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AAEO: A culture of hospitality opens doors to the Gospel

NAMB church planter Steven Martins hugs a newly baptized believer at Sevilla Chapel in St. Catherines, Ont. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for North American Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is March 6-13, with a theme of United, which is also the theme for this year’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. The offering provides more than half of the North American Mission Board’s annual budget and 100 percent of the funds go to mission work on the field. Gifts to the Annie offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at anniearmstrong.com where there are also resources to help promote the offering. This year’s goal is $70 million.

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. – When Steven and Cindy Martins shared the gospel with the Alcazar family, it wasn’t long before the mother – Abril – responded and wanted to be baptized.

But the father – Gonzalo – wasn’t ready yet.

North American Mission Board missionaries Steven and Cindy Martins and their sons, Matthias Jeremiah and Timothy Apollos, live in St. Catharines, Ont., and invest their lives in reaching the city, which is the largest in the Niagara region. Their church plant, Sevilla Chapel, seeks to reach the various ethnic groups scattered across the area, especially those who are Spanish speakers. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

The family had moved from Mexico to St. Catharines, Ont., the largest city in the Niagara region, and had come from a Catholic background. They met Steven and Cindy, who are also Latino, and Steven asked if he and Cindy could visit them and tell them about the hope offered in Jesus.

True to their cultural hospitality, Gonzalo and Abril said yes and cooked a feast for Steven and Cindy. Over the meal, they began to walk through the Gospel of Luke together. They kept doing it every Friday night.

Abril “was the first one to respond in faith and want to be baptized,” Steven said. Gonzalo “took a little bit more time, and I remember him telling me, ‘Oh, even if I were to believe, I don’t think I would ever see myself serving in the church. I would just be attending.’”

He did eventually believe, and over time more members of the family have come to faith.

And despite Gonzalo’s original claims that he wouldn’t want to serve, he’s now the simultaneous translator for services at Sevilla Chapel and “wants to help in any way he can with his wife,” Steven said.

The Gospel has been at work in the Alcazar family and in other families in the St. Catharines area. Since planting Sevilla Chapel in 2019, Steven and Cindy have been strategically and intentionally going door to door in the community. A longtime interest in apologetics and lots of practice prepared him well for that ministry.

Andrew Dyck and Karyn Calderon teach Sevilla Chapel members the 3 Circles evangelism method before they head out to the streets of St. Catherines, Ont., to share the Gospel. Going door to door to share is part of the fabric of how Steven Martins planted Sevilla Chapel and continues to be part of the church culture there. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

And there’s a great need. When he and Cindy moved to the Niagara region, they learned that 89-90 percent of the population of 400,000 were unbelievers. It was in need of more churches, specifically ones that could reach out to the ethnic groups scattered across the area.

The Latino population, for one, is growing quickly as people move out of overpopulated Toronto into St. Catharines looking for more space to live and employment at nearby farms.

The region of Niagara collectively is home to 14,105 Latinos and is an employment destination for more than 7,000 Latino migrant workers. Steven and Cindy connect well with that community – he is half Ecuadorian and half Portuguese, and she is Colombian.

Cindy says the chance to be exposed to English in church is a draw for the women, who work hard to supplement their family’s income but need to know English to get better jobs.

It’s a challenge for them to have time for Bible study, though.

North American Mission Board church planter Steven Martins (right) preaches with a simultaneous translator at Sevilla Chapel in St. Catherines, Ont. The church has a large number of Spanish speakers but also draws people from other countries and languages, including Armenia, China and Vietnam. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

“In our church, we are doing this Bible study once a month because a lot of the ladies are busy,” she said of their neighbors who often work several jobs to stay afloat.

But when they can get there, they connect through the chance to learn language.

“It’s been very good for them,” Cindy said.

Sevilla Chapel has attracted Spanish speakers from a variety of countries but also people from other countries and languages, including Armenia, China and Vietnam.

“We’ve been able to have English speakers that don’t speak a word of Spanish feel totally at home and be able to have easy access to everything, and they really appreciate and enjoy the warmth of the Latino community,” Steven said.

The Gospel is moving forward as they knock on doors and invite people in to experience that hospitality and explore a relationship with God.

“God called my wife and I to church planting because of the need for our community to know the gospel and to be trained in the truth of God’s word,” Steven said. “Sometimes when we go out, we meet some Spanish speakers. Sometimes, we don’t. It’s hit or miss at times, but at the end of the day, as long as we’re speaking to people and sharing the Gospel, that’s what matters to us.”

Support from the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering helps them keep that ministry going, he said.

“We’re going to the streets. We’re giving people Bibles. We’re sitting down with people and having Bible studies with them,” Steven said, noting that gifts through the offering allow them to “spend more time doing that so that we can reach the whole city and eventually reach the whole region.”

For them, it’s not just about planting a church with a big membership.

“It’s, ‘Let’s see how many people we can reach with Jesus and see how many people are being transformed by the Gospel with discipleship,’” Steven said.

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to resource missionaries. The offering is used on the field for training, support and care for missionaries like the Martinses and for evangelism resources.

Grace Thornton writes for the North American Mission Board.