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Amazing Possibilities!

  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly

For the Martyrs Founder Gia Chacon Interviews with Matthew Kelly


Matthew Kelly:

Hi. I'm Matthew Kelly, and welcome to Profoundly Human. Gia, how are you?


Gia:

I'm doing well. Thanks so much for having me.


Matthew Kelly:

You are very, very welcome. Tough question to start. Are you a coffee drinker?


Gia:

I'm a hardcore coffee drinker.


Matthew Kelly:

Hardcore coffee drinker. What is your coffee rituals and routines?


Gia:

Well, my coffee ritual isn't anything fancy, but every morning the first thing I do when I wake up is make a hot cup of coffee and I'll probably have several throughout the day. Coffee is my life of blood.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you need to stop drinking coffee at some point in the day to be able to sleep at night?


Gia:

No. It has almost no effect on me. Interesting.


Matthew Kelly:

Very, very interesting. You've traveled all around the world. Where is the best coffee to be found?


Gia:

Italy.


Matthew Kelly:

Italy?


Gia:

For sure.


Matthew Kelly:

All right.


Gia:

Cappuccino.


Matthew Kelly:

Cappuccino?


Gia:

Nothing like it.


Matthew Kelly:

What about favorite food?


Gia:

My favorite food is probably something that my mom makes, something from our childhood. She used to make these potato tacos. Sounds simple, but there's just something nostalgic about it. That has to be my favorite food.


Matthew Kelly:

What about favorite band or music?


Gia:

I listen to a lot of Christian music and my favorite artist right now is Brandon Lake. He's awesome.


Matthew Kelly:

Favorite song-


Gia:

Favorite song-


Matthew Kelly:

... of Brandon Lake.


Gia:

... of Brandon Lake. Right now I'm listening to Lion by him and Elevation Worship.


Matthew Kelly:

And what about favorite movie?


Gia:

My favorite movie is Signs by M. Night Shyamalan. Do you know that one?


Matthew Kelly:

I do not know that one.


Gia:

It's a good one.


Matthew Kelly:

This is the first time.


Gia:

It's a good one.


Matthew Kelly:

What's it about?


Gia:

It's about an alien takeover, which ... but the purpose of the movie is or the underlying storyline is that everything that happens, happens for a reason and it all plays in at the end. And that's how eventually they end up, I guess, winning the takeover.


Matthew Kelly:

Is that why it's your favorite movie?


Gia:

It is.


Matthew Kelly:

And is that working out in your life?


Gia:

It is. Yeah.


Matthew Kelly:

It's happening for a reason.


Gia:

I think of that theme often that even the bad, the good, the ugly, all of it has a purpose that God will use.


Matthew Kelly:

Tell us about your childhood. What was it like growing up? What are your memories of childhood?


Gia:

I had a very fun childhood. I'm one of six children. So I have four sisters and one brother. And we're all very close to this day, but my childhood, we lived on a cul-de-sac at the top of the hill and at the bottom of the hill was a Catholic church. So some of my favorite memories are my mom and dad walking us down to mass on Sundays and just hanging out with the family. Still my favorite thing to do this day is just hang out with my brothers and sisters.


Matthew Kelly:

And that was California?


Gia:

Yes. California. Orange County.


Matthew Kelly:

Were you a sports person? Did you like playing sport growing up?


Gia:

I played a lot of sports, but I don't know if I am a sports person.


Matthew Kelly:

What sports did you play?


Gia:

I played tennis. I did baseball. I was actually a total tomboy growing up, if you can believe it or not. I wanted to be just like my brother because he was older than me. So I played on the boys' baseball team. I was the only girl and I was horrible, but I also did horseback riding and swimming. Yeah. I was involved in a lot of sports. Basketball.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you like watching sport?


Gia:

In person?


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.


Gia:

Yeah. I like going to a game getting a Dodger Dog if you're from California.


Matthew Kelly:

So baseball would be the game you would most like to attend?


Gia:

I think so. Yeah.


Matthew Kelly:

And you're a Dodgers fan?


Gia:

Yes.


Matthew Kelly:

Now what is the difference between a Dodgers fan and other California baseball fans?


Gia:

Like a Dodgers versus Angels or something?


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.


Gia:

Dodger fans are better.


Matthew Kelly:

Dodger fans are better.


Gia:

It depends on who you ask.


Matthew Kelly:

Interesting. I'm going to edit this out, but I'm thinking about my favorite baseball player, Shohei Ohtani. And it looks like the Mets are trying to steal him from the Angels for a massive amount of money as they usually do.


Gia:

So they probably will.


Matthew Kelly:

They probably will. Who is the most interesting person you've ever met?


Gia:

Most interesting person I've ever met. I've met so many interesting people, but I think the most interesting person that I've ever met was this young girl named Serena. She was a survivor of Christian persecution in Iraq. Her story was the first story that radically changed my life. So if I can give you a little snippet.


Matthew Kelly:

Give it.


Gia:

So she was living in Iraq during ISIS and ISIS or Islamist militants came into her home, kidnapped her sister, and killed the brother in front of the family. And they threatened the family that they were going to come back and kidnapped Serena if they didn't leave or convert. So ISIS left the family that night with the option convert or be killed. So her family fled Iraq with nothing, but their passports in their hand. And they were living in Jordan. And the reason why this is so interesting to me is because I couldn't believe that this girl only 19 years old had chose Jesus for everything. And when I spoke to her, she still had hope despite that she had lost everything and suffered so much. And that resonated with me so deeply and I think about her story often.


Matthew Kelly:

Now this was your first trip to Egypt when you met her?


Gia:

No. So I met her in Jordan in 2018. Okay. And this is my first experience with the Iraqi and Syrian refugees. So I had traveled for the first time to the middle east when I was 12 years old. And even at 12 years old, I visited Egypt with my grandmother. I remember how touched I was by the faith of the Egyptian Christians. But I returned to Egypt as an adult for the first time when I was 20. And being surrounded by the faith of the persecuted church, hearing their stories changed my life forever. And then through the years I had the opportunity to continue to go back and visit the persecuted church throughout the Middle East.


