With an unshakable love for God and each other, Captains Neil and Rubina Navarro refuse to give up. Through every sickness and every health, they cling to Jesus and to the calling He has placed on their lives. Now serving as the Directors of Personnel at the College of Officer Training (Western Territory), the Navarros share their testimony of love, perseverance, and faith.
MEET THE NAVARROS
NEIL: My parents were Salvationists and had four children. We grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to Hawaii when I was 10 years old.
Somebody found out my dad was a former officer, and they needed a Filipino ministry, so they reinstated him. Since then, I grew up as an officer’s kid. I had to adapt to the culture of America, as well as being an officer’s kid.
RUBINA: I was also born in the Philippines. I was born in the Province side, so I was a lot poorer. My father got positioned to come to Hawaii because he had sisters there. One year later, he was able to petition for our family to come to the United States. When I was six, along with my five siblings and my mom, I immigrated to Hawaii.
We moved into a housing project. My three brothers had a difficult time adjusting to the American culture. They got involved in gangs in order to fit in, otherwise they’d get beat up. They also got into drugs and were in-and-out of jail. Both of my parents didn’t speak or write English, and when my older sister moved to California, I became like a caregiver to my family.
WALKING WITH JESUS
RUBINA: Growing up, I saw the consequences of drugs, but I also saw God’s providence over me. Everyone knew my brothers, and so they’d say, “Don’t mess around with that girl there.” I had protection.
When I was nine years old, Lieutenant Nancy Davis was assigned to Kauluwela Mission Corps on Oahu in Hawaii. She came to the housing project where I lived, and gathered all the kids to fill the van to go to the corps.
My brother went to Vacation Bible School that night, and came home saying, “You need to come to Vacation Bible School because you can get a big prize for bringing more friends.”
My sister and I went, and we accepted Christ. From there on I started attending the corps and I never stopped. My siblings eventually stopped attending, but I continued by being a junior and senior soldier, and teaching Corps Cadets. Gradually, the church took me in as their child and helped me become the woman of God, as well as the leader, I am today.
NEIL: My parents were in ministry, so I heard of Jesus all through my life. I went to Sunday School and participated in all the programs. I did my best to do good, and then eventually, when I was about 25 or 26, God just made sense.
The summer after I graduated college, Rubina and I were engaged. I needed money, so I went to Alaska with my cousin and did an Alaskan adventure program where you could earn money for the summer in the fishing industry. I found God there. I wasn’t in my comfort zone. I was out of my element, so I gave it all to God and He spoke to my heart. That’s when I began to read the Bible in my free time, because it was real. God spoke to me during that time.
OUR LOVE STORY
RUBINA: When Neil moved to Hawaii, he came to our corps. I liked him from the very beginning. We both worked at Camp Homelani. That first summer, when we were 15 going on 16, we started dating. We dated for about eight and a half years before we got married. It was a long-distance relationship with writing letters because he was living on a different island [because his parents were appointed as officers on Kaua'l; I was on Oahu]. We saw each other at divisional events.
When we were dating, Neil got accepted into college which was on Oahu. He moved over when he was 18. It was then that our divisional commander opened up a college dormitory for Salvationist college students. So, we had the opportunity to both be in that dormitory. Our friendship and relationship developed even more.
NEIL: Our intention was to finish college and then get married. That was one of our values.
RUBINA: We were married on December 28, 1996.
A few years later, Neil prayerfully accepted a position in San Diego to be a youth worker. Rubina felt called to be an officer from 16 years of age, and when Neil became a corps youth worker, the idea of full-time ministry became a desire in his heart.
RUBINA: We were in San Diego for six months, and then we moved to Santa Rosa where Neil was a youth worker. About a year and a half later, Neil started getting stomach pains so severe that he was in the hospital for about three weeks. The doctors said, “We don’t know what’s going on. We tested him with everything.”
I finally made a bargain with God. I said, “Lord, please do not take away Neil.” My second daughter was going to turn one. I said, “I’ve been running away from Your call to be an officer. I’ll face it now. If you want me, please don’t take away Neil.”
Neil came out. He was transferred to UCSF Medical Center. There was a cyst in his bile duct, and he had a major surgery done. When he recovered, I told him, “Hey, Neil, I’m really called to officership. I just want to give you a month to pray, and then maybe after a month we can talk about it.” So, after a month, he came back and said, “Yeah. I want to give my life to the Lord.”
By August of that year, 2002, we went to the training school.
NEIL: Our first appointment was at the Kroc Center in San Diego. We were assistant officers and ran the corps part of the Kroc Center. That was a whole new experience for us, but we had great leaders who led us through it.
RUBINA: In that first appointment we had our daughter Elizabeth. When I was weaning her, I noticed there was a lump in my breast. By March, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 33 years old. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family. It just happened. By May, I had a double mastectomy.
It really shook me. When I found out, I asked, “Lord, how could You do this to me? I followed Your will. I’ve given You my life. I’m a Salvation Army officer. I’ve given You everything. Why this? Why me?”
I kept praying. I prayed, “Lord, You know that I love You. If You want me to go through this cancer for Your glory and honor, I’ll go through it.” Then God whispered in my heart, and said, “But Rubina, I love You more.” Tears streamed down my face as I realized I live in a fallen world.
Nothing is exempt from us. We will go through what the world goes through. I’ve come to learn that.
