Taking Young Life to the Inner City

PabloPablo Otaola ’06 had just left the Air Force and was praying at a church retreat when he heard God’s voice. “It was so clear,” he says. “‘You are going to Westmont.’ But I’d never heard of it—my father had to tell me about Westmont.”

Pablo’s parents graduated from college in Argentina, where his fat h er ear n ed a master’s in network engineer- ing. With a work permit and $200, he moved his family to Lompoc, Calif.—and got a job at Pizza Hut cleaning bathrooms. Eventually, the county hired him as a network engineer.

“Immigration is traumatic emotionally and mentally,” Pablo says. “It’s a miracle I graduated from Westmont as I was navigating something so foreign. Thankfully, my professors were my advocates. I met my wife there and loved it.” He majored in religious studies and served as the youth pastor at his father’s church in Isla Vista.

A college internship with Young Life (YL) led to a job as area director in Chicago, a world away from Lompoc. “Having a passion for the poor Latino community I grew up with helped me,” Pablo says. “My dad has planted three churches for them, and I soon realized the urban poor overlap a lot with the undocumented poor.

“I want to help people understand how immigrants struggle,” he says. “I never saw myself reflected in anything I learned about faith until I thought of Jesus as an immigrant in our world, rejected and crucified. Then I found an image of God I could relate to deep in my soul. I tell Latino YL kids Jesus was an immigrant just like them.”

Pablo loved working with kids. “I never clocked out,” he says. But after three years, he wanted to do more. “I developed a holistic vision for healthy urban families. I see YL as a platform to create collaborative partnerships supporting kids from sixth grade through age 30.”

Pablo takes a community-development approach to YL, preaching Christ and meeting immediate needs. He helps start businesses that employ kids, such as designing T-shirts. He’s working on a condo-ownership program requiring two years of financial counseling while tenants pay rent that turns into a down payment. He sees a need for free counseling to help overcome abuse and drug use.

Six partnerships with local churches have boosted his ministry, and he promotes such arrangements. “Being a pastor’s kid has given me a high regard for the local church,” he says. “I think ministries like Young Life should pool their resources with churches.”

Urban gentrification has pushed poor populations into suburbs. Pablo established Young Life Horizons to teach cultural intelligence and help staff be more sensitive to Latino students everywhere. He also started a program training Latino students as full-time YL staff.

Pablo is completing both an MBA and a master’s in spiritual formation at North Park Seminary. “I can’t do ministry without being in some kind of business,” he says. He has worked as a part-time web designer for years to supplement his salary, which he raises.

Pablo now serves YL in southwest Denver, which is 91 percent Latino. He and his wife, Anna Kershaw Otaola ’06, are raising their two sons there. “We love the city and have a heart for it,” he says.

 

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