Hispanic couple lead growing church, impact state, nation
Luis Ramirez has watched and helped as his Hispanic ministry in Warner Robins, Iglesia Cristiana Remanso de Paz, has grown from a small gathering under a pecan tree to a vibrant church on Elberta Road.
BY MICHAEL W. PANNELL Telegraph correspondent
Luis Ramirez said Remanso de Paz roughly means a place of still waters, calm waters — a haven of rest and peace.
Along with his wife, Yolanda, Ramirez co-pastors Iglesia Cristiana Remanso de Paz, a growing Hispanic fellowship in Warner Robins.
In addition to his pastoral role, Ramirez has served as a regional and national Hispanic leader in his denomination, The Foursquare Church, and is now Georgia’s leader for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, America’s largest Hispanic Evangelical organization.
Ramirez is a bi-vocational pastor with a long career as an engineering supervisor with Robins Air Force Base’s equipment maintenance section.
Ramirez said he became a pastor almost by default.
“I came to the U.S. and the base in 1986,” he said. “Like hundreds of other Puerto Rican graduates, I started job hunting and went to an event where the (U.S.) Department of Defense was looking for employees — and they found me. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, I was just seeking to begin my career and coming to the U.S. was certainly a wonderful opportunity.”
Puerto Ricans have had U.S. citizenship since 1917, a fact Ramirez said few realize.
“After coming to the U.S., I was invited to services a nondenominational, Spanish-speaking group had facilities Green Acres Baptist Church let them use,” Ramirez said. “I kept coming mainly for the music. I loved the songs and I listened to the Bible being taught week by week. As God says, his word accomplishes his purpose. In about six or seven months I accepted Christ and that’s where my Christian service began. It began by my setting up chairs and, by his doing, by his grace, he brought me to where I am.”
Ramirez said his early interest in Christianity led him to take classes and graduate from a Spanish-speaking Biblical Institute at Christ Missionary Church in Athens. At the same time, the Warner Robins services were coming to an end due to its leader’s failing health.
Ramirez and others decided to continue meeting in homes. Because of his Biblical studies, Ramirez said he was selected as pastor-leader.
“I was surprised, but it was what we felt God wanted,” he said. “A couple of families and I eventually believed we were to start a church. There wasn’t a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal group in Warner Robins and that was what we were. Our first meeting was in 1998 when we had an outreach under a pecan tree for workers at Lane Southern Orchards in Peach County. A group gathered around us and I preached for a few minutes.”
Ramirez said the small congregation was able to meet in a local church’s facility but were soon offered the option of becoming a Foursquare congregation and taking over an old, small Foursquare building on Green Street.
After prayer and consideration, Ramirez said he and others felt it was a good match and accepted the offer. Upon moving in, members took down 80 pine trees to create a playground and space for children to play soccer.
Ramirez said children and positive activities for families have always been important.
As the congregation grew, a move to the current Elberta Road location was planned. Ramirez said the structure reached its current state in two phases with an unplanned disruption during the economic downturn of 2007. However, by 2014 they were able to move services from a multiuse fellowship hall into a new 300-seat sanctuary.
Ramirez said the congregation was about 75 people at the time of the move to Elberta Road in the mid-2000s and now stands at about 140.
“God continues to bless and we continue to work to be a blessing to our community,” he said. “We minister to whoever he brings us and though our services are in Spanish, we have translation into English over headsets.”
Ramirez said as the church grows, outreach expands to include things such as a summer volleyball league playing on Friday, local evangelistic outreaches, community classes and services and a growing international outreach with support of orphanages and other churches and ministers in places such as Haiti, Mexico, Kenya and Italy.
The church has been able to sponsor families in need and in trouble, as is particularly evident in situations such as giving help to an immigrant family from Venezuela that is in the process of gaining political asylum.
And in part because of his own story, Ramirez is especially thankful the church’s own Bible institute saw its first handful of graduates this year.
“We’re always in awe of the things God does,” Ramirez said. “Recently the Livingston family, Bob and Mike, donated two acres of land a half mile from us on Elberta that has abandoned commercial and apartment buildings on them. We plan to clean it up and use it to create a women’s ministry, a place for youth ministry and outdoor activities to benefit the community. It will take money and donations, but right now there’s a lady in our church with a ministry teaching simple skills like reading and sewing. We want to grow that there. God has poured that kind of desire for others in my and Yolanda’s and everybody in the church’s heart. God opens doors and does miracles.”
Ramirez said just like in the church’s previous building efforts, a large part of the work will be done by members. He said one item he still envisions but has yet to come to pass is seeing a gym built for members and the local community.
“It takes time but we have a clear vision where God is taking us,” he said. He said the church is committed to following God even in the midst of modern social and immigration issues.
“Our policy has always been and still is that we don’t ask for papers before we minister to someone,” he said. “We don’t check IDs or cards before we pray for people or serve them. We’re not required by law as a church to report immigration status. Our church is here for the purpose of reaching people for Christ and we stick to the plan. We focus on that. We’re here for those seeking God and seeking his and our help. At the same time we’re not naive politically. In that regard, we advocate for the security of the nation first of all and we advise people do all things according to the law and as part of the community. We never advise people to violate the law.”
Ramirez said balancing the political and spiritual is problematic but doable. He said God is always present for each and every person and that God always officers answers.
“For example, there’s a lot of fear in the streets these days among immigrants,” he said. “People in every position are facing so many unknowns. We know we can’t control all our circumstances but we believe we can make the best of even the worst situation. As Christians, we’re to glorify God and we can’t do that living in fear. To get beyond fear we have to look to him and move past it to knowing he is good and our faith is always worthwhile. As a church, it’s our call to stand strong and be a light that shines in love and truth no matter what the circumstances.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at .