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Confessions of faith: Gary Lupe

An Apache Christian shares how he was brought out of darkness into God’s wonderful light.

Gary Lupe is the first to acknowledge that his faith in Jesus Christ is nothing short of a miracle. But he tells the story of his journey to faith in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s easy to overlook the remarkable transformation the Holy Spirit has worked in his life.

Dark beginnings

Gary Lupe

Gary Lupe
Gary Lupe

Lupe is a child of the reservation. A Native American, he’s lived his whole life on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona where he grew up well acquainted with traditional Apache beliefs. He was first exposed to Christ as a teenager through teachers at WELS’ East Fork Lutheran High School. But whatever faith he had quickly gave way to the temptations and hardships faced by so many of his peers.

Shortly after high school, he got his girlfriend pregnant, and they started a family. “We didn’t really know right from wrong about living,” says Lupe. “We just figured all the Apaches were doing this and that’s the pattern that we followed.”

A logging foreman, Lupe was one of the fortunate few on the reservation with a steady job and income. That presented its own temptations. “During that time I fell into alcohol; I became a heavy drinker,” Lupe admits. “I was drinking every day. It wasn’t hard for me to get a can of beer, a 6-pack, or a 12-pack because that’s what I needed.”

Even in a desperately poor place like the reservation, he learned money doesn’t bring happiness. “I was in a hole—a real deep hole that I couldn’t get myself out of,” says Lupe. “I was in misery.”

But as dark and hopeless as his situation was, Lupe had not yet hit bottom. Not even close. When he and his girlfriend were having their third child together—a daughter who died one month after her premature birth—he gave up alcohol only to replace it with marijuana, cocaine, and “glass.”

For the next ten years, he battled the new addiction—but he lost more frequently than he won. Even the birth of two more children wasn’t enough incentive to stay sober permanently. He was a father in title only. “The drugs took control of my life,” Lupe recalls. “I spent more money on drugs than I did on my kids.”

At one point he stayed off drugs long enough to commit to marrying his girlfriend and the mother of his children. But his rollercoaster ride was headed for a freefall. He endured three straight days of sleeplessness brought on by his renewed drug addiction. Delirious with fatigue, Lupe says he began hearing voices in his head, voices telling him to kill his wife. Was it Satan? Lupe won’t say other than, “It was something evil—I felt it.” He admits he was ready to follow the will of the voices. Terrified, he grabbed hold of his wife until the feeling passed.

“That’s where my spiritual journey began,” he says. “I had been in such terrible places in my life, both spiritually and physically. I was tired of who I was. I don’t even remember who I was at the time.”

Spiritually transformed

Lupe says he dumped the drugs for good and began the search for something more meaningful. He knew that the religion of the Apaches wasn’t the answer. He describes it as a faith of fear and retribution—when you suffer some particular evil, you call in a medicine man who then removes it by placing a curse on someone else.

He visited many of the dozens of other nominally Christian churches on the reservation but left each one feeling empty. “I saw there was a God and I wanted to know who that God is,” Lupe says. “But none of the churches were giving me that.”

His mother was the one who encouraged him to go back to the “Lutherans,” the ones who operated the high school he attended as a teenager. There, he once again made contact with WELS missionaries. He even enrolled in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS), a school that equips Apaches for various roles within congregations in the mission field.

It was through those classes at ACTS that the Holy Spirit began Gary’s spiritual transformation. “This God in the Bible told me who he is in his Word,” Lupe says. “It wasn’t the professors’ ideas. They weren’t telling me their ideas about who God is. They were telling me who God is from God’s Word and that was the Bible.”

For the first time, the message that he had a Savior from sin and that Jesus was the ultimate answer to evil in the world was actually sinking in. Suddenly, everything the medicine men were practicing became irrelevant. “To have a Savior means that when Jesus died on the cross, when he rose the third day from the dead, he defeated the devil,” says Lupe. “All the curses and all the witchcraft and all the deities and all the whatevers that the Apache people believe have the power—Jesus defeated those powers.”

Sharing the message of love

That is a message that Lupe now is taking across the reservation as a trained evangelist. He’s preaching and teaching in the Apache language within the nine congregations and preaching stations in WELS’ Apache mission field. “I want people to see what Jesus has for even us Apaches—drug addicts, alcoholics, traditional religion believers—the love that Jesus has for us,” he says.

His message isn’t always well-received. In fact, Lupe says among the Apache people it is often misinterpreted, especially the concept of love. “Love is misinterpreted as you shouldn’t tell anybody that they’re wrong when they’re doing something wrong,” he says. “You shouldn’t tell somebody about their sins if they’re committing sins, if you love them.”

Because of his own past experiences, Lupe is uniquely qualified to preach law and gospel to both believers and unbelievers alike on the reservation. “They can’t really argue against me about the issues they have—like for instance, drug abuse. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be a drug addict,” he says. “They cannot throw me their excuses if they fall back into drugs.”

But the other side of the coin is that for those on the reservation who have fallen into the trap of drugs and alcohol and confess their sins—who better to share the message of forgiveness than someone who has walked the same road? “Jesus is my Savior. He saved me—a simple human being that does not know any better,” says Lupe. “He took me out of that darkness that I was in and showed me what his light had for me.”

While his story is a miracle of faith, Lupe has come to expect miracles. Maybe that’s why he’s so matter-of-fact about his spiritual transformation and why he spends so little time pondering where he’d be without Jesus in his life. “I don’t think about that,” he says. “I don’t think about those days. I just thank God every day that he blessed my life for me to be able to hear his Word, to understand who he is. I’m thankful for that every day.”

Volume 97, Number 3
Issue: March 2010

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