Matthew Kelly:

Wow. So you come back from that trip. What's happening in your mind? What are you thinking? What's on your heart? What does that look like?


Gia:

When I visited Egypt?


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. And that was with your grandmother, right?


Gia:

Yeah. So the story that leads up to me visiting Egypt for the first time, if I can share with you, I was working on what I thought was my dream job at the time. I had everything that I could have wanted from the outside looking in, but on the inside I felt really empty. And I felt like when I looked in the mirror, I didn't recognize the person looking back at me. So eventually it got to the place where I didn't like the person looking back at me. And so I said a simple prayer. I said, "Lord, I know anyone who is in you is new creation and I want that new creation life." And within the course of maybe a week, God turned my life upside down. But it was for the better. It's kind of amazing what happens when we give God permission to turn our lives upside down. I called my grandmother and I said, "Grandma, do you have any trips coming up?" Because she has run a non-profit organization that focuses on international crisis relief for over 40 years and she's always traveling somewhere. So in my mind, I was just going to go on a retreat, get out of town and figure out what my next step was going to be. And she said, "Yes. We're going to Egypt and you're welcome to come."


Gia:

So two weeks later I was in Egypt and surrounded by people. For the first time in my adult life that I realized people are being persecuted for their faith. That Christian persecution is not just something of the past that happened in the early church, but is happening now today. And that there are Christians, young people, my age and even younger who are willing to die for their faith. And that resonated with me so deeply. So while I was in Egypt, surrounded by these young people so on fire, I made the decision, "Lord, I never want to live another day of my life not totally in service for you." So I came back to the United States, radically changed and I told my mom I had a moment with the Lord in Egypt and I gave my life to Jesus again. And it was never the same after that.


Matthew Kelly:

So you're sitting on a plane coming back. What are you thinking?


Gia:

Thinking I need to stop talking to a lot of the friends that I was hanging out with. Truthfully, I was thinking how grateful I was for that experience because not everybody has an opportunity to travel at the top of the hat and get out of her comfort zone and experience people who were suffering and hear their stories. So the first thing that I was thinking that I was grateful to God for answering my prayer in such a short timeframe. And I was thinking about all the things that I needed to change about myself, short-term, in order to align myself with Christ. Although I didn't know what he was going to do. I had no idea what my life looked like. I wasn't sure what my next step was going to be, but I knew that I had to make some changes.


Matthew Kelly:

You mentioned friends. I think one of the things that prevents conversion from taking root in people's lives is that their friends are not supportive of the changes that they're making.


Gia:

Yeah.


Matthew Kelly:

Did you lose friends?


Gia:

I lost all my friends except for one. I have one friend that I've had since high school and she's amazing. She's my best friend to this day. But yeah, it was painful. I lost all of my friends and actually I started an Instagram page to ... because I was so excited about the transformation that happened to me. And I wanted to share how exciting it is to follow Jesus and the truth of gospel. So I started an Instagram page. And one of my closest friends actually made a fake Instagram page to mock me. So that was really painful. But I'm thankful for my mom because she was really the closest friend that I had at the time. And we started praying the rosary together and going to mass. And I got so close to Jesus during that time where I felt so isolated.


Matthew Kelly:

What memories do you have of your mother from childhood?


Gia:

My mom was so awesome. I can't say enough good things about my mom, but a few favorite memories. She was really involved. She was a stay-at-home mom. So we were with her 24/7 and just compassionate, but fearless at the same time. Something that I appreciate about my mom to this day, but goes back even to our childhood. She always encouraged us not only to seek a personal relationship with Christ, but that God had a special calling for each of our lives. And that we should pursue that calling, and trust Jesus, and go where he's calling us. So those are my early memories of my mom, but also I think of when we used to have ... we used to do these things called family meetings. We would go into my mom and dad's room and come around the bedroom, talk about like things that were happening in our lives and then we would pray the rosary together. My mom was the one that started that.


Matthew Kelly:

When you were a child and your mom was telling you, "God has a plan for you." What did you think?


Gia:

I think I was always a big dreamer, to be honest with you. When my mom told me that God has a plan for my life, I thought He has a big plan for my life. I think she always encouraged us that way, that we had a special calling and that God wanted to do something big in our lives. So I'm not sure exactly what I thought, but there was periods of my life where I thought, "Okay. I want to be a doctor or I want to travel around the world helping people." Which I guess I fulfilled in a sense. Yeah, I'm not sure exactly what I thought, but I knew that it was something big.


Matthew Kelly:

And it's carried with you. I think that like the interesting thing about that for me is that I think very often parents think, "Oh, my kids aren't listening. My kids aren't listening." But then you're sitting here today saying, "God had a profound effect on me. Hearing that from my mother had a profound effect on me." And I think that's great encouragement for parents. How would you describe yourself to somebody who didn't know you or if the aliens came?


Gia:

If the aliens came. I would describe myself as maybe a go-getter. I think of the word perseverance a lot and I try to live out a bold life. I'm not always fearless. A lot of times I have hesitancy or I get discouraged, but I try as best as I can to at least act out courageously. And of course, a lot of that comes from my prayer life, but I don't know, maybe outgoing, passionate is a good word.


Matthew Kelly:

What are you most excited about in your life at the moment?


Gia:

I'm most excited about our March for the Martyrs that's coming up. So the organization I started is called For the Martyrs. We raise awareness about Christian persecution, advocate for religious freedom, and provide aid to suffering Christians around the world. We're best known for our March for the Martyrs, which is an annual march held in Washington, D.C. to stand in solidarity with the persecuted church. And I'm so excited about that because it's always so amazing to see how many people, Christians of all ages and of all denominations coming together as one voice for the persecuted church.


Matthew Kelly:

September 24th this year?


