11/16/2022 1 Comment
“Ni de aqui, ni de alla,”
Pastor Sandra is currently pastoring at Redlands Church as an Interim Associate Pastor. She loves music, working out, and spending time with her friends and family. She is passionate about working with youth and young adults and pastoral counseling. She lives in Riverside, and aside from pastoring at Redlands and doing Clinical Pastoral Education at PIH Hospital, she's either at home watching movies, going on a long walk/run, at the gym, at Disneyland, or living life with friends and family.
“Ni de aqui, ni de alla,” meaning “Not from here, Not from there.” I guess you can say
that’s a summary of my first year or so in ministry. My life as a first-generation professional and minister has sometimes made me feel stuck in a gray zone. Is the gray zone a good or bad thing? Not really; it’s just a zone that has required adaptation, reflection, and growth. It’s a gray zone that constantly keeps on changing and evolving. About a year and a half ago, I remember getting ready to enter a male-dominated field. As I was getting ready to leave seminary and graduate, I realized that I would become a young working professional with a master's degree, the first in my close and distant family. I was getting ready for a life away from school, finally! It would also be a life different from what I knew growing up! Little did I know what I was in for. While preparing for ministry with academia, I had no idea that life would be so radically different and would teach me how to do life beyond the classroom and beyond books.
Growing up, I was raised in a family of Hispanic-Mexican immigrants and those who had no opportunities to receive higher education. I’ve been privileged to strive for goals and possibilities that are still considered a dream and have been acclaimed by my struggling community. I’m navigating through new territory and constantly find myself in new communities that consider higher education a norm. That being said, the struggles and encounters I have faced are hard to share with either community because those struggles are unknown and can be hard to understand or relate to. I’m caught in being between; I’m caught in between success and overcoming. Throughout this first year of ministry, I’ve ventured to live on my own paying California rent, along with learning how to be a real adult. That alone is different from the cultural norms that surrounded me growing up. Thanks to therapy and the ministerial department's “Journey” process, I am learning what it means to rest and to self-care. I didn't experience these concepts growing up, nor did I see them with the people around me because there’s been a constant rush to survive and to provide. I remember several times in which the utilities in my home would get shut off due to payments being late and my parents having to negotiate for time to pay the full amount. Looking back on this, while these moments may seem small, they can trigger feelings of anxiety and survival even today while being able to afford to pay my bills and more. Aside from this, pastoring in a predominantly white location is considered an Adventist ghetto and a blue zone completely different from my Adventist upbringing. Yet, for some weird reason, I am here. So often, I’m caught between the English and Spanish languages to communicate what I truly feel and know. Still, it’s usually to share with others who speak one of those languages. Boy, has it been a culture shock?!
Several times I’ve thought, “What can I provide to this group of people that they don’t already have?” There are so many things that are considered normal to many, yet to me are new experiences and so many Adventists cultural norms I wasn’t raised with, “How can I minister to this congregation when I find myself in a place of abundant resources coming from a life of scarcity? How do I create inclusion in my ministry when feeling so out of place myself sometimes? Do I have to let go of a part of my upbringing to embrace the new reality of who I’m becoming? Well, why not embrace both? I think that’s the beauty of the gray area. It’s the beauty of not being from here or from there but creating a new space within these two spaces.
The reality is this past year has been an ongoing journey. I’ve been learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and, boy, has it been uncomfortable! I have dived into this new life, knowing it’s ok to rest because I can. I’m slowly letting go of the need to survive and learning to be because I can. I am learning to embrace my story because it brings a distinct perspective to the people I minister to because why not? Will there be challenges in my life that cause anxiety and uncertainty as I’m “adulting?” Yes, but I realized I am in uncharted territory with uncharted ways of handling them. This first year of ministry has been about finding the crossroads and sensing where God is leading. You see, God, through it all has walked with me through these gray areas and through in the between. We have a God that understands being in between and, from a theological perspective, being both. God is human and divine, strong and vulnerable, self-revealing, yet full of wonder and mystery. I’m learning to embrace the gray, to embrace the space, and to embrace the journey.
10/6/2022 1 Comment
"The Power of One-On-One"
Raewyn Orlich is Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Nurture at the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California. She and her physician-poet husband, Michael, enjoy raising Eleanor (4), Eric (2), and Desmond (2 months). Born in South Africa, transplanted to Michigan, she's been pastoring with Southeastern California Conference since graduating from La Sierra University in 2004. Her mission is to be an agent of peace through the gift of presence, ministry of the Word, and building a healthy community.
