Sharing our Blessings
“I’ve been a teacher for 15 years,” says Maria Ruiz. “Helping with the Pathfinder club was just another opportunity to work with kids.” Ruiz started volunteering as a leader of the Pathfinder club of the North Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2013. She never imagined that her passion for working with kids would soon turn into a long-standing ministry of helping others.
Ruiz and the staff wanted the Pathfinders to make an impact in their community. A new idea came to mind: asking parents to donate 200 burritos once a month. The parents obliged and the Pathfinders began handing out burritos along with hot chocolate in the winter, and cold water in the summer. They gave away burritos and drinks in area parks and a nearby “tent city” as well as organizations that assist the homeless community.
“Sometimes our kids grow up in a bubble and they don’t know of the needs that exist outside our church walls,” says Ruiz. “However, our kids were always happy to help and were moved by the experience.” On one occasion, a man asked to pray with the Pathfinders so he could thank God for the work the youth were doing. “They often told us we were blessings but in reality, we were the ones that came out blessed,” says Ruiz.
In addition to distributing burritos, the Pathfinders also began collecting food baskets for families at the North Valley church and in the community. They also raised money for families who needed assistance to pay their rent or bills. Initially, food and monetary donations came from within the Pathfinder ministry; however Ruiz soon started receiving support from the entire church.
In 2015, Ruiz was asked to be the church’s community service director. She gladly accepted and continued the work she began with the Pathfinders. Ruiz connected with Last Chance Ministries, a non-profit that works closely with the homeless community, and formed a great ministry team.
“When I became the community service director, we prepared food and fed the homeless at a local park every Sunday for two years. The members of North Valley provided all the food,” says Ruiz. “Today, we do it twice a month, and we still involve the Pathfinders because they are very important to this ministry.”
In addition to their homeless meal ministry, Ruiz and her team collect donations for a mobile food bank that is then taken to low-income communities. This year, they also organized a community event where they distributed food and toys and provided health screenings and immigration consultation services.
“Our young adults, personal ministries and family ministries teams are just a few that have been involved,” says Ruiz. Over the last few years, the church has hosted a community Thanksgiving dinner and collected coats, winter clothing and small bags full of hygiene products to give the guests. The North Valley church always serves the homeless community during Thanksgiving, and now their ministry of service is year-round.
“Sharing the blessings we receive from the Lord is very rewarding. But our ministry is more than just providing physical nutrition to others,” says Ruiz. “We also focus on sharing God’s Word and His promises. We have seen the impact this has on many occasions.” Ruiz is delighted that what started as encouraging youth to make a difference has evolved into a church-wide ministry focused on serving and helping others. “It's a lot of work,” says Ruiz. “But when I see how this ministry touches people, it motivates me to continue to do God’s work.”
By Debbie Márquez. Márquez is the communication director of the Texico Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She lives with her husband, Sam, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They have three children, Ayden, Annah Sofia and Alexa.