Q: Where were you in ministry when you entered the DeVos Initiative?
A: I was a Pastor of the Urban Vineyard Church, which is a church in the north part of the city of Chicago in the Logan Square area.
Q: Can you describe the type of people you were ministering to at that time, and what were some of the issues you were addressing?
A: Well, our church was located in a transitional community. There was a lot of poverty, a lot of underemployed people. The community itself was also in the process of pre-gentrification, and so there were people that were struggling with housing issues, economic issues, and relational issues. Crime was still very high in our community, and many of the people who were involved with crime were young people – so the question was “how can we reach these young people, what can be done”? Even the young people’s relatives, “what can be done and how can we reach out to them”? That’s what life was like. We had just come out of a community that had a lot of gangs, and had 15 solid years of shootings three or four times per week, killings, all that kind of stuff, and so the question was “what do we do as a church, how do we reach these young people.”
Q: How impactful was the DeVos experience for you?
A: Well, it was really impactful because it was a time in my life that I’d been kind of wrestling with the future, and what the Lord was having me do for the future, so the DeVos Initiative helped me with the Core Values; but more importantly, I think the DeVos Initiative introduced me to people that had something to say that spoke to me, about different issues in my life. Eventually, through the DeVos Initiative, through the goal that we have to write, I got the courage (and I think DeVos really helped me with that, too) to put together a plan to pursue my doctorate – which I thought was out of sight, out of reach – but DeVos helped me to plan and think about how I would go about doing it, and formulate a strategy. By the time I graduated from DeVos I had been accepted into the graduate program.
Q: What key DVULI principles have you been able to integrate into your life and into your organization?
A: I was thinking about that today. The first one that stands out is balance – because my life was not balanced, and most of my ministry life was not balanced, and I think eventually I realized that I really needed to bring some balance into my life just to survive, so that was key. The other thing was leverage. I thought I was good at leveraging, but through DeVos helping me to focus on what I could and could not leverage, and how to do it, I think that also helped our ministry in a way that we were able to maximize. We were a small church, but we were able to do a lot of things in the community. We developed some good relationships (there’s where interdependence comes in) with other ministries so that we could do a lot of ministry in our community for a small group of people – we had only 70 people in our church – so we were able to do a lot for our Logan Square community.
Q: Have you been able to re-train any of the DVULI content in your ministry or organization?
A: Well, after I graduated from DeVos I went into the graduate program [for my doctorate] so that took up a lot of my time. What I did realize was that I needed to focus on training others, for the work of the ministry, in a greater way, so I started doing that through some leadership programs in our church. By the way, when I finally left the church in 2011, the fellow that took over, Eddie Nodal, graduated [from DeVos] in 2002 or 2003, so that was pretty cool.
Q: How would you encourage someone in ministry who is considering applying for the DeVos Initiative about the values of taking this program?
A: Well, I think for me one of the things that happened right off the bat is – being born and raised in the inner city, doing ministry in the inner city – I was very, honestly skeptical of DeVos. The name, being part of a corporation, I just really did not know, or maybe even believe, that this could really be something from the Lord, that they were really serious. But then when I heard the story, met the people, and heard what they were trying to do – to empower urban youth leaders to minister in their communities – that broke some stereotypes for me. So that’s really important. I think that as leaders, when some of the stereotypes are broken, and especially when truth is revealed, we grow out of that ourselves. So that’s the first thing.
And then, of course, just the empowerment that takes place through the different retreats, and the values that are taught, and the people – I just want to focus most on the people rather than on just simply the content. Content is important, but I think that just the quality of the people, the spiritual depth and maturity, and wisdom of the people that we talk to and come into contact with, just empower us so much that I think that’s a really key aspect of learning. And then, like I said for me, helping me to envision what could be, and helping me with a plan to go about fulfilling and pursuing that dream or vision, I think that was a life changer.
I don’t know that I can say that I owe my doctorate to DeVos, but DeVos played a key role in me pursuing that vision. And for people in our community, Latinos that were born and raised in the inner city, when one of their own is able to achieve things, I think that’s important for all of us. It isn’t just for myself, but for the community as a whole, when they see that some kid from a park can actually do things for the glory of God, and fulfill their dreams and visions – that’s really important. DeVos says that they want to help you become a better leader, and even though I didn’t work with youth directly, it helped me become a better leader. I think that it’s bigger than simply youth leadership, because not all the people here in this conference are going to be youth leaders forever. People are going to go into other fields, or other ministries, and the key is empowering those folks to be better leaders, and they take that with them. So that’s how I see DeVos impact people who want to pursue God, and want to pursue the calling in their lives and move forward.