Year in Review Feature: A Wager with God
As a young couple with entrepreneurial dreams, Rudy and Lavonne Blanco chose to trust God with everything He’d given them. The result has been over three decades of fruitful relationships and gospel-inspired generosity.
Rudy Blanco sat in the driver’s seat of his 1988 manual transmission Colt Vista, holding his breath and rubbing at the condensation on the windshield. It was the winter of 1996 and he was driving from Minnesota to North Dakota to visit the second of two prospective clients. He’d just fixed a leaking radiator and asked a stranger in the hotel parking lot for a jump to his battery. When he couldn’t hold in his breath any longer, he leaned his head to the side so he wouldn’t cloud up the glass again. This trip was too important to miss. If these contacts became customers, the sales would lift his newly-incorporated business off the ground.
Rudy’s product was a road and pavement system that he had coded himself. At the time he was launching Pathway Services, he and his wife, Lavonne, had four small children. The Blancos had witnessed God’s faithfulness through many challenges and uncertainties before, and now Rudy trusted that He would prove faithful again. The couple had come to know Him personally in a small church on a hill in Washington around a decade before, and in response to God’s provision, they’d made it their practice to give generously to gospel ministries. Since 2001, The King’s College has been a beneficiary of the generosity and prayer that grow from the Blancos’ relationship with God.
Lavonne Rogelstad grew up near Milwaukie, Oregon, with two younger brothers in a Lutheran family. Her father was a high school math teacher. Rudy Blanco was raised in Cartago, Costa Rica, in a home with only three beds for the family’s four boys. To supplement his family’s minimal income, Rudy worked as an altar boy, sometimes for up to four masses a day. At this point, Rudy didn’t believe in God, but each time the New Testament passage was read, he felt a spiritual hunger. Lavonne came to Costa Rica in 1976 to learn Spanish while she was finishing high school. She and Rudy married six years later and would go on to raise seven children, three adopted.
Alongside Rudy’s spiritual longing was an ambition to be a business owner. First he and Lavonne tried making and selling carrot cakes, but the long days of grating carrots took a toll, and they gave up. Rudy’s sister had a break-in at her house, so he turned to house alarm systems as his next business attempt. When they went off at three in the morning because of a malfunction and not a break-in, he decided it was time to move on to the next idea.
In 1986, Rudy and Lavonne moved their growing family from Costa Rica to Oregon to seek new business opportunities in the States. “By now I did believe God existed,” so Rudy decided to make a wager with Him. In his book, Mapping the Road to Your Destiny, he recalls the prayer that he made: “I’ll give You ten years to do something with my life. I want my own business, but I don’t know what to do. Will You help me?” After this prayer, Rudy says that he sensed God working within him.
The next step in this journey was conversion. They had been attending a Catholic church in Spokane, Washington, but at the time, their understanding of God was missing the component of a relationship with God. When friends invited them to a nearby Protestant church, Rudy says he met the Lord for the first time. Because of her family’s faith, Lavonne had always known Christ, but she says that shortly before Rudy came to believe, “I had a renewal and the Word of God came alive to me.”
As they learned more about God and the Bible, Rudy asked God another question. “Can you show me what it means to live by faith?” On top of his regular employment, Rudy would occasionally work side jobs like computer maintenance for friends. The Blancos decided to reserve 50 percent of this extra income to give away to people in need. Then, while they were living in Spokane, Rudy received word from his employer: finances were tight, and they could not continue to pay him. He could either quit or temporarily work without a salary. Rudy chose to work without pay for half the year, but as side jobs came in, he and Lavonne kept their promise to God. The Blancos continued to give half of that “extra” income away, although it was their only income at the time. Yet their needs never went unmet.
Several years later, after starting Pathway Services, the Blancos needed $200,000 to purchase equipment necessary to fill their first contracts. Their church’s food pantry was providing their macaroni and cheese dinners at the time. They had no money to spare. In a short time, however, through lenient credit card offers and loans from family and friends, they had borrowed the money without business partners or interest. They paid it all off within seven months.
As Pathway Services grew, Rudy says that God remained the driving force behind their business. “This was His company; Lavonne and I were simply stewards.” This conviction only grew when Rudy was hit with a lawsuit from a former partner. As Rudy searched for legal help, the lawyer immediately asked for a $10,000 check upfront to begin his work. Footing that bill would force Rudy to give up purchasing much-needed equipment and supplies.
Faced with the lawsuit, Rudy and Lavonne say they had no other choice than to hire the lawyer and trust that God would still care for their needs. Rudy says, “I felt God was teaching me to put Him first and to give Him the first fruits of my work. I know now that God wants to be honored in our lives and we can do that by putting him first in our finances and in our hearts.” Out of this experience, Rudy decided to commit to giving 10 percent of the company’s gross income to the Lord’s work. Eventually, the Blancos saw God’s provision as the lawsuit was settled out of court. “It cost us,” Lavonne recalls, but says they learned that “our money could go to a lot of things; it’s best to be generous, and trust God. God did take care of us.”
This year marks 24 years of owning and operating Pathway Services, which now employs nearly 200 people. The Blancos have been married for 40 years and make their life passion “the lives that we touch.” Lavonne says that at work, Rudy is famous for exclaiming, “Praise the Lord!” and some employees have picked up the habit. Rudy says it is their object to “Let everyone have their own little business” within the business, so the staff can have a sense of ownership in their work. Two principles guide their operation: that their greatest assets are their employees and that they extend grace—“So that people don’t live in fear of making a mistake,” Lavonne adds.
Relationships are also their favorite part of financial giving. “As you get to know people,” says Lavonne, “you get to know their heart.” For the first several years of giving to King’s, the Blancos had no prior relationship with the College. They do not remember how they first heard about King’s but began giving in 2001. They wanted to support young people at educational institutions but had both attended secular colleges and universities. “We had been consistent for many years, but it wasn’t a whole lot,” Lavonne says, until President Tim Gibson came to visit their home. “When the relationship starts, it changes.”
Every Wednesday at Pathway Services, the Blancos cater lunch for their employees and their families and sit down to eat together. President Gibson joined one of these lunches on his visit, getting to know the Blancos, and he also shared more about The King’s College. Rudy and Lavonne say that over time, they came to connect more deeply with the mission.
They share, “[The College] doesn’t shy away from subjects that are hard and need to be addressed. At the same time, it presents an aspect of the gospel and Christianity that people need to hear and understand. It’s not just information that’s regurgitated. You guys are really taught to think, debate, and discuss.”
With millions of people in New York City, the Blancos see King’s as positioned to make a great impact because of its location. “There are a high percentage of students being placed in areas that affect culture,” they say.
Rudy and Lavonne are encouraged to see students at King’s embark on the journey they underwent when, early in their marriage, they learned to live by faith and trust in a loving God. In his business and legacy, Rudy’s hope is that “one person gives God a chance because of what I did or what I said.”
This story is a feature from the 2020 issue of Year in Review. The full magazine is available here.