We were at a birthday party, and another little girl toddled towards me, holding onto my knee for balance. My son, Eric, looked at her, grabbed me, and said in a loud and adamant voice, "That's not your Mama; that's my Mama." It's not easy to have a baby brother when you're two. Lately, he's felt the need to establish his place.
His four-year-old sister, Eleanor, communicates her need for attention in other ways. "No one in my family loves me," she says after I pull her aside to stop her from grabbing a toy from Eric and teasing him. That's enough to pierce any parent's heart. I know what she needs. They say love is a four-letter-word spelled "T-I-M-E."
Having one-on-one time with the kids is hard when we're two on three. Before Desmond was born, we had started one-on-ones with each child every month. I would do something special for an afternoon with Eleanor, then with Eric, in May. Mike would do something with them separately in June, for example. Eleanor always wants to do the same thing, ice cream, and the playground. Eric's desires are simpler. He just wanted to go on a walk down the hill next to our house.
Sitting with Eleanor, eating our ice cream, I asked her how she felt about having a baby brother. She said, "My favorite part is that I love the baby. My least favorite part is that you spend so much time with him. But not this time!" This was our time. Getting back into the car, she said, "A Mama and Nellie date is called a date because it's sweet."
Being one-on-one is sweet. I can count on one hand and one finger the number of nights Mike and I have been away from the kids together. The first one was when Eleanor was 14 months old. Her grandparents were visiting us from Michigan. I journaled, "When I feel guilty leaving her, I have to remember that it's often an excellent opportunity for her to bond with others I want her to have real relationships with."
The second was when she was almost three, and Eric had just turned one. Mike and I spent two nights at Two Harbors, Catalina Island, for our five-year anniversary. It was our first time back to the place we had gotten engaged. It was hard to get there. The ferry we needed was full when we looked for tickets, and we had to change our nights away. Eric got sick. I had things to finish for work. We had to get the kids acclimatized to Grandma and Auntie from Indiana.
But it was so worth it! A truly spiritual retreat. We had time. Time to talk without constant interruptions. Time to remember the best of the past. Time to plan and dream about the future. Time to simply enjoy each other in the present. There is simply nothing like being one-on-one and having the full attention of someone you love and one who loves you.
Every relationship can be strengthened and improved by investing time one-on-one. We may be hesitant to carve out the time and make the request when it's with someone who doesn't appear to love us and is having a hard time loving. At one point in my ministry, I heard a rumor that one of the elders was talking with other elders to see if they could gather enough compatriots to meet with me and let me know they thought it was time for me to move on. A coup attempt, as it were.
I asked the elder out for lunch, one-on-one. After some hesitation and resistance, they accepted. We talked. They denied that what I heard was true. I invited them to bring up any concerns, but then I got defensive. I took a deep breath and determined to listen. When I could let go and be fully present at the moment, it became clear that their concerns were connected with their own autobiography. We both ended up in tears.
I'm reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 18 when he talks about winning over your brother. In the Message Paraphrase, Eugene Peterson retells it like this. "If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love." I like Peterson's version of treating him like a tax collector or a sinner.
But why wait for a conflict to develop before winning over your brother or making a friend? Why wait until your four-year-old is teasing your two-year-old, or until you and your spouse feel like two ships that pass in the night? Why wait for that one-on-one?
What about that one-on-one with Jesus?
I'm reminded of a song by Larnelle Harris that has haunted me since childhood. She envisions Jesus sitting in their old familiar spot singing these words to her.
"I miss my time with you
Those moments together
I need to be with you each day
And it hurts Me when you say
You're too busy,
Busy trying to serve Me
But how can you serve Me
When your spirits empty
There's a longing in My heart
Wanting more than just a part of you
It's true, I miss My time with you."
This song used to fill me with guilt, reminding me that I hadn't done the prescribed daily devotional, prayer time, Sabbath School lesson, or journaling for the day. Now, I'm learning to see it more as an expression of God's longing for us, the way I long to spend one-on-one time with someone I love.
Who's been missing time with you lately? Who are you missing? Take a moment to write down any names that the Holy Spirit brings to your mind. These could be family members, ministry leaders, congregation members, friends, or Jesus himself. Choose one person and schedule a time in your calendar that works to connect. Then, schedule with the next person, and the next. You won't regret it.
