OKEECHOBEE — Tommaso Pasquarella, known to everyone he meets as Pastor Tom, has never met a stranger.
Pastor Tom has lived in Okeechobee for less than 15 years and probably knows more people than some who were born and raised here. Never one to shy away from potentially awkward situations, Pastor Tom runs into the midst with a huge smile on his face and a joke at the ready to ease any tension.
My husband and I met Pastor Tom soon after he moved to Okeechobee, and we will admit, we found him a little strange at first. We, as slow talking, quiet introverts, thought he was our exact opposite. With an Italian heritage and coming from New York, Pastor Tom talked faster and louder than anyone we had ever met. It did not take long though for us to realize his heart was bigger than his mouth, and he was not our opposite at all in the important things.
Since the day he moved to Okeechobee, Pastor Tom has set out to reach the lost. His goal is to tell everyone he meets about his Savior, Jesus Christ, and he is not shy about it. He does not stand out on a street corner and preach though. He gets to know people and works his way into their lives and hearts, filling needs they might not even have known they had. As he works side by side with people, he talks about what God has done in his life and what he can do in theirs.
Just about any time he has a little free time, Pastor Tom sets up down at Serenity Coffee Shop. If he is there alone, he studies his Bible. If others are there, he talks to them about God. He is also a frequent visitor to Brown Cow Sweetery, and is a favorite of the employees. Paulette Bragel, who owns the shop along with her husband, said, “A lot of our young staff know him from school and love him. He is a real character, (even when not wearing his bright red suit!) and this is what gets our attention. He seamlessly blends his special brand of humor with the word of God. Most of all, Tom spreads love and joy as Heaven’s earthly ambassador. I hope he realizes how much he is loved by this community!”
My youngest son David spent most of his teen years being discipled and mentored by Pastor Tom. David said, “He has been a very faithful spiritual shepherd to many lost souls in Okeechobee. He is an evangelist at heart and cannot help but share the Good News of salvation by Jesus Christ to everyone he meets. He has been a faithful brother, always eager to offer encouragement to the downcast soul.” Our family appreciated the way Pastor Tom took our son under his wing. David, along with several friends met with Tom regularly. David said, “He has always devoted a great amount of time to discipling young men: teaching them to love the Lord with all that they are and to love others as themselves; teaching them to grow up to be godly men, husbands and fathers.”
Fellow Pastor Doug Nichalson said he met Pastor Tom soon after he arrived in Okeechobee and knew right away they were like-minded. “Sometimes you can just tell when you meet someone,” he said. The two became close friends and have spent a lot of time together over the years. “Because we were both pastors, we had a lot in common and were able to help each other through the day to day things that came up. It drew us closer.” When asked what he likes about Pastor Tom, Nichalson’s reply was, “Everything.” One of the things Nichalson appreciates the most about Pastor Tom is that he is genuine. He is the same no matter where he is, in church, at camp or at Serenity Coffee Shop. “Of course, he has grown and changed over the years, but in the important things, he never changes.”
Eric Phillips, who pastors Everglades Baptist Church along with Nichalson and Jim Womble said, “When I think of Pastor Tom, I think of Mark 10:45, where Jesus said he didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Tom is one of the greatest servants of the gospel that I know. He exemplifies the attitude of Christ of considering the needs of others greater than his own. Tom loves God, his Word, the gospel, his family and others. I can definitely say I am more like Christ because of my friendship with Tom. He is one of the most faithful men of God I know, and my family and I love him very much.”
Womble said, “I have known Tom for a long time and appreciate his willingness to share the gospel with anyone, not just the easy ones. No one is unapproachable to Tom. Tom is a people person who cares deeply for all of them. He is concerned for the destiny of their souls.”
Melissa King, principal of Okeechobee Christian Academy said, “Tom truly has a servant's heart. He is always willing to help. Always. Besides the classes that he teaches, he is all over this campus doing everything from resolving computer problems and fixing devices, to looking for his coffee cup that he misplaced somewhere in the process. It doesn't matter what task he is in the middle of, he will stop and pray and share Christ with anyone, anytime, anywhere. It is really tough when I have to fill in for him at dismissal or drop off at school--those parents want to see those heart-hands greeting them, and he has been faithful in delivering them day after day, year after year. I’m not sure he really knows how much it means to each of them. He’s a good man who serves a great God, and I’m honored to be able to say he’s my friend.”
About two and a half weeks ago, Pastor Tom started feeling poorly and was diagnosed with COVID-19. A few days later, he was admitted to Raulerson Hospital, and a few days after that, to the ICU, where he was put on a ventilator. Each day, his friends and family watch for Facebook posts from Pastor Tom’s wife Stacy. Stacy is praying through the Psalms on Pastor Tom’s behalf and encourages those who know him to pray for him.
Every day, friends post encouraging words for the family, and in the future, for Pastor Tom to read.
Blaire Zamora wrote, “Pastor Tom is one of the people who had the biggest impact on my coming to Christ! He encouraged me at camp to read 1st John when I was questioning my salvation. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be the Christ follower I am today….my life would probably look way different. Love you guys! And praying God’s will for your lives.”
Kim Hoglo said, “I appreciate how helpful you are and how you always make people feel loved. I love running past Serenity every morning and see you through the window reading your Bible or talking to Curtis. You have always been so helpful with our computers and such. Your family is a blessing to our family. Get well soon!”
James Presley said, “You have been one of my many spiritual fathers in the faith. He has provided wisdom, counsel, encouragement, and comfort at specific times in my life when needed most. And even more recently, you have been a ‘grandfather figure’ to our son - his ‘uh oh no no’ …without a shadow of a doubt I can only hope to be as faithful as this man. Pastor Tom you are loved deeply. You got this! Love you brother!”
Jennie Tyson, who, with her husband, owns Serenity Coffee Shop, said, “We can’t even put into words the impact Tommaso Pasquarella makes in our lives and the countless ones we’ve seen at Serenity Coffee Shop. We sure miss him being here! We love y’all.”
Kelly Hatch posted, “You have helped me walk through many battles, led me, counseled and prayed with both me and my family. You are selfless and have a genuine servants heart. I think you have reached more people than you realize. You and the Lord will conquer this. Many prayers and love sent your way!”
Jamie Lynn, whose children go to Okeechobee Christian Academy, where Pastor Tom teaches said, “Pastor Tom, you are an inspiration. You’ve always inspired me. I can’t wait for you to wake up and continue to inspire me, my children, other people.”
Get well soon Pastor Tom. You are well-loved in Okeechobee.