The love for my call to the service of God is the best thing that could happen to me. For me, it is a privilege to serve God, since his blessings are immense.
During this pandemic, many very sad experiences have emerged with loss of work, education, family reunions, life of a family member, and the social contact that we need to live as humans. Fortunately, technology has helped us to be in touch with our loved ones and with the world.
With the grace of God, I decided to preach on Facebook to the Hispanic/Latino congregation of San José First UMC. The people of Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, were added to our broadcasts and were able to learn more about our church and Methodism. The addition of this group brings more love and solidarity with our neighbors, even if they are far from us and we don’t know them in person.
With the love and kindness that characterizes our heavenly Father, He did the miracle of touching the group of Methodist women and members of our Church to express solidarity with the Cristo Vive church. In fact, the entire El Maguey community has been generously supported by them with grocery bags for the last 6 months.
I felt the need to go to El Maguey, not only to bring food to the tables of the families there, but I also decided to take my vacation time with them. In the midst of a pandemic I knew that it was not the safest thing to do, but I felt the security of God’s will. There were many people waiting for me to arrive, so that I could pray for them and reaffirm their faith on the second Sunday of January. Among those waiting was Luis Ramírez, one of the young people from El Maguey and a member of Cristo Vive. His mother, María Isabel, and his brothers have been attending Cristo Vive for more than 10 years. Luis was going through the terrible disease of leukemia, and every transmission day he connected and asked me to praise God and to ask for him to be well.
On December 10th he and his mother sent me a photo of the results of his medical exams. He was free of leukemia! It was a tremendous joy for them and for me to see that miracle. There was only one step left: Luis took his final week of daily chemotherapy in the mornings and afternoons to ensure that the cancer would not return.
He finished the routine, but after taking it he started to feel bad again. He knew that I would arrive on December 28th and he was waiting for me to pray for him again. On Saturday, December 26th, he gladly wrote to me that he was waiting for me with open arms. Luis’s condition began to get serious, so they took him to the hospital in Guadalajara. There they found that the last week of chemotherapy had resulted in the burning of his lungs, kidneys and the platelets that produce blood. Everything happened very fast. They tubed him so he could breathe. When I arrived at the Guadalajara airport, I decided to go to the hospital to see him; however, when I was renting a car I got the news from María Isabel that Luis had died.
I went to Atotonilco and spoke with María Isabel by phone, to get informed of the time she would arrive with her son’s body, so I could grieve with the family. They arrived at the funeral home at midnight with the body of 18-year-old Luis. I went there to see him and offer the praises to God, that—night after night on Facebook—he had asked me for. I could see in his face that he was peaceful, knowing that I was able to pray for him before he went to his grave.
It was devastating for his parents and for me. I am a man who speaks of faith and miracles, yet Luis died. We embraced each other and became stronger in dealing with the great loss. Both María Isabel and her husband, Javier Ramírez, in the midst of their pain, treated me with respect and love, since I shared the pain with them, with the family, and with all of Luis’s young friends. For me it was an experience that I still cannot explain. I watched hundreds of people, young and old, crying and suffering for the loss of Luis, while at the same time letting myself be led by me as a pastor and friend, singing praises and praying for the family. To me, a possible explanation is that God sent me to be with them to provide love and pastoral care.
Three Kings Day (Epiphany) January 6th
This was a special day which, for the first time in the community of El Maguey—and I dare say in the entire region—a caravan with the Holy Magi made its appearance. The Magi were represented in costumes by Juan Carlos Anaya, Eduardo Anaya, and Pedro Vázquez. To make this possible, these three and a huge group of volunteers toured the El Maguey neighborhood, (sections Pascual Rojas, and Madre Luisita) where the girls and boys went out to see this festive sight. They received sweets and soccer balls that filled the community members, both young and old, with joy. Christmas carols enlivened the night with smiles and hope, alleviating the stress that people carried during this pandemic. Also, with First Church’s donations, the blessings of God, and the leaders of Cristo Vive, we were able to distribute grocery bags to 200 families in El Maguey.
On January 10th, the day of the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we began our healing and faith renewal service, scheduled according to the safety protocols in El Maguey with masks and antibacterial gel. On this very important day for Methodism and Christianity, children, youth, adults and the elderly—and without fail María Isabel Aguirre, mother of our angel in heaven, Luis Ramírez, and his family—appeared at this important service directed by Pastors Juan Carlos Anaya and Gerardo Vázquez. The pastors, their servants and the leaders of Cristo Vive all contributed to a service full of faith and love for our neighbors, and praying for the members of San José First, since we are one in God.
I want to express my gratitude in the name of God for all those who made this possible, since it is the call of God to love and respect each other, to cry, to laugh, and to celebrate in union, since that is how we grow stronger.
May the blessing of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend upon us. Amen.
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla