Called from Mexico to the Colorado Rapids

Cesar Maricio Duran Gonzalez (MDiv ’14) leads in multiple spaces. Gonzalez is the Latino Chaplain of Colorado Rapids at Cross Training, Hispanic Ministry Coordinator for the General Board of Global Ministries, and the Hispanic Ministry Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain conference of The United Methodist Church. His path to ministry and all these roles is an interesting one.

Gonzalez grew up in Piedras Negras, a town that sits on the border of the United States and Mexico. He was raised in the United Methodist Church where God called him into ministry at an early age.

At that time my dreams were to be an architect, but God called me to the ministry when I was 17 years old. I knew what this meant in my context. This was a call to leave my home church, leave my family and my friends and I didn’t want it. I wanted to stay in my home church to be with my friends. I had everything there.

So at first, Gonzalez avoided God by avoiding the places, moments and times where he first heard the call.

I was the guy that was in church every day, in all activities. I was in charge of the teen groups and the teens in my district. I was very active. When God called me the first time in prayer meeting, I didn’t want to be in the prayer meetings anymore. And then when God called me while reading the Bible, I didn’t want to read the Bible. When God called me in the Sunday worship service, I didn’t want to be there anymore. So I arrived to the point where I didn’t know if I was inside the church or outside the church.

Gonzalez wasn’t able to play this game of hide-and-seek very long though. He remembers arriving at church one Sunday, after the worship service had already ended.

I just sat in one of the pews and I took one of the Bibles that I found and I opened it because I didn’t want to hear the message. I was checking the Bible and I found a bookmark with Joshua 1:9 on it.

Joshua 1:9 (NIV) states: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I read it. I said, ‘Oh, my God, oh my God, I am here. I accept it.’ I accepted it because I didn’t want to be fighting with God.

Gonzalez still did not immediately and fully respond to this call. He was 17 and just beginning college.

I said: it is too late to do something different. So, I would go on being an architect and maybe in the future I will accept doing something for God. I didn’t know what, but I talked with my pastor and he said, ‘I knew that I was waiting for you to talk about this.’ He gave me  one address and he gave me money and said ‘go to this place and talk with this person and see what it is that God wants from you.’

I went to this address and when I arrived, I recognized that place was the John Wesley Seminary in Monterrey, Mexico. After I arrived, I talked with the director of the school. He said, ‘In two weeks we start classes and you have a place here.’

I said, ‘What? I’m already enrolled in college.’

He said, ‘You have two weeks to pray and decide. You have a place here.’

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In 1992, Gonzalez graduated with a Bachelors in Theology from the John Wesley Seminary in Monterrey, Mexico. Although Gonzalez has served as a United Methodist pastor to many churches in Mexico and the United States since 1991, in 2014, Gonzalez graduated from the Iliff School of Theology with a Master of Divinity.

The majority of the focus of his ministry concentrates on the Hispanic Community in the United Methodist Church.

As a Latino, I saw the Hispanic ministry was not a priority in the United Methodist Church. When I saw that, I felt a calling of God to be a bridge between the Latino community and the United Methodist Church. I have tried to help the United Methodist Church to understand the Latino background. At the same time, I have tried to teach the Latino community about the United Methodist Church and establish a connection between the two sides.

 

This has not been easy. The Latino community for this generation are very conservative people. The United Methodist Church in most of this conference is very liberal, open-minded, progressive… When I compare these different theologies or perspectives [between these groups], I have found differences between both of them. I feel the calling of God to create a unity between the two sides and make a bridge between them and try to create an understanding between both. I have tried to do that in all my positions, in all my churches, in all the conferences I have been.

Gonzalez’s role as a chaplain for the Colorado Rapids involves a different kind of leadership. He says he sees this ministry as his time to relax.

[Being a soccer chaplain] is another area, but for me that area is like my hobby. I have liked sports since I was a child, and I am mostly talking about soccer. So, I am a soccer fan and when I was a pastor, I tried to take ‘relax time’– all the time I was watching soccer games of my favorite team.

Since I was a teen, I watched the games of my team. Every week, all the time I watch it. It doesn’t matter what I have. Any time I have responsibilities during the games so, I record the games and I watch it when I finish my activities. That has been part of my ‘relax time,’ the times by myself. And my wife and my family know that.

When I came here to Denver, I 201px-colorado_rapids_logo-svgtried to attend the games of the Colorado Rapids, then I met the chaplain of the team in the stadium. When they needed a Latino chaplain, they invited me to be a part of the team and immediately I said yes.

I thought, ‘I come to the games. I pay to be here and now someone is offering me the
opportunity to come to the games without paying and to do something that I love to do. And I have the opportunity to be with the players, pray with them, share with them, teach them about the Bible and spend time with their families and be part of the team.’ So, I immediately said yes.

I enjoy when I am there and I greet the hands of the players at the end of the games. I have the opportunity to tell them, ‘Hey! You had a wonderful game. You did very good.’ And I receive the words of the players saying, ‘Yes’ or saying, ‘Sí, sir, you are a part of the team, and we are a team together.’ For me that is a blessing. So, I go to the games, and I have a relaxed time–for me that is a blessing.

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