Martin Navarro is a bilingual church relations representative with Everence Financial and a graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He is married to Viri, and they live in Elkhart, Indiana, where he is a member of Prairie Street Mennonite Church.
Love is a verb that comes with sprinkles of truth.
And sometimes the truth is difficult to swallow.
In my position at Everence, I have been working with Hispanic faith communities, helping them integrate their faith and finances (specifically in the Anabaptist world). In doing so, I have experienced the challenges that come along with the word “love.” In my work I experience it through the people in the churches. They treat as if I am family, and when I am wrong they will correct me. These experiences have made me realize that my work is much greater than myself or anything I could accomplish.
These experiences have challenged me to reevaluate what I know to be true, to listen more closely – with empathy – accepting truth from people from all walks of life.
On my first trip to Reedley, California, I led a Bible study at First Mennonite church of Reedley on the theme of stewardship. It was a group of 15 that mainly worked as fruit pickers. The discussion on stewardship involved questions regarding how we use our money, where it goes and why it is difficult to save. I was a new face leading this Bible study. I assumed that people would be skeptical of my work. After my study, the questions rolled in – I was hit with one after another. I tried to answer all the questions clearly and with good rationale. But eventually it got rough and I didn’t have answers. At that point I was as honest and transparent as I could be. I responded, “That is a good question; I do not know the answer, but I am pretty sure I can find one for you.”
But one man, a small business owner, challenged me. His question left me to struggling to provide an answer that would bring peace to either him or me.
He asked, “Why should we trust you? Other people who call themselves ‘brothers in Christ’ rip us off! What makes you any different?”
The question had a lot to unpack, and my first instinct was to respond defensively, to argue back and try to prove that my goal was not to take his money. As I fought against my instinct however, I began to realize that I need empathy in my type of work.
I was faced with the challenge of understanding that differences are not threatening. I had to put myself in his shoes and understand the difficulties he faced.
This man experienced a salesman he thought saw him as a potential source of profit first, and as a human being second. Prior to his question, my actions, thoughts and words were based on a belief that I was right, rather than listening to what these people were telling me. This man’s comment required me to reconstruct the way I think and orient my ministry. It also led me to understand stewardship differently.
After this man’s comment, I realized that a person cannot walk a stewardship journey alone. After all this man had experienced, I doubt he wanted to hear me talk about money.
We cannot understand people’s experiences without walking alongside them, and this means working hard to understand a person’s story – knowing who they are, the challenges they face.
It’s not about money, it’s about listening to one another.
This man and I share a similar story – we are both Latino, we both attend a Mennonite church, and we both have faced challenges with the broader church.
I thank him for the challenges he raised and the truth he spoke. Truth is not always objective; it can be subjective. The man with the questions saw things differently because of his experiences. That did not mean I was wrong, but it made me see a different side of the reality he faced.
Love is accepting truth, even though you may be left without an answer.