Searching the Wide World Over
The Testimony of Bro. Gary Richards
- Interview conducted by Bro. Adam Paddock
There is an old quote that says, "We travel the world over in search of what we need, and return home to find it." Such words are perhaps quite fitting for science teacher, Bro. Gary Richards; a man who has done what most people only dream of doing. His many tales of scuba diving with sharks off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, seeing the pyramids of Egypt and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and traveling through South America are completely captivating. His extensive collections of rare and exotic artifacts, ancient coins, insects, and minerals are also a source of great wonderment. Yet, Bro. Gary's life was missing something… the person of Jesus Christ.
The Bible warns us, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36) Thankfully, Bro. Gary did end up getting saved and is serving the Lord. He would be the first to tell anyone that his salvation and relationship with the Lord are his most cherished possessions. The following interview is a small window into the life of Bro. Gary Richards.
Q: When did you first become interested in science and biology?
A: As a kid, I'd watch television programs such as Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic. Another program, NOVA was particularly interesting to me. It was the kind of stuff boys would dream about doing growing up.
Q: While you were traveling abroad, did you teach overseas?
A: I read this thing in a magazine that would pay for the travel to and from Australia. I had always wanted to travel and fulfill a dream to see the Great Barrier Reef. I hitchhiked to NYC, and showed my credentials to the right people to get in. They told me to go home and in a few weeks, I'd receive tickets to go and teach in Australia. I made a point of mentioning one stipulation. I knew that Australia was big and I did not want to be placed out in the middle of nowhere, so I asked specifically to be placed on the coast and was assured of this!
Well, when I went to Australia, I received a lengthy three day orientation that consisted of the etiquette of ‘sipping the grog', one day of poisonous creatures, and where Sydney, New Castle, and the places in New South Wales were. I was placed in Gilgandra, which I later found was really deep in the outback. When I found out where I was headed, I said, "Wait a minute here! I was promised I would be on the coast!" (In Australia, they call Americans names such as ‘dirty, greasy wogs' or ‘win-ging yanks.' The term ‘win-ging' means complaining. When I put up a fuss, I must have been considered in one of these categories.)
So, after a few letters and phone calls, they placed me at an assignment on the coast. However, it wasn't exactly the teaching job I'd hoped for. They sent me to a hospital in Sydney working with the sickest of children and babies who were terminally ill. The infants had conditions such as Hydrocephalus and other conditions that were fatal. It broke my heart to work there. One day, a doctor finally pulled me aside and said, "Richards, you're not pulling your weight around here. You're the worst nurse we've ever had. What's the matter here?" (Obviously, there was some confusion about my "teaching" assignment. I imagine the education service received some negative backlash because of that.)
Shortly thereafter, I was relocated to a juvenile detention center for boys called the Lidcombe Penal Institute. It was a multi-gated institution with guards with Doberman Pinschers. The school was located next to the barracks. All of the kids would come out each day and I'd pick 20 kids for the two-roomed schoolhouse. (Some of the kids were there because their parents were criminals, others for committing major crimes like murdering their parents. I'd look for the weakest, smallest kids to select.) The guard would escort them with me to the school. There were buttons every 20 feet along the walls that could be pressed to bring in guards if the students became violent.
Q: How long did you work at Lidcombe, and what happened after that?
A: On the first day on the job, I sent out a request for reassignment. I ended up staying there for 6 months and then was transferred to the Green Valley school district. When I reported to the Headmaster, I was told I was supposed to have been there three weeks ago! I was given a roster of names and a stick to use for caning students. When the kids were bad, they had to hold out their hand and I was supposed to whack them hard. I said to myself, "I'm not going to cane the kids and I'm not going to rely on those kinds of things." It turned out that another science teacher was placed there for incompetence. I worked out an arrangement with him where I would set up our labs and he would beat our kids.
Another time, I was teaching a class how to throw a boomerang. I almost got arrested in the process since it was considered to be a dangerous weapon there. I was teaching a group of aborigine girls how to throw one, when one young girl did not observe the warning to pay attention during the lesson. She ended up getting pelted in the head with the boomerang.
Q: How did you come to know the Lord?
A: I asked the Lord to save me while I was watching a program called the Kathryn Kuhlman hour in my rented cottage on Cayuga Lake. I don't remember the exact day, but I do remember it was around the same time Bro. Mark Laurin and Bro. Rocky Gonnella were saved. (Editor's note: Bro. Mark and Bro. Rocky attend Living Word Church.) I hadn't seen Bro. Mark Laurin in a decade. One day, during a handball tournament, Bro. Mark walked through the door at a local YMCA and I said, "Hey Mark! What's new?" He responded with a booming, "Jesus Christ! That's what's new!" I couldn't believe it because I had just committed my life to the Lord a few days prior. I didn't know of anyone that knew Jesus. I had never met anyone like that.
Q: How did you hear about Living Word Church when you were living out on Cayuga Lake?
A: Mark mentioned that he was attending a Church out in Phoenix, New York. So, I travelled about an hour there to see what it was all about. My experience there was quite different from the spiritually dead Lutheran church I was brought up in. The worship was wonderful in Phoenix. I sensed the Spirit of the Lord and life. There were times during the worship where the floor would literally bounce up and down. I remember them playing a song from the Psalms where the entire Church would get out of their pews and march around singing, "God's got an army, marching through the land, deliverance in their mouths, healing in their hands, everlasting joy, and gladness in their hearts, in this army we've got a part!"
Q: How did you find fellowship at that time?
