God’s “Unworthy Servant”

I last saw Rev. Edel Ramirez the end of 1998, when I sold him my bicycle before moving from Mexico City to Miami. Edel was 29 and I was 20. Eight years later, on the day I bought myself a new bicycle, I found out Edel had died.

In another strange coincidence, I learned Edel had gotten up early that day to pray with members of his new church plant. He was on his knees, deep in prayer, when God called him home. I can hardly think of a better way for a Christian to meet his Lord.

Edel started his ministry in Xochimilco, the only community where Mexico City’s maze of canals can still be seen and are still in use. It’s a poor community, and Edel had a small church building, little money, and even less people power.

Yet as he carried drunks from the streets to “his Father’s house” to spend the night, his compassion drew attention. The fact that he lived in the parsonage attached to the church with his wife and two young daughters made his hospitality an unbelievable act of love for people and faith in God.

As his congregation grew into the hundreds, the demands on his time in this needy community became too much for him to handle. The finances, however, did not allow for any additional help. So Edel convinced his family and congregation to allow him to share half his salary with someone so the work could continue.

To sustain their ministry, Edel and his new assistant pastor sold flowers in the city. Yet Edel’s circumstances didn’t impede his generosity. When his congregation realized their pastor wore the same suit week in and week out, they pitched in to buy him a new one. A month later he was doing rounds in the community and came back without his coat.

After some coaxing, Edel finally admitted, “Well, there was a poor man who needed it more than I did. He was cold, and I’ve already worn it for a whole month. I don’t need that much for myself.”

Edel had also been known to come home without shoes, to walk home instead of riding the bus, and more. The stories are humbling. Just before he died, he’d planned to deposit the equivalent of $30 US because the bank was threatening to close his empty account.

Small means, however, were never a problem for ministering effectively. Edel began a day-care program and other community outreach programs that required transportation. Barely able to afford his own transportation, Edel approached the mayor of Mexico City for help.

With 24-30 million residents to govern, the mayor’s responsibilities resemble those of a European president or an American governor. And in Mexico the concept of charitable giving is still developing, so Edel’s request for help was arguably unrealistic.

But Mayor Andes Manuel Lopez Obrador had Edel and his ministry researched for legitimacy and impact. He was so impressed that he gave Edel a brand-new public transportation bus, much like those seen in large American cities, and made sure he had access to free fuel.

Edel left his church in Xochimilco soon after he felt it was stable. He started a new church plant with a handful of people in the state of Tamaulipas—hundreds of miles away. Within a year the church had grown to more than 60 members.

God blessed his ministry, yet Edel remained humble, signing his name, “Unworthy Servant, Edel Ramirez” (see Luke 17:10).

In Edel, God has given me an example of how to follow Christ’s footsteps in humility and diligence. And I have a new hope—the hope that if I do everything Christ calls me to do, I will share one last coincidence with Edel: to be called home on my knees, an unworthy servant of our Lord.

About the Author

Mariano Avila works for Hope Equals. He is married to Kate Avila; their daughter is Isabel Paz.