Magazine Features

Never too late for God

Ten years ago, Blanca Garcia De Ramirez opened a Bible for the first time. She was 78. “I raised my family to be sociable people,” says Blanca. “We always had get–togethers at our home, but we never hosted or welcomed anyone in the name of God.”

As a retired schoolteacher, Blanca immigrated to the United States from Venezuela. Her daughter Alba Van Der Walker soon joined her. They became residents of Schenectady, N.Y.

For the good of others

Blanca found solidarity and kindness among her diverse Schenectady neighbors. During one of her morning walks, she came across the local Salvation Army corps. The staff was preparing their daily offering of food to the community.

“I knew the city well, but I had never seen this corner building, with people going in and out. They looked humble, but happy to be there,” says Blanca. “I walked in and saw food being prepared to serve. In my broken English, I asked what this corner building was. A Spanish–speaking employee explained what the Army was doing for the community that day, and I was invited to eat with them.

“That was my first impression of The Salvation Army—acting for the good of others.”

Though Blanca knew little English, she did know volunteer work. Throughout her life in Venezuela, she had given her time to children’s hospitals. Now in Schenectady, she came to the corps in the mornings and helped prepare breakfast. In the Army’s ministry, she also became familiar with the book that, for many different reasons, had previously never been a part of her life.

“I was filled with curiosity about the Bible. This profound, incomparable book became my daily guide and companion,” says Blanca. “Reading it, I realized it was Jesus who had literally welcomed me to eat at His table in The Salvation Army.”

Abundance of nourishment

Alba had come to West Virginia from Venezuela as an international student. She married, raised a family, and worked in the health and human services industry. She felt welcomed in the United States, and, like her mother, was new to the Word of God.

“Many times, my mother asked me to come to Schenectady and visit the corps with her, but I always hesitated.” People had invited Alba to churches before, but she said, “none were quite like The Salvation Army.”

Alba had never seen a place as fulfilling as The Salvation Army. The corps was an abundance of spiritual nourishment and service towards others. “There was a beautiful band playing music, people serving food, and bags of groceries ready for families that could not afford them.”

In the process, Alba opened a Bible for the first time.

“When I began to study my Bible, I saw that the Schenectady Corps was following the teachings of Christ —down to the letter,” says Alba. “The Army was a place that fed the hungry and loved those who felt unloved.”

Words and heroes

On September 16, 2018, both mother and daughter became senior soldiers (members). Every Sunday, they participate in the corps’ Spanish–language service. The number of people attending has grown along with the Latino community in Schenectady.

Although Blanca and Alba are latecomers to the Word of God, they have nonetheless become as knowledgeable of it as if they had been students all their lives. Blanca is fascinated by the many heroes found in the Bible, such as Moses and Abraham.

“It made me want to learn more about their experiences, and how they each faced the reality of man coming together with God. They became like teachers to me,” says the former schoolteacher. “And when I learned those lessons, I wanted to share them with others.”

“We always hear that God will return one day,” says Alba. “But Revelations 21:4 describes it in a way that really stayed with me. ‘He shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more.’”

“I love that promise! Who among us would not want to experience such a feeling?” says Alba. “When I first read those words, I knew they were what I wanted to be a part of forever.”

A prayer and a share

Blanca and Alba hope that their lives will serve as examples of how it is never too late to open a Bible, whether it’s the first time in a long time or the first time ever.

“Becoming a better follower of Christ is only one thing that you learn from the Bible. It also teaches you to be a better son, daughter, father, mother, or any other role in your life,” says Blanca.

“I always like to start and end every Bible reading or lesson with prayer,” advises Alba. “It helps keep everything fresh in the mind when you are learning it for the first time. And remember to let the Word of God guide you to love and forgive others, as well as yourself. It’s easy to be on the right path when you are guided by His words.

“I have seen the Bible forced on others—through fear and threats of evil coming in your life,” says Blanca. “That is no way to bring someone to God. Instead, when I talk to someone who is as new to the Bible as I was, I share my past and a part of my present life. I tell them about my family and how my daughter and I came to The Salvation Army. I show them how God has changed me these last 10 years, and how even in the past when I was not by His side, He was always by mine.

“And sometimes, even after hearing all that, they are not ready to open a Bible and accept God in their life,” says Blanca. “But that’s okay, because I’ve still planted the seed in them. I’ve given them something to think about for tomorrow.”

by Hugo Bravo

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