Gia:

Yes. September 24th in Washington, D.C..


Matthew Kelly:

And where can people learn more about that?


Gia:

You can learn more about it by going to forthemartyrs.com or if you have Instagram, you can follow us at March for the Martyrs.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. You grew up Catholic. What are your memories or favorite memories of growing up Catholic?


Gia:

My favorite memory of grow growing up Catholic has to be walking to mass with my siblings from my house. I told you we lived on the top of the hill and then we would walk down to the bottom of the hill where the church was. So that has to be my favorite memories. Just waking up on Sunday, getting in our cute outfits. I think little kids are more excited to dress up than we get credit for at that age. Yeah. And making a day of it. Sundays were always a special day in our family. And so it was a time to bond with my brothers and sisters and it was a time that we were all together because my dad did work a lot. So on Sundays being able to spend time with him and my mom at church was special.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. You've had this journey with God. How does God amaze you?


Gia:

God amazes me every day to be honest. I'm blown away by his mercy, the redemption that can be seen in our everyday lives. I really believe that God is always speaking to us and it's just up to us to listen to him. So I'm amazed day to day. The little miracles that are happening, the little ways that God is speaking to me and the way that He's always calling us to Him, always calling us to something greater.


Matthew Kelly:

So you make this trip to Egypt when you're 20 with your grandma and you come back and you make these changes. Were there moments where you thought, "Oh, what am I doing?" And were they three months later or three years later? Or what does that look like?


Gia:

Sometimes I think that to this day. No. I'm just joking. Yeah. It was, it was really difficult to be honest at the beginning. I was excited because I had given my life to the Lord and I knew I was doing the right thing, but transformation is painful. It's difficult to give up your comfortable life, the life of friends and doing what you want to do all the time. It's difficult to live a Christian life the way that God intended. So it was hard at the beginning to make that transformation. And it can feel isolating. I think I mentioned that earlier. A lot of it is just you and God because even the people in your corner that do support you don't really understand everything that you're going through. So yeah, I think in the beginning three months in, three days in I was like, "What have I done?" But I don't regret it for one minute. I always tell people that the life that you have with Jesus is the best life that you could possibly live.


Matthew Kelly:

Does boldness bring on more boldness? Do you draw on those bold leaps for the strength to do more bold things?


Gia:

Absolutely. I think that if you choose small ... or if you take advantage of the small opportunities to be bold, then when you need ... when you really need to be bold, it becomes easier. So if you can, every day, make a little act of courage, when you need a lot of courage, it'll be easier.


Matthew Kelly:

So if there's someone out there who has a bold decision to make or a leap of faith that they're being invited to, what would you say to that person?


Gia:

I would say you need to pray because really we get our holy ... we get our boldness from the Holy Spirit. We learn that in scripture that the Holy Spirit will give us the boldness that we need to fulfill the calling that He's giving us. So I would say if you have a big decision or if you have a moment where you need courage, then to seek the Holy Spirit through prayer. But also I think a lot of times the devil will try to talk us out of these callings. He'll say, "Well, it's not your time yet. You're not experienced enough. You're not the right person for that." And a lot of times it's ourself. Our own insecurities that we've put on ourselves. So we have to be able to look past that and not listen to those voices. And I say, "Just go for it."


Matthew Kelly:

Yep. Even family and friends who love us, they might say, "Oh, think about this, or think about that, or think about the other thing." And it can be a drain on our boldness. I've heard you say that sometimes God breaks us in order to heal us. What do you mean by that?


Gia:

Well, I think a lot of times we build up so many walls around ourselves. We don't want to get hurt. We don't want to let anybody in. And sometimes that person that we don't want to let and is Jesus because we're afraid of what will happen, we're afraid of being too vulnerable. And in my own story, I needed my life to be turned up to upside down. I needed the wrecking ball to come in, so to speak. In order for me to have that wake up moment that, "Okay. I'm not doing what God needs, what God is calling me to do. I'm not living the life that God is calling me to." And really when we become broken, when we become vulnerable, we realize that the only person that we have to turn to is Jesus and we become fully dependent on him. And when we're fully dependent on him, that's when healing can start.


Matthew Kelly:

I've also heard you speak about this conversion experience that you had and how you've got your friends, you've got your family, you feel this call, but you feel still the culture is pulling you very strong in one direction. God is inviting you to walk a different path. What was that like?


Gia:

It's difficult because especially as a young woman, the culture is offering us so much. Especially in the age that we're living in there's so many ways that we can find opportunities or be recognized. I mentioned that I was working my dream job. I was moving up really quickly. I was working for a cosmetic company that I thought was amazing and it was a dream to be working there. I was one of the youngest business managers that they had hired and I saw a lucrative future for myself. And it was easy for me. And so giving that up was difficult, but I knew ... And even though I didn't know what it was going to look like living my life for Jesus, I knew that I would never be fully satisfied until I chose Him. And I think that's really the message that I want to bring to people, is that we search so much for our identity in other things. In social media and our jobs, sometimes even in our family, the people that we surround ourselves with, but our true identity can only be found in Christ. And we're never going to feel satisfaction, wholeness, we'll never have healing until we start seeking our identity in Jesus.


Matthew Kelly:

So when you look back on that, how do you see culture affecting young people and maybe in particular young women?


Gia:

The culture of the United States is frankly evil. We're pulling young people in. They're waiting for young people. I think even 10 years ago it was different. Social media has made it so easy for people to be influenced. And we think of influencers and we think that the only thing they're influencing us is to buy products. That's not true. We're constantly, young people are constantly being fed ideas, opinions. This is right, this is wrong, this is how you should dress, this is how you should act, this is what's good and this is what's bad. Because of social media, it's so easy for young people to subconsciously start giving in and be influenced by these honestly dark forces.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you think they're aware that it's happening or because they have no exposure to the other side that they just sort of sleep walking through it?


