Called to Uvalde 

November 21, 2022 0 comments
Uvalde marked with a star on a map of Texas.

In the wake of one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings, Regent Master of Divinity student 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 the tears.

Samaniego noticed the rows of body bags holding what was left of the innocent children—aged 9, 10 and 11—each precious and too young to be gone. 

In a frenzy beyond the crime scene tape, Samaniego could see the parents of the victims 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.

“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.” 

Mario Samaniego (SOD ’25)

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. 

Just four hours into his workday Samaniego, an ordained Baptist minister, received a 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. 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.  

Mario Samaniego (SOD ’25) 

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. 

“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.

From Battle to War
In the weeks leading up to the Uvalde tragedy, Samaniego said that the enemy came for his marriage. 

“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.

“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.” 

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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