Ramon Pastrano IV is the CEO-President of ImpactLives. Not only does he help organizations create a culture that honors people and fosters creativity and collaboration, he also provides leadership training and leads mission trips. This is how he got started.
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Where and what people do you primarily serve?
At the national local level I serve faith based groups-churches, businesses, non profit organizations, government, education and social services enterprises. At the international level, we serve people in about 15 countries in 4 continents.
How do you serve those people?
Through our laboratory for social responsibility and innovation (national and international), we combine transformational leadership training and education, with service learning experiences and work of social justice. At our core we are about helping people and organizations understand who they are; and how they can use their unique talents to serve, meet needs, and lead others in a positive way. We believe that if people understand who they are, others around them, and why they do what they do, they will be more effective in all relationships and be inspired to meet communities' needs through social innovation, social justice and freedom.
We achieve this by guiding individuals, groups, and organizations through carefully designed leadership development experiences that help them become change agents. Through our work we help people identify who they are and combine that knowledge with their passions and values in ways that empower them to establish and achieve a vision for their own lives, and create the conditions for others to achieve the same. This is sustainability; empowering and helping others become the person that God created them to be.
When did you begin to realize that you had a heart for missions or ministry?
I found myself on a short term mission trip in the middle of the sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic. This is where I grew up. However, this time I was in the company of wealthy Americans trying to meet the (assumed) physical and spiritual needs of poor Dominicans and Haitians refugees living in the Bateyes. No one had any idea about what they were doing, but they were doing it in the name of Christ. It became obvious to me that the leaders of these Christians organizations were sending untrained people to carry out such missions. The needs targeted by this group were interpreted as individual deficiencies rather than as symptomatic of larger contextual problems. This was the typical response to a need as a deficiency (the need is seen as individual problem only and not as an issue resulting from a system or context in which the individual cannot meet that need him or herself), the person who fills the need becomes more powerful than the recipients and so the latter are devalued or demeaned.
In the process, I became frustrated and hopeless. What right do we have to enter into people lives, arrive unannounced, create more chaos in their lives, and then leave?
How and when did God lead you to this? How did you recognize His call?
When I expressed my frustration and hopelessness to my friend and pastor, he looked at me straight into my eyes and asked me, “what are you going to do about it?” at first, I thought he was kidding, but then the question was fried at me a second time. Up to this point I have never considered the fact that perhaps I was supposed to be doing something about it. Prayerfully and Critically reflecting on that question changed my path in life.
After a short time I attended seminary and soon after was invited into the emerging leaders program where I earned my doctorate in Global and Contextual Leadership. During the same 8 years my ministry was born and took shape
Did you have a clear and measurable goal for ministry?
I believe that I have always had a clear and measurable goal for ministry. In fact, it is very similar to the biblical model introduced by Jesus. The name of the game is “Transformation.” But, not as traditionally defined. Transformation is not merely an extension of, or improvement over the past but is an actual change from the past. The change may be spontaneous or gradual, dramatic or invisible, radical or moderate. But however the process may be measured and described, by definition it is a departure from the past. Its authenticity is proven if the change is maintained on an internal and external level in the life of an individual and an organization.
The degree and nature of actual transformation will of course be influenced by context and the point in an individual’s or organization’s lifespan and life cycle in which the change occurs. But whatever its degree and nature, change will always involve the heart. Most often transformation includes cognition, but the heart is still the center of all true change. In other words, one cannot think oneself to change but together one’s heart and mind can move the person to change. This is because transformation includes change or modification of foundational structures in the sphere of the subconscious, extending even beyond the realm of consciousness. The Greek word for transformation is “metamorphos,” from which the English word “metamorphosis” comes. Metamorphosis is the process through which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The caterpillar’s transformation provides a metaphor that evokes the idea that change involves the total being, the subconscious heart and all its constituent parts, as well as the thinking faculties.
What would you do differently if you were starting today?
Focus on improving my listening skills. God is always speaking and directing our steps, but we are not always listening.
How do you connect with new partners or supporters and stay connected with your existing partners?
We are a “below the iceberg” or “at the roots” organization. This means that we are addressing issues at the root cause of the problem not at the surface. For this reason many individuals, churches and organizations do not know us. Furthermore, because the complexity of our work and the long and arduous journey of transformation, our partnerships and support is very limited. Unfortunately for us, in our culture there is a seduction with the temporary, quick fixes and instant gratification that makes raising support very difficult. Many churches fall under this category.
For those who partner with us, they become part of the journey. The information flows real time and they are always in the know.”
What books, tools, or resources that are important to doing what you do?
At impactLives we customized all of our trainings and tools. Most of them come from our research. However, in the field of short term mission some of the most recent and powerful tool I have used are: the film “Poverty Inc.” which says exactly what i have been trying to say for the last decade. Books such as “Travesty in Haiti,” When Helping Hurts,” “Toxic Charity,” “Wasted Charity,” and “Dead Aid.” In the Mission and Church Planting there are many great books and tools that could increase the effectiveness of this type work. I used many of them with Ministry and Culture Class.
How do you get ongoing training and coaching?
Currently, I am providing training for many organizations in locally, nationally and overseas. Personally, I receive my coaching from Jesus Himself. I have spent the last three years studying the fullness of Jesus through the Gospels as one of His companion.
What first steps or training would you recommend that others just starting out?
For those who claim a Christian faith, my recommendation is very simple: Read, eat, breath, drink, sleep and live the four Gospels: Know intimately the one that you are going to serve. Receive first, from the one you are going to serve. The most powerful “four letter word” in the bible is the word “WITH.” Mark [3:14] “He appointed twelve that they might be “WITH” him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. Jesus chose Twelves to be “WITH” Him, and this means that before we go out to do anything in his name, we need to go to Him first. It is during that “WITH HIM” time that the disciples learn what Jesus is teaching them. It is during this “WITH HIM” time that they experienced what Jesus says about “I am doing what I see my father in Heaven doing.” Notice also that this “WITH HIM” time, is not just a few hours or days…it could be longer than the three years the disciples spent “WITH HIM.” Keep in mind that Paul himself spent three years in Arabia “WITH HIM” before his ministry began.
I know this is countercultural to a lot of churches who want to send people in short term mission trips to give them “a taste for mission.” But, how can you give what you have not receive? How can you witness about one you don't know? How can you share a gospel you have not experienced?
We must remember those short but powerful remarks that Jesus made: “As the father have sent me, I am sending you, Love one another, as I have loved you.” The implication here is that the only way one can know how he/she is being sent, is by being “WITH HIM.” The only way one can know how to love other is by experiencing first the love of Jesus. And how can one experience the love of Jesus? by being “WITH HIM.”
What is a critical mindset or perspective regarding listening, teachability, flexibility, grace, etc?
Listen from a generative standpoint. This is not easy. Generative listening means that you are listening by connecting with your the heart and mine thus creating the greatest potential for a shift in perspective. Teachability begins with an open mind, which is the ability to suspend judgement and consider/examines multiple perspectives. Regarding grace, we must learn to grant the grace of positive assumptions. Do not refrains from speaking truth or making a judgement call on things that you certainly know are wrong. But when you do, remember to extend the same grace giving to you in Calvary.
Knowing what you know now, would you do it all again?
In a heart beat.