[dropcap3]T[/dropcap3]here are many people who are defined by just one aspect of their person, career, or accomplishments. Manny Ortiz is not that kind of person. Manny’s work and life experiences could be divided into three parts—but that’s just it: they’re not. He is a pastor; he preaches and shepherds the flock at Spirit and Truth Fellowship in the Hunting Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is a missionary; he has been involved in church planting ministries in Puerto Rico, Chicago, Philadelphia, and around the world, both directly and through those he has mentored. He is a scholar; he teaches, administrates, and advises students at Westminster Theological Seminary, and publishes books and articles in academic and popular publications. But these three aspects of Manny Ortiz are so completely intertwined that it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart.
This kind of intertwining only happens when all aspects of life are centered on Christ and His Word. Manny became a Christian at age 30 on Long Island, NY. He had served in the Marines, married his wife Blanca, and was working to support his growing family. After coming to know Christ, Manny enrolled at then PCB. It was during his time as a student that Manny learned the Bible. He was challenged to see it as the center of all he would do in life.
From college, Manny and Blanca followed God as He providentially led them step by step. They planted a church in Puerto Rico, and then were led to Chicago to plant urban churches. For the next 14 years they worked in the city, and God used the experiences they had there to help Manny develop a biblical approach to urban missions. After Chicago, they came to Philadelphia to continue the ministry: planting churches, starting Christian schools, and ministering the love and good news of Jesus to the people of the city.
“In God’s providence, I was born in one of the largest cities in our nation, New York,” Manny says. “God placed me in a diverse community as I grew up. When I became a Christian I saw that as a part of the mission God had for me. I’m comfortable in the city, but that is not what mandates where I go. Rather, it’s because there are so many people there. God has put so many people in the city, and there’s a great need. Cities are growing; cities are about people. And Christ died for people.”
Manny doesn’t just pastor a church in a city neighborhood. He is a part of the community, modeling to his congregation and his students a whole-life investment into ministry. As he was taught, so he teaches, investing in the lives of those around him. His commitment to faithfully and accurately teaching and demonstrating the gospel is central to his work.
In the academic world, Manny is well-respected. He has authored books, written scholarly articles, and made a significant contribution to the academic community in the fields of urban ministry, missions, and mercy ministries. Lloyd Gestoso, Chair of the Department of Social Work at PBU says, “Manny has achieved much professional success; he has the credentials and reputation to be an authority, but he’s committed to not holding onto or exerting power. Rather, he loves those around him with a spirit of authenticity and transparency.”
As he has worked in America’s urban areas, Manny has continued to have a global vision. Spirit and Truth Fellowship is a somewhat rare church that truly reflects the diversity of the body of Christ. The congregation is made up of individuals from different races, economic levels, and languages. Together, they are committed to Christ and the Word, to raising leaders from all races and economic levels, and to planting churches with that ethos.
Manny and Blanca’s lives mirror this integrated philosophy. They invest in the lives of the people surrounding them, inviting people into their home. For years, their home has been a haven for people to come, share their lives, eat good food, and be cared for with compassion and the truth of Scripture. “The call of the gospel is to disciple people. Christ was a great example of that,” Manny says. “It connects to the idea of developing indigenous leaders all the time, making ministry helpful in context. I begin in the local community, and then the ripples of relationship go further.”
Manny encourages believers to reach beyond the four walls of the church or the academic tower and to interact with the community around them and around the world. Spirit and Truth Fellowship has started schools and community ministries. “I think it’s crucial for us to be kingdom centered; if we are, we’re going to be very comprehensive in how we see society in all its layers. People are not just souls, they’re complex. The gospel can speak to all aspects of people – intellectual, physical, social, spiritual. We have a gospel that reaches the total person.” Manny works with those who are skilled teachers, administrators, medical professionals, and counselors and helps them to catch his vision for the poor and for the city. Many of the people he has mentored throughout the years have done so, and have moved into the city to live and serve among those who are in need.
Key to it all, though, is Manny’s commitment to Christ and His Word. “One of the things I got from PBU is that the authority of scripture is fundamental and foundational. We are in a mission context in the 21st Century, rather than a church context. It’s important that every church reaches out to the multitudes. We have a gospel that can do it and can do it all.”
[framed_box]Carrie Givens, M.A., has been a Communications Specialist at PBU since 2009 and an Adjunct Faculty member in the School of Arts and Sciences since 2008.