Tina Ramirez is dedicating her life to helping suffering believers around the world
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) -- Tina Ramirez maybe small in stature - she stands just five feet tall -- but she is huge in her vision as she spends her life battling for the persecuted of the world, which includes, but not exclusively, Christians.
Tina visiting the Ezidi temple of Lalesh, in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, with their religious leaders
Singer, Brenda Lee, was once called, "Little Miss Dynamite," and now I would like to give Tina the same designation after learning of her tenacious work on behalf of the world's downtrodden.
Now, Director of International and Government Relations, for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, DC non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute that protects the free expression of all faiths, Tina recently came into the KWVE (www.kwve.com) studios in Santa Ana, California, to share her extraordinary story of how she began life in Huntington Beach - "Surf City", California, and is now in the thick of things as an advocate for the Persecuted of the world in the nation's capital.
Tina, who received an M.A., Education at Vanguard University, told me that she has spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council, various congressional briefings, and travelled extensively throughout the world. She most recently visited Iraq to assist refugees fleeing Baghdad and Iran and address women's rights.
Tina with Dan Wooding in the KWVE studios after their radio interview
She also said that she has visited the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and met with government officials, civil society groups, and religious communities about many other issues including democratic development and transition, terrorism, sex-trafficking, refugees, and religious freedom in the Balkans (Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia), Bangladesh, Burma, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Romania, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, and Turkey.
The real question is: where hasn't Tina fought for human dignity and religious freedom? The real answer, she says, is "just about nowhere."
She began our interview by saying, "It's been a long journey for me since I left Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, about nine years ago to try and work directly in the field international religious freedom and I went to the University of Essex in Colchester, where I go an MA in Human Rights.
"Then, instead of returning to Orange County, California, I went on to Washington, DC, and I've been living there ever since working on international religious freedom and helping persecuted believers around the world."
Tina meeting with Indian officials about the violence against Christians in Orissa which left hundreds dead and thousands displaced after a Swami led mobs to brutally attack Christians throughout their villages
I told Tina that I was fascinated with anyone who cares about the persecuted church, so I wondered how she first got interested in the topic that I had personally dedicated nearly 40 years of my life.
"I wish that more people were interested so I hope today that this interview inspires many young people to care about persecuted believers around the world," she said. "I first got involved when I was studying at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, and I read a book called 'Their Blood Cries Out' by Paul Marshall. Paul's now a good friend and he's still in Washington, DC, fighting for the persecuted church.
"In his book, he had featured stories about people who are persecuted around the world and it really pulled at my heart and I believe that the Lord just inspired me to want to help people that were being persecuted for their faith around the world.
"At the time when I was at Vanguard, I was studying world religions and how the church was growing in different parts of the world where believers were being persecuted under different governments where they lived.
"So it opened my eyes to the international church and I just wanted to be a part of that and what they were doing and helping them, standing with them like Paul said in Hebrews 13.3 (NIV): 'Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.'"
I then asked Tina if there was a particular story that she had heard while at Vanguard that had deeply touched her.
Tina receiving an award last year from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from their Supreme Leader for her work defending their community
"I was really moved with the story of a girl in China that we learned about in chapel at Vanguard one morning. She was a prisoner in China and was one of the many Christians among other people imprisoned in Chinese reeducation labor camps," she said. "This girl had become a believer and she just wanted to share Christ with the other people in the camp.
"So she asked the prison guards if she could go and clean up the human excrement in the prison cells, not telling them that she then wished to share the love of Christ with the others. She would go from cell to cell sharing Christ and cleaning up the stinking human feces. As I heard this moving story, I began to realize that stories like this, about people who just gave themselves to share their faith, had increased my own faith and made me want to help other people have that freedom to believe and to worship."
She then spoke about her original move to Washington, DC.
"Well, actually, when I first went to DC, I had just left Essex and I'd talked with hundreds of people to find out what I could do as a Christian and a conservative, to have an influence in Washington, DC, for human rights," Tina said.
"I wanted to help people understand the value of human life and to see if there was a role for someone like me in the human rights arena, which I now know there is. So, I met a ton of people and was eventually offered a job at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom where I worked for two years.
"I found it fascinating that we have a government agency that monitors religious freedom and makes policy recommendations on how we should actually deal with this issue.
Tina with colleagues in front of the Cathedral in Strasbourg, France, with Judge Lech Garlicki, who, at the time ,was overseeing the four cases from the UK related to discrimination against religious individuals for their religious attire (a cross) and views on sexual orientation
"While I was there, I was a policy researcher and one of the countries I focused on was Cuba and the persecution occurring there. I also focused on Turkey and Sudan - which was a place that had always been on my heart - and a number of other countries, including the various countries in The Balkans. After I was at the commission I ended up being recruited to go and work for a congressman in DC."
Tina then spoke about Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese blind pro-life human rights advocate whom, she said, "has been one of the most vocal opponents of persecution for people that are disabled and also for the unborn."
She went on to say, "There are so many Chinese people who are being persecuted for their beliefs and because of that the government had tried to imprison Chen Guangcheng and eventually put him under house arrest. He had been badly persecuted so it really was amazing that a few months ago, despite being completely blind, he was able to escape from his home and get to the American Embassy in Beijing. Because of his injuries when he escaped, he was eventually taken to a local hospital for treatment, but since he was no longer under the protection of the U.S. Embassy, the Chinese government didn't want to let him leave again.
"While he was there, a wonderful organization called ChinaAid which really deserves the credit for what happened with Chen, amazingly managed to get a cell-phone call and he spoke with Bob Fu of ChinaAid and a couple of couple of congressmen were also on the line, and they had him testify to Congress in an emergency hearing about how he was being persecuted and what was happening in his case.
