By June Norvila
A special family visited Alberta recently, their first visit to Canada, and it had an impact in Bentley.
The Ruiz family from El Paso, Texas, consisting of mother Maria, her husband, Jesus, their 21-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and 14-year-old son, Jesus Jr. were invited to central Alberta for a holiday.
The pastor of the Bentley Community Church connected with them after finding out they were helping families, and especially school-aged children, in Juarez, Mexico. The church had been collecting and delivering clothes to families in Mexico for years but now find they are now down at the border and are no longer allowed to make deliveries.
Pastor Greg Rathjen wondered if maybe the Ruiz family could help deliver clothing and other items donated to Operation Amigo, the church’s project, as part of their project.
After he and some church board members met the family in their home in June, the group worked out a way for the people here in Alberta to get their donations to where it is so badly needed.
After seeing how hard the family worked and how deep their dedication to helping those less fortunate across the border from them was, the Bentley Community Church and their Operation Amigo project invited the family to come visit Alberta.
The Ruiz family arrived at the Calgary airport on Sept. 30 at no cost to them, all sponsored through the church and Operation Amigo.
The Ruiz family members are celebrities of sorts, although you would never know it to meet them. They are a humble family, wanting only to help others.
Jesus, who was originally from Mexico before moving to the United States at the age of 14, married Maria, an American. He had vowed he would never go back to Mexico, but now finds himself helping Maria do just that.
Maria, after attending her grandmother’s funeral in Mexico and seeing the poverty and poor living conditions of an aunt, desperately wanted to help out. “What can I do?” she said. The aunt said not to worry about her but pointed Maria in the direction of the local school. The teacher expressed to her that kids were failing because they were hungry, and that’s where the story all started.
Within a week Maria took back apples and oranges, bananas and little cakes (Twinkies) to share with children at the school. She was so impressed with the smiles on the faces of the children, some who may not have eaten that day or maybe even the night before. It made her heart beat faster she said. She prayed and said, “If it is God’s will it will happen” and it did. It quickly developed into a school feeding program of 1,200 kids per day.
Maria and the family cooked meals in their own home kitchen made from food donated by businesses, drove the food across the border to hand out, drove back home and started on the meal for the next day. They made a 45-minute trip one way each day, and sometimes many trips per day depending on what they were distributing as they could only take limited items across the border per trip because of regulations. They have been doing that for about 14 years now, putting the finishing of their own house on hold and taxing their own finances and resources.
After being nominated, Maria was picked as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes on that program in 2008 for having had a great impact on the lives of others. Following that, in 2009, they were picked by Extreme Makeover Home Edition to get some well-deserved help. Their home was demolished and a new home built in its place complete with a commercial kitchen as well as a kitchen of their own and special rooms for each of them.
“If it is God’s will it will happen,” says Maria, and it sure has happened. Their JEM Ministries, founded in 1996, is now helping build an orphanage, a vocational training centre, a community kitchen and more.
They were guests at the Oct. 3 Bentley Community Church service where they shared their story of faith and inspiration. Maria spoke of her fears and how she overcomes them by following advice from her husband to just get up and do it and it works she says. She was able to board a plane, one of her fears, and even ride the sky tram at Banff. Jesus was able to tackle a golf game for the first time.
The service was followed by a community potluck dinner in their honor in the church gymnasium.
On Oct. 4 the Ruiz family shared part of their story at a school assembly held in the Bentley elementary school gymnasium with about 300 local children and some of the staff.
After staying overnight at a variety of places, and after more sight seeing, the family left to go back home Oct. 6 to pick up where they left off, happy for the experience to visit here, but also happy to be returning to their chosen work and vision.