Celebrating the Legacy of Reuben Mercado
The Gathering 2021 was impacted in a huge way by the illness and subsequent passing of our brother and friend Ruben Mercado. Ruben became a believer through the ministries of EMMC in Bolivia. He dedicated his life to serve Jesus, and spread the Gospel.
EMMC Staff Members were notified of Ruben’s ill health and struggle with COVID-19 while attending Gathering 2021 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We shared information through the Praise, Prayer and Pondering email distribution and emails to churches and pastors, asking people to pray for Ruben. Things seemed to improve. Then we received the news that Ruben died. It was a heavy message to accept.
Ruben Mercado – pastor, leader, friend, warrior for Christ died in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on June 9, 2021 as a result of COVID-19. Many people within EMMC have been impacted by Ruben’s ministry, and have had opportunity to get to know him personally.
The following are some reflections from people who were Ruben’s friends and knew him well.
By Sharon Soper, former EMMC Missionary to Bolivia
I am forever grateful to have had the privilege of knowing Ruben Mercado for over 30 years. Ruben was a troubled teen living a block away from me in La Fortaleza. He believed the world would be much better off if he were dead than alive. But at the moment of trying to kill himself, he heard God’s voice stopping him. He walked straight away to our church where he committed his life to Christ. It was such a dramatic transformation from his former gang life and addictions. His gratitude for God’s intervention and forgiveness birthed a life-long passion to share God’s love and power to change as many lives as possible. After he married Waly (Guadalupe) and finished Bible school, his first pastorate was in the new outreach in Barrio San Francisco where the youth who knew Ruben, including his younger brother came to find freedom in Christ.
What I admired so much and find so unique about Ruben is that he never waited for gifts and talents to develop. He fully leaped into doing things believing God would give the ability to learn and be effective. We saw in Ruben the results of humility and a holy confidence that God is able to do the impossible.
"We saw in Ruben the results of humility and a holy confidence that God is able to do the impossible."
Ruben’s legacy as a visionary can be illustrated in his pioneering ways to inspire and reach the youth. After Ruben had invited me back to Bolivia in 2018, my first assignment was to teach a seminar for the international youth conference called “Generation Sana.” I was amazed to watch God use Ruben’s organizational gifts for such a huge undertaking. He felt an urgent call to “transfer the legacy” of God’s story to the next generation. The last “Generation Sana” was held in Venezuela in 2019 and other countries could not get permission to attend, but God blessed their obedience and it ended up being a great encouragement to the over 1,000 youth who attended.
During Ruben’s years as a missionary in Mexico (1999-2011), God’s anointing was quite evident in his preaching and evangelistic ministries. Many important relationships were formed, but there was one particular missionary mentor who came along side to encourage Ruben during discouraging times. That friendship led to an important ministry partnership with RIMI (An international network of churches and organizations joined together to continue the work of Jesus Christ in the world).
After Mexico, Ruben returned to Bolivia where he continued to synergize connections and still responsibly support the pastors and church planting efforts of LIEAB, RIMI, and beyond. He encouraged and shared new ideas with LIEAB, and during his time as President helped to reorganize and improve the ministries of the Chorovi Camp and Conference Center, La Fortaleza Anabaptist School, and SETA (Seminario por Extensión Teológica a las Americas).
So many have expressed appreciation for Ruben’s wisdom and trust him as their mentor. Ruben was always friendly and encouraging to each person he met, and he could readily see the potential God had for every single person. He was not stingy with his leadership role and always encouraged women to use their gifts. I always admired the way Waly and his daughters were able to share and fully exercise their gifts and callings together in ministry as a family.
This tribute must be shortened, but I will end with my most cherished personal memory. I received a surprise phone call from Ruben when he was visiting the U.S. He insisted I drive all the way from Los Angeles to Fresno (a 4-hour drive) in order meet him at a church where he was preaching. It was so important we meet face to face. We went inside and both shared from the heart. By God’s grace we were reconciled and at peace. I will always remember Ruben most because of this kind of personal integrity and close walk with God. For me it is summarized in that sentinel event and sacred moment that day at the altar.
