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InterVarsity Alumni - Dennis Ortega
May 12, 2006
Over twenty years ago Dennis Ortega was finishing his education at the University of California at Irvine. He had a double major in pre-med and engineering. He was prepared to make his family proud as he moved into the mainstream of the American dream. Then, Dennis decided to spend the summer after graduation serving the people of the inner city, where he tutored students and learned how much God cares for the poor.
The summer ended, and Dennis had no job or even a place to stay. As he thought about his position and what he had learned in the previous weeks, Dennis heard God speaking to him. “God seemed to say to me, ‘I’ve been keeping you to work in the heart of the barrio,’” Dennis said. “I knew that God would have to prepare me, because I was raised in the suburbs. I distance myself from low-riders, hair nets, and gangs because I was not proud of that part of my culture. While praying and fasting, I got a vision for how God would have me work with kids and transform the community.”
With that vision, Dennis developed a ministry in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. He set up a tutoring and after-school program for the kids in the area, offering the local students help with their school work, a male role model, and hope for the future. Over the years, some local students have been in the program all the way from kindergarten to high school graduation. Young people from the community have gone on to college. The neighborhood has experienced less crime.
But Dennis sees his ministry as encompassing more than the people of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. He brings college students from UCLA and Occidental College into the neighborhood to help with the tutoring program. In the process, the college students learn how they can express God’s love and care for the people of the Lincoln Heights community. Dennis also believes that he is giving them a more complete college education. “A college education should teach an individual to be a better citizen, to serve the community, and not think only of one’s own advancement,” he said.
After all these years, Dennis looks back on his decision to forgo the stability and financial rewards of a career in medicine or engineering, and he is satisfied with his decision. His skills in organization and the drive that led him to an interest in medicine are being used. “People who go into medicine want to see people healed, and I have spent twenty years helping to heal the people in this neighborhood. In addition, if I went into medicine, I was willing to be available 24/7, and that has been my schedule in this job.”
God did indeed prepare Dennis to work in the barrio, and Dennis was willing to follow the calling that he had from God. As a result, many lives have been transformed, and God has been glorified.