Surprising, faithful God led Cano to advocate for women ministers
By Marv Knox
God has often surprised—but never disappointed—Anyra Cano.
God prompted her to overhear the gospel and drew her to faith. God beckoned her and accepted her back when she strayed away. God gave her the job of her dreams and told her to give it up. God guided her back to an old friend who became her husband. God taught her to advocate on behalf of underdogs and the disposed. God woke her up in middle of the night and told her to pursue a job she helped create for somebody else. And now God has made her the leading Baptist proponent for female ministers in Texas.
Since Sept. 1, Cano has been coordinator of Texas Baptist Women in Ministry, a job that’s brand-new, and not just to her. She’s also youth minister at Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, where her husband, Carlos, is pastor. And she’s the academic coordinator for the Christian Latina Leadership Institute.
So, God also gave her the surprising energy to juggle three part-time jobs, each capable of absorbing full-time focus.
Cano took her first step toward God as a “nosy” 9-year-old. She attended Northgate Baptist Church in El Paso, where her father was the janitor. When a deacon explained salvation to her older sister, Claudia, Cano hid behind furniture and listened in. “That’s when I knew I wanted to follow Jesus,” she remembered.
Four years later, “I sensed God’s calling on my life for vocational ministry,” she said. So, setting a pattern that continues today, she got busy. She worked in her church’s youth ministry and helped with children’s church, taught children in an apartment complex and participated in summer missions projects.
“At school, I was known as the Jesus freak,” Cano confessed. “I was very passionate.”
But that ardor for her Savior faded shortly after she graduated from high school. “But then God reminded me of my calling,” she said. So, she prepared for ministry. She attended Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary, now known as Baptist University of the Américas.
In San Antonio, the busybody got busy. She joined Student Council, which she led as president her senior year. She also participated in missions projects and served as youth leader at First Baptist Church in Elmendorf.
After graduation, Cano contemplated attending Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University and also considered a job offer from Buckner International, based in Dallas. “Both were attractive possibilities,” she recalled. “But I was happy to be out of school and excited to go into ministry.”
So, in 2005, she accepted her ideal job and became missions coordinator for Buckner. She led more than 30 mission teams to orphanages in Guatemala and Peru during the next couple of years. Then she became an international adoption coordinator and spent several years helping orphans from Guatemala and Ethiopia find permanent families.
Along the way, love blossomed, and she married Carlos—her former classmates at BUA. In the spring of 2008, he became pastor of Victoria en Cristo, and she started serving as the volunteer children’s minister.
Soon, the church asked her to become the youth minister, at about the same time she started working on a master’s degree in global missions leadership at Dallas Baptist University. Her busybody tendencies powered her to maintain a full-time job in Dallas, go to school full time and fulfill her part-time duties at her church in Fort Worth.
But then God wrote a surprise into her life’s equation. “The Lord called me to quit Buckner,” she explained. “I didn’t want to do it. But to build the youth ministry and to be part of the community in Fort Worth, that was the only way.
“That was a big struggle, though. I was a woman in ministry, with a responsible position and a good salary, at least for a non-profit, and the prestige of working for Buckner, a respected ministry. I felt God was taking all that away.”
Although Cano accepted a couple of short-term assignments with Buckner, she made the switch.
Then a mega church came courting. Leaders asked her to be the huge congregation’s missions coordinator, a possibility beyond her previous dreams. And they said she could keep on ministering to the youth at Victoria en Cristo.
“Two days before the start, the elders said they didn’t want to take me away from the youth at my church,” she reported. “I felt like a door God opened was slammed shut. That was a big heartbreak.”
Still, without prompting, God began giving her new surprises—opportunities to lead mission trips, to teach, to write curriculum. And the church’s youth ministry grew, both with students and with new lay leaders.
Prompted by Executive Director Nora Lozano, Cano enrolled in the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, designed to cultivate Latina and Latina-at-heart leaders.
That connection led to another surprising leadership opportunity—to join the board of Texas Baptist Women in Ministry.
Meanwhile, a conversation with Rick McClatchy, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas, led to another surprise. He introduced her to Stephen Reeves, director of advocacy and partnerships for CBF Global, who asked her to help teach churches to oppose payday lending, with its predatory practices that hurt the poor.
“A lot of opportunities opened up in Hispanic churches,” Cano said. And since she already was speaking in those churches, McClatchy asked her to promote both women in ministry and CBF.
“When you start to collaborate with people, the Lord puts opportunities in your life,” she observed. “I got to do the things I am most passionate about—youth ministry, advocacy and missions.”
After Cano graduated from the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, the organization asked her to join the staff as academic coordinator—“a part-part-time job,” she said—and that enabled her to train other Latinas in the issues that matter most to her.
Her CBF advocacy job morphed to include working with missionaries and staff to develop immigration advocacy resources for congregations and to train church members to push for “a permanent solution for DREAMers”—undocumented residents brought to the United States as children.
This past year, Cano served Texas Baptist Women in Ministry as its chair when the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation provided a grant to create a part-time coordinator. “We needed more momentum,” she explained of the new position.
“Although I am passionate about women in ministry, I wasn’t interested in the coordinator position,” she noted. “But God kept waking me up at 3 in the morning, thinking about what’s next for Texas BWIM.”
By then, Cano was no stranger to God’s surprises. So, she opened up to the possibility. She resigned from the board “to make things more transparent,” applied for the job, interviewed with the search committee, and became Texas BWIM’s first staff leader this fall.
So far, she’s worked on administration, upgraded communication, spoken at meetings and led a board retreat to plan for 2019.
Texas BWIM engages both women and men “to inspire, connect, advocate for and affirm women in ministry,” Cano said.
Its immediate goals are to:
• Affirm women for any vocational ministry—not just as pastors or preachers, but for any ministerial calling.
• Develop a network of chaplains, providing them with resources and encouragement.
• Conduct regional events in parts of the state—East Texas, West Texas and South Texas—where the organization does not have a strong regional presence. Texas BWIM also plans a retreat for college and seminary students in the fall.
“We’re trying to inspire churches to realize there is a part of the body of Christ that is ready to work and expand the gospel—and it’s not being tapped into,” Cano said. “We want to provide models for young girls to see it’s culturally normal for women to hold these positions.”
The next fulfillment of a divine surprise will occur Jan. 19, when Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo ordains Cano to the gospel ministry.
For more information, write firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 7309, Fort Worth, TX 76111, or call (469) 431-2253.