Below is a story of the dinner conversation that revealed the Ramirez family’s dream of Victoria Gracia. (Translated and summarized by Joanna Coté)
The Testimony of the Name “Victoria Gracia”
We all shared an evening meal on Sunday, July 14, 2013 with the Ramirez family. As we sat around the table, discussing things from the children to the food, they began saying that they had something important to “consult” with Mark and Kristin about. Even before the meal, Mark had heard through a conversation with Tom Hopkins that some Shipibos were making movements towards some new land/village. So we were interested in learning more about this. It turns out this village was the important matter about which they wanted to have a conversation. Soon we realized what they had been referring to and how much it had to do with Mark, Kristin, and their family.
Samuel Ramirez (Jr.) began by talking about how they plan to have this new settlement/village for their Shipibo people. We were uncertain about the specifics, but soon the need for a name was mentioned, and beginning with Erica and Joanna who were helping to translate, the significance of the conversation began to set in. Upon asking “so, what are you looking to call this new place?” Mark and Kristin didn’t expect to hear the suggestion that was given. Truthfully, no one was really sure what exactly they were implying when they answered his question with “Victoria. Victoria Gracia.” Samuel Jr. continued to talk about how he values Mark and his family so much, how his children, Cloé and Samuel Mateo, look up to him, and how his entire family values theirs as a blessing, encouragement, and something very special for them.
We still were uncertain about the name and why it was so important to them to “consult with” Mark and Kristin, so we asked more questions for clarification. At that, the older daughter, Kathy, stepped in with a very articulate and well-spoken response, saying in Spanish:
“You see, Joanna, we want them to know that this is a very special place for us. It is the fulfillment of a dream. As Christians, we know that God brought his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. We feel that this place, this new village/settlement, is like our own “Promised Land.” It truly is beautiful. Currently in Nueva Era there are many different peoples who have come to live, and it is no longer a true/pure Shipibo village. MINAP (the mission agency that works with the native, far away tribes) has sold properties to Hispanics, mestizos, and others; this trend has brought in many bad things to our village, and people who are not Christian and cause many problems. We desire for this new village to be a place for the Shipibos to live, maintaining their values. There are many people who live in far-away villages and suffer greatly from flooding, crop damage, disease, a lack of education; for these things they cannot get help while they are living so far away. We want this village to be a place for these Shipibo people to come and live well – healthy, education, and working together. The village already has a place for a church, school, and a “cancha” for the kids to play soccer. Having a school is vital, as Nueva Era currently deals with many kids dropping out of school early and failing to complete their basic education, let alone pursue dreams for a career or a future. And, currently, we Ramirez children all live in our father’s house. In the new village, we will each have separate homes for our own families – to have a place to grow and be together. We children also feel the weight of this step very strongly, and I very much as the only daughter. For years we have seen our dad pour out his life and sacrifice for person after person, without ever getting paid in his work. He is a man of faith. I love him. My siblings love him. We desire to help him as much as we can, as he has declared this as his last effort. He is getting older and sees this as the last project that he wants to lead and see to fulfillment. We share his desire to see this come to pass. Being that this is the last thing he has chosen to do, we know that he cares deeply about it. Also, for us names are of great importance. This is why we want so much to chose a name that is fitting and, more importantly, meaningful for our family and these people. Brothers and sisters, this is why we wanted to talk with Mark and his family; we wanted to confirm with him the name that we have planned. Only with Mark and Kristin’s acceptance and input would we proceed with the suggested name of: The Village of Victoria Grace (“Victoria Gracia”). Their daughter, who is now in heaven, has impacted us all greatly. We see that she was very precious to their family. Through her life and the Victoria’s fund, we have been able to help many children, and we see that continuing to this new settlement – if Mark and Kristin would so desire to do so. We only would want to proceed with the blessing of Mark and with their acceptance of this name.”
Samuel Jr., interjected, “Four years ago when I met Mark for the first time and we realized that Cloé and she were born on the same day, I knew that this would be something very important. I admire Mark so much, and, even though we live very far apart and are not related, I think of his family as my own family. This is why we want to chose this name, Victoria, for our new village and our father’s last effort in his ministry. We are very grateful for Mark’s family and honored to know them; my children love his children, and we all value them so much.”
Kathy explained further, “We plan to have a ceremony on July 28th (the national holiday also) to celebrate the village and announce the name. We would love to announce the name at this time and have his family present at the ceremony, if they chose to accept it. We only want to do what they prefer, to honor them.”
