I am honoured to count Manny Ortiz as one of my friends. He is a remarkable man. As well as being Professor of Urban Mission at Westminster Seminary, he is also pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship (a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church) in the Hunting Park district of Philadelphia. He is a great theologian, a warm-hearted pastor, a passionate preacher, and a godly Christian. But above all, he has a great sense of humour.
When I arrived in Philadelphia in 2000, Manny and his wife, Blanca, along with their best friends, Sue and Randy Baker, took me to an Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia (Rocky’s neighbourhood) where all the waiting staff were frustrated and unspotted opera stars who gave impressive renderings of well-known arias. The highlight of the evening was when Manny gave one of the waiters a generous tip in exchange for his performance of “Danny Boy” in my honour. What a great night it was!
I preached for Manny on the first Sunday his congregation had to hold two services in their building because of the growing numbers. The congregation is multi-ethnic and the worship has a distinctly Latino flavour. At the end of one service, after I had preached, and as is their normal custom, Manny invited anyone who wanted prayer to come forward and kneel at the front. One man came forward, knelt at the front and as the congregation sang the last song, Manny prayed with him. After he had prayed, Manny sidled over to me on the front pew. “It’s fantastic, Stafford,” he whispered, “this man wants to commit his life to Christ.” I felt wonderful and thought how great it is that God should use my preaching in such a marvellous way. But before the song had finished, Manny was back at my side whispering again, “By the way, Stafford, he’s a Spanish speaker. Probably didn’t understand a word of your sermon!”
This week I received a gift from Manny and Sue Baker. It is a copy of a festschrift in honour of Manny and edited by Sue. It’s entitled “Globalisation and its Effects on Urban Mission in the 21st Century”. More of that to come.