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“I’m Praying for You to Become a Pastor”
Walter Cardenas and his wife, Yasmi, lead the Mountain View Conference’s Hispanic Ministries.
It was a cold day at the beach in Ocean City, Md., and 29-year-old Walter Cardenas was a long way from home. He was attending Potomac Conference’s annual Hispanic Ministries Discipleship Conference, which attracts thousands of Hispanic Seventh-day Adventists from across the Columbia Union Conference and beyond. While the Potomac Conference leads the union in Hispanic members, Cardenas is working in the Mountain View Conference to establish Spanish-language churches in the foothills of West Virginia.
One of his challenges is location. Many of the Hispanics in the Columbia Union are concentrated in the urban areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are only 22,268 Hispanics in West Virginia. That makes them a mere 1.2 percent of the state’s 1.85 million populace. This, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, makes West Virginia the least Latino-settled state in the country. To top it all off, some of these members can be rather transient.
“There’s not a whole of Hispanics here so it’s a bit difficult to zero in on places where we can start a ministry,” says Victor Zill, Mountain View Conference’s executive secretary and treasurer. “We don’t generally have enough Spanish-speakers concentrated in enough areas to have standalone church. Still, we think it’s important that we have some ability to witness to Spanish community in some fashion.”
Cardenas has worked hard to establish groups of new believers, only to see the numbers evaporate after one of two things: immigration raids and/or the new believers who are here illegally realize this goes against their new beliefs and return home. It may seem disheartening in a catch-22 sort of way, but for Cardenas, it shows the power of the Lord to change hearts and minds. He knows this first hand because he has seen God intervene in his life in many ways and on multiple occasions.
If it wasn’t for God’s persistent promptings, Cardenas may not have been at that convention in January. If he hadn’t heeded God’s calling, this fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist would not have become a pastor, would not be the conference’s Hispanic Ministries coordinator and would not have brought with him to Ocean City 15 people who are working to establish worship groups all over the Mountain View Conference.
Drinking, Smoking, Transporting Drugs
“I was born in an Adventist hospital,” Cardenas recalls. “Growing up I would say I was going to be a pastor. But when I turned 14, I made the decision to leave the church so I could hang out and party with friends, most of whom were gang members in Alexandria, Va.”
Cardenas also got caught up with drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, transporting drugs for his gang member friends and getting into fights with other gangs. “The Lord saved my life so many times,” Cardenas says, his voice filled with awe. “In prayer recently, the Lord reminded me that He has intervened over 30 times and saved my life. At the age of 21, He started calling me to come back to Him.”
What Cardenas didn’t realize then, was that the Lord was also calling him to the ministry. He joined Potomac Conference’s Alexandria (Va.) Spanish church and he and his fiancée helped lead Youth Ministries. In 2003 the Lord spoke to him through a sermon. At the end of the sermon they made a call, but not just for those who wanted to give their lives to God, but for those who wanted to minister for the Lord.
Cardenas’ fiancée made it clear that she was not called to be a pastor’s wife. He then turned to God. “I don’t think you can call me to be a pastor without this lady here,” he prayed. No one knew he was struggling with this decision and so he asked God to speak through third parties.
God worked quickly. “During a week of prayer, I invited a presenter from Puerto Rico. He was staying at my house and on Tuesday he came to me and said, ‘I don’t know why I’m going to say this but I think I need to say it. Would you like to come to Puerto Rico?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’d like to go on vacation.’ And he said, ‘Not on vacation. To go to school because I believe you should become a pastor.’”
Heeding God’s Call
God continued to make His will known. Cardenas had a copy of an evangelist’s biography in his collection for a while and finally decided to read it cover to cover. When he finished reading the book, something inspired him to read the inside of the cover. Inside the book was a message written by the lady who had given him the book. She said, “My family and I are praying for you to become a pastor.”
Next, he served as a guest speaker at an event. The pastor introduced him as ‘Pastor Cardenas.’ When Cardenas corrected him, the pastor, repeated his mistake. Upset, Cardenas asked him why he did this. The pastor said, “Listen I know that you will become a pastor.”
He and his fiancée called off the wedding, yet he was still struggling with the idea of becoming a pastor. He had been volunteering with the youth in the Potomac Conference for five years. He had a bachelor’s in network administration and was preparing to attend the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (Mich.).
“As I was getting ready to leave for the seminary, I received a call from Ruben Ramos, [assistant to the Columbia Union president for Multilingual Ministries]. He said, ‘Walter we are looking for someone to work in the Mountain View Conference and start the Hispanic work there.’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I was praying to the Lord to go on a mission trip or help somehow but not be the leader. I said I would pray about it. He said, he needed an answer by last week but would give me until Monday.”
Less than a week later, Cardenas moved to the Mountain View Conference on November 15, 2007.
Cardenas is now “married to a beautiful person. She is more than half of my ministry. I praise God for His mercy. He saved me through many things so that I can serve Him. Not because I deserve anything. He is willing to use me even though I have made a lot of mistakes in the past.”
From 50 to Zero and Back Again
Cardenas and his wife, Yasmi, have been working with the Hispanic community in Moorefield, which is on the eastern side of the conference. “It’s been a slow start,” he admits. “At one point we had over 50 Bible study participants and one day an immigration raid came and we were left with zero.”
Cardenas remains undaunted. “The good thing is that sometimes those people call us back and they are members of another Adventist church somewhere else in the U.S. or back in their home countries,” he says.
“Walter does a tremendous and proud of the work he’s doing,” Victor Zill says.
The Moorefield group worships on Sabbath afternoons in the same building as the English church. Four times a year they have a combined service with the English church. Cardenas estimates that between 50 and 60 attend the Moorefield group, many of whom are visitors.
He is also excited to report that he has two teams who trained to become Bible workers. They are now working in their communities. Through his work with lay members he is starting groups in Petersburg, Kaiser and Lewisburg, W.Va. There is even a group that meets in Logan, W.Va., with Pastor Cesar Quispe.
The people he ministers to are “brand new Adventists. They have no knowledge of the Adventist message, and now they are starting to work for Jesus and share Him with rest of the community.”
Cardenas never did go to the seminary. “I wanted to be sure that this was what the Lord is calling me to. I was afraid of leading people in the wrong direction. I was afraid to screw up. I wanted to go on a mission trip first. The Lord answered that prayer by giving me the mission field of Mountain View. It’s been a blessing.”
He does have a special message for those who are looking to serve as missionaries abroad. “You don’t have to go abroad,” he says. “We need leaders here. We are lacking people that know the message and speak Spanish. We need missionaries to come to our territory and help us here.”
Although small groups are popping up in several parts of the conference, they are not large enough to rent churches so they meet in each other’s homes.
Some 50-plus people attended the conference’s third annual Hispanic camp meeting this summer.
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