Give in to the call
Madeline Maldonado follows the call to pastoral ministry.by Sara Alvarez
On Christmas Day 1989, Madeline Maldonado sat at her sister-in-law’s church.
Her life seemed to be unrolling like the typical American’s: She was married, pregnant and educated—in airplane mechanics. But she was unhappy.
Her husband, David Maldonado, drank and smoked, so she struggled with whether or not to stay and raise their child in that home. This wasn’t her first church service, but she usually left after the singing. That day was different, though. She was searching for answers, and when the pastor gave an altar call, Madeline went forward.
“My heart was in turmoil and I knew I needed something,” says Madeline. “It was a breaking down of all my toughness and everything I thought I was, and I was crying uncontrollably.”
Madeline remembers that service as the start of a transformation in her life that led her to where she is now, co-pastor of Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación.
A few months after that Christmas service, Madeline and David moved closer to his parents, and together they answered another altar call at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación. They dedicated their lives to the service of Christ.
As Madeline delved into Christianity, she asked many hard questions of her mentor, Martelina Pacheco.
“When I first came to Christ I was a really rough, tough person,” says Madeline.
The sexual and physical abuse she had suffered through as a child had made her rebellious and questioning. “I challenged everything,” she says. “I wanted proof and I wanted to understand why things were the way they were.”
Slowly, she understood more about the Christian faith, and she and David became more involved in the church. David moved up to co-pastor and by 1994 was ordained and became the lead pastor of the church.
Madeline supported David as he went into the ministry and found that she enjoyed working with him and helping him. She realized that she had many of the qualities of a pastor but resisted the feeling that she was called into ministry because she had always been taught that women could not be pastors.
“Other people would see the gift in me,” says Madeline. “One of the pastors came to me and said, ‘You know what, Madi, you have a pastor’s heart.’ But I had the Hispanic woman’s mentality from an old church that women only taught Sunday school.”
Despite Madeline’s doubts on her calling, her desire to help others led her to become a pastor and leader in the church.
“I developed a passion for the homeless,” says Madeline. “I started a ministry where I would pick them up on Sunday mornings for church, let them shower at our church, offer them hot food after the service and then drop them off afterward.”
David suggested that she should start preaching and praying in church, since she started this ministry, so she did.
But even as she preached and prayed on some Sundays, Madeline resisted the label of pastor. It took a health crisis for Madeline to admit that she felt called to be a pastor, not just to serve as a pastor’s wife.
“I had a fast-growing tumor in my chest,” says Madeline. “At first the doctors didn’t know the cause and thought I might not have much time. This encounter caused me to reflect on my life and I realized I had been ignoring the call.”
David also bought her the book Woman You are Called and Anointed for her to read during her biopsy. This book encouraged her to examine the calling she felt in her life.
“It was a meaningful moment,” says Madeline. “God was really speaking to me and putting things in order.”
At the same time, without her knowledge, the elders of the church had sent in the form for her ordination to Southeast Mennonite Conference. By the time she realized what had happened, she was ready to acknowledge that God wanted her to become a leader in the church.
Husband and wife team
Madeline finally became a licensed pastor in 2000 and has pastored at the Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación with David ever since.
Despite society’s perception that husbands and wives should not work in the same place, Madeline enjoys working with David.
Madeline Maldonado in a traditional Guatemalan dress. Photo provided.
“We balance each other well,” says Madeline. “He’s quieter and thinks things through, while I ask questions and speak up when he’s quiet. He’ll also have the ideas, and I’ll be the one to put things together and put the idea into action.”
The couple has put various ideas into action in order to fulfill the needs of their congregation and further the reach of their ministry.
One of Madeline’s passions is for immigrant rights, and she has many opportunities to support immigrants at her church, where most of the members are immigrants.
“I like to work within the community, connecting people with lawyers to defend them,” says Madeline. “If people get hurt at work, and some of them are undocumented, they’ll call regarding what to do. You just work and help when a need arises.
Madeline’s passion to help bridge the gap between Spanish-speaking church members and the English-speaking United States led her to become part of the Iglesia Menonita Hispana, an organization within Mennonite Church USA that helps facilitate communication between Spanish-speaking pastors and conference ministers. They also function to help educate pastors and meet needs that may arise.
Madeline and David also started the Peniel Instituto Biblico in Chiul, Guatemala, the home country for some of their church members. They started the program about 10 years ago at the request of a local pastor who had studied with them in Florida.
Madeline and David went down every four months or so and educated congregations and local pastors in theology and issues that concern churches. The couple also makes it a point to visit old church members who have since returned to Guatemala.
“One meaningful experience was seeing Carlos Francisco Tevalan Itzep,” says Madeline. “When he first came to our church, he was young and uneducated. He started coming to our Bible institute in Florida and worked hard and wanted to become educated.”
“Now he’s back in Guatemala, where he is a nurse. When we saw him, he came to us and wanted us to understand the impact we made on his life; he was crying.”
Madeline loves these moments when she can see that the pastoral work she’s doing is making a difference in people’s lives. They are the reason she loves being a pastor.
“I just got a call yesterday from a girl that grew up in the church,” says Madeline. “When she called she said, ‘I know that even though I don’t come to church all the time, I know I can call you, and you’re always there and will listen.’
“I love providing that stability for people. We’re here for them, and I love that I get to watch people grow, both in age and spiritually.”
Sara Alvarez graduated from Goshen (Ind.) College in May and attends Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen. In August she will begin a one-year term serving with Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience.
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