Gia:

I think it's a little bit of both. I think maybe if you were raised in a Christian or a Catholic household, or you have someone in your family, or your life that's speaking truth to you, then maybe you have some understanding of what the truth is. But in this generation, broadly speaking, I think that most of the young people are blindly following a lot of these trends in culture norms.


Matthew Kelly:

You have described college and universities as indoctrination or liberal indoctrination camps. If someone woke up from a coma today, they've been in a coma for 25 years, and they asked you, "What's happening on college campuses? What would you tell them?


Gia:

I would say that college campuses went from being a place that you could expand your understanding, debate ideas, have healthy conversations with people, learn different opinions, and of course be educated. It's so important to have liberal education quotes around that. But now we've gotten to a place where if you don't align yourself with what your professors are teaching with, what the college and what the culture aligns with, then you're an outsider and you'll be silenced and you'll be punished for that. And especially when it comes to a Christian speaking out on campus, there is becoming less and less space and room for a Christian to speak from their place of faith on college campuses.


Matthew Kelly:

So if someone does speak up in a class, what does that look like? What happens to that person?


Gia:

If you have an opinion that does not go with the majority, your professors, these days, they can literally fail you in your class. We've seen that actually that kids on campus received Fs or fails or bad grades from the professors just because they spoke in favor of an opinion that wasn't popularly held. We've also seen professors on campuses across the United States being fired for sharing their personal beliefs with their students, which is a dangerous and scary place to be in the United States.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. I saw you speaking to a group of people and you talked about breaking up with the brand. Tell us about that.


Gia:

Yes. Well, Americans are consumers. We are constantly buying products. And what we don't realize is that a lot of these products and organizations put money into activists, agendas. For example, a lot of makeup companies blatantly and funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into the abortion industry. So we have to not be afraid to break up with our favorite brands, our favorite products in order to put our money where our mouth is. If we say that we're pro-life and then we're supporting makeup companies that pay for or that donate to planned parenthood, then how are we really pro-life? We need to make sure that our money is representing ... where we're spending our money represents our morals and our values.


Matthew Kelly:

Why don't people break up with brands?


Gia:

Because they're popular. It's easier not to think about it. It's easier not to make those smaller decisions that we don't think about exactly where our money is going. I think it's easier not to break up the brand. It's easier to continue to buy what's popular and what has been your favorite for a long time.


Matthew Kelly:

So just the path of least resistance.


Gia:

Exactly. The path of least resistance.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you think that people think whether it's Christians being persecuted far away or breaking up with the brand, do you think that people think, "Well, I'm just one person that's not going to do much."


Gia:

Absolutely. I get asked that question all the time. People will say, "Well, I'm just a young person in the United States. I'm just attending this parish in Ohio or in California. What difference does my voice really make?" But as Americans, we have a huge opportunity to use our platform, our influence, even within our parishes on campuses and our circle of friends to make a difference. And we should never underestimate the power of our voice in speaking up for the oppressed and in speaking in favor of justice.


Matthew Kelly:

On your Instagram page, genuinelygia, you talk about the concept or the theme of surrender. What does that mean to you and how does someone participate in that?


Gia:

Surrender to me means that not just that we're giving our life to Jesus, which is a big surrender to say, "Lord, I give you my life and I make you the Lord of my life." But surrendering to Him and His will in every minute, every moment asking the Lord in our big decisions and our small decisions, "Is this your will? What is your will? Help me surrender to your will in this moment, Lord." So I think we have a lifelong conversion. We're constantly every day making the decision to give ourselves over to God, and that's what surrender means.


Matthew Kelly:

I think a lot of people, they get on a journey of faith. They want to walk with God and they give God all of their life except one area. And that might be a relationship, that might be career. It could be any one area of their life, but they basically fence that area off and say, "All right, God. I surrender all of my life except this one area." What advice would you have for that person?


Gia:

I think the reason people do that is because they're afraid of what will happen if they let it go, if they give up control. And we have to trust that God's understanding and plan for our life is so much better than anything that we could ever design or hope for for ourselves. So the courage to surrender the courage, to give everything to Jesus, to trust him in the good and the bad, to trust him when it's unknown, be okay with that and recognize that God's plan ... He tells us in scripture that, "I have a plan for your life and it is good." We have to trust that God's plan for our life is good and that everything, even if we can't see it in the moment, will work out according to His will and for our ultimate purpose.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you ever think about if you had not had that experience of making that trip to Egypt, if you had not surrendered yourself and your life to God in the way that you have, where you would be, what you would be doing, what your life would be like? Do you ever think about that?


Gia:

I think about it all the time. I really do think about it all the time because that trip changed my whole life and ultimately led me to where I am now with For the Martyrs and the work that I'm doing. I thank God for that moment because I think He had mercy on me and He knew I needed something shocking, something that was going to rock my world in order for me to make the decision that I made to give my life to Him.


Matthew Kelly:

And if you hadn't, where do you think you would be? What do you think you would be doing? What would life be like?


Gia:

I hope I wouldn't still be working for a cosmetic company selling makeup, but I don't know. I have no idea. Though, Matthew, I really think deep down I always had a desire to do more. And I told you, even from my childhood, I knew that there was something greater out there for me. It took me a while to get there, to know that greater purpose is founded in the Lord, but I think that I would be still just as unhappy as I was, still searching for purpose and looking for that something greater.


Matthew Kelly:

You spoke earlier about this feeling of emptiness that you were experiencing prior to your conversion. How many young people are experiencing that? And what would you say to a young person who is experiencing that right now? Who hears you say, "Oh, I was feeling this emptiness. I was experiencing this emptiness." And that resonates with them. What would you say to that person?


Gia:

I think so many young people feel that way. Even young Catholics, even young Christians. I think the reason that our society is in the state that it is because of people feeling empty and looking for that fullness in everything. But Jesus. So I would really encourage that person that there is a purpose for your life, that God has a plan for you, that God loves you, He sees everything that has happened to you. That He values you and to not be afraid to give your life to Him. I think so many people are afraid, like we spoke about earlier, we're afraid of what our friends will say, about what our families will say. We're afraid of judgment. We're afraid of the unknown, but you will be amazed what God will do with your life when you give Him permission. When you give yourself over to Him.


