Ready to Serve God Whenever and Wherever
Jonatan Toledo’s passion for children’s ministry began as a child in the Dominican Republic. Today he leads a thriving Awana program reaching Hispanic and non-Hispanic kids in Boston.
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- Dominican Republic native Jonatan Toledo leads Awana at a large Hispanic church in New England.
- He is working to bring the church and parents together to spiritually train children and youth.
- He is applying his seminary training to hands-on ministry in Awana.
At age 20, Jonatan Toledo left his hometown of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic three years ago to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. He’s a year away from earning his Master of Divinity degree.
How did someone living 1,653 miles away end up in Massachusetts? On a missions trip to Mexico in 2005, Jonatan met Dr. Alvin Padilla, the academic dean of Gordon-Conwell’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education.
“I consider our encounter totally orchestrated by God,” Jonatan recalled. “I was not necessarily looking into seminary life, but the opportunity came at a time where I was seeking God’s direction in a new and refreshing way. Through a series of circumstances, the Lord made a way for me to study in Boston.”
Hands-on ministry training
Jonatan is applying what he’s learning in seminary to his role as the head of Awana at Congregation Lion of Judah in Boston, the largest Hispanic Baptist church in New England.
“We started Awana here two years ago. I helped bring it to my church,” Jonatan said. “I was exposed to Awana in the Dominican Republic and served in Awana at my church during high school.”
Lion of Judah averages about 1,200 people every Sunday at two Spanish-speaking services. Awana meets on Sunday mornings, though the church is switching Awana to Friday nights to reach more children in the community. About 140 kids attend each week.
“Jonatan has an exciting passion for Awana,” said Ken Hoffmeyer, an Awana missionary in New England. “I am very impressed with his desire to reach the boys and girls at his church and in the Boston area. The Awana leaders are responding wholeheartedly to his leadership. I believe God will continue to do great things through Jonatan.”
Reaching out to Hispanics
Jaime Cortez, director of the Awana Hispanic ministry team in New England, serves as head of Awana at Iglesia La Esperanza in Providence, Rhode Island. He met Jonatan and recruited him to serve in Awana.
“God is really using Jonatan, and the Awana ministry is growing at his church,” Jaime said. “The church is reaching the community.”
“Ministering to a Hispanic community whose children are growing up in a bilingual setting can be challenging,” Jonatan said. “At first, given that our children grew up speaking Spanish at home, we offered Awana in Spanish.
“Later, we discovered that most of their learning and understanding at school occurs in English, so we switched to the English Awana curriculum. This way we felt our children could better understand God’s Word and share it with their non-Hispanic friends.
“As important as Spanish is to our culture, our goal remains to teach the Word of God, not to teach Spanish. Some of the leaders are first-generation immigrants. They use some of the Awana Spanish resources. Everyone involved is able to enjoy a fun and edifying environment that allows us to grow.”
‘Doing what I love most’
Jonatan is grateful for the opportunity to implement head knowledge into hands-on ministry training.
“Awana keeps me going and is like my little church,” Jonatan said. “It is an exciting journey. I am truly blessed. I am very grateful to have found a diverse community of believers who embrace me and empower me to grow, encouraging me to do what I love the most: working with children.”
The blessing of godly parents
For several years, Jonatan’s father served as an associate pastor at a church in the Dominican Republic. His family life revolved around church activities, and his mom has served in children’s ministry for many years.
“My mom made a big impact on my life,” Jonatan described. “She modeled for me the Christian life and was excited about her faith. She didn’t force it on me.
“Now I can model what I’ve learned from my parents to other kids and pass on my enthusiasm and love for God’s Word.”
Bringing the church and parents together
As the oldest child and only boy growing up with two sisters, Jonatan took seriously his big brother role. Living so far away is challenging at times. He gets back home about once a year. But he carries a heavy burden for his sisters.
“We grew up under the same roof in a Christian home, but my sisters abandoned their faith in high school,” Jonatan said. “It’s hard for me to understand why they didn’t get it and why their faith didn’t stick. I pray that God will continue to water the seeds that have been planted in my sisters’ hearts.
“It’s a burden I carry and a message I want to share with the parents around me. The church exists to partner with parents to make a difference in kids’ lives. Parents are the most influential people in their children’s lives and bear the responsibility of raising them in God’s ways.”
‘God has protected me’
Jonatan relates to Joseph of the Old Testament. He is grateful that God has led his life and allowed him to be a modern-day Joseph.
“I love Joseph of the Old Testament,” Jonatan said. “I love that while being in essence a Jew, regardless of his trials and tribulations, he embraced the foreign culture he lived in without compromising his values. I moved to the United States to a new culture. I have embraced it without compromising my values.
“Like Joseph, I’ve been protected from so much. God has protected me, and I thank Him for that.”
Building an enduring faith in the hearts of children
One area of passion that God has given Jonatan is reaching out to inner-city kids, who he calls “the forgotten ones.”
“What I’ve seen with some of these kids is a real lack of structure in their home life,” Jonatan said. “Some of the parents at our church are so thankful and have shared that with the structure and fun of Awana, their kids are really impacted for Christ and their grades improve in school. I’ve seen real positive results.
“They’re so hungry for God. I just want to reach out to them and prevent them from more suffering.”
‘Willing and available’
Jonatan plans to stay in the U.S. after seminary graduation. He hopes God will use his training and heart for children’s ministry to work in full-time ministry as a children’s pastor at a local church.
“I know that Awana is a great tool to reach children,” Jonatan explained. “Children’s ministry is where my heart is, and I know how important it is in the church. I am willing and available to do whatever God wants me to and wherever God may lead me after I graduate.”