LONGVIEW—Friends and admirers gathered at First Baptist Church in Longview April 8 to remember Fabio Giménez as one who went from being a renowned professional soccer player to being a person known for his desire to serve God.
A lawn mowing accident April 5 took the life of the 50-year-old Argentina-born pastor of Puertas Abiertas, First Baptist’s Spanish-speaking congregation.
More than 1,500 people filled the church’s sanctuary to remember and celebrate the life of Giménez, who is survived by his wife, Dora and their three sons, Tomas, Valentin and Juan Manuel.
Soccer player became known for his faith
“His life served as a testimony for many others,” said longtime friend Chicho Añez, pastor of Iglesia Puertas Abiertas in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.
Giménez and Añez met when Giménez played for Oriente Petrolero, Santa Cruz’ soccer team, in 2004.
In his professional career Giménez had struggled with addiction, but his life started changing in the early 1990s when he started attending church.
“I started little by little [while playing] in Uruguay, but I completely gave my life to the Lord in ’94,” said Giménez in 1998.
As a nationally known soccer player in Bolivia, the news of his faith quickly spread throughout the country—not only because of his fame, but also because he shared Christ’s message with any opportunity he had, Añez noted.
“He had to preach. He just had to,” Añez said. “Any time he scored goals, he would lift up his jersey and showed a shirt underneath with messages that read ‘God is faithful’ or ‘I belong to God.’”
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The Giménez family still keeps a copy of an article written about him with the headline: “Does it matter if your face is seen? For Fabio Giménez it only matters that Jesus lives.” The article includes a photo of him covering his head with the jersey and showing the message he wrote on his shirt.
“He always used any possible method to preach, and for many years the main one was soccer,” his son Valentin said.
After starting his career in Argentina, Giménez played for teams in Colombia, Uruguay, Bolivia and the United States.
“As a family, we moved with him everywhere he had to go,” Valentin said. “We moved at least 25 times.”
Passion for spreading the gospel
In 2007, Giménez retired from soccer and continued his passion to spread the gospel.
Along with Añez, Giménez founded Iglesia Puertas Abiertas, which this year had its 10th anniversary.
Giménez first interacted with First Baptist in Longview in 2014 when he started coming to the United States to direct soccer camps. That’s when he met Cary Hilliard, then pastor of the church, said Angela Webster, the children’s minister at First Baptist.
“He agreed to run those soccer camps only if he could use that time to also share the gospel,” Webster said. “Even though he was famous, he was very humble and only wanted to serve.”
Hilliard had a vision to reach Hispanics in and around Longview, and at the same time, God started to give Giménez another vision, Añez said. Puertas Abiertas started while Giménez traveled in and out of Longview and held Skype sessions with the few new church members there, he noted.
Giménez and his family left Bolivia in 2015 to move to Longview, where he joined the staff at First Baptist.
Puertas Abiertas of Longview began with only six people, but in four years it has grown to more than 250 members, Webster said.
“The willingness he had to serve others attracted many people,” Valentin said. “With his service, he shared a message of love.”
As a father, Giménez did not let a day go by without showing his sons he loved them, as well as showing them the love God had for them, Valentin recalled.
Even if he or other people were to fail them, Valentin said, Giménez taught him and his brothers to know God’s love for them would not fail.
The example he provided his sons was the same he offered the church he led, Webster said.
People in several countries were impacted by the testimony of Giménez, Añez said. The memorial service in Longview not only drew friends from throughout East Texas and out-of-state admirers from Louisiana, Florida and California, but also people from Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia.
The family received online messages from people who were impacted by his life, and all of them thanked Giménez for the love he gave them, Valentin remarked.
First Baptist in Longview and Puertas Abiertas had planned to hold a joint worship service April 7, and Giménez was scheduled to preach. In advance, he sent the church’s staff the sermon notes he would use, which focused on Acts 13:36, Webster said.
Giménez planned to preach about leaving a legacy of faith, hope and love, which is precisely what he did, she added.
Valentin noted his father had devoted the last 25 years to proclaiming the gospel to as many people as possible, and he continued to do so even after his death. Between those who attended the memorial service and an international audience who viewed it online, thousands heard the good news of Christ, he observed.
“He wanted to live every minute of his life for God,” Valentin said. “And I think in many ways he saved his best play until the end. … At the end, he scored the goal of his life.”