I don’t recall exactly when I started observing my pastor. I must have been 8 years old when I began noticing his ministerial duties and his role as our spiritual leader. I also paid attention to his ties, suites and shoes. Imperceptibly, my pastor became my hero.
Interestingly, I don’t remember that he and I ever spoke, not even once. Thus, he never knew how much I admired him, nor the impact he had on my life.
After studying a Voice of Prophecy Bible lesson series when I was 10, our new church pastor — a happy, dynamic and musically gifted man — asked my mother if my sisters and I wanted to get baptized. I can’t forget that day. It was cloudy, rainy and the water in the baptistry was very cold, but I was extremely happy. I had been accepted into the Adventist Church.
I don’t recall having had many interactions with my childhood pastors. I was a reserved, shy boy. However, I do recall that on one occasion while attending a Pathfinder camporee, a young girl lost her glasses in the river. She was very anxious and afraid about what her parents were going to do to her for losing her glasses. Aside from that, she was very near-sighted and couldn’t see much without her glasses.
Centeno, one of the camp pastors, was passing by the group of children that were frantically searching in and around the river. When he asked what we were looking for, we told him that a girl had lost her glasses. He gathered us all around him and said, “Let’s pray and ask God to help us find the glasses."
At that age, my faith was underdeveloped. I had no idea how attuned God really was to His children. So, I didn’t think much about Centeno’s prayer, and I certainly wasn’t expecting any results. However, about one or two minutes after his prayer, someone in the river shouted, “I found them! I found them!" This event impacted my 10-year-old heart and I internalized, “Wow! God hears the prayers of pastors." I was awe struck. I wanted to be a man with that kind of connection with God.
At the age of 12, I was playing on the roof terrace of my house when I inadvertently stepped on a rusty nail sticking out of a piece of old wood. I screamed and lifted my leg trying to avoid inserting that nail further into my foot. As I was screaming and crying on my rooftop, Alfredo Gaona, president of the local Adventist mission, showed up at my house. My mother was working for the mission at that time as the regional Voice of Prophecy director, and he had arrived to drop something off to her.
He heard the scandalous child screaming on top of the roof and came to my aid. He helped me get down the stairs and then mustered up the strength to carry me to his car. This was no small feat as I must have been 5 feet, 7 inches tall and chunky, while he was thin and 2 inches shorter. Gaona drove me to the nearest hospital.
I never forgot His compassion, personal effort and genuine concern for me that day. The Lord was sure doing something in me by connecting me with the compassionate actions of a caring pastor. Soon after this incident, I began to daydream of becoming a pastor someday. I dreamed of preaching to crowds and leading people to Jesus. It has been more than 50 years since those boyhood dreams.
Everything I dreamed eventually came to pass. I became a minister, held evangelistic meetings and many people responded to my invitation to come to Jesus. Once, I even prayed for a hospitalized young man that had been in a coma for months. His crying mother asked me to come into his room and pray for him. When he woke up the following day, it didn’t even occur to me that it might have been a coincidence. This answered prayer impacted me profoundly.
My life has been totally transformed by my partnership with heaven. As you might imagine, not everything about my ministry life has been rose colored. There have been very challenging and complicated moments, but my ministry partnership with God has resulted in an exceptionally rewarding and exciting journey.
This October, as we pause to show appreciation to pastors, I want to extend my appreciation and my encouragement to each of you who serve in the trenches of ministry. You are a special person! If you said yes to ministry, you are courageous! You believe in the power of Jesus and His faithfulness to you as His instrument. You are an adventuresome person because ministry is a grand, Spirit-led adventure.
The words penned by Peter reignite my heart with every reading: “I have special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you must, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he’ll see that you’ve done it right and commend you lavishly" (1 Peter 5:1-5; MSG).
Blessings and victories in Christ, my dear pastors. As you take in the appreciation you will receive this month, remember Paul’s words, "But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely ... Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives” (Gal. 5:25; MSG).
May you daily experience the Spirit’s guidance and empowerment amid the growing challenges that ministry presents today. MARANATHA!