Nelly’s Article – first part appeared in The Voice of Service
“Miracles in Between”
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mathew 5:14-16
A couple of weeks ago I was in Illinois visiting my sister Perla and her family. During our stay there we visited Chicago’s downtown and Lake Michigan; it is a beautiful place. But it also has very rough parts, like the neighborhood I grew up in. As most of you know Chicago has one, if not, the highest crime rate in the nation. After a brief discussion and saying a prayer we decided to go into the inner city. Why? You might ask. Because I wanted to see and show my children the neighborhood I grew up in. We went to the house where my mother and we spent a lot of our early years. It definitely brought back a lot of memories. If you have read my book, the little corner store where I went and asked for “thirteens” instead of tortillas is still there. It is not a store anymore, but it is still there. We also drove by my home church La Santissima Trinidad Lutheran Church on 28th & Karlov. To my dismay, it is not a Lutheran church anymore, another denomination now owns it or leases it.
What happened? I thought, what went wrong? A lot of thoughts raced through my mind as we drove past this beautiful, wonderful church. A church that changed my mother’s life and mine as well. A church that had been a beacon to this neighborhood for so many years and had touched so many lives. This was a thriving Hispanic ministry back in the 80’s, full of young families. Our youth group was a very talented, smart and God driven group. Six pastors came out of this youth group, three Lutheran Church Missouri Synod! Incredible! But how come it all stopped?
Sad to say but I believe this is something that is happening throughout the nation. Wonderful churches that were once thriving and reaching families and communities are no longer open. What are we doing wrong? What changed? God’s Word has NOT changed; it is still powerful and life changing. God has NOT changed; He still is all knowing, all powerful, all omniscient, all loving. Then maybe, just maybe, we have changed. We have lost focus and sight of what our role is as a church.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The mission field is right outside our church doors. We do not need to go to a foreign country to do mission, the mission field is literally a step away. Our communities are dying and we are dying with them. It is time that we as a church open our eyes and not just our eyes but our hearts as well, and see what is in front of us! We have the most precious gift in our hands, God’s Word of salvation and yet we are failing to share it with others. I can honestly and whole heartily tell you that the only reason why my mother, siblings and I made it through was because a little Lutheran church snuggled in the middle of a rugged, chaotic, crime driven community decided to reach out with the Gospel to the community around them! And it changed our lives for the better! My family and I are a living proof of it, and there are many others like us.
God’s loving arms reached out and embraced us through the Lutheran church! This is what we are called to do! The Lutheran Church has and always will be one of the biggest influences in my life. And I have passed this on to my children and I am praying that my children will pass it on to their children as well. Who would have thought that taking a walk through our neighborhood in April of 1980 and “stumbling” upon this church would have such an impact!
There are so many families out there, struggling just like my mom and we were at one time and we are failing them. But not only them but God as well. Somewhere along the way we forget what our role is and most importantly we forget that we have the most precious gift God has given Man, the gift of His only begotten Son. We are keeping this precious gift to ourselves. This is not what we are called to do. This breaks my heart, I cannot even imagine what our lives would have been without that church, our safe haven. I want those families to have what I have, to be able to have joy and peace in our Savior Jesus Christ. To be able to worship and rejoice in His salvation! When I think of those families, I think of my mom and us, we were one of those families that needed God’s grace and mercy 40 years ago. I thank God every day that the La Santissima Trinidad Lutheran Church was there able and ready. Thanks be to God Almighty! We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth; it is time we start living out our purpose as a church, reaching out to people of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of Son and of Holy Spirit.
May our faithful, powerful, all-knowing God open our eyes and hearts and allow us to see the communities outside our church doors and in doing so, give us the wisdom to be able to reach out to them. And may He allow us to see all of our “Miracles in between”. In JESUS’ precious name we pray. AMEN.
In HIS Service, Nelly Castañeda