Ralph Ugo, Leader and Friend
By Candice Black
By Candice Black
Ralph Ugo is an Army veteran, a Gulf War survivor, a Purple Heart receiver, a pastor, a former teacher, the founder of C.A.Y.A. ministries in Dallas, Georgia, and a true man of God.
Born in Nigeria on December 31st, 1948, Ugo remembers his childhood fondly, despite coming from a small impoverished village.
“I grew up in a difficult environment,” he said. “We didn’t even have shoes. I remember walking home from school and the ground was so hot that we looked for any shade to step in. In spite of that, I remember it being fun, my time growing up as a young child.”
Ugo has an especial fondness for soccer, which didn’t come without consequences during his childhood.
“We would use anything that was a little bit soft as a soccer ball,” he said. “I would spend my time playing soccer instead of what I was supposed to be doing. I got a lot of spankings for that,” he laughs.
Ugo attended college in Madrid, Spain, where he studied photojournalism. Even though this did not pan out into a career, due to the immigration policies in this field, he still has a love for photography.
Ugo met his wife Marie in Madrid during his time in college. A Queens, New York native, Marie was on a study-abroad program in Spain from St. Louis University. On her own in Europe, and just 18 years old, Marie was uneasy about being around men.
But when she met the charming and polite young man in a restaurant, she struck up a conversation with him and his friend.
“His friend did more talking than he did,” Marie said. “Actually, his friend took my number. My husband was just kind of like peering at me, like, who is this girl from New York?”
For seven days, Ugo persisted calling the young lady from Queens. On the seventh day, Marie finally decided to accept her suitor’s call.
“He asked me on a date,” she said. “He was so polite, opening doors for me, and doing all the right things to impress me. But that’s how he really was. And that just began everything.”
Ugo traveled to Germany where he received his coaching license, and continued the passion for soccer from his youth. He became a semi-professional soccer player for his home country of Nigeria.
He even received a nickname for his superb soccer skills. “They called him ‘Torture Pelé,” laughs Marie, referring to Brazilian soccer champion Pelé.
In December of 1979, Ugo was able to come to America with his wife. He joined the United States Army, with which he served for 20 years.
During the Gulf War, Ugo was the only member of his unit to be sent to Saudi Arabia. “My husband went to the bathroom to take a shower. He stuck his hand in the water, and it was cold, so he went back to the open bay. And that’s when the sirens went off.”
A scud missile had hit the building, and the bathroom collapsed, burying Ugo underneath the rubble. The only man under the running water of the shower was electrocuted to death.
“If that water had not been cold,” said Marie, tearing up, “my husband would have been in that shower, and he would have been dead too.”
Although he buried beneath a building, bleeding profusely, with a collapsed lung and shrapnel in his body, Ugo never went unconscious, nor never needed blood transfusions in the aftermath of his injury.
Upon digging himself from beneath the debris, he saw flames and a frantic swarm of people. While others were screaming, crying, and cursing, Ugo began to exclaim, “Thank you, God,” in his gratitude to have survived the attack.
“He repeated it so much, that others began to say it with him,” said Marie.
Even with a large piece of flesh hanging from his side, Ugo picked himself up and began to load injured people into Red Cross trucks.
“My husband cares so much about people,” said Marie. “He had no sensation [of his injury]. He didn’t even know he was injured.” A look of amazement passes her face. “How could you not know that? It was because God was protecting him.”
After the war, Ugo appeared on The 700 Club for Veteran’s Day. In full military dress, he gave his testimony about his miraculous experience. He was chosen for this opportunity in part for receiving a Purple Heart.
The Ugos have two children and five grandchildren. Ugo’s daughter Ebony David, a freelance writer and mother of four, remembers her parents never hesitating to lend a helping hand to anyone.
“Our house was always welcome to other people,” she said. “[My parents] are constantly giving. From letting people stay at our house that they didn’t know from Adam, I saw it constantly growing up. It was never alarming. It really resonated with my brother and me how selfless they are.”
While the family was living in Korea during Ugo’s military career, David’s brother made friends with a young man with whom he caused trouble in high school, and had to stay behind in Korea when the Ugos moved back to the United States.
“When they got back,” David said, “[my brother’s friend] asked if he could stay with us. And he lived with us for a year.”
The Ugos gave the young man direction and guidance during his stay. “My dad had rules,” said David. “If you want to live in the house, you have to go to church on Sundays.”
Skeptical about God, but willing to follow the rules, the young man began to turn his life around by following the Ugos’ example.
“He saw their lives, and it really changed him,” David said. “He was not on good terms with his parents, and my dad became like a father to him.”
After serving 20 years in the military, Ugo’s retirement ceremony was held in Ft. McPherson Army Base in 2000.
“Before his military service ended,” Marie said, “he told God, ‘When I finish my 20 years with Uncle Sam, I’m dedicating the rest of my life to you’.”
With a love for missions work, having done mission throughout his entire military career, Ugo began to pray for direction on what to do. In a dream from God, he received revelation to start a ministry. In 2002, Come As You Are Ministries, also known as CAYA, came into inception.
CAYA ministers to low-income citizens, assisting them with paying bills, delivering food and clothing, and spiritual counseling. The ministry has also officiated funerals and marriages, and given counseling to single parents.
“What I have learned from life,” Ugo said, “is that everybody needs somebody, no matter how rich or poor you are. Ralph is somebody who is always in need. My intelligence, my ability, they can only go but so far. They can always run aground. That has driven me more to be more dependent on God.”
CAYA’s mission work is currently in Kenya, for the fifth year. Outside of Nakuru, CAYA has built Happy Revival Church and is in the process of building a school.
In Kenya, the ministry has established medical and feeding programs for adults and children. Money from the ministry has helped to build businesses for people to have jobs and establish themselves.
Tony Calhoun, a close friend of the Ugos and member of CAYA, testifies to Ugo’s generous nature.
“He has a total dedication to the ministry,” Calhoun said. “Every year he manages to give away between 700 and 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners.”
Two or three times year, Ugo collects donations of furniture and appliances and organizes a charity event. “It’s like a free yard sale,” Calhoun explains. “It really brings the community together. What’s leftover, he donates to the Warehouse of Hope.”
At these events, Ugo transforms them into a community block party, providing hamburgers and hot dogs to participants and holding raffles for the larger items, such as living room suits.
“I’ve seen him lead a lot of people to Christ,” said Calhoun. “He shares the gospel wherever he goes.”
Though Ugo has come a long way from his humble beginnings, he has not lost his humility and modest nature.
“I try to divorce myself from thinking that Ralph has done something,” he said. “I want to make sure that everything I do, I realize it is God that is doing it. It’s not because Ralph is so good.
“If you got to know me, you would think, ‘That’s not the man that everybody thinks is great.’ I cannot say that this is what I’ve done that makes me great, because it is God that is doing it through me.”