In 1997, Beth and Todd Guckenberger drove from Cincinnati, Ohio to Monterrey, Mexico with one vision in mind: to daily invest in vulnerable children. Now, 25 years later, the co-executive directors of Back2Back Ministries openly share what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, and why this all still matters as they lead global teams in pursuing vulnerable populations . . . until every child is known and loved.
Steph: When you first moved to Monterrey, what would you say your chief goal was in being there?
Beth: We generally went there to be with vulnerable kids. We wanted to daily invest in them, build relationships, and understand the culture of the hurt child. We had no idea how long we’d be there, we just showed up.
Todd: Serve, serve, serve. It was very simple. Our first interaction with the director at Douglas Children’s Home was eye-opening; he said, “you can serve, but we don’t have money to pay for supplies.” It became a mantra to serve and not burden.
Steph: How did you see that goal reached and in what ways did it change and transform as you learned of specific needs?
Beth: In the beginning, we met physical needs – that was our focus. By the end of our first year, we had learned the language and were meeting those needs in Jesus’ name, and I thought this was the secret sauce. Then we realized kids we loved were aging out of children’s homes and were on the streets at 15; our tagline was, and is, “care for today, hope for tomorrow,” and we realized this picture wasn’t offering a lot of hope. In 2001, we launched the Hope Education Program. This was the secret sauce – physical needs, spiritual cause, educational support. Then our first Hope student graduated, got a job, and lost it in six weeks because he didn’t know how to interact with his superior. This led to trauma training and then the five-point child development plan.
Todd: We realized we could be a bridge between people who wanted to invest and the children who needed the investment.
Steph: If you could share a piece of advice now with the versions of you that arrived in Monterrey 25 years ago, what would it be?
Beth: God’s gonna do more than one thing at a time. If you’re focused on one thing and don’t see it unfolding, stay tuned – He’s doing more than we can see. And, it’s a good fight. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a good fight, so stay in it.
Todd: Simply put, trust God a lot more because there was never a time He didn’t show up and provide – and He almost always provided more than we asked for or needed.
Steph: What has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve each learned in 25 years?
Beth: The story is not over yet.
Todd: And the work is always worth it.
Steph: What has been one of the biggest surprises for each of you in the last 25 years?
Beth: Love multiplies – you may think the bigger something gets, the less of you there is to be in different places, but my personal love for the orphan has multiplied the bigger the organization has gotten.
Todd: My favorite thing internally is our staff team – this isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it never ceases to amaze me that God raises up people for this work. Hundreds and hundreds of times God has shown up with the right resources and the right amount of people.
Steph: Did you imagine growing to the size the organization is now when you first began?
Todd: Honestly, we couldn’t imagine much at all, we just wanted to serve.
Beth: In the beginning, I definitely didn’t imagine it. But, sitting in Douglas chapel, investing in 100 kids over several months, I kept thinking this is one orphanage, in one city, in one country, in a giant world. All over this globe, this is happening again and again – what will we do about that? The bottom line is, we would do all of this for one vulnerable child to grow up and parent his own children – and we’ve done that. God does not count the way we do.
Steph: What has been one of the biggest challenges for each of you in the last 25 years?
Todd: Every season has felt like an uphill climb. I don’t know if it’s personality or the fact that we’re always seeing we can do more, but the hardest thing is knowing what each child needs and not being able to meet all those needs. I don’t begrudge the hard, though – it grew us up. What we do is really hard; not quitting or being divided has been difficult and painful, but we remain resolute.
Beth: When someone gives up – a child giving up on themselves, a caregiver gives up on a child – I want them to keep going. Watching defeat is never easy.
Steph: What is one goal you each have for the next 25 years?
Todd: We’ve traditionally always been about depth, but I am certain God is calling us to depth and breadth. We can impact more lives with more resources.
Beth: I don’t want to leave a legacy, I want to leave legacy leavers – multiplication, continuing to grow; I want to sow into the next generation the tenacity to fight.
Steph: How have each of you changed in your leadership style over the last 25 years?
Todd: (laughs) I think I’m nicer! I see my role now as more investing in and developing others versus leading them. My perspective has changed – I take it more seriously now than I ever have.
Beth: The older I get, the riskier I become, because I know God will come through. Leadership, for me, has become more about risk-taking, because we cannot out-imagine God.
Steph: How have you been humbled in the last 25 years?
Beth: I’ve been asked to do a lot of things with no experience or training, this keeps us humble, because if it works out, it isn’t what I brought to the table. Watching God compensate for what I don’t have humbles me every time.
Todd: I can walk with God without Back2Back, but I cannot lead Back2Back without God. He has uniquely designed me to have a deep dependence on Him. Learning to apologize, owning when I’ve messed up – it all points back to humility.
Steph: What have you learned about yourself/God/others in this time?
Beth: I have learned God is faithful, that every person I meet has inherent value, and it’s our job to care for that value, which then leads to everything we do. I have learned God can do all things through me if I submit myself fully to Him. There is no limit to what He can do through a submitted vessel.
Todd: God doesn’t need me, He allows me, which means we GET to do this. This isn’t just about one person or one thing, it’s about extensions of each person we interact with – this is generational work. The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself is I’m willing to learn and do things differently. 15 years ago, things that would make me mad are now opportunities for redos.
From 1997 to 2022, Beth and Todd Guckenberger have shown up to care for the vulnerable, and they have led, walked alongside, and helped equip staff teams across the world to join the fight. From one site to nine, men and women from around the world are joining hands and hearts to pursue vulnerable children and families. Today, we are thankful for so many things, but chief among them is that 25 years ago, two young, married kids took a chance, said yes, and showed up.