Ruiz Receives RGV Toros Handoff from Isidro

Jun 19, 2023

Handoffs aren’t always easy in volunteer sports chaplaincy ministry. This truth is what makes the story unfolding with Rio Grande Valley Toros FC (a USL-Championship side) that much more heart-warming.

Isidro Piña is a member of Soccer Chaplains United and the first volunteer team chaplain to serve the Toros. I remember back to 2018 when we made the placement after interviewing Isidro, who had come to us by way of recommendation from Chaplain Cesar Duran. Making the trip down to McAllen, Texas I ran into former Colorado Rapids defender, Jared Watts, who was doing a rehab stint with the team because of their affiliation with the Houston Dynamo. Isidro, who had recently met the team for the first time, remarked, “They’re so young!” But over the years, Isidro has really become like a big brother or father to so many of the different athletes and coaches that have been part of this club.

Fast forward to earlier this year, Isidro called me and shared that he felt that a move was imminent for he and his wife. His son’s family and his grandson living up in San Antonio, and his grandfather’s heart wanting to spend more time and be closer — there was potential to move and serve in a capacity outside of the church in a chaplaincy-type role…this would mean a vacancy with RGV Toros…something very difficult for Isidro to give up after five years of faithful service to the team.

I asked Isidro, “is there anyone in mind that he thought could take his place?” He did have someone. He mentioned that recently, a young man that he has mentored and discipled a bit and was entering into ministry might be a good fit. And so we began our process with EJ Ruiz.

For EJ, as someone who is native to the RGV (short for Rio Grande Valley), the opportunity to serve the Toros team is a bit of something that is coming around full circle. After high school, he had a heart for ministry and especially felt this in his time with the military — this is where his heart for chaplaincy really grew. He entered into seminary with the idea that he might become a military chaplain; however, a physical condition meant his time in service would be cut short. But God wasn’t done with using EJ for His work and service.

I don’t think the timing could have worked out any better. Chaplaincy has always been an interest for me. I know that people won’t always come to the church and so it’s great to serve as a chaplain…you know the stadium and grounds weren’t always there, it used to be called “SuperSplash” and it was a waterpark. It’s great that this place where I grew up and had fun as a kid will be a place where I can serve others coming to have fun, enjoying soccer, the team. For a while it was abandoned and now it’s been renovated and is a positive place for the community.

EJ, reflecting on the timing of becoming chaplain to the Toros
EJ with his family

In July, EJ will take on his first church appointment. He will serve as pastor at El Mesias Church in Mission, Texas. El Mesias is part of the United Methodist Church (UMC) and this will be EJ’s first paid appointment after serving as a lay minister at El Buen Pastor (Isidro’s church) and other churches in the RGV district. In what might truly be described as a Paul and Timothy kind of moment, it’s been exciting to see the “handoff” from Pastor Isidro to EJ on a number of levels — including seeing him grow into pastoral ministry.

Pastor Isidro came into my life right after high school. He really helped guide me into the process of serving and starting ministry. He helped me first get involved in the church, more. He would invite me into meetings and leadership opportunities. Even when I left to join the military, he stayed in touch with me. All the way through the issues I faced in the military and later with seminary…He’s like a spiritual older brother — guiding me and teaching me the ways of God. He doesn’t come across as one looking down on me, but as an older brother he’s been there to help love and support me across many different life moments.

EJ, sharing about his relationship with transitioning chaplain, Isidro Piña
Chaplain Isidro and new chaplain EJ pose for a picture outside RGV Toros FC

My hope with Toros is to provide for them and for their families is to provide in any way that I can, especially spiritually. They may not be familiar with this environment (in the RGV)) and it may not feel like “home” but to make them as comfortable and as happy for their time here. I hope to serve them really well.

EJ, on his hopes for the chaplaincy with Rio Grande Valley Toros FC

EJ’s appointment brings Soccer Chaplains United’s chaplain corps to 25 and he becomes the second volunteer chaplain in the history of the RGV Toros team. Isidro will remain with Soccer Chaplains United and look at possible opportunities in the San Antonio area to serve alongside a professional team.

Soccer Chaplains United is non-profit, 501(c)3 and depends upon the financial support of our partners to carry out our work of developing chaplaincy across all levels of soccer. Please consider making a contribution today to help us continue growing our work. Our chaplains are not employed or paid by any of the clubs that we serve. Check out our Donation Page with all the different options. Or, simply click the PushPay link below to make a secure, online, tax-deductible gift, or mail a donation to Soccer Chaplains United, PO Box 102081, Denver, CO 80250.

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