of his prayer. John, you always said you wanted Marcela to be Mine, and now she is—with Me forever. I have given you your greatest hope.
It was just enough to get him through the day, and then another. “I’m just going to trust You that there’s a reason why,” he prayed, “because I don’t understand.”
Soon, he would.
John’s ex-wife wondered how it was that he was getting through the ordeal with so much hope.
“I know where Marcela is,” came John’s reply, “and I know that I’m going there too. I’m going to see and be with her again. Do you know where you’re going to be?”
The funeral was a celebration about Jesus, the faithful Savior who had come into Marcela’s heart and given her the assurance of eternal life. Many people there that day made decisions for Christ, including her mother, grandfather, and many others; everywhere, the tears seemed to flow without restraint. Many were for the loss of Marcela. But many were motivated by joy and gratitude for a new life of hope with God. It was a glorious day. In fact, Marcela’s mom, moved by the forgiveness she received from Jesus, forgave Marcela’s shooter and struck up a friendship with his mother. The two women now go into prisons and share their forgiveness and tragedy-to-glory story. It’s called Moms with a Message. And incarcerated young men and women are coming to know Jesus.
For John, it is confirmation of God’s loving plan and purpose of Marcela’s life. And while he may not have gotten to have a final goodbye, he knows there will be another hello.