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Cooperation comes easily to multinational congregation

PLANTATION, Fla. (BP)–People from 16 or more nations have found a common purpose in local, regional and global missions at Primera Iglesia Bautista Plantation — and tripled the congregation’s size since Cuban-born Herberto Becerra was called as pastor of the Florida congregation in 1994.

Now more than 300 people attend Sunday worship services. New faces are as apt to be from Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico — even Haiti — as they are from Cuba.

This diversity of cultures enriches and equips the congregation for its global purpose, the pastor said.

Worship services flow in a seamless medley of cultural variations. Local ministry and missions efforts are strengthened by input from several cultural perspectives, as are Sunday School, small-group ministries and Discipleship Training.

And once-a-month missions nights involve everyone in the church in age-graded activities.

“We have a missionary heart,” Becerra said. “Our membership is very efficient in the offerings so all of us support the missionary work because we feel that is the most important part of our church.”

Missions starts locally and, through Cooperative Program CP Missions, spread globally, Becerra said. Primera Iglesia Bautista gives 8 percent of its offerings to CP Missions and 3 percent to the Gulf Stream Baptist Association, in addition to outreach endeavors in Cuba, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

“To win souls for Jesus Christ is the most important part of our church and should be every Christian’s priority,” Becerra said. “Besides this, we just finished erecting a new education building. We thank the Lord we could handle this too — the building cost $800,000 — and in the near future we will start construction of a new temple because more and more people are coming to our church.”

Primera Iglesia Bautista has a vibrant visitation program on Mondays, which it supplements with several weekend evangelistic programs throughout the year, the pastor said. These and personal invitations from members and regular attenders are bringing new people to the church every week.

So too are the church’s many community-outreach ministries, each of which started because of the personal interest of one or more members.

Many people who move from overcrowded Miami, 30 miles south, to Plantation find work that leaves their children unsupervised. Primera Iglesia Bautista ministers on Sundays and Wednesdays to about 60 of them with programs that blend solid scriptural teaching with high-energy fun.

Lay leaders also provide an alternative to peer pressure and gangs for neighborhood youth. More than 100 youth from Dade County Hispanic churches get together on Friday nights for fun, food and spiritual nourishment.

Fifteen youth from Primera Iglesia Bautista recently returned from a one-week mission trip to North Carolina where they led in beach ministry in the mornings, Vacation Bible School in the afternoons and evening campground services.

“They learned a lot and at the same time had fun,” said Rebecca Alpizar, church secretary and one of the volunteer youth leaders. “It was a great experience for them. They’re still taking about it.”

Senior citizens in the area are drawn by the many activities for seniors at the church, such as day trips, meals and other social activities with a spiritual foundation. About 60 seniors attend Primera Iglesia Bautista’s Sunday School.

The women of the church visit a women’s prison in nearby Fort Lauderdale regularly for a worship service and one-on-one ministry.

Seven people in the church minister regularly at an AIDS home, meeting spiritual and physical needs.

“When they’re very sick or ready to pass on they call too,” Alpizar said. “We send someone to be with them.”

Primera Iglesia Bautista also has started two churches in metro Miami since Becerra has been pastor. Throughout his 39 years in ministry he has led in starting 14 churches in the United States and overseas.

“To begin new churches represents our interest in gaining souls to Jesus and to comply with the Great Commission,” Becerra said. “To begin new churches sends a message to all that says not only my church interests me, but my world.”

Because of the commitment of lay members to ministry, Primera Iglesia Bautista has only two part-time vocational positions, in addition to the pastor, who serves fulltime. Becerra also recently completed a four-year term as president of the National Fellowship of Hispanic Southern Baptist Churches.

“Since we started coming here four years ago, I have enjoyed the fellowship and the different countries,” said member Joel Alpizar, a realtor. “We have this good way of cooperating together. It’s a good place to be because you feel a blessing from the Lord. We have a great pastor and it all adds up so you feel like you’re receiving the blessings from going to church that you should be receiving.”