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Alaska’s lone Hispanic church sees spiritual fruit in ‘fertile soil’

Members of Rescate Church in Juneau, Alaska, the only Hispanic church in the state, dream of planting more churches to reach Alaska's growing Hispanic population.

JUNEAU, Alaska (BP) – Members of Rescate Church, the only Hispanic Southern Baptist Church in Alaska, have seen great spiritual fruit in the last couple of years and desire to continue growing their ministry by planting more Hispanic churches throughout the state.

Mario Morales, pastor of Rescate Church, told Baptist Press despite the church’s essentially having to start over after the COVID-19 pandemic, the congregation has grown to 25 members and baptized seven people in the last year.

Beyond his family, Morales said most of the members of Rescate have come from a unique outreach – his job at Home Depot.

Morales is the only Spanish-speaker who works at the store, and therefore any Hispanic customer who needs help is sent to him. Many of the members of the church have come through these conversations and connections.

His job at Home Depot is not just an avenue to finance his ministry, it is a part of his ministry, Morales told BP.

“In September of 2020, the Lord blessed me to be able to start working at Home Depot, and that became the best evangelism strategy,” he said.

“People are able to learn that I am a pastor as we have conversations. That is my evangelistic approach. If they were to take away my Home Depot job tomorrow, I would still go to Home Depot every week to buy a nail or something in order to interact with people and tell them about God.”

The journey to Juneau for Morales and his family began while he was pastoring a church in Wichita Falls, Texas. Morales has been a pastor for almost 30 years

Mario Morales baptizes his grandson.

One day, a pastor friend showed him an article about the need for pastors in Alaska, and he began researching the demographics of the state, and learning why the need was so great.

“One of things that captured my attention was how difficult it is to find pastors who are willing to step up in this ministry when there are several hurdles, particularly financially,” Morales said.

“I discovered the Hispanic population was a mission field. Seeing the need made me start praying that God would confirm that I needed to go.”

According to U.S. Census data, just over 7 percent of Alaska’s population is Hispanic, which is a higher percentage than southern states like Kentucky and Tennessee.

After a period of prayer and contemplation, Morales and his wife Migdalia contacted the North American Mission Board about starting a church in the state.

Pastor Mario Morales’ (left) methods for evangelism include his job at Home Depot and other unique ways of meeting people. “I won this gentlemen for Christ playing dominoes,” he said of the man he is baptizing here.

NAMB reached out to the Alaska Baptist Resource Network, and Morales completed a few months of training. After the training, he moved to Alaska in late 2018 and launched Rescate (“Rescue”) in 2019.

Morales soon discovered the social scene is very different in Alaska than in Texas. There’s less going on. Most people are living there to focus on their work.

This caused Morales to rethink his ministry strategy and begin making connections in stores he knew people frequented. This eventually led to his job at Home Depot, which he started in 2020.

Rescate meets at the building of another Southern Baptist church, Glacier Valley, which partners with them and provides lunch to the congregation each week.

NAMB continues to support the church financially as it experiences spiritual growth.

Although he is very thankful for the baptisms and a growing membership, Morales said his ultimate vision is that Rescate would no longer be the only Hispanic church in the state.

The church desires to disciple people and raise them up to plant other churches to reach the growing Hispanic population. Morales even said he wants to eventually raise up the next leader of Rescate, so he can step away as pastor to instead focus on multiplying other churches.

“Church planting is my desire,” he said. “We are hoping to expand to other cities like Anchorage, Fairbanks, Petersburg and other cities where there is a good number of Hispanics.

“The passion to see souls being brought to Christ is what encourages me and keeps me going. I feed the vision through prayer and intimacy with God, that keeps me focused on what God has told me to do.”

Luis Lopez, executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization for the SBC Executive Committee, first met Morales while attending the annual meeting of the Alaska Baptist Resource Network a few weeks ago.

Lopez said Morales thanked him for coming and told him he felt less alone as a Hispanic because he was there. Yet, Lopez said he was the one who felt uplifted by hearing about the great work God is doing through Morales and Rescate.

“It is encouraging to see a new church not only thinking about reaching the people in their own community, but being able to reach people with the purpose of training and sending them to other places in the state,” Lopez said. “I think it’s refreshing to see their passion to multiply and to be very intentional.”

Morales urges other Hispanics to consider joining the ministry of Rescate in Alaska, and for Anglo churches to share in his passion for the lost in the state.

“I would tell people that they need to come to Alaska because it is a mission field where there is fertile soil, especially in Hispanic context,” Morales said.

“I would pray that the Anglo church be awakened to the need and to capture the vision of the growing Hispanic population in Alaska.”