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Called to Serve in Uvalde

In the wake of one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings, Mario Samaniego stood in the darkness of the night at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, as one of many working the scene while fighting back tears.

Samaniego noticed the rows of body bags that housed what was left of the innocent children 9, 10, and 11—too young to be gone. In a frenzy beyond the crime-tape, he could see parents of the victim’s waiting for good news that wasn’t coming. Instead, they’d learn that an 18-year-old killer had slain their child before law enforcement could shoot him.

Nineteen little ones were taken away; two teachers were also gunned down. In that dark hour, God called Samaniego to be His hands and feet—to be a light that cannot be hidden—to speak life to those coping with death. 

Cloaked in the full armor of God, Samaniego took a deep breath and went forth in Jesus’ name.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,

not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance

from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

Hours Before, Miles Away 

The day of the Uvalde mass shooting happened to be Samaniego’s first day on the job as a remote mental health clinician supporting unaccompanied minors at Fort Bliss, Texas.  

However, just four hours into his workday Samaniego, an ordained Baptist minister and Regent University divinity student, received an intense call from the head chaplain for the Texas Department for Public Safety (DPS) asking, “How far are you away from Uvalde?”  

Samaniego was only 75 miles away, making him the closest volunteer chaplain with DPS. He detailed how quickly that call changed the course of his day and sent him into a situation in desperate need of God’s healing mercy.   

“DPS shared the little that they knew with me about the mass shooting—and it was gruesome,” Samaniego recalled. “The victims were kids at school. DPS told me to head out immediately. When I hung up, I told my co-workers I had to go. They questioned, ‘Is what’s going on there worth you losing this job?’ I told them, ‘Yes, I’m going to do God’s work.'”   

Samaniego raced home to say goodbye to his family and hit the road. During the drive, he recalled thinking, “I’m low on cash and out of a job.” Samaniego knew that as a DPS volunteer, he would have to pay for his own hotel and food. Still, he pressed on—certain that God would provide.  

Finding God in Grief  

Samaniego remembered being the first chaplain to arrive on the scene when the gunfire was over. He was unofficially designated in charge of coordinating and tasking volunteers. 

“Robb Elementary School and the surrounding streets were blockaded so Texas Rangers and other law enforcement agencies could conduct investigations,” says Samaniego. 

“A nearby funeral home was the command center,” explains Samaniego. “The media wanted answers, so did the community—especially the victims’ parents, who were in shock and disbelief.”

Day after day, Samaniego, along with other chaplains, ministers and priests, continued to provide prayer, Scripture, and the comfort of God’s love to a community as its members braced themselves for the unthinkable—the finality of death notifications.  

Samaniego recalled that the academic and sacred instruction he received from Regent University strengthened and refreshed him spiritually so that he could continue to pour out everything he had on people who were experiencing the worse pain of their lives.  

“My Spiritual Formation class acted as a daily guide for me. One of our books detailed Kingdom life; that instruction helped keep me protected and in God’s will in my devotional walk. The book also pointed out that the Kingdom of Heaven is wherever Jesus is. Because I am a believer, The Almighty was with me. At that tragic event, I was literally walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It was spiritual warfare. I needed God’s fullness with me at every moment,” shares Samaniego.

And when the heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Psalms 61:2

Frantic people hurled death threats at the scene, searching for someone to undo the tragedy. 

“We wore bulletproof vests while we ministered on supernatural faith and hope—the kind that can only be found in the Christ,” Samaniego explained. “And despite the suffering, there were those who had an ear to hear and were comforted at the throne of grace.” 

From Battle to War 

In the weeks leading up to the Uvalde tragedy, Samaniego said that the enemy came for his marriage. He explained that although he is a minister, he’s also human, and in his frailty, he was ready to leave his wife.  

“Right before I was to be used by the Lord, my wife and I were having real trouble, and I left the house. Before leaving, God told me to tell my wife to turn the hallway closet into her prayer closet, but I wasn’t to go inside. I told her what God had spoken and left,” shares Samaniego. 

Samaniego said his wife did as God asked. “I came home after a couple of weeks and curiously opened the door to that closet. The power of God hit me so hard that I was overcome with conviction. I fell to my knees in the hallway and surrendered to God’s will and recommitted to my marriage. Our restoration was underway when I got the call to minister in Uvalde.”  

Samaniego became aware of how much he needed to stay close to the Lord to defeat the enemy and win back his marriage—a victory that helped ready him for a spiritual war he never imagined he’d have to fight.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously,

and he will give you everything you need.

 Matthew 6:33

“I was once away from God and wrestling with him,” Samaniego admits. “Regardless of how and what we feel, God still blesses us by showing us how mighty He is. A God of His word, and we must be lifetime students of His word.” 

Jehovah-Jireh rewarded Samaniego’s heart for Christ through the concert of believers that ministered with him in Uvalde. Chaplains from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department gave him love offerings, and the Billy Graham Association housed and fed him at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment. 

When Samaniego returned from Uvalde, he was pleased to find out that his new employer had held his job, despite the weeks away. Not long after, God blessed Samaniego with an even better job where he could grow in Christ and provide a more comfortable life for his family. 

Most importantly, the Lord continues to renew Samaniego’s marriage—even as these words are being read, Samaniego states that God is perfecting him and his beloved, Viola, for His glory. 

This experience earned Samaniego a number of accolades for his leadership in the face of tragedy, and he says: “I wasn’t at all thinking about being a great leader. What I was doing was being obedient and serving the Lord. You see, I am still a sinner, and He still loves me. In Uvalde, I was just serving an awesome God.” 

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