He was going to be a tailor. It was decided. Santiago’s first fifteen years included a three- hour shoeless walk to school alongside six sisters and four brothers. He was born into a humble Christian family, but on a chronic empty stomach, Santiago found little solace in God. Now that he was twenty-three, he sat alone in a rented room above the shop. Yes. Becoming a tailor was the answer. He’d worked in the tailor’s shop miles from his poor barrio two years now, sweeping scraps and running errands for the old man. After sending money home, he earned enough for the room and a bed, plus a few meals. One more year and the boss promised to teach him the trade, maybe let him take over the shop eventually. All it’d take is a little more hard work and loyalty…a dream for a young Dominican boy like Santiago.
Sleep should’ve come easily, then, but he found himself annoyed by the quiet. Santiago slept folded up on the edge of the bed, barely disturbing the covers. He still couldn’t get used to having a bed to himself and fell asleep thinking about his siblings back home.
A hellacious banging soon rocketed the thin man to the floor. “Who’s there?” Santiago shouted hoarsely in the direction of his door, catching a glimpse of the moonlit clock on the wall. Three AM. “What do you want?” Santiago sang out again, fear beginning to well up in him. The door swung open, and he found himself scrambling out of the way of a monster. A large, sweaty man loomed over Santiago yielding shiny silver scissors above his head. Santiago froze.
“Our Father, which art in Heaven,” was all Santiago’s lips could manage. “Hallowed be Thy name…” The Lord’s Prayer spilled out slowly at first, gaining speed as Santiago’s fear turned to resolve. “Thy Kingdom come…” He was no match for this man. “Thy will be done…” Santiago closed his eyes and awaited the piercing blows.
“…Deliver us from evil,” he continued, unnerved again at an eerie silence. Was the man still there? “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.” With a weak, “Amen,” Santiago willed his eyes open again. Blinking, Santiago found himself staring at the most astounding of beings. It was not a drunken murderer. It was Jesus.
Silver coins had replaced the scissors in His left hand, and He held them out to Santiago as He spoke. “Your life. Is it going to be what YOU want, Santiago?” He placed his right hand over his heart, “Or is it going to be what I want?”
With an unfamiliar determination from deep inside, Santiago replied, “Oh, Jesus, I want what YOU want!”
Jesus gently helped the young man from the floor, inviting him to stand beside him. A vision of a pulpit appeared in front of them, and He motioned Santiago to read from the Holy scriptures upon it. Santiago began reading Ezekiel 37, “The Valley of the Dry Bones.”
He read of Ezekiel whom Jesus lead to a vast valley of bones. There he commanded Ezekiel to breathe life into the bones, a symbol of the Holy Spirit entering a people who were spiritually lost.
“But, Jesus, what does it mean?” asked Santiago sheepishly.
“Tell My church to prepare, Santiago. I will return,” whispered Jesus as He faded from sight.
Today, Pastor Santiago Ramón of La Romana, Dominican Republic, is a veritable dynamo. Leading a large congregation with a focus on street evangelism, “Santiago’s” visions for Christ’s lost people have been continually fulfilled. Currently, Santiago’s vision has gone global as American mission work teams join him several times a year in La Romana in order to help build a hospital, a school and a seminary on forty acres that once lay fallow.
It was there on the forty acres that I met Santiago for the first time. His successes were not what imprinted his image into my brain, compelling me to sit at his feet listening or to return again to mix “concreta” with other Americans and Dominicans in the sweltering heat. No, Santiago’s true gift to others lay in his presence, in his boldness, in his passion for his Jesus.
I asked Santiago once what kept that fire inside of him going. He proceeded to tell me the story of a young man who once wished to be a tailor. And with every moment, Santiago breathed life into my dry bones.
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