At Ciudad Nueva, we have seen God accomplish his work through the ministry of our beloved Family Outreach Director, Joe Gavaldon. He retired from his role here at our agency, but we know that God’s work through him is just beginning.
In 2009, Joe first felt God’s calling on his life to work in ministry. He worked with Young Life, a community ministry that guides young people to know Christ. While it was hard for him to leave, he felt God’s hand guiding him to work with students full-time. He trusted that the door would open to a new opportunity, and it came! Sami, our former executive director, had been on the Young Life committee and invited Joe to start working for him.
“It was great to be working with Sami… I never thought that I would start working for him immediately!”
Joe quickly fit in and improved our program. He increased outreach and developed meaningful relationships with staff and students. Joe and Sami soon became “two peas in a pod” as they served at Ciudad Nueva. He said Sami “always gave you the freedom to do what you knew was right for the ministry. I really had a great time with the staff there. All the border fellow volunteers that came in and helped us for a year at a time were so great.”
By Joe’s description of Ciudad Nueva, ministry was shared among both program attendees and staff members alike. One staff member never was valued above another. All members were cherished. As his years of work progressed, he learned a lot from his coworkers and taught them a lot as well.
Joe jumped right in and began his work at Ciudad Nueva by strengthening our middle school outreach. Taking what he learned from Young Life, he more than doubled the amount of students in the program, all within one month! He reflected that “God really blessed the ministry because he used me with the middle school administrators.” He felt rewarded through his efforts with low-income families, which he had also experienced through his work at Young Life.
As the middle school students grew in Christ, Joe noticed that there weren’t many resources to help guide them through high school.. Joe felt God’s hand on the program and suggested that Ciudad Nueva continue to minister to the kids by creating a high school program. . He took responsibility for both the middle and high school programs, guiding a team of volunteers.
“It was a really good year for our ministry. We really felt like God was leading us to jumpstart this youth program, and He blessed it.”
God placed several students into Joe’s life through our youth program. He reflected on a young man in the program who was struggling with a lot of hurt—it was a challenge for Joe to develop a positive relationship with him. “I was a disciplinarian that wouldn’t let him get away with much. One time, I tried to encourage a personal connection with him by calling him by a nickname that his friends used. ‘Only my friends can call me that,’ he told me. I was hurt, but I knew I just needed to keep loving this young man.” The young man continued attending, and as Joe persisted in loving and praying for him, Joe later saw the fruits of his efforts after the student graduated from high school. He approached him at a gas station and told him, “I remember what you taught us at Ciudad Nueva and I want you to meet my wife and kids.”
Joe played an important role in the lives of several program students. He remembered many of them by name and recalled how they returned to the program again and again. Some kept in touch with him into adulthood. He showed these young adults that there would be someone they could depend on, and that there was a God who cared about them. With humility, Joe said,
“God has been good to me, and I always have tried to be faithful even though I’ve failed the Lord in every area of my life.”
God’s provision saw that Joe’s work was not in vain. One of his favorite aspects of ministry was getting to know the kids, knowing they were enjoying themselves, and providing them with a safe place to be kids. This ministry also provided opportunities to serve the parents and surrounding community members. He worked hard to build a strong foundation of faith for the students.
Leaving a Legacy
As advice to middle school student ministers, Joe shared that, “middle school students (especially ones that do not know the Lord) ask, ‘Do you like me?’ High school kids are more distrusting and ask, ‘Do I like you?’” He prayed for and loved on the students faithfully so that they would know that their Creator loves them, too. All of his efforts, struggles, and prayers were worth it.
“Once kids realize that they are loved, they come and make things right with the people that took care of them. God pulls at their hearts and they come back.”
Joe impacted the lives of countless students at Ciudad Nueva. He remarked , “It can be hard to put in the time to get there, but it’s worth pursuing the kids.”
His knowledge of middle school and high school students strengthened our programs and led to more kids hearing the gospel. He said, “I really enjoyed getting to teach our younger staff members how to approach kids with the gospel, how to approach middle school and high school since they’re very different, and going with them to minister when they couldn’t speak Spanish.
“I felt like it was going to be hard to ever leave Ciudad Nueva. But you never retire from ministry! I want to keep giving back. I always want to be a strong witness for the Lord in every stage.”
Because of his faithful service, our youth programs have grown immensely, and many young people have been loved and prayed for. He will be missed in our program, by staff and students alike. Joe parted with, “I will always keep Ciudad Nueva in my prayers.”
Ciudad Nueva is a community-based nonprofit that exists to advance the renewal and development of central El Paso’s Rio Grande neighborhood through the empowerment and transformation of its residents. Please join us this year! Call us today at 915-521-2951 or contact us online.