Danilo Sanchez grew up in Franconia Conference. From his time in Boyertown where he was able to explore the gifts God has given him, to being the youth minister in the Lehigh Valley area for three Franconia churches, the conference has watched him grow into his calling. Danilo was licensed toward ordination last year, and continues to nurture urban youth in the conference. Find out how he came to know and accept God’s call on his life through his call story:
Boyertown Mennonite Church is where my journey began. I remember the first time an adult asked me to be the worship leader for a Sunday service. I felt so honored. Then later I was asked if I would like to preach. I don’t remember how I did, but the congregation was so supportive. I liked serving and being in leadership. I decided I would try teaching the Wednesday night youth bible study and Sunday School some times. Around that same time some youth wanted to start leading worship the first Sundays of the month so I began to help out with that as well. I really enjoyed leading worship; worship made me feel close to God and I enjoyed leading others in encountering God.
Having a church like Boyertown was exactly what I needed. A church that was willing to let a young guy try out some of his gifts.
I went to some youth leadership retreats during high school and really tried to discover what my gifts were. I knew I wanted to serve God in some way, but at the time never really considered being a pastor. I was learning to serve God and willing to take the risk of saying “yes”, but I felt too unworthy to be in such a position of leadership. I think that was the biggest thing that I had to overcome as I sorted out my call to ministry. Like Moses, I wanted to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t lead.
When I was preparing to go to college, I was at a bit of a cross roads. I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to head in life. I remember writing a covenant to God in my journal, “God I want to be your servant. I’m willing to follow you anywhere.” Little did I realize where that would lead me.
I liked the idea of being a psychologist, so I declared my psychology major as I entered Eastern University (St. Davids, PA). I figured I could have a good paying job and then maybe volunteer my time for the church on the side.
I stayed involved at Boyertown during my first semester at Eastern, leading Bible studies and helping with the youth, and after the Winter Youth Lock-in, someone’s comments changed the direction I was going. An adult volunteer commented that many of the youth looked up to me, that I seemed to enjoy being around the youth, and maybe I should be a youth pastor.
I look back now and know that I needed the affirmation of my gifts from the church to discover my call to ministry. The thought had never really occurred to me. Me? A youth pastor? I needed to think more about it.
As a way of testing the waters, I decided to take a youth ministry class. Something just clicked. I felt alive. I felt energized. This made sense. I remember praying, “God, give me passion if this is your will.”
I changed my major to youth ministry and things just took off from there. I started doing internships at different churches — Good Shepherd Community, Souderton, Hereford Mennonite (now Butter Valley Community Church), and Philadelphia Praise Center– to discover and develop my gifts. I learned many things about myself and God during those experiences. There were several times that my gifts and calling were affirmed, whether it was through words of others, relationships, or experiences where I felt God affirming me. It had become clear to me that God was calling me to be a youth pastor.
As I approached graduation from Eastern University, the logical next step for me was seminary. I headed to Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, VA) and during my three years there, I was the seminary intern youth pastor at Eastside Church. As a church plant, there was no established youth ministry, so for the first time I was able to take all my knowledge and create the youth ministry that I wanted. Needless to say, it was both exciting and terrifying. I had some good success stories, but probably more failures. All in all, the experience was very formative and Eastside was another place for me to cultivate my gifts and call.
Currently, I am living in Allentown, PA and serving as the Lehigh Valley Youth Pastor for Whitehall, Ripple, Vietnamese Gospel, and Christ Fellowship. I would have never imagined that this is where God is calling me to be – urban ministry. I always pictured myself in a suburban setting where I would be nice and comfortable. But after being in Allentown for almost a year, it is clear that this is where God is calling me to be. I have never felt more fully alive. Sure I’m still making mistakes and learning new things, but I’m following God’s call in my life and finding my pastoral identity.
As I reflect on my call, it becomes clear to me what happens from a simple prayer and willingness to say yes to God, no matter where it takes you. There has been some wrestling and some discerning, but God’s call in my life has become clear.
Danilo Sanchez is the youth minister for Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple, and Vietnamese Gospel in the Allentown, PA area. For more about Danilo’s work as an urban youth minister check out his blog post for The Gathering Place.