Pain, Purpose, & Finding My Place

By Michelle Blanco
The Lenses Group
Edited by Melody Copenny

Almost 13 years ago, I had to painfully lay down my dreams of full-time ministry in Cru. I laid down my hopes of shepherding, teaching, and exhorting the body of Christ as my vocation because I was unable to acquire the resources to fully fund my ministry. I believed Jesus called me to raise laborers in the Latino community – a community that lived a dual cultural, linguistic, and flexible experience – to reach some of the lesser reached communities in our country and in the world. I found deep fulfillment and enjoyment in my work as a cultural translator and bridge builder, as well as learning from other cultures and ministries, like The Impact Movement, about God’s heart toward justice and reconciliation.

When you so believe God has called you to a place and time where your passions and gifts are utilized and celebrated, it can be disorienting when, all of a sudden, you don’t see a clear outlet to employ those gifts. We are wired to search for purpose and make a difference. It seemed, for the moment, that specific purpose was on pause.

Laying down my dreams happened in 2006. Almost 5 years later, after getting married and having my first child, I was once again in search for employment. I found a job, back at Cru, in the finance department. I wasn’t expecting to truly return to using my gifts and experience in cross-cultural ministry. My assumption coming into the role was that I would only be asked and expected to function within the listed duties - to provide service and support to our staff members as they processed their ministry financial expenses. I was caught by surprise when, in 2016, after several invitations to write and share on cultural understanding, race, and justice for several Cru ministry events with the permission and blessing of my leadership, I found myself in a church classroom in Tempe, Arizona, with other passionate and like-minded Cru staff members in a ministry context called “The Lenses Institute.”

This was the first training to onboard new facilitators to help lead Lenses Institutes nationally and I was ready to confidently demonstrate my knowledge and experience in this space. I’d heard about Lenses from other staff members. They described it as “hard,” “sobering,” and “moving,” but I was not new to the subjects of racial and ethnic injustice, discrimination, diversity, and oneness. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new.

Almost immediately, I couldn’t be more pleased to be humbled and wrong. In this particular and diverse group of people who shared a common passion for seeing the church pursue oneness and justice, we experienced and interacted with each others’ cultures amid the backdrop of different American realities in a way that took most of us by surprise. As I connected with other Latino, Black, White, and Asian brothers and sisters, we came to a place of listening and began to understand one another in one of the most sacred of spaces I’ve ever experienced. We cried and laughed. We were ourselves. We were free for that moment.

Midway through the week I got into a conversation with the director of Lenses, Michael Sylvester. He asked me what I thought about bringing Lenses to Orlando, Florida, my hometown, but also the headquarters of Cru where about 1200 Cru staff members work and reside. I was instantly excited about the idea. “Yes, Orlando would be a great place to have Lenses!” In the city that is the home to our world headquarters, many of our staff members can remain distant and unaware of the diversity and depth of the community as much as its needs. In our drive to reach the ‘world’, we may have a tendency to miss our neighbors. We discussed the potential drawbacks of having this kind of conference near our headquarters, but I came up with ways to overcome any hurdles.

I don’t remember if it was by text, email, phone, or in person, but Michael challenged ME to host the conference in Orlando. I was completely ready to help where needed, but HOST? Uh, please hold. This means I had to choose and book local speakers, a hotel, arrange meals, secure our meeting space, etc, etc. etc. I didn’t think I was ready, but no one else was ready to fully take on the role. Not to mention, I am the person who knows this city the most among our facilitators’ team, having grown up here and seeing it transform into the Puerto Rican haven it is. So I gave Michael a very shaky “Um...sure.” I realized later that I wanted so much for Lenses to be a transformational experience for so many Cru staff members. Unintentionally, people can remain oddly protected by the walls of operational ministry and its leadership and often never be challenged to move beyond those areas.

Michelle (in pink) leads a time of prayer for a local partner at the Lenses Institute in Orlando.

Michelle (in pink) leads a time of prayer for a local partner at the Lenses Institute in Orlando.

Bit by bit, in about four months, I booked speakers (my Lenses location was the first with an all-Puerto Rican speaker lineup), I booked the hotel, meeting rooms, signed contracts, made payments (grateful for those 5+ years in Cru finance and compliance), crafted the program (did I tell you I worked full-time in production during my non-Cru employment years?), and with the help of Jesus, The Lenses Executive Team, our Orlando facilitator team, and everyone else rooting and praying for me, we pulled off one of the most redemptive and transformational experiences I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of. So many people, so many spiritually mature and seasoned missionaries experienced the heart of Jesus, in a way that broke them once again and called them to go deeper and live a life surrendered again to the cross of Jesus Christ.

I’m deeply grateful my gifts had an outlet and a purpose through that experience, and I’ve learned now, several times over, that my gifts, my purpose, AND my story all have a place in God’s plan.

Michelle Blanco was originally born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Kissimmee, FL, and now lives in Orlando, FL with her wonderful husband, JT and the cutest kids in the world - Joshua and Mercedes. Michelle has served as a missionary both overseas and domestic, but also was a singer/actor at a local theme park and loves talking theology, music, and movies. Oh, and she loves to act silly.