Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Pastor Marco Estrada, a former casino cook, now enjoys cooking for his congregation.

Marco Estrada: Casino Cook Turns Pastor

Story by Edwin Manuel Garcia

Marco Estrada had no idea he would end up being a pastor. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “my dream was to be a soldier.” But God had other plans. Estrada, who was raised Catholic, immigrated to Atlantic City, N.J., from Mexico at the age of 15, and worked as a cook at a casino for 14 years. After enlisting in the Lord’s Army, he decided to return to Mexico to attain his bachelor’s degree in Theology from Montemorelos University.

He has been a pastor the last seven years in New Jersey Conference’s Camden Spanish church, where he still enjoys using his culinary skills to cook meals for the congregation.

Second-career pastors are becoming more common across the North American Division and the Columbia Union Conference. In fact, about one-third of students enrolled at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Mich., are studying to be pastors after leaving another career, says Ivan L. Williams, Sr., director of the division’s Ministerial Association.

The number of these non-traditionally trained pastors is increasing as fewer undergraduate students study theology and newer converts abandon their careers to enter the ministry.

Gene Donaldson, ministerial director and chief recruiter of pastors for the Allegheny East Conference, says at least a quarter of the 120 full-time pastors from the conference came from different careers, and they are enriching their churches, a similar statistic to other conferences.

He appreciates their maturity level. Most people who become second-career pastors “are usually very clear about the fact that they feel the Lord has called them,” Donaldson says.


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