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By the time Raul Garcia was 12 years old, he’d gotten used to being teased in school. At 200 pounds and just a little over five-feet tall, he was a daily target for lunchroom bullies who criticized everything he ate. He decided his only protection was to belittle himself before they could.

“You mask it with humor — I would laugh at myself before people could laugh at me,” Raul says. “I would buy a muffin and say, ‘I know I’m the fat one, so let me eat my muffin.’ I pointed it out before someone could laugh at me.”

At home, things weren’t any better. He faced constant comparisons to his older, athletic brother who had graduated high school three years early and was being pursued by several colleges. Raul was known in his family as the one who wouldn’t amount to much, which caused him to overeat even more. “A lot of negative words were spoken over me, and my family didn’t know the power that was behind them,” he says. “Through all of that, some people grab drugs, others social media — I grabbed food.”

Because of his obesity and lifestyle, Raul was also at risk for diabetes. When his doctor confirmed he was “borderline” and just a few poor choices away from a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, Raul was devastated. Before he and his mother could get a handle on his health, life at home got worse.

One morning, Raul’s father drove him to school and hugged him tightly before he went to class. The embrace was a little awkward — Raul wasn’t used to receiving physical affection from his father. That afternoon, he waited for his father to pick him up but there was no sign of him. When Raul’s mother showed up instead, she seemed just as perplexed as Raul was. “She asked me, ‘Do you know where your dad is?’” Raul says. “I said, ‘No, I thought you’d tell me.’ For weeks after that, we had no idea where my dad was.”

Raul’s parents’ marriage had been struggling for years, the stress of which had contributed to his unhealthy dependence on food. But as bad as the marriage had gotten, Raul never imagined his father would leave them — nor in a way that seemed so cruel. They discovered his father had moved back to his home country of Colombia. As a result, Raul and his brother began to rebel at home, and Raul’s brother became more and more disconnected from the family.

When Raul’s father called every few months to check on them, Raul and his brother cried for him to come home. A year and a half later, after the boys’ desperate pleas and things souring in Colombia, Raul’s father began visiting them in Florida where they lived. “During the second visit we begged him to come back and my mom was begging him as well,” Raul says. “He moved back in. We didn’t understand it all; my brother and I just wanted our dad back.”

With all the disruption to his family life and suffering from his broken relationship with his father, Raul and his mother had been unable to focus on improving his health. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 14. Raul dreaded having to manage his weight and blood sugar as a high school freshman, so he found the nearest gym and vowed to get fit. One day at the gym, he crossed paths with a nutritionist who worked for the Miami Dolphins; he became Raul’s mentor.

“He took me under his wing,” Raul says. “He told me to worry about nutrition first and recommended things like apple cider vinegar, protein, probiotics, and all these supplements—I didn’t have a clue what they were for or what they were going to do for me.”

Raul’s mother, who also struggled with her weight and high cholesterol, wanted to partner with her son and decided to blend all the supplements to make a shake she and Raul could drink daily. They also switched to a low-carb diet. A year into their regimen, she was off her cholesterol medication, and Raul was at his ideal weight of 125 pounds—with no trace of diabetes!

Raul’s health and weight loss story created a buzz in his community, and soon his teachers and classmates were seeking his advice. At age 15, he began facilitating trainings and consultations in school and Little League sports facilities, and his high school started a healthy smoothie bar based on his recipes. During Raul’s senior year, he won the Silver Knight award from the Miami Herald for outstanding high school students, whose alumni include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and “Rocky” film score composer Bill Conti. Raul planned to study finance at the University of Florida, where he’d been accepted, and then build a career on Wall Street, but his growing passion for helping others through nutrition led him to forgo college and start his own business.

After graduating high school in 2014, Raul moved to Southlake, Texas, to live with his entrepreneurial uncle, who agreed to help Raul start his new company Best Bodies for Life. The company first began as an online service platform for health products, but the idea failed. Raul shifted his focus to creating an assortment of protein powders for nutritional shakes similar to the ones he promoted in Florida. With no money to move forward, he sold his car, emptied his college fund, and began creating recipes. After rejections from several companies that wanted nearly four times his total savings to manufacture his product, he found a small business in Naples, Florida, that agreed to produce his first batch within his budget. A businessman he knew who owned multiple radio stations also promised to promote his products on-air. Raul imagined it wouldn’t be long before his business was a major success.

Back home in Florida, Raul’s mom was miserable in her high-paying CFO position. She was constantly venting to Raul about her boss’s oppressive nature and the ails of working in the corporate environment. Raul was confident his business would soon be booming, so he offered to take care of her—in fact, she could be the CFO for his new company. He also offered to pay for her divorce because he’d lost all respect for his father, but his mother assured him divorce was not an option. Raul then got word that his radio business partner passed away from cancer, and his product launch plans came to a halt.

“I had almost $10,000 worth of powder sitting in a room in my uncle’s house and I had no way to sell it, no direction, and no knowledge of how we were going to do business,” Raul says. “My chips were all on the guy who was going to help me launch through his radio stations. Now I had nothing, and everything just came crashing down.”

