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Innovation Stories

Author of Your Own Faith

Innovative leader Alma Cárdenas-Rodríguez
by Timothy Bowman | April 7, 2022
Innovative leader Alma Cárdenas-Rodríguez
Alma Cárdenas-Rodríguez

Alma Cárdenas-Rodríguez, a 2022 Seeds Fellow, inhabits multiple roles. She is a writer, poet, speaker, mentor, and storyteller from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Alma is a graduate of Fuller Seminary where she now works as an academic advisor. Her hope in ministry is to own a ranch that will be a place for women to dream and connect with their Creator through the land they walk on.

Be the leader you needed

Alma grew up in the Latino Pentecostal community but left the church when she was 18. She experienced very little affirmation in church, which highlighted what was wrong in people instead of affirming what was true and beautiful. She returned to church when she was 21, after a near death experience that brought her closer to God. Sadly, she noted the church had not changed much. Her experience of church was a very controlling environment, not affirming of women. This ultimately led Alma to leadership in youth ministry, then on to seminary. She realized that many youth had the same questions she did. “I wanted to be a leader that affirmed youth.” After 10 years in youth ministry, she discerned that it was time to move on. 

At that time God reminded Alma of a dream she had to write a book about the unpleasant things she had learned and experienced in college and in seminary. She wanted to bring to light the toxic ideas, systems and structures that hurt youth and women of color. Most of 2020 was spent writing and what she created was a book of poetry titled Groanings from the Desert. She hadn’t originally set out to write poetry but found it a powerful and authentic space for her to be able to dream, heal, and pray in ways she couldn’t do orally. “As a woman in faith spaces, I was tired of being asked for my thoughts and opinions and then just being ignored.” She wrote poems in both English and Spanish. Although she was not totally confident in her Spanish, she was surprised by the validation she received for her Spanish-language poems. The women and elders of her community were very affirming of her poetry.

Spaces to dream

Alma realized that the majority of people who were buying her book and reaching out to her were women. She has had opportunities to speak at conferences and lead workshops to “curate spaces for people to mourn, dream, and realize how the gifts they have can contribute to answering the prayers they’re asking God.” Her workshops have been for many people, but now she is feeling particularly called to work with young adult women. Her workshops find structure from Habakkuk, an unlikely source. In the first chapter, Habakkuk is writing a prayer to God about his reality and experiences. In chapter 2 God tells him to write down a vision of what God can do. So Alma asks participants to write a prayer: “What is your prayer to God? What is breaking your heart?” Then, she has them write down how God can answer that prayer. Finally, they write out their gifts and how they can contribute to bringing the vision to life. “You can’t do everything to answer your prayer or bring your vision to life, but you can focus on one thing,” Alma counsels.  

As part of her vision for her ranch, Alma wants to create spaces where women are invited to tell and share their stories and to be authors of their own rhythms. “As we tell our stories, those things we thought were disconnecting us all of a sudden lift like a fog and we realize that we’re more connected than we think.” She sees the ranch as a space where people will unearth what they are passionate about, their gifts, their pain and sorrows. Then they will have permission to dream. 

While the ranch is still in the dream stage of development, Alma’s advice for someone pursuing this kind of ministry is found in the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. She said that growing up she heard pastors say that we are the 4 people who bring paralyzed person to Jesus. But no one had ever suggested that there would be times when we are in the place of the paralytic and need to allow ourselves to be helped. She encourages faith leaders of all kinds to seek the power of a community that is willing to hold them and ask, “Are you willing to be held?”

If you are interested in Alma’s book or would like to connect further, please see her website  https://www.almalizzette.com/

Prayer:

Holy God, we give thanks for those who give us rest. Bless those who create space for others to rest, dream, discern, and grow. Bless Alma in her ministry to young women and may she inspire others. Amen.

About the Author

Timothy Bowman

Timothy is a Luther Seminary graduate, a co-pastor with his wife at Zion Lutheran Church in Stewartville, MN, and a member of the Seeds Project.

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