Matthew Kelly:

Powerful. You're traveling in these countries whether it's Egypt or Iraq, what does it feel like? From a safety point of view, from a faith point of view, from a humanitarian point of view, what is that like?


Gia:

It can be scary to be honest with you. It can be very scary. A lot of the places that we go don't like Westerners, they don't like Americans. And especially if you're an American Christian and you're entering in to help Christians, they can put a target on you. But I will be honest with you. The most dangerous places that I've been. For example, I went to the Syrian border in 2018 and we went to a makeshift refugee camp that was, I think, 50 miles away from the border. So very close to Syria when war was still happening. And I have never felt the presence of God so strongly as I did in that place. It continues to be that way. That when we go to the most unserved, the most dangerous, a place where people tell you really shouldn't be going there, the presence of God can be found so strong in those places.


Matthew Kelly:

Now, do people still take you aside and say, "Hey, Gia, you shouldn't go there." Family, friends, people in your circle.


Gia:

Yes. I'll tell you a fun story. Sometimes we work with security when we go into these countries because we want to operate with wisdom. We would never want to go in and think we know how to run the show here. We want to understand the threats, we want to make sure our safety is ... or our team is safe, but we also want to make sure the people that we're serving are going to be safe.


Gia:

So we hired a contractor who previously worked for the US embassy in Iraq and then also in Afghanistan, so totally understood the Middle East. And we were invited to go to an area where the US embassy said, "If you go, sign your will basically and have your affairs in order." And the community of Christians that we were visiting insisted, "It's safe, it's safe. It's okay for Americans to come or you'll be okay as long as you bring a small group." And the security that we hired to advise us told us, "There's no way that you can go. There's no way that it's going to be safe for you." And I prayed about it and I felt very strongly that it was God's will for us to go serve these people. How could we go into a country wanting to serve the Christians who are the most affected and then not go to the village that's asking us, that's saying, "We need your help." So we decided to go. By the grace of God we were totally safe and it was fine. I guess to answer your question, yes. People still tell us that we shouldn't be doing it, that we shouldn't go to some of these places, but we listen to the wisdom, we listen to the Holy Spirit and we go where God calls us.


Matthew Kelly:

You mentioned earlier, they don't like Westerners, they don't like Americans, they don't like Christians. You didn't mention women and they don't like women.


Gia:

They don't.


Matthew Kelly:

What is it like being a young woman, a leader in those places?


Gia:

It's difficult. You have to be careful. You have to tread very lightly because already ... First of all, as an outsider coming in, maybe you have a little bit of advantage because you're from the United States, even though they don't like Westerners. Just the fact that you have an American passport means they need to treat you with somewhat of respect or protect your safety. But it's difficult because the ideology of men in these countries is that women are seen as man's property. So coming into an Arab society, predominantly Muslim as a Christian woman trying to bring an operation that I'm in charge of, it raises eyebrows to say the least.


Matthew Kelly:

And do people say things or does it happen behind your back?


Gia:

I've experienced, for example, when we come through ... sometimes when we're coming through customs and we have to work with the Muslim brotherhood in these airports like these. And when I say that, it's not like it's a terrorist organization that's running it. It's that just factually a lot of the people working in these places are part of the Muslim brotherhood. And they see Christian American coming in with all of these resources. They'll pull us aside and they'll interrogate us for no reason other than to just give us a hard time, try to get money out of us. We had one experience where in Egypt, one of the guys on our team was held for four hours accused of being a spy. Anything that you can really think of. They'll try to intimidate you so that you will say, "Okay. We'll leave. We won't come back." Or, "We won't continue our mission here."


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah. Most Catholics, most Christians are oblivious to the vast extent of persecution taking place around the world. Give us a glimpse, statistics, stories, give us a sense of what's going on out there.


Gia:

Christians are the most persecuted religious group. People are shocked to hear this. Christian persecution is increasing every year. So we have seen in the last four years, the number of Christians who are persecuted for their faith go from 265 million to now in 2022, the number is 360 million Christians around the world face high levels of persecution. What does this mean? This means that our brothers and sisters are facing imprisonment, loss of their businesses, torture and even death solely because of their faith in Christ. So a lot of people, when they think of Christian persecution, they think maybe only what happened in Iraq and Syria with ISIS, but there is that more outright persecution where we have genocides happening, which happened in Iraq and Syria and is happening now in Nigeria. We have a 60% increase in violence against Christian happened in Nigeria in 2020 alone. So we have the more outright violent persecution, but we also have a systematic targeting of Christians, which you see in Egypt. So Christians are targeted in the education system. If they go to fight a case in court, their testimony is seen as less than or totally discounted solely on the basis because ... or solely on the basis that they're Christian versus their brother, sister of another faith.


Matthew Kelly:

In some cases we ask the question, okay, why isn't the media covering any of this? And often people will say, "Well, that's been happening for a long time. That isn't really news." But you look at maybe what is happening in India at the moment, which is a very, very recent phenomena where Christians and Catholics in particular are being killed just be because they're Catholic. Why, in your opinion, does the media not cover these events?


Gia:

I think if you're going to talk about Christian persecution, you have to answer the question who is persecuting Christians. It's not politically correct to say these Islamic extremists in these countries are persecuting Christians. It's not politically correct to talk about governments persecuting Christians and targeting specifically Christians too. It's not politically correct to talk about Christian suffering. And also, I think there's a general hostility toward Christians these days, even just like we were talking about earlier, just being Christian is seen as controversial in today's world, even in the United States. So it makes sense that they wouldn't want to talk about Christians dying for their faith overseas.


Matthew Kelly:

In America, we have women's rights groups of every variety. How does the plight of a woman differ in America to the plight of a woman in let's say Saudi Arabia?


