Evangelicals lost in translation

I could hardly believe the news last week when I read that Wilson Ramos, the Washington Nationals catcher, had been kidnapped in his native Venezuela. It just seemed like something out of a movie rather than real life. And reading this great play-by-play of his abduction and rescue makes you realize it could be a movie. The Washington Post needed to cover the story well, in light of the local angle, and Juan Forero did a great job with much of it. Let's look at a few paragraphs from the top:

VALENCIA, Venezuela -- In a matter of minutes, he had gone from being a major league catcher with a promising future to a hostage. Bundled up a dark mountain pass, a hood snug over his head, Wilson Ramos was then imprisoned in a cabin as gunmen threatened him unless his family paid up.

His startling rescue by heavily armed commandos, just 51 hours after his abduction, amounted to a miracle for his family and teammates on the Washington Nationals, who had been closely following the saga. But on Saturday, as the 24-year-old ballplayer recounted his ordeal, his voice cracking as he spoke, his thoughts turned to those grim hours when his storybook life had suddenly been snatched from him by criminals searching for a big payoff.

That is what Ramos, fresh off an impressive rookie season, faced after being abducted Wednesday from his family’s home in the working class neighborhood of Valencia where he grew up. Ramos shook in fear, he recalled in an interview with The Washington Post, prayed to God and wondered if he would live past the ordeal.

“For a few moments,” Ramos said, “I thought I would never see my family and that was something painful, super painful.”

Reading about prayer so early in the story reminds you of how rare it is to see. Is it because people don't mention prayer when they talk to reporters? Perhaps. Is it because reporters don't know how to include prayer in a story? Probably. We've seen numerous examples of on-air reporters asking a question of someone, receiving a response that mentions God or prayer, and the reporter almost bumbling in response. It's just not a topic some reporters are comfortable with.

OK, let's look at what follows:

And at the same time, his family huddled together, waiting for a ransom demand, and discussing what steps to take with investigators and a Major League Baseball security consultant well-versed in hostage negotiations. They tried to block out a cold, hard fact all of them were conscious of: that hostages in this crime-ridden country disappear for months and, sometimes, forever.

“There were moments when the pressure would get to me, and I felt like collapsing,” said Ramos’s mother, Maria Campos, 45. She would cry, she said, and then see all the support she had around her, her children, Ramos’s father, Abraham Ramos, and other relatives.

A fervent evangelist, she said she sought a higher power.

“Then, I would get the strength,” she said shortly past midnight Saturday morning, as she awaited the arrival of her second son.

The reader who submitted the story notes:

The story describes Ramos' mother as a "fervent evangelist." That is almost certainly a mistake. My question is "whose mistake." I am assuming the writer is a native Spanish speaker. The sentence makes no sense in Spanish, either. She would be described as "una evangelica ferviente," a fervent evangelical. I can't imagine a person from the Caribbean basin of Latin America calling someone an "evangelist" instead of "evangelical" unless the person in question is actually a preacher. My guess: it's either [the contributor's] or an editor's mistake.

The reader also noted that Ramos' mother is referred to as Maria Campos, which might give the American reader familiar with Latin customs the idea that she didn't marry his dad. Her proper name, he writes, is Maria Campos de Ramos. Our Spanish-speaking reader then went on to make fun of journalistic Gringos.

Anyway, the story contains many important details about baseball, both with regard to Wilson's Major League Baseball career but also Venezuela's winter league. The details are beautifully written, such as how the abduction happened the moment Wilson's mother had gone to the kitchen to prepare corn cakes filled with meat. The details of the actual abduction -- and how Wilson's family reacted -- are riveting.

Other than the "evangelist" error, the religious angles are seamlessly woven into the story in various points. Note the ending, for instance:

“God is good! God is good!” cried his mother, holding him tightly. “Thank you my lord!”

Dressed in a blue T-shirt, tired and saying he was ready for a shower, Ramos then walked onto the patio where he had been kidnapped, went up to the metal gate and began to talk to all the well-wishers.

“Thanks to God I am again in my home, alive,” he said. “I do not have the words to express everything I feel. I thank you for your support. Thank you, really. I love you very much.”

Well done.

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