New Chaplaincy Leader Named
A Venezuelan evangelist staying in the family home proclaimed to a youthful Manuel A. Cordero that God planned for him to be a great preacher.
"I looked at him and said I would rather go to jail," Cordero remembers. "I got spanked by my dad for that."
Cordero's father, an Assemblies of God pastor, opened Caribbean School of the Bible in Puerto Rico. Yet son Manuel repeatedly resisted God's ministry plans, as he switched his studies from engineering to premed to business. Ultimately, Cordero yielded to the Holy Spirit and enrolled in Central Bible College.
On Cordero's first day of studies, he agreed to teach a Spanish-language Bible class at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. That night back in his dorm room, Cordero read Matthew 25:36: "I was in prison and you came to visit me."
"The Lord told me this is what He wanted me to do," Cordero says. "From the Scriptures we see that ministry to the prisoner is dear to the heart of the Lord.
In 1977, Manford "Mannie" Craig, then AG chaplain at the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, offered Cordero an internship at the institution. Cordero went on to have a 23-year federal chaplaincy career, serving as a staff chaplain, supervisory chaplain, and regional chaplain before winding up as assistant to the Bureau of Prisons chief of chaplains in Washington, D.C. Throughout his career, Cordero conducted workshops and seminars around the world on prison ministry, pastoral care, and marriage and family life.
"When I started in correctional ministry it was very much a medical model -- trying to fix people with all sorts of therapies and programs," Cordero says. "The pendulum has swung back to more education and life-skills training. If we want to keep people from returning to prison, it's time to help them develop. Churches need to get involved with those coming out of prison in order for them not to go back."
After he retired from his federal chaplaincy role in 2006, Cordero agreed to fill the vacancy of AG correctional ministries representative from his Colora, Maryland, home. On Wednesday he will assume the post of U.S. Missions senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries, succeeding the retiring Alvin F. Worthley. Cordero is moving to Springfield.
Earlier this month the AG Executive Presbytery approved the appointment of Cordero as the first Hispanic leader of any of the seven AG U.S. Missions "windows." For the time being, Cordero will continue in the role of AG correctional ministries representative.
"I am humbled and appreciative of the honor," says Cordero, 59. "I'm looking forward to what the Lord has for me at this new juncture of ministry. I believe with all my heart that revival is coming to America and chaplaincy is going to be right in the middle of it."
"I fully expect Chaplain Cordero to lead our chaplains into the next phase of their high calling," says Zollie L. Smith Jr., executive director for U.S. Missions. "His passion for the work of our chaplains runs deep, and we are so grateful to have him as part of U.S. Missions' leadership team."
Although honored by the promotion, Cordero isn't surprised. He believes the Lord confirmed as much as he lay near death in an intensive care unit six years ago.
"Just before I got sick I received a word from the Lord that He had greater things for me in the future," Cordero says. "I think this is it. He spared my life for this purpose."
In September 2009, Cordero went to a doctor because of abdominal discomfort. An immediate referral to an oncologist revealed that Cordero had a large tumor encompassing virtually every organ in his upper torso. The tumor kept growing, blocking the nutritive value of food entering his body. Vital fluid from digested food that normally would be distributed throughout his body began to collect in Cordero's abdomen and lungs. In the first draining session, medical personnel took 1½ gallons from his abdomen and another gallon from his lungs.
Physicians in December 2009 identified the cause as aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A feeding tube was placed in Cordero's femoral artery to provide nutrition. Two chest tubes were inserted to enable fluid buildup to be drained daily.
"During the worst of it, I couldn't feel any emotion," Cordero says. "I couldn't sleep."
By prayer and faith, Cordero sensed the Lord's presence and peace -- even as his body continued to decline. Bedridden in the care of an in-home nurse, Cordero passed out and had to be rushed to a hospital in March 2010. Emergency medical technicians didn't think he would survive the ride.
Once hospitalized, doctors offered little hope, and advised Cordero's wife, Christine, to consider removing her husband from life support. They explained that Manuel's body was retaining carbon dioxide and he was slowly being poisoned to death.
But slowly, miraculously, Cordero began to mend. He spent weeks in a recovery center. By June 2010, Cordero triumphantly walked upstairs in his home under his own power. God had fully returned him to complete health.
As senior director of Chaplaincy Ministries, Cordero says he anticipates working closer with colleges; developing additional means for chaplains to enhance continuing education skills such as webinars; increasing the role of chaplaincy assisting the church at large; and working with districts to better equip local congregations.
"The basic structure that Chaplain Worthley is leaving behind is sound," Cordero says. "The department has a good reputation and influence."
Worthley -- Cordero's roommate when they served as chaplains at Leavenworth -- is thrilled that Cordero has been named his successor. He believes Cordero is a visionary who will inspire the confidence of AG chaplains in the field.
"Chaplain Cordero has exemplified Christ's life in action by working diligently wherever he could to assist inmates in receiving proper care," Worthley says. "Manuel exhibits selfless, often sacrificial, commitment to ministry."
Pictured: Manuel Cordero (right) and Zollie Smith, Jr., AGUSM Executive Director (right)