News Articles

Education can be gateway to ministry among Hispanics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A growing appreciation for education among the Hispanic population in America, as revealed in recent studies, should lead Southern Baptists to explore new ministry opportunities in this realm, a professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary said.

The Pew Hispanic Center released two studies Oct. 7 saying young Hispanic adults in the United States are more likely to be in school or the workforce now than their counterparts were in previous generations, and nearly 9 in 10 Hispanics say it is “necessary” to get a college education to get ahead in life.

By analyzing Census Bureau data, Pew said 77 percent of Hispanics ages 16 to 25 either were working, going to school or serving in the military in 1970, and by 2007 the number had jumped to 86 percent.

Pew said although similar changes have occurred among black and white youths, the Hispanic trend is particularly noteworthy because the number of Hispanics in the young adult population has increased so dramatically — from 5 percent in 1970 to 18 percent in 2007.

One significant reason for the gains among Hispanics in school and the workforce, Pew said, is that two years ago nearly half of young Hispanic women were pursuing schooling compared to just one-third in 1970. Their participation in the labor force also grew, from 40 percent to 54 percent.

Even so, Pew found that 19 percent of young Hispanic women were not in school or the workforce, a statistic researchers attribute in part to motherhood. Birthrates among young Hispanic women are higher than among blacks and whites, though the numbers have been falling.

High school dropout rates among Hispanics have declined sharply since 1970, Pew said, and college enrollment has expanded so that in 2007 almost 40 percent of Hispanics who completed high school were pursuing college.

Pew found also that while Hispanics regard education highly, only 48 percent of those who said education is important also said they plan to get a college degree. The biggest reason, researchers said, appears to come from financial pressure to support a family.

Nearly 75 percent of Hispanics who cut their education short said they did so because they had to support their family. About half cited poor English skills, and others said they didn’t need more education for the careers they wanted.

Compared to all American youth, Latinos are less likely to be enrolled in school, Pew reported. Some respondents said a major reason is that parents of Hispanic students don’t play an active role in helping their children succeed, and others said the different cultural backgrounds of Hispanic students and their teachers is a major reason.

Daniel Sanchez, a missions professor at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, told Baptist Press the fact that only 48 percent of Hispanic youths surveyed indicated that they planned to go to college even though they believe it’s important shows that they don’t yet hold a strong conviction that it is sufficiently important to sacrifice in order to earn an education.

“All of our SBC entities (churches, associations, state conventions, fellowships and individuals) have the great challenge before us of communicating to our young people the importance of getting the best education possible,” Sanchez noted in written comments provided to Baptist Press. “This needs to be done through all means available to us (personal contact, sermons, printed materials, teaching opportunities, youth camps, etc.) This needs to be a concerted effort if we are going to see a significant change in this area.”

The studies showed a gap between foreign-born and native-born Hispanics regarding their willingness to obtain a college education, and Sanchez said that reflects the challenges foreign-born Hispanics face.

“These challenges relate to their competency in the use of the English language, their negative experiences in school, and perhaps a lower degree of self-confidence,” he said.

“All of these are areas of ministry for our churches and entities. In addition to ESL classes, efforts are needed to assist our young people with coping skills in school, homework and personal encouragement,” Sanchez said, adding that he knows of a church that divides up the time on Wednesday nights between prayer meeting and homework assistance for the youth.

For those students who struggle because their parents do not assist with homework, Sanchez suggested churches consider what they can do to help the parents.

“Some programs are emerging where parents are being taught not only English but some of the basic skills in math, reading, etc. so they can help their children,” he said. “This can also be a ministry of our churches. What if Hispanic churches team up with other churches (Anglo, African American, etc.) so volunteers from those churches can be involved in coaching not only Hispanic young people but also their parents?”

Hispanic churches also could partner with local schools to address the cultural gap between non-Hispanic teachers and Hispanic students mentioned in the studies.

“Hispanic churches could volunteer to assist with tasks in these schools. Some Hispanic members could partner with non-Hispanic teachers and offer their assistance in matters related to culture,” Sanchez said. “Intercultural sensitivity workshops could be offered by Hispanic churches in the schools in their communities. Hispanic churches can also offer workshops for Hispanic youth and their parents on how to adjust to and function in a non-Hispanic setting at school and in the community.”

For those Hispanics who do not have the financial support to attend college, Sanchez said churches could host workshops that inform Hispanic youth and their parents about scholarships, government grants and loans and other resources at the local, state and national level.

“At the same time, the concept of sacrifice in order to attain a higher education needs to be communicated in our Hispanic churches and through literature and other means,” Sanchez said. “Appealing to our Baptist colleges across the country to make additional scholarships available for Hispanics and communicating this information to Hispanics can also be very helpful.”

Sanchez said it’s admirable for Hispanics to place such a high value on family that they are willing to drop out of school to support them, but he noted that such patterns contribute to poverty cycles that can last for generations.

“There is a desperate need to communicate to the parents and the young people that if they allow this to happen, the young people in most cases are going to be limited for the rest of their lives,” Sanchez said. “Helping Hispanic parents to understand this and to be willing to sacrifice for just a few more years can result in their children having many more financial resources throughout their lives. Communicating the value of an education as a matter of biblical stewardship can also help the parents as they seek to guide their children to plan for the future.”

On a related note, Sanchez said the median age for Hispanics in the United States is 27, which means that half of the Hispanic population is largely reachable through youth and children’s ministries at local churches.

He identified a desperate need for the SBC to train volunteer, bivocational children’s ministers and youth ministers to serve at ethnic churches that are unable to afford full-time staff members.

Sanchez also said churches should consider using Vacation Bible School as a key component of an outreach plan because statistics have shown that unchurched Hispanics in large numbers will allow their children to attend VBS at Southern Baptist churches.

“My perception is that the churches that have people involved with ministry to children and youth are the ones that are making the greatest progress,” Sanchez said.

As Southern Baptists seek to make disciples of the Hispanic population in America and as they seek to aid in their well-being through education, Sanchez said the challenge is significant but achievable.

“May the Lord help us to rise to this challenge so we will see many Hispanic leaders in all aspects of life in America making a contribution to humanity and glorifying the Lord through their professions,” he said.

“We are thankful to the Lord that we are now seeing increasing numbers of well-trained, highly qualified Hispanic leaders at every level of our denominational life as well as in the secular world. Our prayer is that we will see many more in the years to come for His honor and glory.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach