Pastor Angelo V. Austria and his wife, Analiza, have a heart for the homeless and outcast. They relocated Vertical Church in Reno, Nevada, which they have led for 23 years, to within a few blocks of the gambling hub’s blighted downtown area.
But in December 2020, the Austrias experienced a potential disruption in ministry when Analiza started having light seizures.
“She would close her eyes for a couple of seconds, then open them and be confused about what happened,” says Angelo, 49. “Three doctors told us it was ear congestion.”
The frequency of seizures increased, and in January 2021, Analiza passed out between services at church. A brain scan revealed a tumor and glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain cancer. Her oncologist gave her just six months to live.
“We were completely shocked and devastated,” Angelo says. But he told his wife, “We’re not going to live by what the doctors said. We have a God who does miracles.”
After Analiza’s first brain surgery, she asked the Lord for the opportunity to visit the couple’s country of origin, the Philippines, with their three adult children: Nathan 25; Faith 21; and Christine, 19. The Austrias wanted them to experience the culture in which both parents grew up. Angelo also serves as president of the Assemblies of God Filipino-American Fellowship in the U.S.
One Sunday, a Vertical Church attendee who had never spoken to the Austrias about the situation asked if the family wanted to visit the Philippines. He explained that the Lord had told him to pay for it all. The Austrias secured plane tickets — then learned the aggressive cancer required another immediate emergency surgery. On their wedding anniversary, March 8, 2022, Analiza underwent a 7-hour operation, during which she had a stroke that damaged her left side and forced her onto a feeding tube. Her stay in the hospital lasted nearly a month, and the prognosis for travel didn’t look good.
“We didn’t know if we would make it to the Philippines due to the stroke,” Angelo tells AG News. “The doctors had given up on Analiza and recommended she go to hospice. But we were not going to accept that. Analiza always says that as long as a person is breathing, there’s hope. She demanded she go through therapy, workouts, and things to get her better.”
When the time came to travel, she had defied all expectations. She again could eat without a feeding tube and appeared mobile enough to make the trip using a wheelchair. Symptoms such as anxiety, itching, and constant dizziness did not manifest on the 14-hour flight.
“We went by faith, believing that God would take care of my wife,” says Angelo. “She did great. It was a perfect trip from day one. God orchestrated everything from our connections with people to the relationships we built.”
As younger daughter Christine said afterward, “Best days of my life.”
The high value Filipinos place on community deeply impacted the Austria children. They now have daily video-calls with friends they made among Christians there.
Back in Reno, the Austrias continue leading Vertical Church to care for and evangelize people trapped in homelessness, prostitution, drugs, gambling, and sex trafficking. The church operates an after-school club and job training center, and conducts a variety of daily ministries in needy areas.
“We are putting ourselves where the people are,” says Trecy C. Marr, 52, whose husband Greg, is associate pastor at Vertical. “We have never seen such genuine love for people as we have at Vertical.”
One Sunday a month, church adherents prayer-walk the area, including to the tent city by the Truckee River near the church. There, they talk and pray with prostitutes and homeless people who live on the streets with shopping carts and tarps.
On the health front, congregants are believing with Analiza, 53, for total healing and restoration, so she can continue in ministry with her husband and the church.
“Analiza is resilient and everybody is standing in faith that she will live and not die,” says Marr. “We believe she is a miracle in the making that God wants us all to see.”
Angelo calls every day a miracle for Analiza.
“People are watching her life’s journey and we know God is going to use her journey to impact thousands,” he says.