Gia:

It's completely different. In Saudi Arabia or in many Arab countries, women are seen as property of men. They're seen as second class citizens. Saudi Arabia, it was just recently that a woman could drive in the car by herself or travel without either her husband, or her brother, or her father. So when we think of women's rights in the United States, it's a very different discussion for women in many places in the middle east, where anything can happen to you and it won't matter simply because you're a woman. Violence, abuse. You're the property of the man that's in charge of you, whether that's your husband, your boss, the government. It's also taboo for women to speak out on issues, to share your opinion. Women don't speak up in a lot of these countries. So even the voice of a woman here in the United States has more freedom than the voice of women in many of these countries.


Matthew Kelly:

So we hear these stories and we hear about these countries, but in the case of Saudi Arabia, they would be considered our friend in the Middle East. They would be considered our ally. We have full and active diplomatic relations with this country. What role do our politicians play in doing something about this?


Gia:

A huge role. At the end of the day, it really is about money and power. As Americans, we should be putting pressure on our politicians, on our government to sanction Saudi Arabia, to sanction Turkey, to sanction China for their human rights abuses. It is a horrific tragedy and injustice that we are continuing to do business with and make deals with to the number of billions of dollars while countries are knowingly committing human rights abuses against their citizens.


Matthew Kelly:

What do Christians in these other countries think about Christians in the West or in America?


Gia:

I think to a degree, they wish they had the freedom that we had. They wish that they could go to church and not worry if it means that they will go to jail. They wish that they wouldn't have to worship in private, but at the same time, I think that they think that maybe the American church has gotten comfortable. There is an urgency that happens when you're persecuted. There's a fire that's lit within you. When you make the decision to follow Christ in a country that's persecuted, you're making the decision to die for Jesus, whether that's tomorrow, whether that's 10 years down the line, or whether perhaps it will never happen, but you're accepting the risk that at some point or another, I might have to die for my faith. Am I willing to make that stand? And I think the American church can learn from that. We can learn from the boldness of the faith of Christians in the Middle East of the underground church in China, the underground church in Iran. And we can learn from their bold witness, their urgency, their fire that they have for Jesus.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you think they resent us in our comfort, a religious comfort?


Gia:

No. I think they depend on us. They need their brothers and sisters in the US to be their voice, to be their advocate. Whenever we do work with a persecuted church, we bring them food, clothing. A lot of times we'll do medical missions. And despite all of that support that we bring, when we ask them, "What is the greatest need?" They will almost always say, "Please continue to pray for us." And they will also say, "Thank you for knowing and caring about our suffering." So the greatest need from the mouth of the persecuted church is that their brothers and sisters in the US are praying for them and standing with them. So they depend on us for that solidarity.


Matthew Kelly:

Religious freedom has always been uniquely and beautifully celebrated in the United States. It is beginning to be eroded. How do you see it being eroded? And what do you think that looks like in the next 10, 20 years?


Gia:

I think what's happening in the United States is a very sinister attack on religious freedom. They're testing us. How much are we willing to sacrifice? How much are we willing to abandon our right to freely worship our right to publicly profess our faith or speak from a position of being a Christian? We're seeing that on college campuses, we're seeing that with various bills that are being introduced. And if Christians don't speak out now, if we don't stand up now while we have a chance, while we can still fight it in the courts, while we still have a voice in the United States, I think the hostility toward Christians is only going to increase. And it won't be long before we see serious persecution.


Matthew Kelly:

Was what happened during COVID a test run of what some people would like to do on a larger scale and more permanently?


Gia:

Absolutely. They were testing how willing are Christians? How readily is the church going to give up the right to worship, their right to assemble? In California, for example, we had our governor who actually told the church, "It's no longer legal for you to worship, to sing praises in a church service." And so Christians abandoned singing praise. That is mind blowing to me, Matthew, that we had the government telling Christians when and where you can worship and that the church went along with it. And I absolutely believe that what happened with COVID, we saw pastors arrested, we saw churches targeted during other activist movements that were happening during the time. Churches were targeted and the government was not protecting the churches and these riots and various things that were happening. And I absolutely believe it was a test run to see, okay, how easy is it for us to take away the religious freedom and the protection of the church?


Matthew Kelly:

It seems we were completely ill prepared as a church for that moment. Do you think that has changed since COVID?


Gia:

No, to be honest. Maybe yes and no. I think that some pastors, some churches stepped up to the plate. And we saw that when the church leaders did this, the congregation happily followed. That when the pastors, and the priests, and the bold church leaders took a stand and said, "No. We're going to continue to hold worship services." Or, "We are not going to accept these unjust mandates from the government." There was support from the sheep. And I think that the congregation is looking to our leaders to be bold, but unfortunately many of our leaders were not bold. And so do I think that we're better prepared? Yes and no. We know that it can happen now, but the real question is, are pastors, are priests or church leaders, is the body of Christ any more bold than it was during that time?


Matthew Kelly:

Fabulous insight. Really powerful. Your organization, For the Martyrs, what's your vision there? What are you hoping to accomplish? And for someone who's sitting at home thinking, "Wow, I never knew this was going on." How can they be involved, how can they get educated?


Gia:

Well, our goal for For the Martyrs is to continue to bring the plight of the persecuted church to every Christian. We believe that this is a unifying issue. That Christians of all denominations of all ages can come together as one voice for the persecuted church. I shared with you that the persecuted depend on the prayers and solidarity of their brothers and sisters in the United States. And we would like to see every church praying for the persecuted church as a regular part of their Sunday service, as it used to be in the Catholic church. And we hope to grow our March for the Martyrs. We want Christians of all ages to know that your voice matters. We need every Christian raising their voice on behalf of the persecuted. And for those wondering, how can I get involved? How can I use my platform, my influence? Well, the first step is you can follow us at March for the Martyrs on Instagram or Facebook. And you can go to our website, forthemartyrs.com, to learn about Christian persecution, some fast facts and statistics that you can usually easily share with your communities of faith and get the conversation started around this issue.