Ruben touched us all with a life well lived, and we will miss him terribly. But our relationship will continue on with so many precious memories. Ruben, good and faithful servant, the story of God is being passed on to the next generation.
A Year With Ruben
By Jack Heppner
News of Ruben’s passing hit me fairly hard. Although I have not worked closely with Ruben over the years as some other EMMC personnel have, the one-year, intimate connection with Ruben in 1991/92 was memorable.
When Ruth and I arrived in Bolivia, along with three sons, in August, 1991, I began serving as a one-year, Interim Mission Director for EMMC Missions in Bolivia. It was a meaningful and fulfilling year for us on many fronts. One aspect of that year was engaging with Ruben in what I came to think of as a father/son relationship. As I recall, Ruben’s father had passed away and his mother died during the year we were in Bolivia.
What impressed me immediately was the deep sincerity and passion with which he was following Jesus as a 20-year-old who had only recently committed his life to Christ. I was honored to hear directly from him about his life as a drug smuggler and how he had escaped detention by the skin of his teeth. That experience gave him the impetus to reconsider his life and eventually come to a meaningful faith relationship with Jesus.
That particular August, Ruben was facing a crisis of sorts. He was enrolled as a student at the Hebron Bible School and was about to enter his third and final year before graduation. At the same time, he was deeply in love with Guadalupe and wanted to marry her. But, according to school policy in place at the time, any student marrying, while a student, had to take a year off before continuing studies.
Ruben came to his Canadian “father” for advice. He was passionate about Guadalupe and about preparing for pastoral ministry. And he was acutely aware of the temptations he would face by delaying their marriage. He wanted so desperately to be a model for other young people to follow. I advised him to take a year off, get married and resume studies later. Meanwhile, I told him, we would find something meaningful for him to do during that year.
To make a long story short, we were special guests at Ruben and Guadalupe’s wedding, having been named “Padrinos de Recuerdos.” After their wedding they moved to Chorovi, the earlier EMMC mission station, which was in the process of being gifted to LIEAB for the development of a retreat centre. While there, he was in charge of pastoring the church at San Franilla.
At the time, I saw in Ruben somewhat of a reflection of my own passion for serving the Lord as a young Christian. My intuition that he would go on to become a gifted and effective leader in the church proved to be right. While I was not there to watch him grow into his calling, I was a cheerleader of his from a distance. I am saddened that so gifted a leader and minister was taken by COVID too early. He leaves a great legacy, although shorter than we would have hoped.
By Lawrence and Susan Giesbrecht
Street Kid from the favelas of Santa Cruz! Evangelist, Initiator, Church Planter Pastor, Mentor, Servant, among numerous other gifts. He and I only became lightly acquainted toward the end of my tenure as director in the EMMC mission office. Ruben, at that time a young convert, began to show good leadership qualities in the newly minted LIEAB, the sister Conference to EMMC in Bolivia. Before long he was assigned to church plant in Mexico City.
While there the opportunity to visit EMMC in Canada presented itself. Ruben, with two of the Mexican pastors, came to attend the 75th Anniversary of EMMC in 2012.
While at the celebrations Ruben got to hear that I was unable to attend because of illness. He requested of Abe Giesbrecht to take them to our house, he wanted to pray for me. They came, Ruben prayed, and after a few days I rallied, Ruben’s servant heart was demonstrated! After the prayer visit the three left to return to Mexico City.
After some time in Mexico, Ruben returned to Santa Cruz where he became a resource to SETA. A newer involvement was RIMI, an international consortium of missions organizations.
We sorrow the loss of a servant leader and anticipate the revelation of what might have been in eternity.
We extend our condolences to Guadalupe and her family as well as to our fellow believers in LIEAB.
This article was originally published in the EMMC Recorder, Vol 58, No 4