The coming of the new year often causes me to reflect on the old one. Generally, I end up with a list of accomplishments in ministry and take time to thank God for all that He has done.
This year; however, I found myself thinking about me, my views, my thoughts and how things have changed for me. What I ended up with was not a list of things I had done, but of ways my thoughts and perspectives had shifted, changed, and evolved.
One thing we have always tried to do in ministry is to ask the why behind the why. To dig deep, not just on why I am serving people, that’s easy, the Bible is full of instruction on helping those in need. But to question why it is that I think that the way I am doing it is the best way, the right way, or even a good way.
16 years of ministry has hopefully given me a better understanding with which to critique myself, so here a few of things that have changed over the years.
How I Serve
Most Christians would be familiar with the Biblical instruction they have to serve orphans. From James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” to Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Both the Old and New Testament make it clear that caring for the orphaned, vulnerable, and fatherless is a basic tenant of walking a Godly life. What is less clear, is how exactly to do that.
Like many well-meaning people, for many years I had assumed the way to that was in orphanages, serving kids who had no family. However, after years of working in orphanages, I began to dig deep into what it meant for me to serve these children and serve them well.
I came to the surprising conclusion, that many of the children placed in orphanages these days are not true orphans. They have family but have been placed in institutions because of abuse, negligence, for their protection, or because of a dysfunctional judicial system. After much prayer and consideration, we came to the conclusion that perhaps a better way for me to serve them was to work with the broken families they come from right in their communities, so that, through the power of the Gospel, we could help build strong families through the understanding of how God wanted them to care for their children, becoming the proverbial fence at the top of the hill instead of the orphanage at the bottom.
This ministry shift didn’t happen overnight. It was years in the making. We have been slowly but surely walking out the creation of the Cadanino community centers that now serve over 200 vulnerable children and their families in the slums and ravines of Guatemala.
It was a difficult journey! I had to let go of so many of my presuppositions about what it meant to work with and serve orphans in order to truly embrace how I might be most effective, but I can honestly say that it was worth it.
It’s not about me
It’s easy for all of us, but especially those in ministry, to find our identity in what we do, as opposed to who we are.
Whatever we do in our profession, doctor, lawyer, cook, mechanic, it takes up most of our time and we can end up looking to it to define our identity. But as Christians, it’s not what we do to make a living, but who we are in Christ that should define us.
For me it meant learning that I was a son of God, that I was loved, that I was chosen, that I was adopted, that I was forgiven, that I belonged to God, and I was His possession.
Over the years as I have begun to understand that better, it has helped me to have a healthier perspective of just what I am here to do, which leads to my next point.
This is not my ministry
It’s something I say often these days; to our staff, to the kids in our programs, to people who come to visit, and mostly, to myself.
For many years I thought of what I did as “my work”: my carpentry workshop, my computer training center, my English classes, and my ministry to orphans. Yet as time has gone on and the ministry has grown, it has become clearer and clearer to me that this is bigger than me. I’m not smart enough, wise enough, rich enough, or have enough pixie dust to have gotten things to where they are.
So if it’s not by strength and my power that this has been done, then how has it come about? It has been through God’s strength, His power, His wisdom, and according to His plan that this ministry has grown in both scope and depth.
I have been given the privilege to be a part of what God is doing, what He has been doing since before the foundation of the world, and what He will continue to do long after I am gone. He has given me the honor to be a part of His work, serving His people, through the power of His gospel to bring about His kingdom, and it’s the best job in the world.
Multiplication is the key to growth
As an individual, we can only do so much on our own, but when we bring others into the work that God is doing; when we teach, train and equip them, the result is not addition but multiplication.
Like many missionaries, for many years I was all about doing the work myself. There is nothing wrong with that, and in looking back I can see that it’s the years I spent in the trenches, working, teaching, discovering what worked and what didn’t, that gave me the perspective I needed to be effective in ministry.
Yet I could spend my whole life as a missionary doing these things, and the impact would likely be limited to how many hours a day I could teach. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does place severe limitations on what can be accomplished.
I have seen countless missionaries who spent years in service, yet never trained anyone to do their job, so in the end when they left, the work they were doing shut down. Yes, they had an impact in the lives of those they served; but it could have been so much more. Over the years, as we thought and prayed about the ministry we were doing, we came to the conclusion that if we wanted this ministry to grow into all that it could be; then we needed to bring others into what we are doing and train them to do it.
That led to our Eduardo, our first employee coming alongside us three years ago, and has grown to several others working with us day in and day out to serve, teach and love hundreds of children and their families.
While we still teach regular classes throughout the week, a big part of our focus is teaching, training, developing and empowering our staff to serve their own countrymen, and the impact is so much greater than if we just tried to do everything ourselves.
God will provide
As the father of 6 kids, I know that it’s my responsibility to care, provide and take care of the needs of my family above all else.
This hasn’t always been easy over the years. The places God called us to serve required what most people would consider to be great sacrifice. I even saw it that way myself for years.
That my work as a missionary meant giving up a great many things that were important to me.
But one thing that I knew I couldn’t give up on was the education of my children. It was my job to ensure they got the schooling they needed, so they could make the most of their gifts and abilities, and that was very difficult at times.
Yet this year, when my oldest daughter left home to start college, there has been no doubt that the life that she lived, the schools she went to, the church she was a part of, and the experience she had growing up as a missionary kid, prepared her for life in ways that are so much more meaningful then merely living in a good house and going to a good school.
I see a girl who is grounded in the Gospel, who owns her faith, who works hard to pursue her dreams, who has morals and values grounded in scripture, and who is doing great at university.
While I wasn’t able to give her everything she could have had if we had lived an “American life”, God made sure she got everything she needed to live a Godly life, and that matters more.
God has provided time and time again for us over the years, more times than I can even count, and that has given me a faith, a peace and a confidence that no matter how challenging things might seem, no matter how difficult the situation, no matter how impossible, that if God has called me to do something, then He will provide, whether it’s at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. If it is his work, then He will see it through.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about things; but when I think back on all that God has done for me over the years and the difficult situations He has seen me through, it quickly passes.
These are just a few of the ways that God has changed me in my time serving as a missionary in Guatemala. It’s by no means all the ways, and He is by no means done working in my life, but I hope it gives you a better understanding of the reasons why we do what we do.
Partner with Cadaniño today and impact lives for eternity!