God was so gracious; He carried us through this. When the cancer was removed, the doctor said I had a high-grade DCIS, which is basically one of the worst breast cancers, but they caught it in time. It was almost like a poisonous snake in a cave, and they caught it at stage zero.
NEIL: I remember being in the hospital praying. Things had to go on in ministry, too, so I brought my computer. Instead of praying out loud, I was typing my prayers, and hoping for the best. We had three kids at that point, and I remember thinking that if she passed away, I’ll be on my own. I was scared.
At the same time, I had an assurance that God was going to bring us through. Yes, cancer happened, but God was in our situation because of how things worked out with her surgeon and the timing of it all. In hindsight, we see it now, but at that moment I was scared.
NEIL: While in Hawaii, I had some liver stones that caused abdominal pain and I had surgery for that. Life went on and I thought everything was good. We were transferred to California after five years in Hawaii. After a year and a half at our new appointment, I began experiencing the pain I felt when I was in Hawaii. I thought it was liver stones again, and since I didn’t want to go through the surgery just yet, I waited.
I kept it to myself for a few months. After our family vacation, I told Rubina about the pain and went to the doctor. That’s when we found out it wasn’t liver stones. I actually had cancer. It was devastating, as it was stage four.
Stage four is not the beginning stage—it’s the last stage. I remember crying thinking about Rubina and the kids (we had our fourth child at this point).
Those “why” questions came, as they did for Rubina. “Why, God? I did my best to honor You and please You.” Normally, people in their more mature years, either 60 or 70 years old, would get the cancer I had. The doctor told me, “In your case, this is rare. Your cancer alone is rare, but the fact that you’re 38, that too is rare.”
A WALKING MIRACLE
NEIL: The cancer started in the bile duct and spread to the liver. It was stage four because there is no cure for it. The doctor said, “You have nine months—two years at most.”
All those “why” questions filled my mind. It shocked me. It took a while, but I eventually accepted it. Three years later, I was still alive and going through chemo and clinical trials. It was a miracle.
RUBINA: We came back in October after a trip to Israel. Neil gets tested every three months or so.
NEIL: Yeah, it’s a surveillance thing. First it was every three months and then it was six months. Then just recently, in October I started having pains again. In December, I found out that the cancer reoccurred. It was a small, one-inch tumor that was removed in December.
ALL ABOUT HIM
NEIL: It’s all about God. He’s going to be glorified in whether He’s going to keep me healed or not. Many people say, “I still pray for you, Neil.” A mom and dad once told me that their daughter, when she was five years old (and now she’s 10), would pray for me every night. Teenagers told me their stories of faith because of the way they saw us respond to our challenges while we had cancer. That’s a miracle to me. It’s not about me being healed.
This even applies to our own children. Our oldest daughter wants to be a psychologist. She wants to help other kids who go through what she’s gone through.
HOPE IN THE STORM
NEIL: There are moments when I do question. There are times when I wish I didn’t have cancer. I felt like I was labeled the cancer guy. Every day I wondered, “Will I have my birthday next year? Will I see my children grow up?” I was living in that for almost three years.
Every day is a gift. It’s a blessing. I know the world is full of harsh things. During times like this, I need to seize the moment, and whatever time God gives me, I’ll do my best to live it.
RUBINA: I remember when Neil was going through chemo and I’d cry at night. I’d already be picturing him in a coffin. I was already saying, “I’m going to miss you.” Neil would say, “B, I’m still here. We’ll cross the bridge when we get there.” I was so ahead of God. I had to come to terms and say, “We don’t know how many days we have, so we’re just going to go ahead and make memories and make sure that everything counts.”
A WORD FOR YOU
RUBINA: Trust God. If we want to walk with God and to see Him, it’s not going to be all pretty flowers. God also wants to reveal Himself in times of darkness because that’s when we cling onto Him. I see great beauty when we do embrace and accept Him. If we want to grow in the Lord, if we want to see Him in a different light, rather than just in our comfort zone, we have to allow our spirit to submit to His will even in difficult times.
NEIL: Live life! There are unknowns. I never thought I would have cancer. But, live your life according to God’s will. Just because you’re living in God’s will, doesn’t mean it’s going to be all good and happy. Things can happen to the good and the bad. But, when they happen, God is always there.
When God gives you those extra moments in life, live it even more. I really appreciate life more after what has happened to me. Rubina asked me, “Would you live your life over again if you could?” I would. Minus the cancer, I would be happier. But I don’t know if I’d be stronger. It’s been good for me. It’s been good for my family. It’s been good for my kids. It’s been good for my ministry.
Live for God and take what He gives you. He’s there no matter if it’s good or bad.
GET TO KNOW ‘EM
FAVORITE BIBLE PASSAGE
NEIL: In the last year or two, God’s been challenging me to live Matthew 6:33, which is basically to seek His Kingdom and all things will come. God’s given me a new perspective in life. I’m not going to seek my own interests anymore; I’m going to seek His. I’m trying to live my life in His will.
RUBINA: I get encouragement from Daniel 3, where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego go into the furnace. God could have just captured them and made them okay, but He chose for them to go in it. But in that, there’s also the fourth person—God is with us.
At first, Scripture tells us that they were bound when they were thrown in, but as soon as they got inside, they were unbound, and they were walking around. Though we’re going through hard times, we can still continue to walk with the Lord and be a witness to Him. Even if the Lord doesn’t save us, even if we have to go through hard times, we will still praise the Lord.
Captains Neil & Rubina Navarro, Personnel Officers, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, Western Territory