EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a monthly feature focused on “gems” in the Sea Coast Echo’s circulation area. This feature appears the first Saturday of each month. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and this “gem” shares her story of how anguishing spousal abuse early in her life led her to a vocation of helping abused women and troubled teen girls.
Libby Garcia has a warm smile, lives a comfortable life in the country and is a very active pastor at her church, Day Star, on Highway 603.
While she and her husband, Wyatte, are still busy in their 70s, they have slowed down considerably after fulfilling a calling to turn around the lives of abused women and troubled teen girls.
After marrying in 1988, they bought and renovated a boarded-up YMCA camp in Algiers, Louisiana, and became ordained ministers. They opened the first shelter for abused women and troubled girls in the New Orleans area and were quickly filled to capacity. Day Star Women’s Ministries was born.
“We filled up immediately,” she said. We would take up to 16 teenage girls and then a family of domestic abuse victims here or there.”
As needed and successful as the Algiers shelter was, being in the midst of bad influences in New Orleans was interfering with the troubled girls recovery program.
They decided to leave New Orleans and purchased property in Millard, Mississippi, owned by friends who were willing to sell it to Day Star Ministries.
“I had all these visions earlier in life and I saw a house and I saw all this about a girl’s home. We walked in the front door and it was the house in the vision and I about went on my knees right there. I knew instantly, of course, that that was the house.”
They renovated the house and built on the 21-acre property until they had 23,000 square feet of housing: a home for troubled teen girls and a shelter for domestic abuse victims.
“The whole property was for women, whether it was the girls’ home and school or the women’s shelter. We started our own school because these runaways and pregnant teens couldn’t go to public school. After they settled in they really liked it there. We had several of them that stayed three and four years. It was a 12-month program but they didn’t want to go home. Over a period of 20 years, my husband and I had more than 300 teenage girls who lived with us.”
Garcia’s success in her later adult life was, unfortunately, built on a cascade of tragedies that began in her teens.
She was raised in Arkansas and became an outspoken disciple of God at age 12. She describes herself then as being “rather obnoxious because all I could do was talk about the Lord.”
But soon after the afflictions of the world took over.
“I got sidetracked and ended up in that abyss, the pit. I wrote a poem about it: ‘the pit is black, my legs are lamed; the world is built on sorrow and shame,’ and as a 17 year old I’m experiencing that kind of depression?”
Garcia attended the University of Arkansas but had a breakdown her freshman year, went home, and “promptly got pregnant.” Marriage was the expected next step, but she explained that was a misstep.
“I had the baby and we made it about two years but he was young and I was young and we divorced. But then, I managed to be stupid and got into a relationship that was abusive. So, by the time I was 19, I was a teen mother, a divorcee, and involved in a relationship with a man who was very abusive.
“About every month I would get a good whooping. There were many times I felt like if I didn’t get away from him he was going to kill me. It didn’t matter what I did, it was wrong. I put up with that on and off for almost seven years. I’d leave and go back, leave and go back – the typical domestic abuse syndrome type thing. I had a child by him before finally fleeing to New Orleans.”
Every city has its dark side, and she found it in New Orleans right away.
“A friend from Arkansas worked the night scene in New Orleans because that’s what you could do when you had no college education and so I got into the night club work and it went from bad to worse.”
Men drifted in and out of her blurred life until one day she decided it all had to end.
“This day came when I sent my children home to their perspective fathers and I began to entertain suicide in a real way. My ex-mother in law in Arkansas picked up on my despair during a phone call and she bought me a plane ticket saying, ‘You need to come home. Don’t do this.’”
“On one hand I wanted to go home and on the other hand I wanted to jump off the Greater New Orleans Bridge.”
What happened next, tearfully related from her journal, was a miracle to her.
Just as her mind was made up to surrender to the pull of suicide, a naval officer, dressed in a white uniform that shimmered through her tears, quickly put her in a cab and paid the driver. Before she knew what was happening she was on the way to the airport.
Upon arrival she was rushed from the check-in counter to the gate and onto the plane. It wasn’t until she landed in Fort Smith, Arkansas, that she learned from her friend waiting for her that the plane had taxied back to the gate to pick Garcia up – something unheard of at the time.
“During the time I spent on the plane, my life went before me. The years from age 16 through age 27 were a haze to me like a horrible dream I had just awakened from.
She spent a month in the Ozarks healing her soul.
“God had forgiven me, but it took a long time for me to forgive myself of all the things I had done in my years away from Him,” she said. “One thing at a time would be remembered, then the sorrow, then the forgiveness. Over and over this went on until I was released from remorse and fears.”
Eight months later, Garcia returned to New Orleans, a different person pursuing a different life. She married a religious man who held a leadership position in a large and successful church, and they served together.
Life was tranquil until her husband left her. Shortly after, her pastor and church were brought down in scandal.
“I was so broken-hearted and God spoke as clearly to me as He ever has, ‘I didn’t call you to die with a broken heart. I called you to live with a broken heart.’”
And live she did, using her sorrows to pull other women and girls out of lives she could relate to so well. “Because of my mistakes and experiences as a teen mother and domestic abuse victim, I could relate to what they were going through and help prevent them from making mistakes again.”
Libby’s and Wyatte’s long and abundantly successful mission, however, came to an abrupt close in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in Jourdan River Estates.
With their world turned upside down, they could no longer devote themselves to the girls’ home, which they eventually sold in 2007 to Jacob’s Well, a women’s ministry. The domestic abuse shelter was subsequently sold to Teen Challenge, a women’s program, in 2010.
They eventually bought a building on Highway 603 to house their Day Star Church and just recently sold it to another women’s ministry, Christian Women’s Job Corp, thereby continuing the tradition of passing all of their ministry properties on to other ministries.
Their church is now housed in a smaller building on Highway 603 just north of Bayou La Croix Road.
With their ministry now at a slower pace, they can reflect on the miracles in their lives. As Garcia said with a contented smile, “And so here we are today with our little church and a big network of lovely women, and now their children. They are a great inspiration to us.”
While she no longer runs shelters, Garcia will always take the time to help those abused by directing them to organizations that can help. Her foremost message of hope and advice to victims of abuse is, “There is definitely life after abuse but you have to start somewhere, and that’s to get away from it.”
If you would like to share a story from your life or would like to nominate someone to be a “Gem,” e-mail Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org.