News Articles

For LifeWay store at the Rio Grande, Hispanic outreach is key

EL PASO, Texas (BP)–Martha Poe can stand at the window of the new LifeWay Christian Store she manages and see a reminder of why she came here exactly 20 years ago: Mexico.

“I always thought I was going to be a missionary,” Poe said following the ribbon cutting of the new 6,000-square-foot store in El Paso, Texas, that moved from across town in early April. “I was involved with ministry to migrant workers in Florida growing up and went to seminary with the expectation I’d be a missionary somewhere in a Spanish-speaking country.”

As a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Poe enjoyed working at what was then the Baptist Bookstore at the Fort Worth campus. When the time came for her to go overseas, there were no openings for someone of her education specialty. The regional bookstore manager said a bilingual person was needed in El Paso to run the bookstore. Poe went and has been here ever since.

“Martha has had plenty of opportunities to move to another store,” Bruce Munns, director of store operations for LifeWay, said. “But she has a missionary heart and she’s always seen being here in El Paso as a mission field.”

Poe manages three fulltime and seven part-time employees, all of whom are bilingual. Sales at the old location were evenly divided between English and Spanish customers. With the strategic placement of the new store, Spanish sales growth is expected. This makes the view out the window that much more significant, Poe said.

“All that you see out there is Mexico and the city of Juarez,” said Poe as she swept her hand from one side of the panoramic view to the other. Juarez is just a couple of miles down the hill from the store on the other side of the Rio Grande River. “The people over there are a big reason we are here. Christian resources are so hard to find in other countries but we are conveniently located in a growth corridor not very far from a border crossing.”

El Paso itself is 69 percent Hispanic and has seen a 19.7 percent growth rate in the Hispanic population since 1998. The increase reflects the growth of the Hispanic population immigrating to the United States, says Daniel Sanchez, professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Sanchez authored the “21st Century Hispanic Realities: Transforming the Social and Religious Panorama of North America,” a summary of research done by notable organizations such as the Brookings Institution, the Hispanic Center of the Pew Charitable Trust, U.S. Department Bureau of the Census, Barna Research Group and others.

“We are calling these realities — instead of trends — because the fact is that they are already in progress and not just factors that are projected to take place in the future,” Sanchez said.

For instance, the first reality Sanchez lists is that the growth of the Hispanic American population has exceeded even the boldest projections of demographic experts. In the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, the Hispanic population in the United States grew by more than 25 million people, bringing the total to more than 35 million Hispanics within U.S. borders.

Demographers project that by 2050, one in every three births in the country will be Hispanic. Within 10 years, half of all immigrants to the U.S. will be Hispanic.

The data he has gathered confirms LifeWay’s decision to move the store to a more strategic location where 11 schools and two major churches will relocate in the next few years.

It is because LifeWay’s 123 stores are spread across 22 states that LifeWay representative Jim Shull believes they will have the opportunity to fulfill LifeWay’s vision of providing biblically based resources that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.

“We really do see our opportunity in the stores beyond simply selling products to customers,” Shull said. “The stores become an extension of our employees’ church and personal evangelism opportunities. We’ve added more Spanish resources to most of our locations and the El Paso store is the flagship for providing resources to the Hispanic community.”

Poe has a well of unique ministry stories from which to draw examples, but recently a Korean lady from a church in Baltimore called the toll-free number (800-242-5427) to ask Poe for help preparing resources for a mission trip to the Dominican Republic where the group would be ministering to Spanish speakers.

“That was a bit unusual,” Poe said. “But we do have people call from around the country almost every day looking for Spanish resources. I believe that will pick up even more later this year when in the fall we begin carrying LifeWay’s dated curriculum in Spanish, something we’ve not done before.”

LifeWay Christian Resources draws its name from John 14:3 and Munns said during the dedication that “we want to proclaim that message of salvation in as many cities in the United States as possible.” For Poe and her staff, proclaiming that message reaches down the hill and across the river to the people of Mexico and to the surrounding Hispanic culture.

“God has given me a unique opportunity to fulfill my missionary calling,” Poe said. “It is exciting that the dedication of this new store comes on the 20th anniversary of my coming to El Paso. We are excited about the chance we have to be a part of transforming people’s lives.”