Alumni

A Life with Purpose

June 21, 2021

Pittsburgh pastor and LU alumnus shares son’s journey with chronic illness and his remarkable example of living for the Lord

 
Mike Gestrich (’82) arrived at Liberty Baptist College in 1978. The founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, was leading a church planting effort across the country and urged his students to join. When Gestrich graduated, he heeded that call and landed in Pittsburgh, Pa. With no income, living in a dilapidated home without utilities, “I began doing what Dr. Falwell told me to do,” he said — knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel. He visited the homeless and the poor. With his wife, Carol, he planted a church at age 23, and they have watched God grow the ministry over 38 years. The Log Church is now in the midst of a major building project that will overlook that same small shack where it all began.
His own story is an amazing one: a man who endured child abuse, grew up in foster care, and now shares the love of his Heavenly Father. But Pastor Mike will tell you that his story is not nearly as amazing as the one God wrote through the life of his youngest child, Randy.
At age 15, Randy Gestrich was dying from a rare form of salivary gland cancer. Doctors said it was incurable. “They had him in a ward to die,” Pastor Mike said, “but I told them, ‘I believe God has a bigger purpose. Just give him to me.’” He took his teenage son to the family’s favorite vacation spot in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and there, on the beach, he prayed over him, asking that Randy’s wish to live longer, and even someday marry, would happen. He then searched across the country and found a rare, extreme radiation treatment in Seattle and took Randy there. Doctors did not know if he would live through the treatment, which involved 70 percent more radiation than normal cancer patients.
But a miracle followed. To the surprise of all his doctors, Randy survived — and lived to adulthood. He followed in his father’s footsteps (and three of his siblings’) to Liberty in 2009.
“He wanted to go to college. But I knew he would not be able to pass any of his classes because of radiation damage to his brain,” Pastor Mike said. “I never told anyone, but I only sent him to Liberty so he could be around the godly influence of those at the school, people to encourage him … because I knew he was going to die. The presence, the power of God is there. It was the greatest experience of his life — he failed everything, but I didn’t care.”
The complications of the treatment lingered, and he had to leave Liberty after one year. But not only did Randy get to experience college — something his family thought he’d never do — his father’s prayers on that beach years earlier also came true. He met the love of his life there, Stacy, and they married four years ago.

Randy and Stacy Gestrich


Although Randy’s time at Liberty was brief, he still left with a renewed purpose to live his life for the Lord. Like his dad, he wanted to shine the light — and he did every day.
“Randy lived an extraordinary life of dedication to the Lord during these years of suffering,” his father said. “He lived each day wanting to help, reaching out. He used to say that if he didn’t help someone or encourage someone each day, it was just a waste of a day.”
Randy especially wanted to minister to the sick like him. He launched an “Unmasked Survivor” YouTube series where he shared advice for caregivers and encouragement for the chronically ill.
He eventually lost mobility and had to use a wheelchair but was still determined to work and not go on disability, so he made crafts to sell online and learned how to earn income off rental property he managed. He donated much of the proceeds to his church and to families in need.
Randy did have some seasons of improvement in his health. Determined to graduate with his associate’s degree, he enrolled in community college and earned straight A’s for a couple semesters, making the Dean’s List. However, about two years ago, he had a major setback and his body did not respond to any treatments.
“He had radiation fibrosis, and it was like the radiation came back to kill him, like a spider web strangling his body inside,” Pastor Mike said.
Randy was living with a feeding tube and was eventually placed on oxygen. But his witness didn’t stop. Church members and friends would come to check on him, only to leave with conviction in their own hearts after powerful conversations with Randy. He still handled business calls and told suppliers and customers about Jesus at every chance.
By June 2020, Randy was on hospice care at home. He longed for Heaven, but his father challenged him with a “chore list” — everything he desired to do before he could go. A few months later, Randy was close to finishing the list, which included the names of many people he wanted to share the Gospel with and minister to, and tasks like buying Christmas presents, taking a final family photograph, getting a tattoo of James 1:2-4, and returning to the same beach where he thought he was ready to die 14 years before. That’s where he wanted to live out his final days with his family by his side. They went there in October. Unable to fly commercial, Randy’s brother Bill, a pilot, flew him and their father in a single-engine plane. “We called it ‘Randy’s Last Adventure,’” Pastor Mike said.

Randy Gestrich, left, with his father, Mike, and his brother Bill


Randy’s last chore was to buy his wife some jewelry, so they took him to a store at the beach. Unfortunately, it had just closed for the night, but they pleaded with the owner to open. “Randy could barely talk,” Pastor Mike said, “but he told the owner, ‘I’m going home to die right now’ and, when the man looked horrified, Randy told him he was a Christian and didn’t have any fear; he told him to trust in Jesus. With his last breaths, he was there sharing the Gospel.”
A couple days later, with barely a whisper, Randy spoke his last words: “Dad, I finished all my chores.”
Randy Gestrich died on Oct. 24, 2020, just before the sun rose over the ocean waves crashing on the shore outside his window. He was 29.
Mike Gestrich said Randy had asked him to use his story to help bring people to Christ. So when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette heard about this “last adventure” and told him they normally only write about the deaths of famous people but were so touched by Randy’s story, Pastor Mike proudly shared about his son and his relationship with Christ. The headline read: “Randy Gestrich: A short life full of compassion.”
Pastor Mike also asked the Liberty Journal to share Randy’s story with students and the entire Liberty family. He wanted them to know that his son, who once walked the same campus they have walked, learned early how to commit himself wholeheartedly to God’s work. He said Randy would tell them today that a life lived sold out for God is a rewarding one, even amid the pain and trials.
 
Thank you, Randy, for your example of living life to the fullest as a true Champion for Christ.
Listen to Mike Gestrich tell his son’s story:


“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4


 

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