Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and today’s blog features Mercy Gonzalez-Barnes.
Mercy, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My life has always been marked by living in between cultures. I grew up in New York City. My first church family was a non-denominational Hispanic church. When I was in my teens, my family moved to Puerto Rico, and I became involved in la Iglesia Bautista de Carraízo. I did not want to be a minister, and I fought that call. I remember as a teenager being at a retreat and praying that other people would feel the call to respond all the while I was the one who felt a great burden on my shoulders. The Spirit of God kept saying to me that people need to know that they are loved. I could not shake that burden off. A few years later I finally responded wholeheartedly and with fear and trembling went to seminary.
My theme text was the following: Psalm 138:7-8 (NIV):
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.
I studied at Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, did an internship in El Salvador, and then married a fellow student, an Anglo, who would introduce me to another culture. Together we served a small church in Lake City, Iowa, where I assisted in worship and in promoting the mission offerings. We were then called east. My husband pastored a church in Massachusetts, and I served on the regional staff of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut. My area was new church planting and ethnic ministries. It was for me a time of great growth as I met leaders from Haiti, Vietnam, and Russia, and I also met all types of Latinos people. Our next call as a couple was to the International Ministries of the ABC-USA. We were assigned to the Baptist Convention in Baja. We worked supporting local leaders, but my greatest love was teaching at the seminary.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest source of joy has been to see my students grow in their journey. Many arrived at the seminary with a scared look in their eyes, wondering if they had made the right choice. Some came with preconceived notions of what it meant to serve and to be a pastor or a leader. Well, we all come with preconceived notions, but what filled me with joy was to see them grow into confident leaders. During my time in Mexicali, I discovered another gift from God. I loved teaching church history. I started to see how knowing where we come from helps us to see clearly the road ahead.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
There have been many challenges. One has been to be taken seriously as a woman, especially as a Latina married to an Anglo. I’ve had to work very hard to earn the respect of my co-workers and my students and to not stand on the soapbox of women in ministry. The personal challenges have been my own self-doubts about my abilities. I give thanks to my husband, who always lifts me up and encourages me to follow my dreams. I’ve also had some health challenges but as the scripture says, God has never abandoned the work of his hands.
What has been the best ministry advice you have ever received?
That is a hard one. There have been many people that I consider mentors and whose testimonies have been a rock to me. I would say that the best advice is to surround yourself with people whom you trust, who will build you up and support you when you are going through hard times. This is really difficult, but you need to reach out to find those special people. As a historian, I speak a lot about the great cloud of witnesses, not only the ones in the canon but those that surround us throughout time and continue to encourage us to continue the journey. It is good to know that I am not alone.