Twenty-one-year old Trinidad native Ronell Ragbir, a terminal cancer patient whose final wish was to perform her gospel songs in front of a live audience, passed away June 7 at 1 p.m. at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Her funeral was held Sunday, June 10 in Memphis.
Though her young life was marked by poverty, difficult circumstances and shattered dreams, Ronell’s remarkable spirit and indomitable faith brought light and hope to all who met her. Her March 22 concert at Colonial Hills Church in Southhaven, Miss., aptly dubbed “A Celebration of Life,” was opened by Dove Award winning singer/songwriter Ginny Owens and attended by more than 1,500 supporters. Gospel music veteran Bruce Carroll performed in Ronell’s band and assisted the young woman in crafting a six-song EP inspired by her journey.
After attending Ronell’s funeral, Owens said, “Several hundred friends came to celebrate Ronell’s life—doctors, nurses, hospital volunteers, friends and some family. The amazing thing was that most of us had only known Ronell during her suffering. Yet we were drawn together by her beautiful strength of character, faith in God, and hope for a time when the pain would be no more.”
Ronell arrived at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. in April 2004 and was diagnosed with bone cancer. After multiple surgeries, a leg amputation, chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer persisted and metastasized throughout her body. When treatments were no longer deemed effective, Owens, Carroll, Rocketown Records’ President Don Donahue and a team of Memphis volunteers pulled together to grant Ronell’s final wish, to perform her original gospel songs in concert.
During the March 22 concert, Ronell related the inspiration behind the EP’s title track, “Say Amen,” noting how it perfectly summarized her life’s journey. Regardless of what life threw at her, Ronell was determined to say amen to God and to His plan, acknowledging that His will was for the best.
Now I’ve faced many troubles in my lifetime/And I’ve heard death knocking at my door/And in my soul I felt great desperation/To be rescued from life’s storms/So I called upon the precious name of Jesus/And still today, He always pulls me through/When I’m in my darkest hour/On my knees I find great power/When I say amen to God in all I do.
Tom Bowen, founder of the Childhood Cancer Network (www.childhoodcancernetwork.org) and a long-time friend of Ronell’s, will be making the EP available for sale soon on his organization’s Web site.
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