Ricardo R. Pena, Mennonite Brethren church planter, pastor and a leader of the Latin America MB Conference (LAMB), died Dec. 25, 2017, at the age of 93.
“Throughout his life he paved the way on what needed to be done to be used by God in his kingdom,” says Rolando Mireles, former moderator of the LAMB Conference. “From the time (he) became a Christian, to accepting the challenge to attend Tabor College, to becoming the first native worker accepted by the Southern District Conference in 1947, he always showed a determination to go forward.”
Pena, born in Los Ebanos, Texas, to Federico and Maria Luisa F. Pena, gave his life to the Lord at age 16 and was baptized in the Rio Grande River a year later. He was one of the first converts in the Los Ebanos MB Church.
He graduated from La Joya High School and felt led to go to a Christian college to prepare for ministry. He earned degrees in Bible and business administration from Tabor College, the MB school in Hillsboro, Kan., and became a missionary. He preached in open-air meetings, on front lawns, flatbed trailers and porches and along canals to labor camp workers.
Pena planted churches in Premont and Garciasville and taught in the Rio Grande Bible Institute.
In 1953, he married Carmen Pena Villarreal and founded La Joya MB Church. He also served Chihuahua MB Church and Mission MB Church for 17 years.
He retired after 30 years of volunteer ministerial service, yet for the next eight years he continued to serve in various churches in Alton and McAllen, Texas, and Mexico.
“His ever-present smile and enthusiasm in serving meant a lot to our conference,” Mireles says in an email to the Christian Leader. “(Pena) was one of the main pillars of our conference from its early beginnings to his resignation as a pastor in 1977. Many of those he helped along the way still serve the Lord today. We praise God for his legacy of service and love for the church he left within our conference, a legacy that will never be forgotten.
“Hebrews 13:7 says, ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith,’” Mireles says. “This verse comes to mind when I remember Ricardo Pena. I always considered his way of life and wanted to imitate his faith and work within the LAMB District Conference. He reminds me of those who had a passion for the lost souls in our area of South Texas. As a product of the Los Ebanos church, as I was, he inspired me to do church work within the conference.”
Pena was a bivocational pastor and worked different jobs to support his family, including 30 years at the U.S. Postal Service office in Mission.
Pena was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years. He is survived by his six children: Carlos and Hirma Pena, Federico and Belen Pena, Dina P. and Jesse Medina, Ricardo J. and Ana Pena, Rebecca P. and Jim Elam and David and Evangelina Pena; 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.
Ricardo Pena was a giant as a faithful servant, an encourager, and a pioneer. We do well to honor our great leaders who have helped us to the place we are today. Thank God for his gifts and for his wonderful family.
What an awesome article written up on one of my Heroes in the faith, who also happens to be my grandfather. I loved hanging out with my Grandpa whether it was fishing in the Gulf or working out in his orchard. It never failed, every time we would go out he would find someone for us to pray with or at the very least them that Jesus loved them.
What an honor it is to be able to carry on his legacy in ministry. I love you Grandpa!