By LINDA STEWART BALL, Associated Press
LEWISVILLE, Texas (AP) — Friends recalled John and Wanda Casias as "spiritual soldiers" who gave their lives to God and hearts to Mexico, where the American missionaries were slain last week.
Hundreds attended a funeral service Wednesday at the couple's home church in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville. The mourners paid their last respects amid photographs of the two, colorful flowers and flags of the U.S. and their beloved Mexico, where the pair worked sharing the Gospel for at least three decades.
John Casias 76, and his wife, Wanda, 67, were found dead Jan. 31 at their home in a village outside Monterrey, about 95 miles south of the Texas border in an area plagued by violence. Both were strangled. She also had been beaten. No arrests have been announced and Mexican authorities have said the case remains under investigation.
The couple "gave their lives for the cause of Christ," Pastor Dick Webster told those gathered Wednesday in the sanctuary at Liberty Baptist Church. "They died as soldiers of the cross."
And though the minister and others said they had no doubt that "Jesus stood and welcomed them to heaven" where they wanted to be, he said it's imperative that someone step up to continue the work they were doing south of the border — despite the dangers.
Webster called John Casias a "soul-saver."
"Do you think John and Wanda gave their lives for nothing?" the pastor asked. "Thousands of people are saved because of them."
Many of those converts attended six of the funerals held at the church in Mexico that John and Wanda Casias established in the early 1980s.
The couple, originally from Amarillo, married in 1972. John was saved that same year, said longtime friend James Wilkins. He recalled how John later left a lucrative sales job to become "a great preacher and hero of heaven."
"John never got in the church business, he was always in the people business," working to lead others to God, Wilkins said. The couple did not fear working or living in Mexico and were only concerned about "not fulfilling their purpose" as missionaries.
The Rev. Ben Frandsen said John Casias carried "the banner of Jesus Christ with him everywhere he went," leaving religious tracts with strangers, sharing his faith and rising before dawn to do his daily devotions. Frandsen described Wanda Casias as a "prayer warrior" who was constantly adding people to her prayer list.
"They gave their lives in service to God, to the people in Mexico, because that was where their heart was," Frandsen said.
A video at the funeral showed Wanda Casias at Liberty Baptist a few years ago singing in Spanish and asking the congregation to "pray for Mexico."
"Bless her soil, her sun and her seas, her small villages and large cities," Wanda Casias sang. "Bless her people."
She confessed in the video that initially Mexico was "the last place" she wanted to go, but noted that God changed her heart.
John and Wanda Casias had 10 children between them. Temple Cave, who spoke at the service, said his parents went to Mexico on faith — without a safety net, strong finances and barely able to read or speak Spanish — because "everything they did was with the idea that God would take care of us."
He said his parents' ability to do the seemingly impossible in Mexico was proof that "you can do anything through Christ who strengthens us."
"They were imperfect people trying to do the perfect will of God," Cave said. "Our strong desire is that their mission continues."
Frandsen said the couple had spoken recently about "how sweet heaven would be" and talked about their heavenly mansions, with John joking that his would be bigger than Wanda's.
"They were ready," Frandsen said. "I'm not saying they knew their time was coming but they were ready."