The Lesson of "A Message to Garcia"

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The Lesson of "A Message to Garcia"

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“A message to Garcia.” This phrase has had special meaning for multiple millions of people all over the world. It has become synonymous with certain noble qualities of character.

“A Message to Garcia” is the title of an article written on February 22, 1899, and subsequently translated into almost all written languages. The author was Elbert Hubbard, the famous speaker, writer and publisher who died in 1915 on board the famous ship Lusitania when it was sunk by a German torpedo.

Hubbard hurriedly wrote the article in one evening for The Fra, one of two magazines that he published. No one was more surprised than he at the immense popularity of what he called “this literary trifle.” By 1913, over 40 million copies had been published, which, at that time, was more than any literary venture had ever attained in the lifetime of an author. It has been reprinted in many formats—article, pamphlet, booklet, etc.

Dependability and dedication to fulfill whatever task or responsibility a person is assigned to fulfill are valuable qualities of character.

A true human interest story with an extraordinary achievement inspired Hubbard to write about the scarcity of and high demand for certain valuable qualities of character. Those qualities can be summed up as dependability and dedication to fulfill whatever task or responsibility a person is assigned to fulfill. The “mission impossible” accomplished by a young lieutenant in the United States Army, Andrew Summers Rowan, was the inspiration for the article.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, U.S. President McKinley knew he needed to quickly secure the cooperation of General Garcia, the leader of the revolutionary forces in Cuba. The President needed to send a message to General Garcia, but Garcia was somewhere among the mountainous jungles of Cuba—no one knew where. A man made of the right stuff was needed for the difficult and dangerous task of staying alive long enough to find Garcia and deliver the message.

The chief of the Bureau of Military Intelligence proposed Lieutenant Rowan. He said, “Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.” McKinley sent him at once on the mission, alone and unguarded. When Rowan landed on the island of Cuba in secret, Cuban patriots met him and furnished him with native guides. After overcoming numerous obstacles, he finally reached Garcia, and incredibly, he made it back safely to the United States.

Happily, the trip involved many fortuitous circumstances. It seems God’s blessings were on this mission. But that doesn’t diminish the heroism of Rowan. If it was not for his courage, resourcefulness and sheer determination, he would not have gotten very far, much less accomplished the entire mission.

In “A Message to Garcia,” Hubbard wrote, “How the ‘fellow by the name of Rowan’ took the letter, sealed it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot and delivered his letter to Garcia—are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.” Then, Hubbard explained, here was a rare man who had the ingredients for success that are needed everywhere.

Rowan immediately set out to do what he was asked to do and he did it. There were no excuses or foot-dragging. He didn’t demand that someone furnish him with detailed plans of how to accomplish this assignment. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t waste time. He didn’t give up, although there were plenty of temptations to do so. He stayed focused on his goal, partly because he saw how it fit with a much larger goal. He was tough and tenacious.

Due partially to Rowan’s success, the United States won the Spanish-American War. As a result, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands and Guam to the United States, and abandoned all claims to Cuba (which became independent in 1902).

Rowan, by then Colonel Rowan, was decorated for his achievement by the Commander of the United States Army, who said, “I regard this achievement as one of the most hazardous and heroic deeds in military warfare.” The forward of the booklet says, “This was undoubtedly true, but it is for his fine moral character, rather than for his military prowess, that Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan will always be remembered.”

In his booklet, Hubbard goes on to lament the deplorable lack of men and women like Lieutenant Rowan—people who are willing to take on responsibilities and see them through to the end; people who don’t need someone to look over their shoulders to keep them on track; people with a strong work ethic; people who get the job done, done right, and right on time.

It’s interesting that the Scriptures teach the need for the qualities that Hubbard was praising—dependability, perseverance, a strong work ethic, etc. (The Bible is filled with practical teaching for everyday life.)

The Bible also expresses feelings similar to Hubbard’s frustrations: “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man to those who send him” (Proverbs 10:26 Proverbs 10:26As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.
American King James Version×
). “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint” (Proverbs 25:19 Proverbs 25:19Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.
American King James Version×
). “He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence” (Proverbs 26:6 Proverbs 26:6He that sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off the feet, and drinks damage.
American King James Version×
).

Likewise, the Bible also praises the dependable messenger: “Like the cold of snow in time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him, for he refreshes the soul of his masters” (Proverbs 25:13 Proverbs 25:13As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refreshes the soul of his masters.
American King James Version×
).

Elbert Hubbard was right. It’s as if every factory and every office has signs posted saying, “Wanted: Men and women like Lieutenant Rowan.” God is calling people to be His messengers today: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

God is calling people to be His messengers today. The assignment Jesus Christ gave His disciples applies to all those God is calling to be part of His Church: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15 Mark 16:15And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
American King James Version×
). The entire 10th chapter of the book of Matthew is Christ’s admonition to be messengers with faith, zeal, courage and self-sacrifice.

Messengers that God can rely on are rare and will be richly rewarded, as illustrated in the parable of the talents: “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’ ” (Matthew 25:21 Matthew 25:21His lord said to him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.
American King James Version×
).

Why has “A Message to Garcia” been reprinted over and over again? Often, huge quantities were ordered to distribute to others. Heads of corporations, military units, government agencies, etc., have distributed the booklets in hopes that they would motivate the readers to emulate the character of Lieutenant Rowan. And for over a century millions of readers have purchased, read, enjoyed and been inspired by “A Message to Garcia.”

Here are Hubbard’s concluding statements: “Anything such a man asks shall be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village—in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such; he is needed and needed badly—the man who can CARRY A MESSAGE TO GARCIA.”