9/24/2022 3 Comments
Lessons from 48 Years in Ministry
The calling into the ministry is an awesome thing. It’s uplifting, deeply touching, and convicting. Ministry is a sacred calling. There’s the still small voice you hear, a dream that God is calling you, and significant events or a burning bush experience that contribute to the sense that God is calling you to the Pastoral Ministry. So, like Isaiah, you say, “Here Am I Send Me.” Then you got a call to pastor a certain church or a district. Truly you are excited, grateful, and trusting that God is leading the way. You took the ride and enjoyed it. But soon, things get messy. It’s like you have a lot of steam and dreams about what you plan to do, but in reality, the rubber hits the road, and things do not go the way you expect. There are rough sections with many obstructions, distractions, detours, humps, and bumps along the way.
My Brief Ministry Story:
I have been in the ministry for 48 years, with my wife Dinah (Liwanag) of 45 years and blessed with three children, one died in a car accident at 13 (a crucible experience), and I have seven grandchildren. Without a doubt, these many years in the ministry with my family are the greatest blessings from the Lord.
Through the years, God led me to serve in different areas of the church’s functions, such as a district pastor, Academy Bible teacher, Guidance Counselor, evangelist, Conference, and Union department director, president of a mission, sole pastor, and then a senior pastor.
I love my work. And whatever God has put in my hands, I do it with all my heart, strength, and dedication. My goal is to do it well and succeed.
There are things that I enjoy most in the ministry: the visitation, Bible studies, public evangelism, baptism, mission trips, and helping those in need spiritually and materially. I always feel so blessed after helping others and church members in some ways.
I love mentoring young pastors to develop, grow, and improve their leadership and pastoral skills. By God’s grace, several ministers in the Philippines and the US acknowledged and testified that I had been a mentor to them in one way or another. I recently met some of them at the ministerial convention and other church-sponsored events. Being involved in the preparation of young ministers for their ordination is one of my satisfactions and joys. I rejoice and thank the Lord deeply for such opportunities.
Each church community has been richly blessed with an active prayer ministry. My wife is outstanding support and inspiration to me, in my work, and inspiration to churches that we’ve served. Her prayer ministry initiative is a significant part of the church’s stability, success, and growth.
However, through these years, some aspects of life’s important matters have been neglected and suffered. The realization came later after some family situations arose. After things went south, I realized I needed to pay attention. Unfortunately, I couldn’t reclaim the time lost and opportunities squandered. Feelings of pain and regret would sweep over me. I realized that the cares of the ministry had kept me away from my personal and intentional time with God and my family.
We’ve heard this before, “we are busy in ministry but in doing so made us drift away from the God of the ministry.” Married people understand that a dynamic relationship is vital to the success of a marriage. To achieve this, a couple has to spend intentional and quality time with each other. They put the mundane things as secondary and the time with each other as the primary. When we spend time with someone or something, we develop relationships.
That’s true with those I have spent time with. I developed a relationship that resulted in lasting friendships and closeness. This relationship could be very positive. Yet it could also turn negative if one is not careful in observing boundaries. Once boundaries are crossed, things get worse if not immediately checked and corrected—a true with all relationships.
MY BRIEF MINISTRY STORY:
In retrospect, the high honor associated with being a pastor, and or for having a leadership position, with the high expectations of both leaders and constituents, made me work long hours. There was always a need here and there to fill. Meetings, invitations, and events are numerous. There are programs to promote and follow up. Then there are those critics and non-supportive, which made me work more to find ways to meet their demands. But no matter what I did, they were still unmoved and remained unchanged. It bothered me. Unhealthy moments and sleepless nights occurred.
Consumed, it led me to neglect spending precious time with my family and, above all, with God! I missed many family occasions and important family events because of a tight ministry schedule. We were always reminded not to be away from our district and responsibilities. When my wife gave birth to our first child, I was not there to support her. A family friend took her to the hospital while I was far away in the district doing the ministry--not a good example to follow.
There was also always a need to support at church or a family in need, which affected our finances. Due to this, my wife and I considered leaving the ministry to work elsewhere. But God showed up to meet our needs. We both finished graduate studies which helped in refocusing our priorities. In this, we are reminded that God knows and can supply all our needs. He takes care of us as we devote ourselves to Him. And He did!
In time, God opened the way for us to serve in the NAD territory. It is different, yet the ministry’s expectations, challenges, temptations, and trials to overcome are the same. And when we moved to the US, we had many things to work on, make adjustments, and learn a new culture. I thank God for He gave me another opportunity, a new beginning, in serving Him.
