Sharing faith, love & food

Reverend Esperanza Baltazar-Ramirez has been leading the United Methodist Church El Buen Pastor for six years and takes joy in creating a welcoming environment for her congregation. DAILY RECORD PHOTOS BY DENISE CATHEY

El Buen Pastor

Her English is less than perfect and my Spanish is almost non-existent, once we get beyond frijoles and tamales. Nevertheless, this was one of my most interesting interviews. Disclaimer: We had an interpreter with us part time. 

Reverend Esperanza Baltazar-Ramirez is the senior pastor at El Buen Pastor, a United Methodist Church, located at 209 East Grove St. OK, it is directly across the street from the “old” Victory Cleaners. 

As the interview began, Baltazar-Ramirez issued her own disclaimer, noting that whatever she said would be her personal ideas, interpretations and beliefs, and she was in no way speaking for the Methodist Church. I assured her that this interview was for the San Marcos Daily Record, and none of it would ever appear in the gossip or celebrity news.

When I asked my standard interview opener, “Tell me about yourself,” the Reverend began, “I am Esperanza Baltazar-Ramirez. I came to the United States 13 years ago. I came with my husband who was invited to start a ministry in Abigail, Alabama. While in Alabama, I was asked to become a minister. So, to get a license, I had to get a GED. And, then I studied for five years the basic courses and then for five years, I studied advanced courses and last year, I was ordained.”

To clarify, I asked if that was her first opportunity as a pastor. I was told she had been the local pastor for the past six years. Local pastor is a term for Methodist ministers who may be lacking all the credentials for ordination, but who are qualified in many other ways for certain levels of ministry. 

Going back a bit, Baltazar-Ramirez said she came to the United States with her husband, who had been a district superintendent in Mexico. He had a masters degree in biology and had been a teacher in Mexico. 

“So, how and why did you come to Texas, “I asked. “We wanted to be close to our children,” she said. And so her husband accepted the ministry at Buen Pastor. 

“From where in Mexico, did you come?” I queried, thinking they were probably from a border town, or some such similar circumstances. 

Baltazar-Ramirez replied that they came from Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico. 

Then I asked if she came to San Marcos and El Buen Pastor with her husband. “No,” she replied. “I was appointed to be the pastor here.”

Baltazar-Ramirez opens the church’s bible that rests on a small stand before the cross.

My curiosity about the origination of Buen Pastor, led to this information. The present facility was built in 1950. The congregation can trace its origin back to 1845 – one year before Texas became a state. According to our interpreter, the first building was built from lumber that the Anglo Methodist church had left over from the construction of their church.   

As a Spanish mission church, the location drew Hispanics from different parts of Texas and they initially gathered at the river. The San Marcos River has been a magnet for this area for more years than history has recorded.

Perusing the certificates and diplomas adorning the walls of the modest office, I noted a diploma from Perkins Seminary in Dallas. Since that is a popular and esteemed Methodist seminary, I asked when she attended the school. “In 2007,” Baltazar-Ramirez replied. “Then I went to SMU and after SMU, I went to Boston and studied at the University of Boston.” She also attended school in Chicago, but the name escaped her.

“You have lots of education,” I remarked. 

“Oh, yes, education is very important,” Baltazar-Ramirez replied. “And, I like it because I can serve the people better.” 

She certainly likes serving the people or she would not be here. She describes the Methodist Church here as a big oasis for the people. “And, we lived near a big Methodist Church in Mexico and we loved preaching.”

I suggested that with her emphasis on her personal education, she must approach preaching as a teaching moment. “Yes,“ she replied, “And, I keep my sermons short and simple.”    

About that time her phone rang and she spoke a few words of Spanish into it and put the phone away. 

“My son,” she explained apologetically, which led to my question about her children. “Yes, we have three children, all living in Mexico. One has a PhD in education, one is in business and the youngest has a masters in engineering.”

“They are well educated,” I remarked. Baltazar-Ramirez then elaborated about her husband returning to high school at 25 years of age so that he could go to college. And, he continued his schooling until he obtained a masters degree at 37 years old.