Matthew Kelly:

Excellent. You mentioned the idea of unity of bringing Christians together. It would seem that this should be one thing that all Christians of any denomination should be able to agree upon. Has your experience been that various Christian groups are willing to cooperate around the issue and what has that experience been like?


Gia:

Yes. At our March for the Martyrs, we bring in pastors, and priests, Christians of all denominations to share their experience, their insight, their knowledge. And it's a beautiful thing to see at the March we have a dedicated time of prayer specifically for the persecuted. And one of the most beautiful things doing one of my favorite parts about this event is seeing the Christians in prayer altogether as one for the persecuted church. And in these places where you're persecuted for your faith, they don't ask you, "Are you Catholic? Are you Protestant? Are you evangelical?" They ask you, "Are you a Christian?" You're dying for the name of Christ. And so they have a unity because of that, and we can learn from that here in the United States as well.


Matthew Kelly:

Powerful. You started your Instagram page, genuinelygia. It's one of the main ways that you've got the message out to people, especially young people. When did you start it, what was your original thoughts around starting it, and how has it impacted people in ways that you imagined and did not imagine?


Gia:

I first started my genuinelygia Instagram I think only a few months after my experience, the first time in Egypt when I was 20. And I thought there is so much negativity on Instagram. There are so many pages just sharing about glorifying yourself and your body. So many messages being pushed to young people. I wanted to be a voice of truth because I know that there are people out there that are struggling with their identity, that feel just as lost as I was or even worse. And if I can be a voice to them, a voice of truth, bringing a message of hope, purpose, and identity in Jesus, then I want to be that person for them because I looked for that and it wasn't there. So I started it back then and it's grown to an awesome community of young people. And I've been able to talk about various topics, of course, Christian persecution, but pro-life issues as well and it's been wonderful to see the response of young people. I love when I get a message that said, "Gia, a message you've shared changed my life." Or, "I found Jesus because I found your page." That's why I do what I do.


Matthew Kelly:

So across your social media platforms, what sort of things do you hear from people? You mentioned, this changed my life or this brought me to God, but what else do you hear from people?


Gia:

I get a lot of hate messages, to be honest with you. It's kind of amazing. When you start speaking out about Christianity or you start boldly proclaiming biblical truths on hot topic issues of our day, how many people will come out of the woodwork to send you messages. But to be honest with you, I've never really paid attention to those hateful messages. For every message that I've gotten about someone hating me or sending me a mean message, I've gotten 100 more messages of people saying, "This is my community. I'm so glad I found this page." I'm grateful for the work that you do.


Matthew Kelly:

You're often described as humanitarian, blogger, speaker. What is a humanitarian?


Gia:

A humanitarian is somebody who is seeking the welfare of others. And for me, it's seeking the welfare of my brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. It's living your life for the other person and in service of the other person.


Matthew Kelly:

If someone is out there and thinks, "Okay. What she is doing is amazing, but I got three little kids. I can't go to Egypt or Iraq." What can they do in their everyday life to take on the heart of a humanitarian?


Gia:

Well, you don't have to be a missionary. You don't have to go overseas to be a missionary. You can be a missionary in your parish, in your community, in your own home. I love the quote by Mother Teresa. I think it's loosely translated to if you want to change the world, go home and love your family. Start with your immediate community. Or you can be a sender. You can support projects that you believe in by donating and praying for that group. But really, I think it's easier to start than people when people would think. Start in your community, start taking care of the homeless, the poor and take care of your extended family too. A lot of times they're most in need and often overlooked.


Matthew Kelly:

Say more about that. Extended family often overlooked.


Gia:

Yeah. I think a lot of times when we think about serving people, we think, "Okay. How can we go out into the world?" We want to go be a missionary in other countries. But a lot of times the people closest to us are hurting the most and we don't realize it. Or maybe we're afraid to have that conversation, but I would encourage people to have conversations with not just their brothers and sisters or within their household, but they're extended family. Be a missionary to them, share Jesus with them, ask them how you can help them if they need something.


Matthew Kelly:

You are young. Do you have regrets?


Gia:

I think, yes. It's hard not to have regrets. But I try not to let my regrets dictate my future. That's why I love so much how our redemption is found through Christ. That even the mistakes that we made can be turned into a miracle and our past can be used for our purpose. But I would say my biggest regret is ever going away from the faith, ever not living my life totally for Jesus. Those years, maybe they were short in the long run, but it was time wasted away from Jesus.


Matthew Kelly:

Talk about the past. Do you think God uses our broken past to serve other people, to heal other people? And how have you seen that play out in your own life or in other people's lives around you?


Gia:

Absolutely. I think the things that we go through are experiences, the things that have happened to us within our families, the injustices that we've suffered, the hardships where we're asking, "God, why have you allowed this to happen?" Or we just can't make sense of it. God uses all of that. I'll share something with you very personal. My brothers struggled with drug addiction for many years, and that was massively painful. I wouldn't wish that on upon my worst enemy, but because of that experience, and thanks be to God, he's completely clean now. But because of that experience, I have an empathy toward people who are going through something similar or I have a deeper understanding of God's love despite that. The power of his love working through us to love people and to advocate for people.


Matthew Kelly:

You've made some big decisions in your life, you'll have more big decisions to make ahead. Do you have a process that you go through when you have a big decision to make?


Gia:

It all starts with prayer? I think that we can't do anything right or good outside of God. And so I try to stay in prayer as much as I can. Especially if I have a big decision coming up, I try to seek the Holy Spirit and his voice. And I also ask for a lot of advice. I think it's important, especially as a young person who if you're starting something, or you're starting out in ministry, or even in your career, whatever it may be, it's important to pray and have the advice of people who have experience, who support you, who are in your corner, who can maybe give you a nudge in the right direction when you need it.