In my relocation, however, I did not have my perspectives, priorities, and spiritual discipline in proper order. Spiritual disciplines and rhythm were not consistent. I again found myself so busy with the ministry. Most of the time, I missed enough time with God and my family.
THE JOURNEY MADE A DIFFERENCE
Since I joined the JOURNEY things, have changed slowly but growing on target. I am more focused on what Jesus has called me to be. To come to Him and follow Him, and become a disciple of Jesus. Growth developed by abiding in Jesus—having a meaningful relationship with the Lord.
The JOURNEY is the SECC’s initiative to help pastors to grow and bear fruit by spending intentional and meaningful time with God. Here’s an excerpt from Pastor Jonathan Parks, SECC president, an article addressed to SECC pastors to introduce the JOURNEY. He says, “In the midst of God’s creation, we pray together, abide in God’s word together and build community together. We spend time alone with God and with each other in a caring, accountable unhurried environment. In between retreats we seek to live out the principles and rhythms of God’s grace we have learned in our families and church communities. We continue to coach and encourage each other, and share what God is doing in our midst.” (https:// seccministerial.org/the-journey).
The JOURNEY has helped me a lot to realign my priorities in ministry. The most powerful and effective ministry model that I learned is presented in a Pitcher/Cup/Saucer/Plate image. Through this illustration, ministry becomes more relevant, appealing, uplifting, and transforming. It is a powerful reminder to prevent me from going back to my old default in ministry. Here’s how the Pitcher, Cup, and Saucer model works presented in a children’s story at Calimesa SDA Church. Access this link: https://calimesa.adventistfaith.org/uploaded_assets/58454-Pitchercupsaucerplatestory-part2-1.pdf? thumbnail=original&1443093530.
Lesson learned in Ministry: Be intentional, and consistent in spending quality time with God daily. A minister cannot give more than what he or she has. Let your cup be filled and let the grace of God overflow naturally to others.
It’s a process and a lifetime commitment. Being always aware of Apostle Paul’s motto, “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12.
8/31/2022 0 Comments
When Superheroes Bleed
Michel Aguinaga, often known as Pr. Mitch, serves as the sole pastor at San Bernardino Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist church. He currently lives in the city of Victorville, CA with his wife Angie and his two kids Micah and Chloe. Pastor Mitch was born and raised in Los Angeles and has been working in Southeastern California Conference since 2014. He is passionate about
I saw it with my own eyes, and it broke me down. And after all that I witnessed, my ministry was never the same again.
I was in my first years of ministry, working as a ministry coordinator in two churches. They were difficult years because my life was everywhere: I was working full-time in insurance, I was actively pursuing a degree in theology, I had my preaching, teaching, and administrative responsibilities in the district, and I was tending to a young family – my wife and I learning how to raise a newborn and a toddler. Looking back, I’m unsure how I survived all that: I thank God for the miracle he worked through me. But as tumultuous as my life was, God had placed incredible people around me for support, which made all this manageable.
Among those who helped me get through this was my mentor – my lead pastor – the individual I credit the most for opening doors so that I could minister as I do today. I learned a lot from him. He was a good pastor. He had depths of experience, a resolute personality, and was wholly committed to the church and the flock. I remember the conversations we had in his office. We talked about church, leadership, and preaching; he always gave good advice, gave heartfelt counsel, and would never forget to give tough criticism.
We became good friends. We could spend hours talking about anything. Frequently our conversations turned to sports: We would discuss baseball, soccer, Los Angeles Lakers basketball. We even went to a Clippers game (I couldn’t afford a Lakers game) and an Angels game (the only baseball team mentioned in the Bible) and thought of going to a world cup game (which definitely did not happen). His wife became a mentor to my wife; I learned to appreciate his family. And we developed a close bond that helped me as a person and as a young pastor.
Church administration was always a divisive topic among us. He had his way of doing things, and, naturally, they were different from mine. We also argued a lot. We would have disagreements in board meetings and difficult discussions in elder’s meetings. In our one-on-one sessions, we would say what we needed to, even if it was tough to hear.
But what I appreciated most was his toughness and grit never got in the way of our friendship outside the meeting doors. We knew that church business was church business – and it was tough business – but it did not have to divide us as brothers in Christ. From him, I learned to take criticism; but take nothing personally. Roll with the punches, but never let the bruises define you. He was a good mentor, a good friend, and someone worth looking up to.