Returning to El Buen Pastor, I asked Baltazar-Ramirez to tell me about her congregation and her pastorate experience. 

“My service here is to love the people because when we love the people, we can serve the people. They can call me at any time at night and I am available. I visit on the weekend if they are sick. I am a second generation Methodist. Before I was born my family was Methodist. 

“I have memorized many of the Psalms and when I visit, I like to quote for the people. And, outside the church, I play the accordion because it is so sweet.”

“You have a choir?” I asked. 

“No, I have a children’s choir sometimes. In Mexico, I made a children’s choir and even now, they still sing together. But our congregation is old.”   

Baltazar-Ramirez hugs church Treasurer Alex de la Cruz before he goes back to preparing for the weekly fish fry at United Methodist Church El Buen Pastor.

But our interpreter interjected that, in the church there is a trio, of which he is a member. A guitar player and a couple of other members and they play and sing for the services.

Suddenly, the conversation turned to food and Baltazar-Ramirez told me she was cooking the onions for the church dish that would be feeding whoever showed up. She shouted some instructions to the person in the kitchen and with my limited Spanish, I understood that she told them to use the salsa she had indicated earlier. 

Baltazar-Ramirez has an extremely responsible job, but her smile, her shy demeanor and her presence is child-like and her modesty belies her responsibilities and her talents.

Speaking of talents, I was to learn that she is as comfortable in the kitchen as she is at the pulpit. As mentioned, she was issuing instructions to the kitchen during this interview and then she told me that El Buen Pastor provides meals for free on certain days of the week. During Lent, the congregation prepares fish dinners for sale every Friday. No small part of her ministry revolves around food. 

I inquired about her family, origin, how did she grow up?

“I am one of 15 brothers and sisters.” Whereupon, she took a picture from the wall and began, “Here is my family,” as she identified her parents, surrounded by young men and women. One mother, one father and 15 children. 

“I am very proud for my family,” Baltazar-Ramirez exclaimed. “I am six of 15.” As she began identifying her siblings: “He’s a medical doctor; he’s a pilot; he’s a teacher; she’s a librarian.”

As proof of her close family ties, her voice choked and tears began to form, but she collected her emotions and continued, “Kindergarten teacher; engineer; and I am the preacher; a newspaper reporter.”

Suffice to say, Baltazar-Ramirez comes from a family of achievers and  contributors. So, her choice of profession, her attitude of caring, her giving back and her sacrificing is just fulfilling expectations of her own family. 

I ask about the size of her congregation. “We number about 35, she said. Showing some surprise, I asked how she can maintain the church, conduct the activities and provide the services they provide. 

“Every Sunday, I ask for a miracle. And, all members help with our work.”

As I took a short break to attend to my phone, Baltazar-Ramirez was issuing orders to the kitchen and when the interview resumed, she found my curiosity and my comments about her activities incongruous with her instructions. Her sense of humor surfaced and a joyful laugh put me at ease with my ignorance.    

My reaction was, “You have a lot of fun, don’t you.”  That was an opening for her to relate that when her husband of 48 years passed away, she went on, and remembered the fun they had. 

I asked, “What do you want this article to say about you, Esperanza?” 

“I want to serve God and I want to serve the people. And, I love to do that through the Methodist Church. I have found all opportunities to do that through the church.”

I pointed out that some of the ministers I interviewed indicated that they had a call from God and that their path was preordained. Was that the case with her?

“I had a choice, but I wanted this.” 

“And did being married to a minister influence your decision to become a minister?”

“Yes, we married and he was studying and I followed him.”

As the interview concluded, Baltazar-Ramirez insisted I see the sanctuary and the dining area where breakfast is served every Sunday, and what appears to be a commercial kitchen. 

She is a proud woman. She is proud of her ministry. She is open with her love of people. She is proud of her church’s contribution to San Marcos. She draws no lines when there is a person in need. 

As I concluded the interview, my lasting impression of Esperanza Baltazar-Ramirez is she will always be there for those in need – at any time of day or night.


San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666