On the Saturday after Christmas, more than 20,000 people gathered at Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens to honor officer Rafael Ramos who, along with his partner Wenjian Liu, was killed in an ambush a week earlier.
The impact of Ramos’ murder could be seen in who attended the funeral: in addition to police officers from across the country, mourners included the mayor of New York, the governor of New York, and Vice President Biden.
The New York Yankees have volunteered to pay for the college educations of Ramos’s sons, and Met’s third baseman David Wright, whose father served for 32 years on the Norfolk, Virginia, police force, reached out to the Ramos family and invited the boys to attend spring training with him.
Clearly, Rafael Ramos’ death has touched and moved New Yorkers. It certainly touched me — I was born in New York, and my cousin Marion was a New York cop for 20 years. But what should also move us is the life that Ramos lived: By every measure, his was the kind of life every Christian should aspire to live.
A glimpse into this kind of life was offered by his thirteen-year-old son, Jaden, on the occasion of Rafael Ramos’ fortieth birthday—just 11 days before the murder. On his Facebook page, Jaden wrote “Happy birthday to the best dad in the world, you are always there for me even when it’s almost impossible.”
Ramos’ impact wasn’t limited to his family. Marcos Miranda, the president of the New York State Chaplain Task Force, said that Ramos was “just hours away from becoming a lay chaplain and graduating from a community-crisis chaplaincy program” when he was murdered.
Miranda said Officer Ramos “told me that [in] his job even with the New York Police Department, he felt he was doing God’s work. He felt he was protecting and serving the community and that was sort of a ministry for him.”
As CNN put it, “Rafael Ramos was an unusual cop.”
If Ramos was “unusual,” he also belonged to an unusual church. Christ Tabernacle Church in my home borough of Queens has a close working relationship with Prison Fellowship. Prison Fellowship has worked with Christ Tabernacle to provide in-prison, prison culture and mentor training for the church’s prison ministry personnel.
Prison Fellowship has also trained the director of the ministry so that he could train PF volunteers both at Christ Tabernacle and at other churches. Two members of the prison ministry teach in our Honor Program at New York City’s jail, Rikers Island. And, we’re engaged in discussion with the church about creating some additional opportunities for them to serve in Rikers and other prisons.
As the life and ministry of Rafael Ramos demonstrated, there’s nothing typical about the church on Myrtle Avenue that was at the center of his life. Still, it should be. Ramos saw the streets of New York as his ministry. It was where God had placed him to do good and, with God’s help, serve as an agent of transformation.
That’s what all Christians are called to do. Our faith, and the comfort and strength we draw from it, is not solely intended for our personal benefit. It’s intended to be shared with others. It’s intended to build the Kingdom person by person, block by block, and community by community.
It is right to mourn Ramos’ death. It was an outrage and a tragedy. But it is even more important that we celebrate his life. And that we go and do likewise.
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org) that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million. Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.