Remembering Mario

My friend Mario Mendez suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital on August 9, 2023. Years ago I met Mario and his wife, Rosalinda, in a Spanish-language church service. They both spoke English, but preferred to worship God in Spanish. He always greeted me in Spanish even when my comfort with the language slipped. It was one part encouraging me to practice and the other part enjoying watching me struggle. Never too long, though. He always switched over to English when I ran out of words.

In his younger days Mario was a boxer. Not a household name, but I was able to find this photo from 1980 when I searched the internet for his career:


If you look at LinkedIn, you’ll learn he retired from boxing to work for KMEX, a Spanish-language TV station in Los Angeles, and later became a tax preparer for the rest of his career. He helped Spanish speakers with their taxes, immigration forms and generally navigate the bureaucracy of the United States. He was married to his childhood sweetheart, Rosalinda, and was a father to two daughters and a son. By every measure, Mario was an American success story.

He was also constantly and persistently a joyful friend. In 2010 we traveled to Guayaramerín, Bolivia, to help build a boat. When it was done, the plan was for local pastors to travel up and down the Mamoré river visiting people who live in the Amazon rainforest. We brought equipment and money, carried lumber, pounded nails, sealed the hull with tar, and encouraged the locals who worked along side of us. Mario and Rosalinda made sure everyone had water and a filling lunch to help us work. It’s safe to say Mario wore many hats on that trip.

Mario found humor in every situation. I rarely saw him without a smile and I can’t recall a conversation with him that didn’t include laughter. He lived his life as if his troubles were light and momentary, to paraphrase St. Paul. Every Saturday morning, for many years until the pandemic hit, Mario and I (along with a few other men from our church) visited inmates at the Twin Towers jail. When I looked over at him talking with the Spanish-speaking inmates, I couldn’t but notice how often they were laughing.

And yet, I also knew the subject of their conversations dealt with weighty things such as reconciliation with estranged family members, being a loving father while locked away from the world, repentance, forgiveness and our eternal destiny. He used his love of joking and laughter to break down walls so that hardened men could communicate honestly with each other. Mario loved Jesus and wanted to help other people love him too. With the determination of an ex-boxer, he let nothing get in the way.

It’s a great comfort to know that Mario is with Jesus, the one he loved and who loved him so well. When we were in Bolivia, Mario would wake up early to go for his run. Then he’d work hard all day long with a laugh and a smile. While we would have preferred his race on earth to be longer, we know he finished it well. When we meet again, I suspect he’ll be surrounded by many people he shared a joke with from time to time.

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