Cultivating Heaven at Home

August 22, 2023

Dr. Carlos Japas and his wife, Graciela, both grew up in the kind of homes we all want for our children and families: homes where they were taught to align their priorities with Heaven. Before the two “pastors’ kids” were even married nearly 50 years ago, they knew they wanted to recreate the same heaven-minded home they had inherited for their own children. As Carlos explains, “We observed in our parents a commitment to work for the Lord … we didn’t know anything else. It was ingrained in us that the purpose of life was to serve others.” What they didn’t know was how many lives they would touch over the next five decades.

Over the years, Carlos and Gracie, as she is known to friends, have become spiritual parents to hundreds. Through Carlos’ conversations in his medical practice and Gracie’s hospitality at home, they have led these individuals to Bible studies, Christ and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In the words of their pastor, Adam Keating, “The Japas family lives out their mission to serve others, both inside and outside their home, as they eagerly anticipate our eternal home.”

Now in their seventies, they are as mission-minded as ever. Carlos and Gracie continue to use the medical practice and their home as mission outposts. Carlos fills his office with Christian literature, prescribes the eight natural remedies as outlined in Ellen G. Whites’ Ministry of Healing, prays with patients every day, invites them over for Sabbath lunch and gives Bible studies in his spare time. Gracie continues to fill her home with families, couples and individuals who need a place to stay. Every Friday night, they hold a worship service at their home, and every Sabbath they host large groups for lunch. “We have always enjoyed having others in our home,” says Gracie. “It brings us great joy to serve.”

Together they have housed numerous international students while supporting them through school at Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), and thereby helped launch the careers of many pastors, doctors and missionaries.

In particular, Gracie tells the story of Stella, a single mother who needed a place to stay while her 10-year-old daughter, Ivonne, finished the school year. Gracie and Carlos invited Stella and Ivonne into their home and continued studying the Bible with them. Stella was grateful for the opportunity, especially because she learned firsthand about the Christian family experience. They were both baptized and actually stayed with the Japas family for 10 years! During that time, Ivonne earned her degree from SWAU and then went on to study at Andrews University. Today, Ivonne, her husband and children are missionaries with Adventist Frontier Missions in Thailand.

Keating shares, among other things, how Carlos was instrumental in starting a Spanish Sabbath school class at the Crowley Seventh-day Adventist Church where he pastors. Carlos and his Sabbath school class partnered with SWAU to run a Spanish evangelism series, which resulted in multiple baptisms and a Spanish worship service that can draw upwards of 100 people a month, including several of Carlos’s patients.

These are just a few examples of how the Japas family has aligned their priorities with Heaven and led others to do the same. But what if someone did not grow up in a heaven-minded home like Carlos and Gracie? Where should a person start?

Carlos advises, “Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to develop your talents and use them, allowing God to direct you on every opportunity, and then don’t miss that opportunity.” Gracie adds, “Everyone has talents, and they can use them to serve Jesus. The key is to pray and ask God to show you what to do, and He will.”

The couple maintains that prayer has always guided their steps related to family, work and ministry. It was prayer, in fact, that guided their very decision to get married. As Gracie remembers, “When we were dating long distance, we made sure we prayed together at the same time every day, even from different time zones. We had no telephone, so prayer was the best connection between us.” 

Because Carlos and Gracie have always personally aligned their priorities with Heaven, they have always aligned well as a team. For his part, Carlos credits Gracie for being the “driving force” behind their far-reaching influence. “My training is just for the medical field, but she can see the daily activities of the family, mothers and kids, and what they need. She’s the one who says, ‘We need to help this person, we need to help these children,’ so I say, ‘Let’s go do it.’”

For her part, Gracie says she could not fulfill her ministry without Carlos’s support. “The people who live with us always see Carlos early in the morning having his own worship time. He faithfully studies the Bible every day, and then he shares with us what he’s learning. When our kids were little, every evening for supper, he would tell stories from the office. He would mention what he learned with his patients.” He would then take over parenting duties, giving Gracie a break after homeschooling all day. 

Indeed, Claudio, Melissa and Daniel Japas grew up seeing their parents live out the mission they always spoke of. “In many ways,” says Gracie, “they have grown up to do the same thing. They learned the importance of worship in the morning and in the evening at home, and it’s such a joy to see my children now doing that with their own children.”

The Japas children have also carried on the family’s legacy of missions and medical work. Claudio earned a Doctorate in Public Health and worked for the General Conference serving local communities in Central Asia for nearly three years before returning to Texas to work at Carlos’s practice. Melissa is a nurse practitioner in California, and Daniel is a hospitalist at Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South. In addition, they are all active in their local churches and have spent at least one year overseas doing mission work, these trips undoubtedly influenced by the many mission trips the family took during their tenure as Pathfinder leaders during the kids’ teenage years.

When asked what has led all three children to such lives of service, Gracie answers, “The secret is they have to see their parents live the same inside as they live outside. We always need to do something for the Lord. Our time is used to serve others.” Beyond this, if they could give one piece of advice to parents, or anyone else, for that matter, it would be this: “Above all, the most important thing is to teach your children to love Jesus. When you love Jesus, everything else follows.”

By Lindsey Gendke. Gendke is an associate professor in the English department at Southwestern Adventist University. Carlos and Graciela Japas are members of the Crowley Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Texas Conference.