The Phone CallAnd then, a phone call changed everything. It was about 8:30 at night. My phone rang, and the caller ID identified my mentor as the caller. I answered as I normally would, expecting a typical phone call – preparation for the weekend, potential meetings we had to attend, things of the like. But as soon as I heard his voice, I knew things were not right. His greeting lacked energy. His voice sounded shaky. Nervous. Sad. I could sense he was fighting back the tears. “I’m calling to give you some bad news,” he said. “I have been diagnosed with cancer. And it doesn’t look good.”
A flurry of emotions fell upon me. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. As he explained the symptoms he had been feeling, the doctor’s findings, and the confirmation of the diagnosis, I started feeling angry in my heart. I could hear him battling through the details as I fought my heart on what to say and how to react. As he began to cry, he quickly ended the phone call, perhaps in an attempt to hide his humanity and show the strength I had always observed. Left with my phone in hand, I fell to my knees, and in anger and frustration, I cried, “Why Lord? Why him? Why curse your anointed? How does this make any sense? After a life of service, you repay him with this? How is this fair? Why would this happen? Why…? Why…?”
That day was the beginning of my mentor’s tough battle with cancer. He sought the treatments and followed the doctor’s advice. He went beyond what the doctor recommended, changing his diet, lifestyle, exercise routines, everything. Surgery was not an option, so radiation was the treatment of choice. Time off was taken from the church. There were good days. There were bad days. But slowly, inevitably, his body began to wither. His vigor of life that we had all come to depend on as a church began to slip from his fingers. The body was losing, and there was little we could do.
I saw it with my own eyes. I dreaded every visit. I knew every time I would stop by his house; I would see a weaker version of the man I wanted to be like in ministry. It hurt me to see him losing this battle. It hurt me to hear him respond to my questions without the snappiness and wit I had experienced. I prayed for him. I prayed over him. At his request, I anointed him multiple times – I believe he was seeking the assurance of forgiveness. I would share words of encouragement, not knowing if they were of any help. I prayed tirelessly for healing, knowing deep inside that the inevitable was coming.
And after my last visit, two days later, he passed away. My mentor. My friend. My pastor…
I didn’t realize it back then, but everything I witnessed in his battle against cancer changed me. It changed me as a person, as a father, as a husband, and especially as a pastor. I was changed because I realized that in this life, even our superheroes bleed. We sometimes look up to great individuals – we naturally gravitate towards them – and we forget that they are human and deal with the same struggles and battles as anyone. We lift our heroes up, only to find out that our heroes can be brought down – whether through a mistake, a moment of weakness, lack of health, or even cancer.
What I saw with my own eyes as my friend and mentor battled through this cancer reminded me that we can only depend on Jesus, even as pastors. Through that experience, I had to accept that life is hard – Oh! It can be so difficult at times – and sometimes, the strength we portray as pastors to our church members can be taken away instantly. Human strength can only take us so far; we need divine strength, the courage of the spirit, the peace of God – all of it to face the immeasurable challenges of this world.
I learned how important it is to share with one another our burdens; to help others carry the never-ending weights of life. Sure, we can’t solve each other’s problems, just like I wasn’t able to heal my friend with my prayers. But we can be there for those who are struggling. We can admit that we are battling through life as well. We as pastors and ministers can appear more human to others – which instead of bringing down the efficiency and power of the gospel, becomes an opportunity to highlight the grace of God in our lives.
The greatest biblical leaders have learned this lesson. Paul had this battle himself, also with a debilitating physical illness or defect, the proverbial “thorn in the flesh” that would torment him. But when he pleaded for healing, Jesus responded:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11, NIV)
This is the greatest lesson I learned throughout that experience – and this has been the greatest lesson I have learned in ministry. I am nothing without Jesus. I am weak without Jesus. I am lifeless without Jesus. But with Jesus – WITH JESUS – my life has purpose, meaning, courage, and strength.
As Ellen White once put it: “We do not go forth in mere human strength. Christ has promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (MS 25, 1897)
I miss my friend. I miss the pastor I once knew and worked with. His passing was difficult to process. But even in death, I keep learning from that experience. And I look forward to seeing him on that glorious morning.
And when I see him, I will thank him; because his life changed me in more ways than he knows. And his death reminded me that even my weakness, there is strength, mercy and grace in our loving savior, Jesus Christ.
Author - Jon Ciccarelli
January 28, 2021