Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Tim Ramirez, Advocate and Friend (1964-2010): Another Victim of AIDS
His time on this earth was ‘a gift from God’
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- It was 2:45 PM on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010, that I heard the news that a wonderful human being had left this earth.
Because of the advanced stage of AIDS, small colds led to larger problems: pneumonia, and meningitis, among other things. This past January he had surgery for another bout with meningitis. He never fully recovered.
I went to visit Tim over a week ago. He was weak, emaciated. He couldn’t speak. I talked with his mother, giving encouragement where I could. I prayed for Tim: “Lord, be with this man, thank You for his life.”
Two weeks before my last visit, I visited Tim in a hospice. He could talk, at least somewhat. I blurted out stupid jokes, Pastor Justin Marbury -- who has been a constant presence in Tim’s life -- smiled, if only for Tim.
But Tim laughed.
I first wrote about Tim in 2008. His story traveled around the globe. It is a story of courage and fortitude, but mostly of faith.
His last year-and-a-half on earth is worth stating again.
Tim The Entertainer
Tim is Tim Ramirez, 44, of Albuquerque, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Madrid. As you can tell by his places of residence, Tim is quite cosmopolitan, a successful businessman and entertainment contractor and negotiator.
Tim was raised in a Christian home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but left in his early twenties for a life in the entertainment business. His former employers are a “Who's Who” of the entertainment world: 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures Studios, Warner Bros. Studios, and the MTV Networks.
According to Tim, his life then was full of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” He even recalls that at several of his places of employment, people would bring drugs to his office -- much like some businesses would cater a lunch.
To say the least, Tim was quickly “hooked on the lifestyle”.
While living in Madrid, Tim was stricken with meningitis. During his recovery, doctors determined that he had the HIV virus.
According to Tim, the man he contracted the virus from knew he was HIV-positive -- but didn't tell Tim.
Now -- four brain surgeries and 35 spinal taps later -- Tim had begun to see this virus as a blessing in disguise.
“I believed in Jesus,” he told me. “But as a homosexual man, I would deny the truth of who He was and is.
“It wasn't until after several brushes with death that I said, ‘O.K, God, you win. What do you want me to do?’
“Though it wasn't easy coming to terms with my illness or my need for God, I found that I can have a personal relationship with God; He speaks, He knows me. I found that I needed to be honest with God and myself. When I think about that, it blows me away.”
A Return To Albuquerque
Tim came back to Albuquerque to be near his family and a support group, which initially, did not include a church. Generally, Tim saw the church as an “uncaring group of angry individuals.”
While in New Mexico, Tim attended a Gay Pride parade. As he looked around the parade, he saw churches present, holding up protest signs of hate and anger. And Tim asked himself, “Is this what real Christians are like?”
Yet, this forced Tim to go to the source of the Christian faith -- the Bible.
“I found that Jesus was not like the protesters. Jesus would have hung out with people like me, leading me - in love - to the truth. These “Christians” were acting out of hate and scorn, not out of concern for me.”
Tim's act of turning to the biblical Jesus caused him to want to know even more about the Bible. He began to attend Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque.
“While at Calvary, I realized that we all sin, fall short of God's glory, and have to be accountable to God for our own life.
“Furthermore, Pastor Skip taught that we need to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit, and let the Spirit have His way in our lives, submitting to Him. I learned that it is the Holy Spirit's role to convict and reach people. It is my job to submit.”
Tim went on to say, “You know, as a younger man, I was driven, sadly, to work, success, drugs, sex, and entertainment. Now my thought process is that I don't want to be driven; I want to be led by the Holy Spirit.”
With this new change in his life, Tim began to assert his talent and effort towards the New Mexico AIDS Services (NMAS) -- an organization designed to assist individuals and families coping with the HIV/AIDS virus.
One day, Tim walked into the office of NMAS and met with the director. Apparently, NMAS had just lost its corporate sponsorship for its Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter food outreaches known as Necessities of Life. Tim thought he had a great idea: Why not let a church sponsor the event?
To Tim's surprise, an NMAS representative frowned upon the idea. The reasons were interesting: “We don't need their help.” “What are we - a charity?” “We are tired of how the evangelical Churches respond to us.” And on and on went the line of reasoning.
Tim was shocked to see that the gay community has as many prejudices against Christians as Christians have against gays. It’s the same basic issue -- misunderstanding and prejudice -- but with different targets.