A: Since I was teaching science at Southern Cayuga High School, someone told me about a place that was located in King Ferry that just happened to be located just around the corner from my rented cottage. It was said that 4-10 people were meeting together and were filled with the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues. I wasn't sure about the speaking in tongues; I admit that I had my suspicions but later found great power in the Holy Ghost some time later. (It took a year or two of trying and not receiving the gift of tongues before I was finally baptized in the Holy Spirit.) I really needed the fellowship, being so far removed from the Church in Phoenix. On the weekend, I'd go up to Phoenix and meet with the King Ferry crew during the week.
Q: Why did you continue to commute back and forth to Phoenix instead of just staying with the home group?
A: I continued making the trek to Phoenix because I got blown away by the Spirit of God in the place.
Q: Did you consider moving?
A: I heard that Living Word Church needed teachers so I stayed put while working on a Master's Degree. It seems a bit forward to say this, but I knew I would be the science teacher at Living Word Academy. Pastor Bob Mazur spoke of having a school in the near future and I just knew I'd teach there. Keep in mind, this was long before the Academy even existed. Bro. Bob would say, "Well, we'll see."
I travelled out to San Francisco and worked for another two and a half years. I received a call from one of the Church's elders and he said they'd like me to teach at the Academy. When I got done at San Francisco State, I applied for teaching certificates, and was approved for Biology and Earth Science. Later I received the certifications needed to teach individual courses such as Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Chemistry and Physics. This was only made possible through the help of God and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
Q: What were the early days of teaching like at the Academy?
A: The first months of teaching were done in the old church building. It was quite a picture. The front of the building was known as the church store which doubled as three different classrooms. (At that time, we made due with what we had.) I was the math and science teacher and had to teach two classes simultaneously. At one point I recall teaching eight classes a day which was considered an enormous course load. Over time and by the blessing of the Holy Ghost, we accomplished much with very little. One program we used was a home school teacher program called Abeka.
Q: You were teaching as many as eight different subjects?
A: Yes, that is about right – plus Bible class.
Q: What are your thoughts about marriage versus all of the traveling that you've done?
A: It was sort of foolish to exchange not getting married to see the places that I've seen. However, I've been able to go all over the world to see things few have the chance to see and I have been able to share it with others, especially the students. There is nothing more fun than to go to another country without reservation and travel the native places without knowledge of the language and without an itinerary.
Q: You've travelled all over the world, however you have shared on other occasions that none of your travels compare with your adventures with Jesus Christ.
A: The first time you view a huge valley like Yosemite and the largest cliff, ‘El Capitan' is just amazing, as was my experience with walking on a glacier, or swimming and doing flips with a manta ray, or hanging out with a girl in Sydney Harbor dancing in the sunset. However, in comparison, nothing compares with eternity with God. I've found nothing more pleasurable. Once you know that you've found a partnership and service with God, nothing else compares with it. How can you not trade the natural world where we all one day become old and decrepit, for one you know will be beauty in waiting for eternity with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
One of my favorite trips was a trip with Bro. Von Sleight in the Canadian Rockies. He and I were chaperones / guides and took about a half a dozen Living Word Academy students with us. To be with all of the Saints was just wonderful.
Q: You're currently battling with cancer. How did you get it and is there anything you want to say about it?
A: I had a lump growing under my arm pit. I complained to my doctor and asked if it could be a problem. A month later, it was a little bigger. I saw another doctor about a couple of months later. It was getting uncomfortable and big, so I made a date with the surgeon to have it removed. He had told me that they had gotten all of it and that there was nothing to worry about. Three or four days later, I received a phone call to see the doctor (who did not have a good bedside manner). He said I had a type of cancer that was very rare and that I had a 40% chance of living beyond five years.
I was prescribed strong chemotherapy treatments for seven doses, but the fifth dose ended up being a poisonous overdose for me and I had to be revived. They stopped giving me the chemotherapy and started me on radiation treatment on four different occasions because the lump kept coming back. The radiation killed the motor neurons in my arm and left me with edema and continuous excruciating pain. My arm began to bleed due to damage to the artery and no one was sure how to treat the problem. The answer seemed to be to amputate at the shoulder, but no one wanted to do that. One doctor agreed to do it.
When I was on the cold gurney being wheeled over for surgery, I had zero fear, zero apprehension and was blessed in where I was going! I was really at peace with this whole thing. The only pain I have now is phantom pain. To this day, I reach over to grab the arm as though it was still there.
Q: The Lord brought you through that ordeal and you had peace with this?
A: Yes, absolutely. When I heard I was going to die, I wasn't shook up about the diagnosis. But when I had to tell my parents they would outlive me, that shook me up. Although they were devastated to hear that, they did not end up outliving me. I've outlived both of them.
Q: What is the key to your support today?
A: The Church – people have come to help with cleaning, snow removal, food/meal preparation, lawn care, taking out garbage, encouragement, taking me to the store, etc. Every week, people come over to help clean up.
Q: What would you like people to say about you?
A: One time after camp meetings, I went up to be prayed for and a person came up to me and asked, "Bro. Richards, what should we specifically pray for?"
I said to him, "Pray that I would finish well."
Editor's note: Bro. Gary is truly a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ; quick to deflect all praise to the Lord and esteem others as being better than him. He faithfully served at Living Word Academy from its inception in 1979 until the 2011-2012 school year when he retired for health reasons.Bro. Gary stated that none of his adventures were more pleasurable than serving Jesus Christ and that once he found a partnership with God, nothing else could compare with it. How about you? Are you searching the wide world over for satisfaction and fulfillment in your life, but not finding anything?There is one search in life where you WILL find exactly what your heart desires. That is the search for Jesus Christ, who promises to let us find Him if we are searching for Him. The Bible states, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD..." (Jeremiah 29:11-14) (NIV) Repent and turn to the Savior today. You'll be set free from your sins and you'll find true satisfaction for your life.