Chen Guangcheng pictured with his wife and child in China
"And because of that, there was so much pressure put on our State Department and also the US Beijing Embassy that the Chinese, in order to save face, although they didn't want to release him, they allowed him to come to the US on a Student visa and so he's now here, but I'm sure he will ask for political asylum because there's no way he can really go back.
"His story is so amazing and inspirational and is evidence that there are many cracks in the communist regime there and that we can eventually overcome what they are doing to their people."
By now, the eyes of "Little Miss Dynamite" were ablaze and went on to say, "The growth of the church in China is amazing. I don't have exact numbers but there are reports of millions of people in underground churches -- so many that the government can't control them anymore. These house churches began with just a dozen believers, but now they're hundreds and, in some cases, thousands, and they're spread all over. It really is a massive move of God throughout China.
"But you can also see this happening in Iran, where they also have a huge underground church movement. There are a number of other closed countries where the government's tight control on what people believe hasn't been able to stifle the people's desire to know who God is. So in Iran a lot of people throughout the country are becoming disenchanted with the Islamic government that is imposing belief on them and they're turning to other religions, whether it's the Baha'i faith, Christianity, or a number of other religions.
"You see this happening in a number of other countries too, where the governments cannot control what people believe, because inherent in who we are as human beings is a desire to search for eternal truth."
Tina added, "Essentially this is a spiritual issue. Governments cannot be the spiritual nanny of individuals; they cannot tell you what to believe - and every human being knows that innately. In China, for instance, it's got to the point where people have left this atheist ideology that's been imposed on them and sought a deeper truth and a deeper meaning for life because everybody knows there's more to life than this black-and-white existence that they force upon you, whether it's in Cuba, China, or North Korea."
Dan Wooding in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang with Korean pastor, David Cho, standing by the huge statue of Kim il-Sung
Tina then turned to North Korea, a country I once reported from, and shared about its founder, Kim il-Sung, and how he realized that the people needed a religion to believe in so he invented what is called Juche. Under Juche, there is no god but Kim il-Sung, the country's "Eternal President", which makes North Korea the world's only country governed by an embalmed dead body. Juche then attributed divine powers to his late son, Kim Jong-il, the sole author, editor and interpreter of Juche. Whether his divine powers trickle down to his son, Kim Jongun, remains to be seen.
Juche espouses political independence and uses as justification the Korean peninsula's long history of suffering as a vassal state or the battlefield for the region's stronger countries. In reality, Juche produced an isolated state immune to international norms and laws, where the only rule of law is Kim Il Sung and his family.
"I just spoke to somebody last week who feels like there's not a lot of hope for the North Korean government to fall," said Tina. "Now I know that we can pray and seek the best there but it's definitely looking pretty grim. I think it looks worse there than it does for China or Cuba or many other countries.
"I think that we need to really be more concerned about what's happening in North Korea. It is one of the largest dark places in the world. It was the center of the church in Asia for so long there's definitely something spiritual happening there and it is important that we don't forget it.
Ms. Ramirez then said, "I think overall, Dan, in all the work that I've done since I've left Orange County, the biggest thing for me, as a Christian, is to know that we are part of an international worldwide church, a body of believers. We are not just Catholics or Orthodox or Evangelicals, but we are really part of one body and more than that, we're called to seek religious freedom for all people because, if we want it for ourselves, it has to be a part of what we want for everyone since those we want to worship Christ and know Him will never be safe to worship freely unless religious freedom is for everyone."
Tina then spoke about her work with the non-profit law called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty that she now works for.
"The Becket Fund defends people of all faiths around the world," she said. "Most of our litigation is domestically and we recently won a major Supreme Court Case. It's almost all lawyers, although I'm not a lawyer, but I handle all of our international programming and our congressional work.
"But the whole purpose behind the Becket Fund is to defend the free expression of people of all faiths around the world and on the basis that we believe that every human being has inherent dignity and a desire to know God and we want to insure their right to believe and to practice those beliefs. I handle all of our international programs, so now we're working on a project in Sudan to insure that religious freedom is part of the new Sudanese constitution in the North, not in the South, although we want it for the south too.
"We're working on Nigeria - the country of your birth -- as well, and we are trying to end the absolute violence and persecution there by working with the government officials to help them understand how to enshrine and enforce legal provisions on human rights religious freedom and carry them out so that people can't go through the streets slaughtering people because of their faith.
"We're also working in a number of different countries, including Iraq, where there are a couple of major cases that I'm working on. All of the work that we do is around building stronger legal protections for religious freedom, including Saudi Arabia, which is probably one of the most closed Muslim countries and they justify their persecution based on their beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, you have them actively imprisoning people and there are those who do get killed, but it's not from people going around the streets slaughtering them.
"Whereas, in Nigeria, that is what we see right now. In this huge West African country, it's very dangerous to be anybody that opposes Boko Haram, the terrorist group attacking and slaughtering Christians now, because the government isn't able to control them."
I concluded the interview with Tina Ramirez by asking why Christians in the West should care about the persecuted church.
"Well," she began, "there are a few reasons. There's the reason that we're called to care about the persecuted and to stand up for them and to stand up for justice. The second reason is that they should care is because if they don't, religious intolerance, religious insecurity and religious persecution, will affect them here at home and will affect their religious family around the world.
"If we can't have a world where people are able to believe freely, we as Christians who realize that part of our mission is the Great Commission, well that will never be achieved if people are constantly prevented from even hearing the message."
To hear the entire interview with Tina, please go to: http://www.assist-ministries.com/FrontPageRadio/FPR01.06.13TinaRamirezMono.mp3
I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.