Yet after reasoning with them, Tim was able to convince NMAS that they were a charity and did need help. NMAS, with Tim's insights, finally allowed Calvary of Albuquerque to sponsor the event.
“It’s amazing to me how the church responded,” Tim said. “Not only did we get enough food for Thanksgiving, but Christmas and Easter as well. I was absolutely blown away!”
New Mexico AIDS Services
During my interview, Tim Ramirez shared his feelings with me after learning that Calvary of Albuquerque donated enough food and services to assist the New Mexico AIDS Service (NMAS) -- an outreach that was supposed to be only for Thanksgiving.
According to Pastor Dave Row of Calvary of Albuquerque, “Our ultimate goal with the NMAS outreach was to reach out and bless a community of individuals usually not associated with the evangelical church. Our heart was to show God’s love and demonstrate His love in a very concrete fashion.”
Dave continued, “I first met Tim three months ago. After a meeting with him, I discovered he had the HIV virus. Tim had so many questions about the church and Christians.
“After a few meetings together, Tim shared with me his idea about having the church sponsor the food outreach. I said that I believed it would go over very well. Tim was surprised by my answer. He confided that he would be shocked that an evangelical church would assist in an area like this. And I told Tim, ‘Be prepared for a shock, for when God wants to demonstrate His love -- it sometimes happens with a bang.’”
According to Skip Heitzig, Senior Pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque, “We’ve always yearned for an outreach within the Gay community, but we needed an open door. With Tim, we had our ‘door’.”
One Calvary volunteer, Chris Gibson, said that, “It was a blessing to serve. In this, I found a purpose for helping others during the holiday.”
After loading the cars and vans, our group headed down to the NMAS Wellness Center in Albuquerque. Once there, we unloaded the bags and met the group of volunteers.
The people weren’t scheduled to arrive until around 11:30 a.m. to pick up the bags, so we had a little time for a tour of the facilities. Dave Row, Rebekah Hanson and I joined Brian M. Brown and Kathleen Kelley for a tour of the impressive NMAS center.
The NMAS serves about 612 people. They offer free HIV screening, vaccinations, and other basic medical help. The facility even includes a gym for their many clients.
Additionally, they provide psychiatric assistance, counseling, and insurance help to all their clients. The insurance assistance is an enormous help to the individuals struggling with HIV -- the basic costs associated with treatment of the HIV virus runs between $16,000-$20,000 per year.
According to Executive Director, Kathleen Kelley, NMAS is the largest HIV and AIDS assistance group in the state of New Mexico.
Founded in 1985, the NMAS center is broken up into two major areas. In the Prevention and Assistance division, a dozen or so employees help the clients. According to Brian Brown, it is the caseworkers that comprise the “heart” of NMAS.
Going above and beyond the call of duty, NMAS also provides housing for six chronic individuals in a home called the Stanford House., which provides 24-hour care for those in further stages of the HIV virus.
As Kathleen Kelley said of many conventional nursing homes, hospitals and centers: “The [AIDS] patients weren’t maltreated -- they weren’t treated!”
Right around 11:30 a.m., Brian led us back to the Wellness Center where the lines began to form. As I glanced at the assortment of the old and young, Hispanic, white, black, and Native American, male and female people lining up for their Thanksgiving dinners, I rejoiced that Calvary of Albuquerque came alongside the NMAS to provide a meal for those in need.
I looked over at Tim and Dave and thanked the Lord that He had impressed it upon their hearts to take this significant step in showing the true love of God in Christ.
According to Pastor Row, “Serving others is at the heart of being a Christian. There are many ways to preach the Gospel: with our lives, with our mouths, and with our hands. With an outreach like this, we were able to use all three ways. I was honored to be a part of something as beautiful as this AIDS outreach.”
So how do you remember a life lived? You celebrate it, thank God for it, and learn from it. Tim finished well. He has left a legacy in the hearts and lives of those he leaves behind. He reached for the heavens and found a hand reaching back towards him, “Come you who are heavy laden, I will give you rest.”
But unlike the stars in heaven that burn out with great power, never to be seen again; Tim’s light will continue on through his work and dedication to people suffering with AIDS. And unlike the heavenly stars that have died forever, Tim lives with Him who holds forever in His hands.
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