Mark and Kristin confirmed a few details about what the implications were in “accepting the name.” Their only request was that Victoria’s Little Lambs Fund would be expanded to this new village in the same way that it currently functions at Nueva Era, something Mark and Kristin were eager to see happen. They were glad to hear that there was no division occurring between the villages. The church at Nueva Era has grown (from fifty to over one hundred this last year. Samuel explained that there would be a connection between the new village’s church and Nueva Era’s church, much like is currently happening with Nueva Era and a couple of other Shipibo Villages. As Zion and others have worked with CPI to support the Shipibos in building up the community of Nueva Era, we anticipate that we might participate in similar ways in the building up of Victoria Gracia.
After discussing all of this, and noting that they would want to simply touch base with Steven Shepard since he coordinates the fund with Samuel among the Shipibos (Steven was since contacted and was very supportive), they accepted the name “Victoria Gracia” for the new village, with much humility and gratitude. They explained again the meaning of her name, and shared how it was God’s work and a testimony of His victory by His grace through His beautiful servant. They connected what a beautiful land this sounds like and what a servant Samuel has been. Mark and Kristin, and everyone present, were very surprised and awed by all of this – totally a work of God. Names carry such importance in this culture, so the honor implied here for Victoria’s life and testimony is huge. Praise God!
Below are two testimonies from team members who were present and among some of the first to visit the land of Victoria Gracia with the Cote family.
Letter written by Tasha Lehman to Mark & Kristin:
I was not anticipating the type of “roads” we encountered on the way to the community. It felt like we were going into the middle of nowhere. Just when I thought that this was the craziest moto taxi ride I’ve ever been on, we got to the bridge. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that bridge, or what it was like to look down over the side into the stagnant water below, not even wanting to know what kind of creatures and diseases lived there. But soon after the bridge, we went through some tall grass, and everything opened up. We arrived at a huge piece of cleared land with one lone building. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but it seems that the trip to the community is in some ways similar to your journey with Victoria Grace. At the beginning, nobody was expecting to walk down the roads that were that were about to be presented. It seemed to be a journey into the middle of nowhere, with terrifying moments of looking over the edge of the bridge and imagining the what-its. But at the last possible moment, the clearing emerged. God has used Victoria’s life in ways that no one besides Him could have seen coming.
When we were walking around the land and learning how the Ramirez family plans to build the community, it felt very normal. I was impressed by their careful planning for buildings and houses. They seem to be very excited about this new project and want to do it well. I could see how much they wanted your approval, how they wanted you to be proud of how your daughter’s name was being honored.But I remember that at one point I was walking from one building site to another and realizing that I had not dressed properly for the occasion. My feet and legs were getting scratched by the long grass and eaten by the jungle bugs. I remember slapping a bug away, and looking up at the sky all at the same time because someone had said there was a pretty cloud above us. When I looked, it seemed as if a huge cloud was covering the sun. But the could couldn’t cover all of the light. There was a very intense and bright outline of the cloud. I felt like God Himself was peeking from Heaven to witness that moment.
I am so grateful to have been able to witness that moment with you, Mark and Kristin. I didn’t get the feeling of arrival or completion when I was at the community; it was more like a next step, and I’m excited to see how this plays out in the future. This is yet another amazing testimony of God’s faithfulness.
Testimony from Erica Deiter:
It’s been truly meaningful to watch Mark and Kristin walk through this journey of getting to know Samuel and Irma’s family, the community of Nueva Era, and all who they’ve come in contact with through Victoria’s Little Lamb’s Fund in Pucallpa. When I initially heard about Chloe Ramirez and Victoria Grace Cote having the same birthday, I was amazed by God bringing together these families. Despite the language barrier and distance between the families, I could see how God and His Kingdom connected the two families. Only God can fully understand the depth of the relationship between two families who await our ultimate restoration in the new heaven and new earth.
When the Ramirez family told Mark and Kristin they wanted to name a new community partnering with Nueva Era Victoria Gracia in honor of Victoria Grace Cote, the statement hung in the air, the weight of the honor settling in. Upon seeing the land purchased for Victoria Gracia and hearing about Samuel’s intentions for the land, it became apparent that they have big dreams and intentions for the land. They want it to be a safe place. Samuel Sr’s children spoke of honoring their father’s years of service to the church by helping him establish this beautiful new land as a Shipibo community. Mark noted the connection with his prayer for Victoria Cote’s life, that she would be a beautiful servant for God. With Mark and Kristin’s blessing, Samuel and others will work to establish this community with a church, school, cancha, agricultural training, and housing for families. Samuel Sr desires to see this community established to honor God. Through God’s grace, I trust the community will be established, thrive, and that those who are a part of it will remember God’s victory by His grace and how we show that to the world as we live as God’s beautiful servants through His power.