By Anyra Cano
El Paso, Texas, is “home” to me. It is where I was born and raised; it is where Jesus became my Lord and Savior; where I received my ministerial calling; started ministry; and where I have my earliest and fondest memories. It is also the place where I find my favorite chiles rellenos, enchiladas, and flautas.
The first weekend of September I went “home”. My current church decided to take a “short” mission trip to serve the church where I came from. I knew it would be a different kind of trip of “going home.”
It was different in that it was the first time in two years I had not returned (since my mother passed away). I didn’t know what to expect from the city I left the day after it suffered the horrendous shooting at the Wal-Mart. Different also because it would be the first time I would return and not stay at my childhood home.
To be honest, I was nervous to go back, afraid of not knowing what it would be like after two years, the longest I have ever been away.
When I arrived, I observed much change, I wasn’t sure to embrace or to run from it. The mountains, the ones I jokingly claim are mine, were not brown, they were green! There were new businesses and new housing developments. I also sensed a different sentiment in the city, one of solidarity, of helping and protecting each other.
I too am different. The biggest difference was coming home as a new parent.
As I took in the beauty of the mountains and the sunsets, and all the changes, I realized I was happy and proud to be “home.” Going home helps me to never forget where I came from. It reminds me where God has taken me, and that brings me hope for what is to come.
Sunday, we attended the church we served. It is the church that supported me during my years of college as I equipped myself for ministry. It is also the church that prayed over me and embraced me after a difficult season. The church where my mom loved to serve and was ministered to.
I was asked to share a few words with the congregation and when I did, I expressed my gratitude for them. God had allowed me to go back and give back to the church I came from. I shared that we must never forget our roots and never forget those who formed us along the way.
Whenever I begin to reminisce about where I am from, or where God has taken me, there is a story that comes to my mind about those who forget where they come from. It is found in Mark 8:33, where the Jews and Pharisees are questioning Jesus’ identity and his audacity to say he had the power to set them free. After listening to Jesus, they replied, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
I hit a concrete wall every time I think of these men truly questioning if they had ever been slaves. We know that narrative, the Israelites were made captive many times. God would rescue them, exhort them to never forget where they were and how they were delivered, and to follow God’s way. Nevertheless, they would forget and repeatedly fall into slavery for not following what God had commanded them to do.
There is danger in forgetting the past, as philosopher George Santayana cautions us, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Bible also emphasizes the importance of not forgetting the past. God warned the Israelites, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
Our identity is formed by our past. Many times, it may not be the best past, and we may want to forget it. As painful or joyful as it could have been, our past helps mold and informs our future. It can be a key in helping us not to fall back into captivity or to keep us firm in following God’s direction in our life.
As leaders, I want to suggest a few benefits of never forgetting our past:
- It helps us stay humble. It reminds us that we have not arrived where we are alone, and there is still a long road ahead of us. Staying humble produces gratitude towards those who have helped us, encouraged us, given us wisdom, exhorted us, and lifted us. We can remain humble in acknowledging that if we failed in the past, we could do so again.
- It encourages us and causes us to become proud of our identity, as we look back and see our transformation and growth. Occasionally as leaders we are the hardest on ourselves, we get caught up in our current struggles, however looking back helps us realize, “I’ve come a long way, if I accomplished so much in my past, what more can I do now.”
- It teaches us to look forward. Our past can give us new insight into the changes happening around us and the benefit of them. As leaders we know that changes are inevitable. Seeing changes can bring new perspectives, creativity, and ideas of how to embrace or challenge the changes happening around us.
- It produces greater gratitude and love towards God. We are reminded that God has been there every step of the way and continues to be there. That God will unconditionally and lovingly carry us through our future. God is our constant in all the changes around us.
When was the last time you went “back home” or reminisced about your past? Today I invite you to look back, “go home” and never forget. I know it may be a challenging invitation, but
if you accept it, you may find a real blessing, as I did.
Anyra Cano is the Academic Coordinator of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, Youth Minister at Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, TX and Coordinator for the Texas Baptist Women in Ministry.
This is a picture of Anyra on top of the mountains in El Paso, TX.