Raul started waiting tables and battled depression while trying to make ends meet. One day his cousin stopped by and made an unbelievable request—get up and go to church with her. “I laughed in her face,” Raul says. He was an atheist, but his cousin didn’t back down. She knew Raul was broke so she bribed him with lunch. It worked.

At the end of the service at the Gateway Southlake Campus, Raul’s cousin urged him to go to the altar for prayer. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but he ended up going and sharing about his family, his stalled business, and his financial problems. The altar minister prayed for him and spoke to him firmly.

“He told me, ‘Everything you profess to be dead—your family relationships, your finances, your business, your future—the Lord’s going to slowly resurrect it,’” Raul says. “He also said, ‘You’ll either take the glory like you’ve done all your life or you’ll kneel before Him, and like a domino effect, everyone around you will kneel.’” Raul didn’t know what all that meant, nor did he care to find out. The church service that day already seemed strange and foreign, and he couldn’t wait to get out of the building.

That afternoon when he showed up for his shift at the restaurant, his supervisor asked him to wait on a couple seated at a table outside of his section. After speaking briefly with the couple, the man started probing Raul about his life. Raul brushed him off, placed their order, and promptly forgot about them. Several hours later Raul was shocked to find the same couple sitting in the same spot. “We’re waiting to hear your story,” the man said.

Raul grudgingly shared all of his stressors, and the man told him he had a word for him. “The Lord’s going to resurrect all you profess to be dead … like dominoes, everyone around you will kneel.” Raul couldn’t believe what he was hearing—it was the same thing the altar minister said to him at church that morning. Raul remained uninterested but was now a little skeptical and wondered if the words were part of some script.

The man invited Raul to attend a small group the next morning for Christian businessmen. After the group meeting wrapped up, one of the men offered to take Raul to breakfast where Raul ended up sharing his story again. The man’s response to Raul was almost verbatim what the previous two men had told him, only he added that God was going to give Raul a ministry. He also mentioned his wife owned a CPA firm in Grapevine and was looking for additional help. Raul’s parents had recently moved in with him and his uncle after his mother decided to take Raul up on his offer. She took the short-term assignment at the CPA firm, which helped her pay off most of their family’s mounting bills and start her own financial consulting business.

Although Raul’s business was still hanging in the balance, his financial burdens were being lifted and he could breathe a little. He now had some time to focus on his social life and wanted to meet girls, so he attended a Gateway Young Adults service, even though he had no interest in hearing anything more about God. But the night would prove more than a social experiment when the speaker began to echo some of the same words Raul had previously heard from the three men. The speaker asked the audience, “How many more signs and wonders do you need to see?” All of a sudden, Raul felt his heart stirring, and he fell to his knees. He left the service that night and immediately began studying the Bible. “I was being persuaded by Jesus,” he says. “The Scriptures started to become life to me.”

Raul realized he’d allowed walls to build around his heart due to painful childhood rejection, his broken relationship with his father, and the lingering disappointment in his stagnated business, but those walls started falling as he studied God’s Word. In his room in his uncle’s home, Raul fell to his knees once more and surrendered his life to Christ. He started attending the Southlake Campus regularly and experiencing spiritual growth. In 2016, after attending Greg Laurie’s Harvest America evangelism event, he led his mother to the Lord. He later shared Christ with the rest of his family and like dominoes, his father, uncle, older brother, and even his cousin who first brought him to Gateway, kneeled and received Christ as their Lord and Savior. “My father and I have a better relationship today because of Christ,” Raul says.

Raul continued waiting tables and networking in his free time to promote his business, but instead of relying on himself, he was resting in God and trusting Him for the results. Eventually a couple connections led to two major opportunities: Raul was able to get his Best Bodies for Life products featured on Amazon and onto shelves in the Sunflower Shoppe vitamin store in Colleyville, Texas, where they sold out within hours. By mid-2017, his products were available in six store chains. Today, Best Bodies for Life has five paid employees with products selling in more than 40 cities. As the business has grown, Raul’s focus has shifted from personal success to kingdom expansion.

“We now have Scripture on the product bag, and everyone who works for me is a strong believer,” he says. “Through our product demos and our business meetings, nobody ever meets Best Bodies for Life first, they always meet Jesus first because I always start with my [salvation] story.”

Raul, now 23, believes God is fulfilling His promise to give him a ministry. He’s been able to pray for people and lead them to Christ as he demos his products in grocery stores, lead outreach initiatives in the Deep Ellum area of downtown Dallas, and minister to inmates in Anderson County at the Coffield maximum-security prison, which also hosts a new Gateway campus.

Raul, who is also part of Gateway’s Kingdom Business Leaders community, says his business is an assignment from God and his main calling is to empower others to share Christ every chance they get, no matter what they do for a living.

“You don’t have to be a certain age or have certain qualifications to step into obedience,” he says. “Jesus has called all of us to ministry. If you’re a barista, if you’re a college student — it doesn’t matter — people need to know Jesus.” Raul attends the Southlake Campus.

—NAQUANNA COMEAUX, August 7, 2019

 

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