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FIRST-PERSON: Reaching Hispanics in the U.S.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Last month, The Tennessean newspaper ran a front-page story titled, “Hispanics hold key to churches’ future,” noting that, “66 percent of all new congregations added to the Southern Baptist Convention since 1998 were ethnic or African-American.”

It is an astounding figure, but even with this rapid growth of diversity in the SBC, there is room for much more evangelism and discipleship by churches among ethnic people groups.

Tim Hill, who oversees ethnic church planting for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, has seen much of this growth first-hand, but in the article he also lamented that many Anglo SBC churches in Tennessee “have never done Hispanic ministry and didn’t know how to reach people with a different language, culture, and religion.”

That’s significant because international missions no longer happen just overseas.

Nashville, for instance, is home to the largest group of Sudanese outside the Sudan and the largest community of Kurds outside of Kurdistan. And, although Nashville does not have one of the largest Hispanic populations, it is among the 100 cities with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in our country.

This kind of ethnic growth is happening all around the United States and it should be shaping how we think about and do ministry in our communities.

For instance, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. (currently over 46 million), and are projected to triple in number by 2050.

This presents an incredible missions opportunity for Southern Baptists.

I know, because I’m a Hispanic that came to know Christ as my personal Savior and Lord at a Hispanic Southern Baptist church.

After growing up in a Catholic home, going to a Catholic school, and even serving as an altar boy, it was at Iglesia Bautista Ebenezer in Union City, Calif., where I discovered that no one could get to Heaven by good works, only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). I was only nine-and-a-half years old.

A few months later, my parents and I moved to Hayward, Calif., a neighboring city where there were no Hispanic Southern Baptist churches.

Yet, God provided an SBC church home that received and embraced us.

The saints of Calvary Baptist Church in Hayward, Calif., poured their lives and God’s Word into me and modeled for me what it meant to follow Christ. I am thankful that people like Alma Dent (my 6th grade Sunday School teacher) and Gary Williams (my youth Sunday School teacher) saw me as a child of God and my family as partners in the faith — from among the nations.

My parents and another Hispanic family helped begin a Spanish Sunday School class, and within five years Calvary grew its outreach to ethnics to also offer Sunday School classes in Korean and Romanian.

Calvary Baptist Church truly embraced the Great Commission and made an eternal impact in my life and in the lives of many others as they used the Sunday School to reach the nations by teaching God’s Word, and ministering to people. You could say it was “simple.” As I look back at those formative years in my life, I stand amazed at what God did in the life of Calvary Baptist Church and what God can do in any church when they commit to be “the church” and make disciples of all nations.

What about you?

What does this mean for your church?

There is a God-sized opportunity to reach Hispanic families around your community like never before. What better way to reach Hispanic families than through a life-changing Bible study that helps them come to know and imitate Christ; minister to their needs and help them minister to others; and challenge them to go and make disciples of others.

Begin a Spanish Sunday School class or help sponsor a Hispanic church plant. If your church already has a Spanish Sunday School class, ministry, or mission in your church, invest in them to help them grow.

At LifeWay we offer a number of resources and facilitating ministries to aid with outreach and discipleship among Hispanics.

For instance, we have scheduled five events of “La Escuela Dominical Sencilla” (The Simple Sunday School), that will be offered in Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; Houston, Texas; Upland, Calif.; and Oklahoma City, Okla. For dates, locations and more information in English please visit, www.lifeway.com/eds or www.lifeway.com/espanol.

Others offer help as well.

In 2009, the North American Mission Board released “Reaching Hispanics in North America: Helping You Understand and Engage One of God’s Greatest Mission Fields.” It’s a comprehensive guide, and you can find it — in English and Spanish — at www.nambstore.com.

Jesus calls us, you and me, to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Incredibly, the nations are already here! They are in your backyard, as well as in mine.
Sergio Arce is a National Hispanic Church Specialist for Leadership and Evangelism Training and Events with LifeWay Church Resources in Nashville, Tenn.

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  • Sergio Arce