What God Makes Perfect
On a warm Sunday afternoon in early July 2015, Major Doris Gonzalez sat in her car in Hazleton, Pa., outside the corps building. She reflected on her new appointment and the enthusiastic welcome she had received earlier in the day from the congregation and divisional leaders.
Having just returned the day before from the Salvation Army’s International Congress in London, Gonzalez was still feeling the effects of jet lag. However, she still marveled in the memory of the Congress and its whirlwind and historic activities.
Now, she found herself in a quiet space and alone in her new ministry. Most of the volunteers and kitchen workers at the corps were related to the previous leaders and had moved away.
Gonzalez thought, In less than 24 hours, the corps will be expected to serve a feeding program for the community!
This was not the smooth, perfect leadership transition Gonzalez would have liked.
“I didn’t know where any of the supplies were. I had not even stepped inside the corps kitchen. I said to God, ‘How am I going to be able to do this? I don’t even really cook!’”
“Yes, there is. Do you know anything about the kitchen here at the corps?” asked Gonzalez.
“Yes, I do. I’ve helped in food preparation at the corps before.” She and Gonzalez walked into the corps kitchen together. Ramona began preparing for the feeding program. She also returned the next day.
‘It was the service’
Three years ago, Ramona Toribio formed a Bible study group that met in the homes of friends. Nine women enjoyed discussing the word of God and were looking for a church to attend.
“One of us became friends with Major Gloria Misla, the Hazleton corps officer at the time,” remembers Toribio. “Our group had asked God to send a church for us. When the Major came to our meetings and prayed with us, it felt like God had answered us.
“Because of Major Gloria, we gave The Salvation Army a look. But I stayed because it was a church based on service to the Hazleton community,” said Toribio.
Since meeting Major Gonzalez, Toribio has taken on new service roles at the corps. Though she still helps with cooking, she also organizes the food pantry and speaks to families about other Salvation Army programs, such as Camp Ladore.
“People don’t just come for food and worship. They also come to socialize. We learn what’s going on in each other’s lives, and even know when each other’s kids’ birthdays are,” says Toribio.
“Those types of relationships are part of what keeps a church alive, no matter who the officer is,” says Gonzalez. “Ramona has cultivated friendships.”
A leader takes risks
“One of the most beautiful things I have seen in my time here at Hazleton is how Ramona has gone from working with food to working with the word of God,” says Gonzalez.
“Though Ramona was nervous at first, she accepted the new responsibility of leader. ’Cooking is easy,’ she said. ‘But leading a devotional? That’s a real challenge!’”
Toribio remembers, “My English isn’t perfect, so we had some bilingual program volunteers stand next to me to translate for the English speakers. It was different, but Major Doris said not to worry about how it had been done before, or how others may want it to be done. God delights in our new ways to serve and worship Him.”
Toribio began to feel confident in believing that she could grow into a leader through her faith in God and her desire to serve.
“A good leader is willing to take some risks,” says Gonzalez. “If you say you love God, you will want to do God’s work, even if that work is new and makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes your plan might not work exactly the way you expected and you need to take a leap of faith. What seems imperfect will become perfect in the eyes of the Lord, because it is done in His name.”
Today, Toribio leads devotionals during the feeding program with a diverse audience. She takes time to rehearse what she’s going to say. Her calm, soft voice becomes loud and joyous when she grabs the microphone and begins to speak.
“A few times, we weren’t able to get a translator, yet it still worked,” says Toribio. “English speakers listen and pray together with Spanish speakers. Amen is the same in both English and in Spanish.”
God’s Perfect Timing
Major Gonzalez says it is God’s love for their community that made Toribio meet her at the perfect time and place.
“As we met, I thought, The Lord loves Hazleton. He recognized the urgency of helping people who may have gone days without food. He brought Ramona to help to feed His people as she was on her way to feed a friend,” says Gonzalez. “In a minute’s difference, we’d have missed each other.”
“The Salvation Army wants to give leadership opportunities to us,” said Toribio. “No one has made me feel like I was trying to take someone’s responsibilities away from them. And the officers are happy to share what they know.”
Both Major Doris Gonzalez and Ramona Toribio wanted to fulfill their calls to serve the Lord. In one perfect Sunday afternoon meeting, He answered both of their prayers.
by Hugo Bravo