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Global Ministries staffer, Rev. Edgar Avitia, mourned near and far (UM News)

June 29, 2023

Year after year, the Rev. Edgar Avitia Legarda traveled across Latin America and beyond for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, encouraging mission work and tending relationships with various Methodist groups.

He also nurtured the faith and ministry of Spanish-speaking United Methodists in the U.S., and he became a go-to authority on the history of Methodism in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.

Avitia’s death from a heart attack at age 62 on June 27 in El Paso, Texas, prompted an outpouring of grief among far-flung colleagues. There was, as well, great appreciation for his work.

“Edgar had a remarkably keen understanding of the links between local and global Christian mission,” said Roland Fernandes, Global Ministries’ chief executive, in a statement.  “He came to us in 2001 as a specialist in Hispanic and Latino ministry in the United States and expanded his portfolio to include all Latin America and the Caribbean and eventually the global mission community. We heavily depended on his experience and vision.”

Avitia grew up a Methodist in Chihuahua City, Mexico. He immigrated to the United States in December 1983, soon after marrying Giuseppina Lauretano, a fellow student at a college in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She survives him, as do their two children and three grandchildren.

He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Texas in El Paso and in 1991 earned a Master of Divinity degree at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.

Avitia was ordained in the largely Spanish-speaking Rio Grande Conference (now part of the Rio Texas Conference) and there led local churches and served as chaplain at Lydia Patterson Institute, the United Methodist school in El Paso. He also did a stint as superintendent of the Rio Grande Conference’s Southern District. 

In 2001, Avitia began his 22-year career with Global Ministries. He led the agency’s Global Mission Relationships unit, a role that included being regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. 

“In his assignment with Global Ministries, he developed and nurtured many collaborative relationships with Methodist leaders in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America and other parts of Latin America,” said retired United Methodist Bishop Joel Martinez, who as Rio Grande Conference leader appointed Avitia to Global Ministries. 

UM News stories through the years noted Avitia’s presence in Haiti, Argentina, Honduras and along the U.S.-Mexico border. He worked closely with United Methodist missions, such as the one in Honduras, but also with autonomous Methodist groups in a range of countries.

Fernandes shared with UM News the remarks he gave in speaking to Global Ministries staff about Avitia’s death, and in those he noted “so many calls, emails and texts” from scattered Methodist leaders who were feeling the loss of a treasured colleague.

Methodist Church of Mexico Bishop Rodolfo Rivera de la Rosa posted a Facebook video tribute.

“Edgar continuously reminded us to serve God with joy,” the bishop said. “That value will stay with many of us: to serve God with joy. He was a wise leader, a very experienced leader, a man who knew how to support many ministries within and beyond The United Methodist Church.”

The Rev. David Danilo Diaz Rivas of the Colombia Methodist Church also weighed in on Facebook.

“(Avitia) always showed a sincere interest in supporting the work of the Church in Colombia and believed in us despite the crises that are typical of this type of mission,” he said.

In Brazil, Bishop Adonias Pereira de Lago, president of the Episcopal College of the Methodist Church, also expressed appreciation for Avitia and his impact. “[W]e witnessed his performance and care, having provided services of great relevance to the Methodist Church in Brazilian lands, notably in the intermediation and support of countless partnerships that until today bear fruit for the Kingdom of God,” the bishop stated.

CIEMAL, the Council of Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean, posted a statement saying Avitia “for years accompanied churches and faith-based organizations in the region” and asking prayers for his family. 

Cindy Andrade Johnson, a United Methodist deaconess in Brownsville, Texas, worked with Avitia on border projects through the years. She too recalled the joy with which he served and described him as a mentor to many. 

“He worried about the marginalized, and he wanted voices to be heard from all areas,” she said by phone. “Me being a woman Latina, he wanted my voice projected — and any other person who was not in the mainstream of making decisions.”

Avitia was active in MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus within The United Methodist Church, and he taught in the Spanish-language Course of Study program at Perkins.

MARCHA, the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry and the Duke Divinity School Hispanic House of Studies all posted about Avitia’s death, and a group of Latin American and Caribbean leaders from non-Methodist denominations joined in a letter of condolence. 

Clergy colleagues recalled Avitia’s devotion to family and keen intellect. Martinez said that Avitia had, through extensive research into a particular part of Methodist history, become an authority he and others relied on.

“In my estimation, Edgar was the most knowledgeable United Methodist leader about the extent, scope and impact of Methodism in his native Mexico and the southwestern U.S.,” the retired bishop said.

The Rev. John Feagins taught in the Course of Study program with Avitia and collaborated with him on pastor training in Honduras. They recently worked with Rio Texas Conference colleagues to promote observance of the 150th anniversary of Mexican Methodism. 

Feagins, pastor of La Trinidad United Methodist Church in San Antonio, choked up describing his reaction to the news of Avitia’s passing.

“I feel like I lost a spiritual older brother.” 

Visitation and the funeral for Avitia are set for July 2 at Perches Funeral Home-East in El Paso.