My name is Samuel Moreno, I just turned 37 years old and I am a pastor and church planter in the Oregon Conference. Born in New Jersey, but raised in Cleveland, I come from a Hispanic (El Salvador) family, including one brother. It was during my time in college, at Columbia Union College, that I met my amazing wife, Wendy Guardado. Fast forward a couple of years and we got a call to work in the Oregon Conference and got married – all in the same year! After planting Remix Adventist Church and pastoring for about 5 years, we moved to Andrews University to work on our MDIV. It was after returning to Oregon that we had our only child, Mateo. My passions are board gaming (have a gaming library that we use every week to connect and fellowship with church family around a table), graphic design, and basketball – both playing and watching it.
As a pastor and follower of Christ, I feel moved to loving and being kind to people. My wife and I have been involved in church planting for 10+ years now, and with every church plant that we experience, there is nothing more gratifying than infusing a DNA of service into what we do. I don’t think you can separate loving God from loving people. My experience has always been that when you love people, the church grows organically. Loving people doesn’t mean I am better than you, therefore here I am to help you; loving people means realizing that we, ourselves are broken, but God has created a community to spur and encourage one another on. Last year in a new church plant that we are involved with, we talked specifically about that. As a result, our slogan transitioned from ‘choose compassion,’ to ‘choose kindness’ to avoid any sense of superiority that sometimes comes with the word compassion. Sometimes we can walk a fine line of true compassion to one of saying, “I am so glad I am not in your position, here let me help you.” To say we choose kindness, is to say ‘I choose to treat you equally, just as I would like to be treated.’ There is so much vulnerability and honesty that goes into that. In fact, the one thing I wish I would have discovered earlier was the importance of vulnerability in ministry. Growing up, pastors, and their families were held to an unattainable standard, for anybody. It was not until I admitted that I was no different than any other member and shared my struggles with my congregation and community that I started to make meaningful connections with those around me. Do you want people to respect you more? Then be real.
I grew up in the Adventist Church, and although church has always been a part of my life, it wasn’t till closer to the age of 10 that I really met Jesus. This isn’t to say that the church failed me, but rather, it didn’t become real to me till I was 10. It all began at church, when a call was made to see if anyone was willing to house and provide room and board for an Adventist colporteur visiting from Mexico. I never expected my Mom to raise her hand – although I should have known better, since both parents have always been big on serving. Not only did the thought of a total stranger living with us for a month or more not sit well with me, but we later got the news that my brother and I would have to give up our room to accommodate him! Let’s just say I wasn’t too happy… Long story short, that colporteur began building bridges with my brother and I, in a way that I just cannot explain. I saw Jesus in him! Not only that, but as an amazing storyteller, he would sit my brother and I down to retell the stories of the early church, especially that of the persecution of the Waldensians. Every night there was a cliff hanger, and we could look forward to nothing more than to sit together with him every night and hear how the story developed. Beyond that, it was that colporteur that sparked my interest in ministry, as he approached my Mom and asked her if it was okay for him to write a sermon for me to preach locally. Not only did my Mom approve, but the church provided me with a Sabbath morning to speak (shout out to all the churches that have the courage to allow the development of their children and youth). I had no business being on that pulpit, from a humanly perspective, I was no speaker. But as I have grown, I see that God specializes in doing that throughout history. That month and a half living with this colporteur radically changed my view on who Jesus was and what He meant for me.
I can honestly say that God has been good to my family throughout the years in always providing for us – despite the circumstances. As a family, we have always faced challenges and difficult times, but God has been faithful in first building us for each successive challenge. I look at my life as a series of events leading up to the birth of my son, Mateo – my biggest test, emotionally and spiritually. It was at our 20th week of pregnancy, that we both found out the gender of our baby, and where we were first exposed to the reality that could happen. What a bittersweet moment. If I had a dollar for everyone who challenged me, telling me I would have a girl. Not that I would have minded, but my mind was on having a boy, especially after coming from a 2 boy household growing up. You can’t imagine how happy I was when they told us it was a boy. So happy, in fact, that we almost ignored the nurse telling us to hang tight because she wanted to run something by the doctor. For the next 10 minutes, we were thinking of names for our baby boy, before we were interrupted by the doctor herself, guiding us next door to another room. It was there that we found out that the baby was at high risk of coming early… really early. 28 weeks was the mark that we wanted to reach, to reduce any complications and for him to be born a preemie, but doctors believe he was going to be coming sooner than that – making him a micro-preemie. Long story short, after weeks of restless worry, anxiety, and prayer, we rushed to the hospital at week 25 for his birth. Doctors did as much as possible to keep him in his Mommy until week 26, and on March 11, 2016, Mateo was born at 2 lbs 6 oz. To put it into perspective, my wedding band fit his arm – with space – as a bracelet. The next three months at the hospital were the hardest we have ever experienced. I don’t have the time to tell you all the ups and downs, the high highs and low lows that we experienced, but it was a roller coaster ride. One day we saw progress, the next our doctors faced complications and were planning surgery. One moment my wife was 1 degree with fever – ready to have the baby induced, deprived of much-needed shots that would help it developed, and one hour later, after a church rallied with prayer, her temperature stabilized. We had so many divine interventions that we started a miracle journal for Mateo and passed 20 remarkable incidents that we refuse to call ‘coincidence.’ This is not to say my faith didn’t fail – because I had tons of night yelling and crying at God for what He was allowing us to go through. Tons of days not understanding and feeling I had lost control. It was in those dark times that Job’s story became an anchor in our lives, and we had to finally submit and stop wrestling with God and giving up our will to Him. The most difficult prayer we had to pray was the following: “God, let your will be done with this baby. If he is to live, I promise to forever tell of his story and of your power. If he is to die, we will live faithful to your promises of eternity and do everything in our power, with you, to be reunited with him for all of eternity.” I experienced peace like no other after that prayer. We still suffer from PTSD, and we find ourselves ministering to many parents now who are going through the same ordeal. We have become family in the NICU trenches, and God allowed us to go through that so that now we can minister to those who are experiencing the same.
My son’s story is perhaps the biggest chapter of my life to tell, but I want to acknowledge that my life is made up of a variety of small stories where God was either preparing me for ministry, or shaping my walk with Him. For example, I almost didn’t make it to college, simply because my parents could not pay for it. After driving 6 hours to where I was to begin, the reality of the monthly payments was too much for my parents to cover. After praying as a family and starting to head home, God intervened and put the right people in place to provide funding for my studies. To put things into perspective, I had turned down a 4 year paid scholarship to architectural school to pursue ministry. Math and Art had always been passions of mine, and yet, something deep inside told me it was not my true calling. With every obstacle, there has been a way out provided, and I have learned time and time again, to stop trying to rush God’s process and allow Him to write my story.