“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:23)
While this scripture was referenced in the parable of the talents, the same could be applied to Ben and Bonnie Ramirez. There was no challenge they accepted that they did not perform to the utmost. Bonnie served faithfully until her death last November, and Ben continues to serve today, although tempered by physical limitations. You probably know them best from their years of faithful service to the Sunrise Bookstore for a combined 22 years. Indeed, they left their mark on many people while they served the church in that capacity, but they also served in a myriad of other ways which were not necessarily public knowledge.
Ben and Bonnie met at Ball State University, married in 1971, and moved from Indiana to California, where his parents had relocated. Bonnie worked for Pacific Bell, and Ben was initially a teacher in the Pasadena Unified Schools. They served Pasadena First Baptist Church for their first eighteen years, faithfully assisting in ministries of hospitality and leadership, before feeling the call to transfer elsewhere. A prominent reason for leaving was their desire to find a strong youth group for their teenage son. PazNaz fulfilled that desire. New opportunities and areas of ministry opened to them, and they didn’t hesitate to respond. They even initiated some ministries as needs arose.
While at First Baptist, they were instrumental in creating a ministry called Supper Clubs. These were intergenerational groups, each consisting of 8-10 people, three or four family units, singles and families, babies to seniors. The groups would meet once a month, rotating homes, while sharing a potluck meal together. The goal was to fellowship with an ever-changing group of members, getting to know them on a deeper level than merely attending a worship service. After four months, groups would reconfigure, and new relationships were established. Hospitality flowed freely from Ben and Bonnie, and they delighted in activities which welcomed new people and unified them within the church family.
PazNaz was a considerably larger church than their former one, so it was an even greater challenge to bring people together outside the church walls. That proved no obstacle to them, and new ideas began flowing. Having just become members themselves, they soon recognized a need to minister to those who were new to the church. They sought a way to demonstrate immediate support, while creating a sense of belonging. With the blessing and support of a former pastor, Mark Sanford, Partners in Ministry was launched. As new members completed pastoral membership classes, they were matched with another individual or couple already in the church. Then they were invited, both new members and “sponsors,” to the Ramirez home for a meal and fellowship. Sharing their gift of hospitality with food and conversation provided a gracious beginning to becoming a member of the PazNaz family. These dinners were held quarterly in their home. Even today that tradition continues, though now it is provided at church, where the new members share a meal with pastors and church members with the same welcoming hospitality.
Since God had given her this gift of early retirement, she chose to give of herself as an expression of gratitude to him. Pastor Pritchard mentioned staff discussions regarding starting a bookstore at PazNaz, and Bonnie eagerly accepted the challenge.
By this time, Ben had become an administrator in both the Pasadena and South Pasadena School Districts. In his position he was able to facilitate PazNaz youth ministers in a variety of ways on the PHS high school campus. A special bond was formed, and mutual respect developed. Ben also stayed aware of PazNaz students who moved on to college, and periodically sent care packages to let them know they were not forgotten by their church family.
During this time Bonnie was still employed by Pac Bell but, when management offered early retirement plans, Bonnie decided to take advantage of it. She was ready to retire and had asked the Lord to provide direction. Following God’s leading, she met with a former pastor, Dick Pritchard, seeking possibilities for volunteer work at PazNaz. Since God had given her this gift of early retirement, she chose to give of herself as an expression of gratitude to him. Pastor Pritchard mentioned staff discussions regarding starting a bookstore at PazNaz, and Bonnie eagerly accepted the challenge. She immediately did the footwork to attain state certification. She investigated various Christian publishers to determine how to go about reviewing and stocking books. She tirelessly completed credit applications and reviewed books which would soon begin filling the shelves. Finally she created a warm, inviting atmosphere and was ready to open the doors of Sunrise Bookstore.
In the early stages, book sales moved slowly. There were several Christian bookstores in the area, so the need was not as great. Carol Wagstaff, a staff member at that time, shared with Bonnie that she had once worked in a bookstore and realized that success did not happen only with books. She suggested that they add greeting cards and gifts to the merchandise offered. With Bonnie’s research, hard work, and dedication, this proved to be the key to a more successful bookstore. She spent countless hours managing, buying, displaying, bookkeeping, and the list goes on. Bonnie lovingly served as manager for ten years until her health began to decline and required her to give up the overall management. A huge piece of her heart remained dedicated to her belief in the value of the bookstore, so she was delighted when Ben took the reins. Sadly, Bonnie passed away on Friday, November 4, 2016. Ben was nearing retirement in the education field, but still had the health and passion to embrace the duties as manager.
Ben had a vision to take the bookstore to even further levels. He ordered books for Sunday School classes, fulfilled congregation requests, and even mailed books requested by members to be sent to prisoners. He hosted book signings for numerous authors within our congregation and provided communion kits for shut in visitation. As the church attendees became more diversified, he expanded offerings in the bookstore to meet the needs of a multicultural congregation, adding Bibles in Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, and Daily Bread devotional books in numerous languages as well. Whether it was literature, cards, or personal gifts, the products were selected with thoughtfulness in regard to culture and diversity.
As Christian bookstores began closing in the area, word got out about the existence of the Sunrise Bookstore on the campus of PazNaz, and customers began calling from the community at large. Visiting pastors would seek information about starting a bookstore within their congregations. In addition to our own church groups, the ladies of the Wednesday Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) were especially loyal to the bookstore and to Ben specifically, as he patiently listened to them to better accommodate their needs. They appreciated his desire to offer the perfect card or gift and were willing to stand in long lines for the opportunity to make a purchase. Some vowed that he had the best cards in the valley. One patron exclaimed that Ben purchased with the customer’s needs in mind, so there was always just the right card or gift on the shelves. Another expressed that everywhere she turns in her house, she’s reminded of Ben and the bookstore by all the wonderful items she has purchased.
For Ben and Bonnie Ramirez, the bookstore was not merely a business they managed for 20+ years until 2016. It was a devoted ministry. Whether it was a cup of hot cider, a listening ear, a prayer, or a smile, the Sunrise Bookstore offered so much more than merchandise. God clearly led them into that ministry of service, and they truly honored him as good and faithful servants! Thank you Ben and Bonnie for your years of service.
– Judy Barr
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