An immigrant discovers a church where he feels at home.
In April 2008, Walter Ramirez stepped foot onto U.S. soil. Originally from El Salvador, he spent his first months working and adapting to a new place. He settled in Detroit, Michigan.
As he struggled to learn English, finding a church home was a low priority. Ramirez knew of the Catholic church and had been baptized back in his home country. “All of my growing up was spent in Catholicism,” he recalls. Living in Detroit and absorbed with adjusting, he didn’t seek out a Catholic church or any other religion.
Stumbling across Spanish
One day in 2008, shortly after arriving in Detroit, Ramirez walked down a street named Springwells. “I didn’t know much English, but I came across an American guy on that street. He greeted me in Spanish and invited me to church,” he remembers. “I was so surprised he spoke Spanish. I told him I didn’t have time for church, so he invited me instead out for tacos.”
Ramirez took him up on his offer, and the two headed to a taco place. They carried on a conversation in Spanish while eating, and Ramirez learned the American man was a pastor. The pastor mentioned he was also new to the area and was looking for people who wanted to come to the Lutheran church. He was particularly interested in helping those who spoke Spanish.
After eating tacos, Ramirez thanked the pastor for the meal. During the weeks that followed, he continued working but didn’t start going to church. Then one day, he was again walking down Springwells Street and saw the church the pastor had mentioned. As he passed by, he could see the pastor inside through one of the windows. The pastor was at work, and Ramirez, recalling their conversation over tacos, decided to stop in.
“I wanted to see how he was doing and if he had found people interested in a church,” Ramirez says. “I learned some people had started coming but that the pastor could use help.” Ramirez also found out the church offered English classes. He decided to start coming to the classes to learn how to communicate in English at a more advanced level.
In addition to English classes, the church offered Bible studies. The pastor also handed out Bibles to anyone who wanted one.
Finding a friend
Ramirez kept coming to English classes and then decided to learn more about the Bible. “I went to a Bible study on Tuesdays, and English class on Wednesdays, and another Bible class on Thursdays,” he says. “I liked the one on Thursdays the best because there was more of a chance to talk. At that point, I had more time on my hands. I was single and looking for a place to belong. We often went to eat tacos after the classes.”
During the time he spent at the Lutheran church, Ramirez grew to enjoy the friendship of the pastor. This connection made him want to support the church work. If there were flyers to hand out, Ramirez took some and distributed them in the neighborhood.
He also started attending weekly worship. “I’m not sure if I started coming to church for religious reasons,” he reflects. “It was more because I considered the pastor a friend and wanted to help him out.”
As time went on, Ramirez learned more about his truest friend, Jesus, who offers full forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. Ramirez studied to become a member of the congregation and continued to look for ways to participate. He helped with outreach efforts and knocked on doors to invite others to the Lutheran church.
“I’m still not sure why I started studying the Bible and going to church, but I do know that I liked it,” Ramirez explains. “I felt good going there. I liked the doctrine, the teachings, and everything it offered.”
Bringing in others
After becoming a member, Ramirez remained active in the church and sought ways to help carry out outreach efforts. He invited other friends he had made to the church. Many of them were immigrants also looking for a place to fit in. Whenever there was an event, if the pastor needed someone to help, Ramirez came if he could. “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t just like to come and sit,” he says. “I want to do.”
In 2010, he met his future wife, and the two got married at the church. “I like the church and so does my wife,” he says. Ramirez’ wife is an American, and the couple has two children. Ramirez is very concerned about bringing up his children in the Lutheran church. He even baptized his second son himself.
Remaining in God’s Word
Sometime after becoming a member and taking on leadership roles in the church, Ramirez learned the pastor he had first met on the street and eaten tacos with was leaving to serve at a different place. Ramirez and his wife knew they wanted to stay in God’s Word but found the next years difficult. During the next months, pastors came to preach, but no one stayed permanently. More time passed and still no pastor served the congregation on a full-time basis. “We didn’t have a pastor for two years,” Ramirez recalls.
During that period, however, Ramirez and his wife remained at the church. They appreciated the message from each visiting pastor, which was the same doctrine and teaching Ramirez had first heard and studied at the church. They were also thankful when a new pastor arrived to live in the area and serve the congregation full time.
In addition to treasuring the Word of God, Ramirez feels comfortable at the church. “It has been a blessing to be in the congregation and have so many Christian brothers and sisters in the faith,” he says. “It is also a blessing to so many friends there.”
Home sweet home
Ramirez’ wife is an American and a native English speaker. Since Ramirez’ first language is Spanish, the two connect easily in bilingual settings. This has been an additional blessing for their family, as some visitors and members of the congregation speak English while others are more comfortable in Spanish. It has also helped bridge the gaps that can often form in families from different backgrounds.
Even though he now has a family, Ramirez enjoys serving however he can at church. “Whenever there is an opportunity to help, I always tell the pastor I’ll come if I can,” he says. He wants others to share in the comfort he has found in the gospel and the sense of belonging he feels inside the church walls.
Ramirez’ daily life has changed from the early days of tacos and English classes in Detroit. He is now a top manager at his job and has taken on leadership roles at the congregation as well. All of this he views as God’s guiding hand to bring him to a new home. “I feel very blessed to be in the church,” he says. “I am grateful to God for giving us Christian brothers and sisters in the faith.”
Learn more about the ministry at Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich., in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.
Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019
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