Salvation Army always ready to minister & respond
HARLINGEN – It was a hectic time for Celia Ramirez as she managed the local warehouse of the Salvation Army, which was overflowing with donations and full of activity with a team of volunteers sorting and dispatching food, clothing and other emergency items. Hurricane Beulah, a powerful category three storm, had just devastated Brownsville and the neighboring communities, and the Salvation Army was in full disaster zone operational mode ready to assist those in need.
The year was 1967, and Celia’s 15-year-old son was forever changed by witnessing his mother in action during those long, busy days.
“ I would see the work that she did, and I was always with her,” said Ernest Lozano, 61, recalling the days after the storm. “As she was coordinating the donations of clothing, food, cleaning supplies, one day, this tall fellow showed up, and my mom was out there with him. This guy had all these men in black suits and sunglasses. She came in and said, ‘I want you to meet my son Ernest.’ It was President Lyndon Johnson. I got to shake President Johnson’s hand.”
Little did Ernest know that years later, he would go on to meet and shake hands with President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton by working with the Salvation Army.
That experience with his mother helped Ernest, now an ordained minister and a commissioned officer, to become even more committed to practicing his Christian faith through the Salvation Army, which he has been a member of since he was 5 years old.
“ We are an international organization,” said Ernest, explaining the Salvation Army is a Christian church in more than 120 countries that ordains both men and women as ministers. “Other denominations have a world-wide leader, like the pope with the Catholic Church. We have an international leader that leads the work throughout the world. We already had three women be our international leaders.”
Ernest decided to enter the Salvation Army seminary in 1987 and begin the two-year program to become an ordained minister in the church, which he successfully completed. After ordination, Ernest was assigned to his first ministry position in Texarkana in 1989.
And being a minister is not an easy job.
“ We’re always on call,” he said, adding that emotional and mental counseling is a big part his work. “We get those calls at 2 in the morning, people having suicidal or dangerous thoughts. I’ve been blessed to talk people down and counsel them over the phone. Any minister will do that. We have to be on call when people are in crisis, when people do need to talk to somebody.”
Along with his ministry work for the church, Ernest holds the rank of “major,” which currently puts him in charge of the Salvation Army of Cameron County along with his wife, Major Denise Lozano. Both will hold that title until the end of their careers, with retirement only five years away.
After spending six years in Victoria and eight years in Plainview with the Salvation Army, Ernest is glad to be back home and working for his community, especially close to his beloved Harlingen High School alma mater.
He explained it is very rare for the Salvation Army to appoint commissioned officers to their own home towns.
“ About one percent are sent back to their hometowns. The fact that I’m stationed here in Harlingen is unique because I graduated from here. I went through elementary to junior high, and in 1976, the good, old bicentennial class [of Harlingen High School],” he said with great pride, adding with a laugh, “That was way before the Hawks [of Harlingen High School South] came into being.”
Ernest’s career with the Salvation Army has taken him to 14 countries and 45 states, where he has worked alongside those in need of food, shelter and emergency care. He vividly remembers working in Oklahoma City in 1995, shortly after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that left 168 dead and close to 700 people injured or maimed. He was also on the ground in 2005 helping those devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the catastrophic category five storm that impacted Louisiana, Florida and even the East Texas Coast.
“ It’s not easy work. It’s not for everybody,” Ernest said. “I’ve lived a very incredible experience. When I was growing up, I saw once you got to Dallas that was the end of the world. There’s nothing else out there. So far, it’s been an incredible ride.”
With this being his 30 th Christmas helping with the traditional Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, Ernest explained he continued to be motivated by the cooperation between local agencies like Loaves & Fishes and United Way. After all, the work of the Salvation Army extends year-round and beyond collecting donations outside of stores during the holiday season.
“ It’s a privilege to work and to coordinate with so many groups and agencies,” he said. “There’s a lot of good groups working together to try to meet the needs of the community.”