Working on Purpose

03/06/2014 .
Karen Koczwara  .  Storyteller

Four years ago, at the peak of an economic crisis, Rommel Manio did the unthinkable. He left behind a job he loved, not knowing when he’d find work again. After 16 years in the retail business, Rommel had obtained security and success, but he knew it was time to move on. While many Americans scrambled to find employment during bleak times, Rommel held on for the ride of his life.

Though Rommel had given his life to Christ as a young man, he did not regularly attend church. After marrying, he lived a block away from Saddleback Church and visited a handful of times. Feeling a bit a bit lost in the large crowd, however, he eventually stopped going. He revisited Saddleback after going through a divorce and plugged into the church’s 20’s and 30’s group. This time, he connected with ease and found he had a natural gift for engaging with others. The 20’s and 30’s pastor, Chris, took notice and asked Rommel to take charge of certain activities, eventually increasing his responsibilities.

“We should talk about you being a pastor someday,” Pastor Chris told Rommel. “You have a pastor’s heart, and you’re so good at talking with people.”

Me? A pastor? Rommel wondered, mulling over the idea.

Rommel attended Class 301 at Saddleback, where he learned about his SHAPE. During his SHAPE interview, leaders helped Rommel hone in on his gifts. Though he hosted a small group, Rommel hadn’t given much consideration to serving at church. But Pastor Chris’ words echoed in his mind. I’ve never considered my ability to connect with people a gift, Rommel realized. I’ve always just been myself. But maybe God does have more for me here at Saddleback.

Rommel began volunteering at church one day a week and enjoyed it immensely. He eventually began serving more, helping plan events. Meanwhile, he put in long hours managing at a retail store. Though he loved meeting, training, and developing people at work, he grew uncomfortable with certain corporate practices as the economy worsened. His six-year-old daughter, whom he had custody of half the week, disliked him being gone so much. Rommel felt torn, wanting to spend quality time with his daughter while also investing at the church. As things worsened at work, Rommel decided to take a leap of faith and quit his job.

Full-time ministry and fatherhood became Rommel’s primary priorities. His daughter was thrilled to have him around, and Rommel was happy to devote more time to volunteering at church. But money soon grew tight. Rommel moved back in with his parents and struggled to pay his mounting bills. His car broke down on Christmas Eve, leaving him without a working vehicle. Still, he trusted in God, convinced he’d made the right decision. Friends and strangers stepped up, blessing him with gift cards and money at the least expected times. The church’s benevolence ministry also helped. Rommel was touched by the generosity.

The more time he spent at church, the more Rommel saw himself working there someday. In the meantime, several companies offered him jobs, and he turned them all down. He did not tell anyone, however, as he knew they might think he was foolish for passing up such opportunities. I know those jobs would have taken me away from my top priorities, and I have to stay focused, Rommel told himself.

When an administration position opened up at the church, Rommel eagerly applied. But he did not land the job, as those hiring did not believe the position fit his SHAPE. Rommel knew he could have done the job well, but he respected their intuition. He continued to trust in God to provide all his needs, even as the money in his wallet slowly dwindled.

During his time of unemployment, Rommel met the woman who would become his wife. He was upfront with her about his financial situation. “I said, ‘I have no car and no job. I live with my parents, and I’m a single dad.’ To my surprise, she still wanted to date me!” Rommel borrowed his mother’s car for the date, and he paid for their coffee using a gift card someone had blessed him with. The two hit it off and eventually married.

Rommel took advantage of every moment of unemployment, knowing he would have missed out on certain opportunities if working full time. And then, in a period of three weeks, things took a remarkable turn. The church donated him a car, and he began a ten-hour-a-week job as a small groups team leader at Saddleback. He then landed a job as a leasing consultant for a prominent Orange County real estate company.  Rommel loved helping people find a new home and found he had a knack for sales. Many people had lost their homes in the recession and were forced to downsize to an apartment. He understood their plight, as he too, had endured financial struggles. He grew comfortable at his new job, but God had yet another plan for him.

“I have a position for you here at the church,” Rommel’s friend told him one day. “I know you are happy where you’re at and just received a promotion, but I’d love for you to apply here.”

Rommel was thrilled. His heart’s desire was to someday work full-time at Saddleback Church. He applied and landed the position, Pastor of Guest Services and manager of the church’s bookstore. Nearly two decades in the retail field as a salesperson and manager had prepared him for this position. At last, Rommel would get the chance to serve God and others while implementing his God-given SHAPE.

Rommel enjoyed running the bookstore and learned that all its profits went directly to the benevolence fund. This excited him, as the benevolence fund had been a blessing to him during his time of unemployment. He grew passionate about growing the bookstore, and the sales soon tripled. As Pastor of Guest Services, Rommel enjoyed preparing for weekend services, helping organize greeters, ushers, traffic directors and other volunteers. If a large event occurred, he helped organize that as well. But his favorite part of the job entailed talking to people.

“I love creating events that help people connect and get to know each other, “Rommel says. “I seek out folks who are alone, talk to them for a few minutes, then connect them with others and move on.” He adds that his job at Saddleback is one hundred percent tailor made for him. “It’s as if they designed the job and knew I’d get here eventually,” he laughs. “People constantly remind me this job is the perfect fit for my SHAPE.”

As he reflects on his time of transition and unemployment, Rommel remains thankful for all God taught him. “I never surrendered to God so much as when I was unemployed,” he says.  “God knew when I had a dollar left in my wallet. I had to trust in him. I couldn’t worry about my bills not being paid or my credit being shot.”

As many still face unemployment and job transition, Rommel wishes to encourage them. “Seek God, see what he wants you to do. He created us and loves us, and he has a plan for our lives. Use your time of unemployment to serve.”

Rommel relies on Isaiah 41:10 as his life verse. “So do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Though now happily married, enjoying his dream job at Saddleback Church, Rommel knows life is full of uncertainty. He continues to put his full trust in God, leaning on him in both good and bad times.

Rommel says he never would have seen himself working as a pastor of a church. But now he can’t ever see himself working anywhere else. He has truly found his dream job. “I serve a team that serves a church. It can’t get much better than that,” he says with a smile.

Click here to discover your SHAPE in Class 301 

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