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First Bilingual Baptist Church: Outward focus fuels CP giving

PICO RIVERA, Calif. (BP)–Members of First Bilingual Baptist Church take a proactive stance on missions that starts with their solid commitment to giving to global causes through the Cooperative Program.

Starting with 11 percent of their undesignated funds being given through the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program missions channel and to its local Baptist association’s ministries, First Bilingual also gives generously to the SBC’s yearly international and North American missions offerings. They participate in several individually funded mission trips a year. And they give extra to help provide food and other necessary items to the most needy in their southeast Los Angeles suburb.

First Bilingual Baptist Church gives more money for CP missions than any other Hispanic congregation in California — $24,458 in 2000.

“More gets done when we work together and put aside our individual goals to seek a corporate goal of reaching the world for Christ,” said Tomas Angulo, pastor of the church that has a $270,000 annual budget. “Giving to the Cooperative Program is also a step of faith as a church, that we trust God by giving sacrificially to his cause outside our own sphere of ministry. It’s kind of like tithing.”

Members at First Bilingual do more than tithe their income. They take personally God’s command to do the work of Jesus in their church, community and world, said associate pastor Jim Wilson.

“Missions has been the history of our church,” said Wilson, who has been on staff for 20 years and a member of the congregation since he was 11. “Missions is telling our neighbors about Christ. Missions is going anywhere, from the neighbor next door to the neighbor on the other side of the world.”

First Bilingual knows about “going.” This may be the only church in the Southern Baptist Convention in which all its former pastors presently serve fulltime in missions:

Daniel Sotelo, who took the congregation from Bible study to the point of purchasing its building, is multicultural evangelism coordinator for the California Southern Baptist Convention. Fermin Whittaker, who solidified the church’s commitment to being a bilingual congregation during his 12-year tenure, is the convention’s executive director. Joe DeLeon was pastor 15 years; he now serves in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a missionary with the SBC’s International Mission Board. Roger Bowers is a church-planting missionary in metro Los Angeles for the California convention.

“We do what God leads us to do, and part of that leading is to give to the Cooperative Program to help in the doing of what we aren’t able physically be a part of,” Wilson said. “This church is just kind of used to giving to missions causes.”

First Bilingual Baptist Church, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2000, provides two Sunday schools and two Sunday morning worship services — one each in Spanish and in English. The entire congregation of about 300 people come together one Sunday evening a month for a celebrative “Victory” worship of testimonies, the Lord’s Supper and more, all translated sentence by sentence into both languages.

Wednesday evening is family night, with supper at $1 per plate, AWANAs for children from age 3 through the sixth grade (mostly staffed by senior high and graduated youth), junior high and senior high youth groups, and six to eight options for adults.

The adult options include new classes each six weeks that target the unreached, such as cooking, while others provide missions, discipleship and in-depth Bible study needs for members.

A lay-led youth program involves about 35 teens in Bible study, discipleship, perhaps three mission trips a year, associational and statewide Baptist youth gatherings and continual service at the church.

“That’s another of the legacies of [former] Pastor Whittaker. He taught us that you’re never too young to serve,” Wilson said.

Whittaker also taught the importance of giving to the Cooperative Program.

“Giving to missions is not an option,” Whittaker said. “I am a product of home missions work in the Republic of Panama. Southern Baptists gave, prayed and sent so that a young man on the mission field could be reached. I am eternally grateful for the missions gifts of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and other designated offerings.”

Among other outreach initiatives at First Bilingual:

“There is a strong prayer ministry among the elderly Spanish ladies of our church,” Angulo, the church’s pastor, said, “and they have a very strong work ethic that they teach to those around them. As a result, God works because of prayer, and God blesses because of service to him.”

A vibrant food ministry involves three driver/loaders, who twice a month leave from the church at 7 a.m. and drive through 15 miles of heavy traffic into downtown Los Angeles to pick up food from the local food bank.

About 8 a.m., six other First Bilingual members arrive at the church to transform a Sunday school classroom into a food distribution center.

A line of about 80 families a month — who have heard about the ministry by word of mouth — forms outside the church while the cases of food, hair products and diapers are unloaded and repackaged into family sized units valued at about $70 each.

Those who can pay up to $25 for what costs First Bilingual between 14 and 21 cents a pound.

“When people come to pick up the food, they get spiritually fed at the same time,” said Virginia Rios, who has led the ministry since she started it in 1987. Nellie Arredondo, meanwhile, leads an evangelistic Bible study for those who come for food.

“It’s an opportunity to reach out to others in need, for the glory of the Lord,” Rios said. “Man cannot live by bread alone.”

In First Bilingual’s missions ventures, summer Bible-based programs for children in Pico Rivera are repeated as many as five times each summer in Mexico, by perhaps two adult mission trips that also include construction projects as well as perhaps three youth mission trips that also include work projects.

“These mission trips encourage us in our giving to the Cooperative Program,” Wilson said. “It’s easy to give when we see the good use God is making of our gifts.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: NURTURING FAITH, CARING FOR KIDS, BUILDING FAITH, SEED PLANTED, and TEACHING THE FAITHFUL.