Lieutenant Dabiel Valdes
Lieutenant Dabiel Valdes, corps officer at the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden, N.J., talks about viewing his city through the eyes of Jesus, choosing ministry over a future in baseball, and shaping himself to meet the needs of his church.
My daughters Serenity, Danity, and Trinity own the ministry as much as does my wife, Lieutenant Luz Cristina Valdes, and me. Seeing Serenity, my oldest, participate in sacred dance and compete in Star Search is proof of God’s love. When my wife was pregnant with her, the doctor told us she would suffer from spina bifida and be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. We prayed for her, and ultimately said to God, “If this is your will, we accept your plan.” At the eighth month of pregnancy, we learned Serenity would be born healthy. I still remember those months of uncertainty. Today, I know God’s power and blessings were at work in our family.
When my daughters and I drive around Camden, I ask them what they see. They say graffiti and broken-down houses with boarded windows. I say, “that’s what you see, but it’s not what Jesus sees. He sees His people in those houses. He wants to welcome them to His church.” This motivates our ministry. It’s not what we see, or what newspapers say about Camden. It’s about the lives we are called to help. Those lives belong to God. Let’s bring them to Him.
My cadet session was the first to start a five-year continuing education program at Asbury University. At first, I thought to myself, God is not calling me to be a college student again; this is not part of His plan! But failing at this would be failing God. If this was His way of making me a better officer, so be it. In May, I completed the program and earned my degree in ministry management. At Asbury, I learned the importance of molding myself to fit the needs of my ministry. It’s why I took lifeguard classes at the Camden Kroc. To keep the pool open when we were short a lifeguard, I had to be ready to dive in.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I played sports, especially baseball. When I moved to Philadelphia, I met with scouts from the major leagues. I was even invited to participate in spring training for the Philadelphia Phillies. But around the same time, I was introduced to the Salvation Army through basketball and Friday night pick-up games. At the first game, I met Luz. I kept going back, and fell in love with the Army and with her. My call to baseball was strong, but the call to serve God was stronger. The possibilities I may have had in sports could never compare to the ministry. If Jesus gave His all so I could be saved, how could I ever consider giving Him less?
The Camden Kroc Holy Ground Café and Christian Club started as a project for my ministry management thesis. The idea was to host an event in a room with lights, music, and smoke machines. We also invited a Christian hip hop artist or R&B singer to do a concert and minister. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a swim in the pool. It’s now our biggest youth ministry event. Every time, we welcome around 200 young people.
interview by Hugo Bravo