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400 gather for Hispanic church planting rally

PHOENIX (BP)–More than 400 mostly Hispanic pastors, church planters, lay leaders and denominational leaders took part in a “Let’s Celebrate!” church planting convocation at North Phoenix Baptist Church June 16 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

The church multiplication team of the North American Mission Board’s church planting group sponsored the sixth annual event.

“Anytime that you gather to talk about church planting,” said Gus Suarez, director of missions for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, “you have to talk about celebration.”

Moises Rodriguez, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Fort Worth, Texas, led in a prayer in both English and Spanish thanking God for the opportunity to gather and for having so much to celebrate in the area of Hispanic church planting.

Andres Panasiuk, representative of Crown Financial Concepts, shared with the group the new financial tools and special CD “Church Planters Kit” in Spanish that CFC will launching this year to help church planters in their labors.

“How can we help church planters?” Panasiuk asked. He said the answer is to “[make] their task easier by providing tools with which they can practice and teach stewardship and thus increase their resources.”

Bobby Sena, field service partner representative for NAMB, said he was excited about the number of states represented at the meeting, 19, and that every SBC entity was represented at the meeting.

Fernando Amaro, director of missions for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, gave a presentation of the realities, needs and challenges in the state of Arizona.

Amaro was somber in his assessment of the challenge coming from the “Mormon wall” in the eastern part of the state where he said the newest Mormon temple was recently dedicated in the town of Snowflake.

Another challenge noted by Amaro is in the Sedona region where “the leader of the Church of Satan in North America lived and taught.” The area is a hotbed for New Age movements and satanic worship. Amaro also noted the challenge to the south of the “wave of Roman Catholicism.”

In a state with a population of 5.3 million, one-fourth of whom are Hispanic, there are only 428 Southern Baptist churches, less than 50 of which are Hispanic congregations, Amaro said.

“Allow God to touch [your] heart since the 6,000-plus new church planters needed to reach the Hispanics in Arizona are sitting on the benches in your church,” he said.

A highlight of the evening was when Sena presented Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, with an award for “excellence as a leader, mentor and servant in Hispanic church planting.”

Whittaker is the highest-ranking Hispanic leader in the SBC today, who, with his wife Carmen, has served for many years in diverse capacities in the United States and Canada after coming to this country from Panama. Sena’s daughter, Sandra, gave Carmen Whittaker a bouquet of red roses to demonstrate the group’s appreciation for her as well.

Whittaker shared his thoughts from Hebrews 12:1-2, noting that “we have many witnesses who are watching.” Whittaker exhorted those present to run the race placing their eyes on Jesus, to whom the California exec gave all credit for his success.

Two church planters also were given special recognition: Hugo Campos from California and the late Luis Alfonso Salazar from Kentucky, who died May 18, 2002, in a fatal car accident along with his 21-year-old daughter, Raquel.

Eliseo Aldape, coordinator of Hispanic church planting at NAMB, described Campos as “an ideal church planter who is tireless in his efforts and desire to win people to Christ.”

“He is a church planter whose colleagues are not ashamed to be associated with,” Aldape said. Originally from Mexico, Campos serves as a church planting missionary in California. He has been ministering in the United States for more than 20 years.

Ruth Salazar, the widow of Luis Salazar, was present to receive the award on behalf of her husband, who was born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1951. He married Ruth in October 1975 and they had three daughters and two sons. Together they came to the United States to study and stayed, serving in church planting. Salazar pastored in Texas, Wyoming, Arkansas and Kentucky, where their last assignment was to work as a church planter with NAMB.

Ruth described her husband as a “barrier breaker” in the area of church planting and said this is what she wanted his legacy to be.

A memory book was distributed to all those present describing a brief life history of the work and legacy of Luis Salazar.

Ruth Salazar noted that “the separation is hard but the promises of the Lord are faithful and true.” She cited 2 Corinthians 4:17 as her hope that the present suffering will give way to the coming glory.

Sena presented to the assembly three workers who have new prominent roles in the arena of Hispanic Baptist life: Kevi Rojas, multicultural relationships manager with the Annuity Board; Richard Vera, Hispanic mobilization specialist with NAMB; and Ruben Torres, president of the Baptist Seminary in Puerto Rico.

Daniel Sanchez, director of the Scarborough Institute at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, brought the evening’s challenge, outlining the statistics and trends for the Hispanic population in North America.

“What does Jesus see when he looks at Hispanics in North America?” Sanchez asked, answering that “Jesus sees an ever-increasing population of Hispanics, a large majority of youth and children in that population, a group that is living mostly in urban centers, and a group that is open to the Gospel.”

If we see what Jesus sees, something must be done, Sanchez said. “We must think in terms of multiplication and not addition. We must stop trying to look for starts in faraway areas and look to those in the families of believers. The Gospel must be shared and new churches started with new believers coming from the families of those saved.”

Ali Velasquez, church planting leader serving in the South Carolina Baptist Convention, presided during the meeting and served as master of ceremonies.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HISPANIC HAPPENINGS.

    About the Author

  • David R. Lema Jr.