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Alumni Spotlight: Travis Gilbert ’02

Alumni Spotlight: Travis Gilbert ’02

Alumni Spotlight: Travis Gilbert ’02

This year at the 4th Annual Royals Legacy Gala, we invited alumnus Travis Gilbert (‘02) to share his story. His speech encourages future generations of Royals as well as demonstrates the wonders of God’s faithfulness as it relates to his personal experience at Woodcrest Christian and the financial aid gifts that made it possible. 

I never thought a building would have such an emotional meaning for me. However, the Charles O. White Pavilion holds a deep significance for me and my family. Who is Charles White? I don’t know, I never met him. I just know that he died unexpectedly, surrounded by his friends and his personal community of believers. I had been told stories about his success in business, how he was a great man, a great father, and a great husband. As far as my story goes, I just know that he lived as a follower of Christ and passed away in the summer of 1994. 

So, how do I remember at age 39, specifically what happened to me in the summer of 1994? Well, it was the summer that my brother Eric Gilbert joined the United States military in the Air Force. My brother was a gifted athlete, and he was definitely the smartest man that I knew, and he was my mentor. Even despite a seven year age gap, he was my friend. In 1994, my brother left home for a lifelong career in the Air Force, while I was just ten years old. My mother worked at Professional Communications Network (PCN) with my aunt. I went to public school. I was thankfully on summer break, and I was reconciling myself to life with my brother in college. We attended Catholic church every Sunday. We knew who Jesus was, we knew all the stories. We did what we were supposed to do, and we tried to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do, hoping that someday doing the right thing and being a good person would be rewarded with an eternity in heaven. 

It was also the summer of 1994 that my mom’s boss, Charles O. White, died. Being that my aunt had worked at PCN the longest, she was adamant that my mom attend the funeral with her. My mom only worked there for about five months and did not really have a close relationship with her boss. So reluctantly, my mom went to the funeral with my aunt. This was not like any other funeral that my mom had been to. She heard who Jesus was. She realized what his saving work on the cross truly meant, and that the road to heaven wasn’t paved with good works, but instead with the friendship and relationship with the Savior of Jesus Christ. That summer day in 1994, my mom, Rhonda Gilbert, accepted the Lord at Charles O. White’s funeral service, held inside this very gym. 

My mom came home and told us that she had started her personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She was full of life and excitement. She explained that we’d be trying a new church on Sunday, Bible Fellowship of Riverside, where Chuck White and his family had attended. My mom’s redefined faith in Jesus Christ sparked my father to rededicate his life to Jesus after years of trying to go at it alone. As we learned what life was all about, I learned that my works were just a byproduct of walking with Jesus. My mom, my dad and I started this journey, but my brother was still in Colorado, attending the Air Force Academy. Going to a new church, I got to see believers live out the Great Commission in real time. I saw people like Randy and Phyllis Thompson and several others pour love and attention into my parents’ lives, walking alongside them to grow in understanding of the character of Jesus Christ and assuring them of their salvation. 

That same summer, my family learned about Riverside Christian Day School. I knew it was just a brown building that we had driven by several times before, but I didn’t truly understand the impact and what it represented to me until recently. I knew from eavesdropping on my parents’ conversations that it was an expensive private school. Despite the diligent hard work of my father, it was most likely not an option for me. It was at this moment that we learned about the word faith. I realized then that I truly had very little faith in anything.

I remember being extremely frustrated when I was told I had to study for Riverside Christian Day School’s entry test. I don’t like studying. I remember yelling at my mom, “I’m not going to that stupid school anyway!” I was wrong. It was very shortly after those words where God taught me the meaning of faith. The testing process immediately challenged me academically. While I was taking the test, Randy Thompson, the principal of the Day School at the time, asked my mom if she would like me to go to RCDS. She said, “Of course, but we’re not going to be able to afford the tuition.” Randy asked if she would be willing to pray about me attending. Neither my mom nor my family had ever prayed for anything like money before, but my mom agreed to pray. A few weeks after that test, Randy Thompson called my mom and told her that someone had paid my tuition in full for fifth grade. Never in Gilbert family history have we experienced such an overwhelming amount of undeserved love from anyone, or so we thought. 

