Jose Elizondo, Jr., former Pacific District Conference associate minister and Mennonite Brethren pastor, died May 4, 2018, at the age of 82. He was born Aug. 9, 1935, in Weslaco, Texas, to Jose Sr., and Tomasa Elizondo, the oldest of 12 children.
“It was my privilege to serve together with Pastor Jose Elizondo for 12 years in the PDC,” says PDC district minister Gary Wall. “He was devoted to the Lord and faithfully served our Spanish-speaking pastors and churches. Jose had a heart of compassion for hurting people and developed a food distribution ministry when he saw severe needs.
“I appreciated Jose’s commitment and dedication as he sought to advance Christ’s kingdom throughout the Hispanic community and beyond,” says Wall. “We will certainly miss his presence in the PDC but rejoice that he is present with the Lord whom he loved.”
In 1945, Elizondo migrated west with his family to Sanger, California, to join Jose Sr., who had come the year before to find work.
He completed ninth grade, leaving school after football season his freshman year to find work and help support the family.
Elizondo enlisted in the Army before the start of the Korean War and, after training, traveled to Munich, Germany, where he met his first wife, Anne Marie Gluck. They were married 13 years and had one child before she died of a childhood disease.
While he was working in landscaping, he married a second time and the couple had a son. The marriage was short-lived.
Upon an invitation from his cousin, Elizondo visited Del Rey Baptist Church, where he gave his life to Jesus—and met his third wife, Mary Lou Rivera. To that point, Elizondo was a heavy smoker of more than 20 years, smoking three packs a day, but after his experience at church, he buried his cigarettes and never touched one again.
Elizondo and Mary were married in August 1974.
Elizondo became a leader at Del Rey Baptist Church, serving as treasurer and choir director.
People encouraged Elizondo to pursue pastoral ministry but he was reluctant to do so until 1981 when Elizondo’s wife gave birth to a seemingly lifeless daughter. He pleaded with God to save his daughter’s life and promised to submit to his will. His daughter, Heidi, lived, and Elizondo made plans to attend seminary.
In 1982, he accepted an invitation to pastor Iglesia El Buen Pastor, a small MB congregation in Orange Cove, Calif.
After a hard freeze in 1992 that caused much of his congregation to lose work, Elizondo started a food distribution program ministry through the church. He privately funded a food distribution program the last 10 years of his life, helping feed dozens of families throughout California’s Central Valley. He donated time to Mennonite Disaster Service.
Following a quadruple bypass surgery in 2010, he spent his final years traveling to churches across the country, encouraging others to take their faith seriously.
Elizondo served faithfully and effectively for 16 years as the PDC associate district minister.
“Jose has served our Hispanic churches with enthusiasm and devotion since 1998,” said Wall in announcing Elizondo’s transition in 2014. “We honor and affirm his ministry and expect that he will continue to be used by God in a variety of ways in our district.”
Elizondo suffered a fatal heart attack while attending a funeral service in Orange Cove, in the church where he first began his ministry. A dozen people came forward to give their lives to Christ after the ambulance left the church.
“Jose had just concluded sharing with the congregation how he had led the person whose life was being celebrated to the Lord when he was pastor of the church,” Wall said in an email regarding Elizondo’s death. “Before he concluded his remarks, Jose shared about the importance of believing in and following Jesus. He did what he loved doing with his final moments of life—proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Elizondo is survived by his wife of 43 years, Mary Elizondo; children JoAnn Mares, Joseph III, Nathan, Michael, Israel and Heidi Gonzalez; and 14 grandchildren.