Every life matters. Every. Life. Matters.
But I feel compelled to introduce the larger Durham community to one life in particular: Felix Morales, our most recent shooting victim. Felix had such a great impact on my life – and the lives of so many others – in such a short time.
His abrupt passing last week, a result of a gunshot wound at a Durham gas station, came on the cusp of Advent. As Felix changed my life, I pray that the witness of his life might point us all in a fresh way to the Savior he loved so dearly this Christmas.
I had the high privilege of being welcomed to Kings Park International last year by Felix, his eldest son and his beautiful wife, Shelly. His warm welcome touched me. And then I was blessed to see that Felix hugged and smiled so broadly and welcomed everyone, and I mean everyone. I can never remember a time when he didn’t have a testimony or a Scripture or a word of faith to accompany his smiles and hugs. Felix was quite simply the most full-of-Jesus person I’ve ever known.
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Felix would often accompany his bear hugs by these heart-filled words: “I love you, sister.” Compared to long-termers in our congregation, I really barely knew Felix, but he made us all feellike beloved brothers and sisters. Of him. Of Jesus.
Felix was an usher and outreach leader at King’s Park, an evangelist, a “mighty oak of a man” – even though small in stature – so it surprised me to read that he had only been a Christian since 2013. The church’s tribute reads: “In only three short years as a Christian, Felix Morales has made as big an impact on our community as many people do in a lifetime.” He and his wife Shelly gave their lives to Christ through King’s Park’s Life Center ministry in the Cornwallis neighborhood. Senior Pastor Reggie Roberson wrote recently: “This was the life of someone who came out of gang involvement and was transformed to a God-lover and incredible citizen in this city – who reached people everywhere he went, especially those who lived the life he lived previously.”
The Apostle Paul’s words “God’s grace to me was not without effect” resonate in my heart when I think of Felix. Felix’s life was dramatically changed by the power of the Gospel, and he lived compelled by the love of Christ to share with others what he had been given.
One of my most poignant memories of Felix and Shelly revolves around their raising funds for a refugee family last summer, immigrants needing the most basic and immediate resources for rent and food. Their hearts to give back to those even needier – while they themselves were juggling jobs to make ends meet for their own large family – touched me deeply. Founding Pastor of King’s Park Ron Lewis said Felix’s life convinced us all of this: even when you have so little, you can give so much.
The needs of this precious family will remain great. Felix leaves a wife and five children, ranging in age from an infant to a freshman in high school. Our beloved church family will do what families do and surround and care for them, just as Felix and Shelly have time and again cared for others. Others can join in, giving gifts to King’s Park designated for the Morales family.
As I pray for the Morales family and remember Felix, I sometimes kneel in the great room of our home. Our Christmas tree stands across the room from tall windows facing east, with three large crosses in the center of that wall of windows. When it’s dark in early morning or evening, the white lights of the tree are silhouetted behind the crosses, reminding me that there would be no Christmas without the cross. What seems counterintuitive is this: If Jesus had not walked that relentless road from Gethsemane to Golgotha, compelled by the love that changed the world by His death and resurrection, we would never have known of His life to celebrate his birth. The cross gave us Christmas to rememberthe incarnation of the Savior whose obedience all the way through death makes forgiveness, rebirth and resurrection possible for us. The cross that changed everything transformed Felix’s life.
Jesus always turns things upside down, and heaven’s perspective is so clearly beyond our understanding. Our church community is in deep grief over the loss of our beloved Felix. His life would have had such a prolonged, profound impact for the Gospel – why, Lord? Why bring him home so soon? Why leave his family without husband and father? But I can’t help but think that at least one answer to that great mystery is what rings in my heart like a clarion call when I think of Felix, and then pray for me, for us: “I want to live like that, Jesus.”
Like that. Like Felix.
Not just the most recent victim of violence in our community, but someone whose very life ushers in this Advent season to ring out a resounding call: “Behold the Savior who changed my life and Who came to change yours, too!”
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Karen Feaver is a Durham writer who attends Kings Park International Church. The funeral service for Felix Morales will be held at noon Thursday (Dec. 7) at Kings Park International Church, 1305 Odyssey Drive in Durham.