Javier Chavez, pastor of Amistad Cristiana in Gainesville, baptizes a young girl in May of this year in Lake Lanier near Flowery Branch. The joint baptism service with two other churches was so heavily attended that more than 80 people were unable to witness it for lack of parking. AMISTAD CRISTIANA/Special
National Hispanic Heritage Month is usually celebrated every year from Sept. 15-Oct. 16. It is the time of the year in which America recognizes the notable contribution of the Hispanic community in the life of our nation.
In Georgia Hispanics have reached the one million mark, making it the tenth largest state by Hispanic population. Who can deny, for example, the good flavors of Mexican enchiladas, Salvadorian pupusas, Colombian sancochos, or Peruvian ceviches. Not only in cuisine but also in the field of music, arts, and language, the Latino culture is present in America.
By looking into the life of a Hispanic congregation, we are defined as a multicultural, multilingual, and multigenerational crowd. We are multicultural community because different cultures and nationalities converge in a single congregation. Even though the Mexican community is the largest, our congregations exhibit people from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. South Americans are represented by Colombian, Peruvian, and lately more Venezuelan nationals. Latino Caribbeans from Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba are also part of many of our churches.
Each country has its own personality, its cultural values, and a particular way of demonstrating their faith, and all these are palpable any given Sunday. In the general sense, the Spanish language is what unites us, but at times it’s what divides us because even our shared language has different idiomatic expressions which calls us to be careful in how we convey and give meaning to words and sayings.
We are a multilingual community because our children, born and raised in America, prefer to communicate and worship in English. This, in turn, creates a challenge in our homes and congregations – parents and church leaders need to be able to understand and communicate in English as well. Many of our congregations are becoming bilingual and the use of “Spanglish” (switching between Spanish and English) has become frequent in our church services and is growing as a subculture in our community.
We are a multigenerational community because our church demographics show that the number of children, teenagers, and young people of our churches are increasing and so we need to strengthen our local ministries to guide our next generations to Jesus.
Out of one million Hispanics in our state, only 10% are born-again believers, which in turn leaves us with a responsibility to be more effective in bringing people to Christ. Our convention has realized the need to minister and reach out to Hispanics in the state, which is why some important initiatives have taken place. Presently Hispanic Georgia Baptists are composed of approximately 143 Hispanic churches scattered across the state. We have churches up north in Lavonia and Dalton and way down south in Moultrie and Valdosta passing through Atlanta or Savanah.
The ministry among Hispanics took the form of church plating and leadership training in the past, a task that brought about good results. Nevertheless, today there is an urgent need to focus more on evangelism, discipleship, and pastor wellness – aspects of the church that have been meticulously crafted by our new administration.
Even though we still need more leaders and workers, the number of Hispanic pastors who are willing to participate and serve cooperatively has increased. In that respect, I thank Thomas Hammond, our executive director, who took the time in February of this year to meet in Gainesville with 42 Hispanic pastors and hold a crowded listening session. A same type of session also took place among Hispanics in south Georgia. Robby Foster, Georgia Baptist Convention president, has been pivotal in meeting with Hispanic leaders in the state to affirm and build commitments in our shared mission to reach Georgia for Christ and work cooperatively.
An immediate result of these efforts was a joint baptism celebration among three churches in Gainesville: Amistad Cristiana, Comunidad Bautista Latinoamericana, and Tabernaculo Bautista Emanuel, who together baptized 47 believers at the Old Federal Park in Flowery Branch. Another important moment took place when 14 Georgia Baptist Hispanic churches and pastors gathered together for a joint communion service with an attendance of over 350 people. The spirit of unity and love was felt across the auditorium.
Our upcoming “Hispanic Celebration” will take place on Nov. 15 and promises to be an evening of vibrant Latin praise and worship, evangelistic outreach, and fellowship among churches. We expect more than 500 attendees and together in one voice will proclaim that “unidos somos mas en Jesus” (united in Jesus we are more).
There is a Great Commission we can no longer avoid. Every human being without distinction of race, nationality, or language should be our target. The hope for this world is the church, and we are the church that needs to stand up and tell everyone: “Jesus te ama, murió por ti y quiere darte vida eterna” (Jesus loves you, died for you, and wants to give you eternal life). In a simple sentence you can impact any Spanish-speaking person who today may be wondering if there is hope for his life and his family.
I am asking our “hermanos y hermanas” (brothers and sisters) to be more intentional in sharing the Gospel. Our communities need the hope that only can be found in Christ. There is no way we can win anyone if we lock ourselves up in the four walls of the church. If each one of us seeks to win UNO with the Gospel, then we are truly disciples, engaged in the Great Commission, and we will be populating heaven for eternity.
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