Matthew Kelly:

Young people out there dating, looking for the person to spend their life with, this is one of the areas that very often isolates us from God. What advice would you have for them?


Gia:

I would say, first of all, you're not going to flirt to convert anybody. So I think a lot of times we're naive and we think, "Well, maybe you can." But in most cases, okay, in most cases, the guy that you're dating that's not a Christian, I would say, you should really ask the Lord if that relationship is of Him. And it's worth waiting for who God has for you, it's worth waiting for somebody who's going to bring you closer to Christ and push you into your purpose versus dating around just to ... out of boredom, or because you want attention, or for whatever reason. It's worth waiting for who God has for you.


Matthew Kelly:

You've mentioned prayer several times and how much of a bedrock that is in your life. How do you pray? What are your daily prayer routines? What does that look like?


Gia:

I have dedicated time of prayer. So whether that's in the morning or night, I try to take at least a half an hour just to read scripture and to have that quiet time with the Lord. I often go to adoration. I think going to holy hours, sitting in front of the Eucharist and just being in the presence of Jesus like that. You will have so much clarity, life changing revelations that you will have during that time in front of the Eucharist are just amazing. But I also think that we should be in a constant state of prayer. That doesn't mean that we're walking around praying the rosary all day necessarily, but being in constant communication with the Lord. "God, how can I seek you in this moment? What are you showing me in this moment?" Or, "How can I be used of you to witness to someone here?" Or even with small decisions, seeking the Lord for clarity and for direction.


Matthew Kelly:

So you've developed this habit of prayer, this discipline of prayer. What about on days when you don't feel like it? On the days where you just you're distracted, or you can't get into it, or you just don't feel like it, what's the conversation you have with yourself on those days?


Gia:

Honestly, I pray and I ask God for the grace and I'll say, "Lord, help me have the grace to seek you, to spend time with you. Give me the grace." I feel like I'm praying, give me the grace, often because we can't do anything without God's grace to be truthful. And so many of us struggle with so many things. It sounds easy to say always set time apart to pray, and I'm constantly seeking the Lord, but it's easy to be distracted. It's easy to feel like we're so busy that we don't have time to spend with the Lord. I don't remember who said this, but somebody in a talk that I went to a couple years back said it's important to make an appointment with God and keep it. And if we can even make a five minute appointment with God every day, even on the days where it's the most difficult, we'll be amazed about how transformative that is.


Matthew Kelly:

One thing I like to ask my guess is if you could host a dinner party and you can invite anyone from history, who would you invite?


Gia:

Definitely St. Pope John Paul II. He is one of my heroes. And I'm constantly thinking about his words to young people. It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness. I think about that quote all the time. I also think about his words, be not afraid. So I would definitely invite St. Pope John Paul II. And I want to hear about his conversations with the Communist leaders of his time. I would also invite Mother Theresa because I think she is such an awesome example of how to be a servant to our brothers and sisters. But I think I maybe would invite G. K. Chesterton. I would have a big dinner party.


Matthew Kelly:

That's good. Keep going.


Gia:

The saints of the past. Maybe St. Peter too, so I can pick his brain because I think he's very relatable. Yeah. Definitely Pope. If I could only choose one, it would be St. Pope John Paul II.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay. What about if you could go back, travel back in time and be physically present experience one moment in Jesus' life, which moment would you choose?


Gia:

I would definitely choose his agony in the garden. I think that is one of the most ... to me, one of the most powerful moments in Jesus' life, when he is praying before his crucifixion. He knows he's going to be betrayed by Judas. The disciples just can't keep it together. And I think that his prayer in the garden was so powerful and so beautiful. It speaks to our humanity. And so I would definitely go back and try to be there, hopefully not be one of the sleeping disciples.


Matthew Kelly:

What would you say to the sleepy disciples?


Gia:

Give them a nudge. Get it together, guys. Maybe they needed a woman there to give them a nudge.


Matthew Kelly:

Maybe they did. Maybe that's a good insight. There's probably been many significant moments in history when we needed a woman there. I believe that for sure. The work you're doing is as powerful as needed. You're fighting evil. It has to be incredibly discouraging at times. When you get in a place of discouragement, is there one person you turn to, is there a small group of people you can turn to? What does that look like?


Gia:

My mom and my grandma. Hands down. Whenever I'm having a difficult day, when I feel like quitting ... If I'm being honest with you, I've had moments in this journey where I'm like, "God, I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I'm cut out for it." And on those days when I feel really discouraged, I know if I call my mom that she'll have an encouraging word for me or she'll talk some sense into me, which sometimes you need just as much as the encouragement. You need someone to say, "Get it together." And same with my grandma. She's always been in my corner. She's been a mentor to me throughout this whole journey with my nonprofit organization. So I seek her counsel quite often for encouragement.


Matthew Kelly:

Beautiful. Last two questions. One very worldly question and one very other worldly question. We live in a physical world, material world. God has blessed us abundantly with so many things. What is your favorite material possession? You know it's just a thing, but it brings you great joy.


Gia:

Besides my Bible?


Matthew Kelly:

Besides your Bible.


Gia:

Can I say my dog?


Matthew Kelly:

You can say your dog.


Gia:

Yeah. I have a six month old Doberman Pinscher and his name is Saint. It sounds silly to say, but I just love him so much.


Matthew Kelly:

It's a great name for a dog.


Gia:

Thank you.


Matthew Kelly:

A really good name for a dog. All right. Other worldly question, I'm always surprised how little we talk about heaven, the afterlife. When you think about the next world, when you think about heaven, what comes to mind?


Gia:

I think of what it will be like to be in the glory of God like that. And I think of just total joy. We have glimpses of joy and we absolutely feel joy through our relationship here on earth, but I so look forward to just being in full communion with the Lord and feeling just nothing but joy and experiencing the glory of his presence.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. Absolutely delightful to be with you. Thank you for coming. We're very, very grateful.


Gia:

Thank you so much for having me.

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