See, year after year, my Woodcrest Christian School bill was paid in full by someone else. Eight years in a row, every year someone paid the price for me in full. I didn’t think I was worth the amount of money that this person spent on me. Each year, I walked the campus feeling like I didn’t belong there. Don’t get me wrong, I was accepted and loved and I had a great experience. I just felt undeserving. At one point, my sophomore year, I begged my mom to let me leave. My mom told me that God had a plan and a purpose for me at Woodcrest Christian. God had indeed provided the means necessary through the faithful obedience of one of his servants, and whoever decided to pay my way was carrying out God’s will. I knew that I would never be able to repay them with anything more than a “thank you.”

But I guess that’s the point, right? That’s what has taken me all this time to finally understand. This amazing gift was just the first of many undeserving gifts from the Lord: my wife Karina, my three sons, the close community of friends that I still have from Woodcrest Christian, and the gift of Jesus paying the ultimate price for me. I didn’t ask Him to do it, I definitely didn’t deserve it, and there was no way I could ever repay Him. I realized that Jesus uses others to change lives. He does the work while we walk in obedience. I could talk a lot about the great academics and the opportunities that Woodcrest Christian offers. However, my positive experience stems from the community of believers that this school offers, and the people who serve God and do the hard things, like the person who sacrificed financially so that I could have these experiences.

Now obviously for young Travis Gilbert, I was very well versed in being pulled out of class and going to the principal’s office. In my years before Woodcrest, I was usually sent to the office for a well-deserved punishment or a lecture about what I’ve done wrong. The first time I was pulled out at Riverside Christian Day School by the principal, Randy Thompson, I was very, very confused. See, I wasn’t in trouble. Instead, I found myself in a deep conversation about who God was, how much he loved me, and how I could be friends with Jesus. Mr. Thompson understood that in order to change kids’ behavior, he must first mold their character. 

I know for a fact that the staff at Woodcrest Christian cares about kids’ hearts. They care that our children love God and love people. It hasn’t been until these last few years that I truly understood how my life, Chuck White’s life, the summer of 1994, and my eight years at Woodcrest Christian were seamlessly interwoven into my personal Christian faith. 

It wasn’t until January 2020 when my mentor and my brother Eric Gilbert died suddenly, that I started to understand true loss. Someone who I deeply loved was taken from me unexpectedly. The spiritual impact hit me when Chuck White’s son, Jeff, texted me on January 4, 2020. Jeff had become a true friend and mentor during my years at Woodcrest. Jeff offered his sincere condolences for the loss of my brother. At the moment of that text, I could truly empathize with the loss of his family that they experienced in the summer of 1994. I finally comprehended the grief that accompanied death, understanding the bittersweet truth that the White family’s loss was the genesis of the Gilbert family’s faith in Jesus Christ—a place where God turned grief into hope, where one family’s loss led to another family’s salvation. I understood that this loss was the seed that grew into a tree of faith that continues to save souls for Christ’s kingdom. My brother accepted the Lord a few years after Chuck’s death. My brother led his family well. He was a Christian man, he was a Christian leader, and he was very well-respected in the Air Force. Knowing that the loss of Chuck White coincided with the start of my journey with Woodcrest Christian will always have deep significance to me. 

At Woodcrest Christian, “love God and love people” is not just a clever motto; it is a way of life. In 2019, we made the decision to pull our oldest child from public school and send him to Woodcrest. We saw how deeply the staff cared for our children, and quite frankly, for us. I was brought to tears as I reflected on my own journey through the school system. We now have two children at Woodcrest, and next year it will be three. We still experience the community and love that the staff provides on a deep level. My wife Karina and I have been blessed with amazing friendships that started in Mrs. Phillips’ class in 1994. I thank God for my eight years at Woodcrest Christian School and for the person who made the decision to support me for eight straight years. God creates beauty out of chaos if we have the faith to let Him. Thank you.

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