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Hispanic church sees explosive growth

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (BP)–Four months ago, Iglesia Bautista Hispana de West Las Vegas, a Nevada church plant, had about 40 people in attendance most Sundays. Now about 300 folks pack the church each week, and the vast majority of them don’t yet know Christ as their Savior.

“I think the uniqueness is they are ministering on a needs basis instead of a ‘you all come’ basis,” Harry Watson, director of missions for the Southern Nevada Baptist Association, said. “They have defined needs in the community and are trying to reach those needs as part of their Sunday worship service. The uniqueness of the results is that we have a church that is filled with lost people consistently.”

What has attracted people to the church is a distribution program initiated by one of the church members, Jaime Flores, who worked out a deal with Wal-Mart to utilize unsold merchandise such as toiletries, household goods and baby items.

“We tell people that if they want a package, they need to come to church, especially Sunday School,” Jesse Calleros, pastor of the church plant, told Baptist Press. “So they come to church, and when Jaime gets there, they receive a numbered coupon. After the church service, they go outside to the truck and receive their packages.

“At first I didn’t think it was going to work. I know how other people do it where they give them a package and invite them to church. That doesn’t work. You have to say, ‘If you want one, come to church.’ It belongs to God anyway.

“So people come, and there have been no complaints about that whatsoever,” Calleros said. “People come and receive the Gospel. Their children do too in Sunday School. Then we have a worship service. During that time there is an invitation. There’s prayer. People come forward with their problems, and we pray over their problems. Then they receive a package.

“After a while, people just started staying,” the pastor said. “Some people were telling me, ‘We don’t always come for the packages anymore. We just want to come to church.'”

More than 180 people have made decisions for Christ since the program started, and about 15 of those have followed in believer’s baptism. The church has collected contact information for 600 people who have entered their doors, and they’re attempting the massive follow-up effort.

A church planter named Lalo Pedilla started Iglesia Bautista Hispana in 2002 in a rented storefront, Calleros said. Along the way, they moved to a rented room at Redrock Baptist Church in Las Vegas, usually with about 10 to 15 people in attendance on Sundays.

Calleros, a graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, had planted a few other churches, but his last attempt failed around the same time Pedilla asked him to be his associate pastor at Iglesia Bautista Hispana.

“After a year of that, in about 2004, he went to start another church. He left me in Vegas to continue that one,” Calleros said, adding that the church grew to about 40 people. “… It kept like that until around May of this year. “We were just praying that the Lord would lead us into reaching more people, and it just took off,” he said. “The Lord did all of it. He brought the people, and the people have been reached. Every Sunday at the very least there are eight to 10 decisions.”

The Hispanic church moved into Redrock’s fellowship hall but soon outgrew it, and now they’ve met the capacity of the sanctuary. With such explosive growth come a number of challenges, Calleros said. The chief challenge is that the church has only about 30 members among 300 regular attendees, and many of those members are new Christians.

“It has been babies teaching babies from the start,” he said.

Also, since most of the people attending are poverty-stricken, they don’t have adequate means to support the church financially.

“The fear is that we’ll grow so much that we won’t have anywhere to go, and there’s just no real money coming in,” Calleros said. “Everybody sees us grow and they see so many people, and they think, ‘Wow. They must receive a lot of money at offering times.’ But no, we’re almost at the same budget as we were when we had just 27 or 40 people showing up.

“When the offering plate goes around, it’s just one dollar, one dollar, one dollar, one dollar. I mentioned there are 300 people there, but one out of two gives one dollar.”

Calleros expressed a need for children’s supplies such as crayons, paper, cookies and drinks.

“The people are so poor they bring their kids hungry. We start at 1 p.m., and they haven’t eaten. Our teachers have to stop and find cookies and Kool-Aid for them because they look like they’re about to pass out,” he said.

The local Baptist association has stepped in to assist in leadership training, Watson said, by sending Neftali Gomez, a catalytic missionary, to lead the music portion of the worship services and to teach the North American Mission Board’s Basic Training course on Wednesday nights to a handful of members. The association also helps the church plant pay its rent each month, Watson said.

Calleros said he could relay several stories of lives changed, though, including a pregnant woman with a negligent husband and four children who accepted Christ on the first Sunday she attended. She soon became a faithful worker in the church’s overcrowded nursery, and she influenced her friends to start attending church as well.

The pastor also told of a young man who recently had been through the Alcoholics Anonymous program.

“He also gave his life to the Lord and got baptized. He thought he was no good and that it was impossible for him to change, but he soon found out that he was the pastor of his own home,” Calleros told BP. “He has become a better father and a better husband, and now his whole family has started coming to church.

“… People call Las Vegas ‘Sin City,’ but there’s so much hardship and problems. You just can’t believe how a city so bright, so elegant and prestigious in its lights, could have so much darkness and downfall and heartbreaks behind it,” he said. “That’s what’s happening here. A lot of people are losing their jobs, their homes, their families and their lives. The answer is still Jesus.”

Thane Barnes, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, expressed excitement over what God has done in a short time at the Las Vegas church.

“I think that probably the key is ministry evangelism where they first met a need that was obvious in the life of the people living close to the church,” Barnes told BP. “Through that they walked across a bridge to earn the right to share the Gospel. I truly believe this is a mighty movement of the Holy Spirit, and we’re trying to replicate this with some of our other Hispanic works.”

Watson, the director of missions, said the current success of the church plant is an encouraging testimony to those elsewhere who have labored hard and have yet to see results.

“I think it shows that faithfulness and persistence are what it takes to grow a church,” Watson said. “Jesse Calleros has been a pastor off and on in my association since 1984. He has been a persistent servant of the Lord all those years, and that’s what pays off.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. To help meet the ministry needs of Iglesia Bautista Hispana de West Las Vegas, contact Jesse Calleros at 702-631-6498 or 5246 Ferrell St., North Las Vegas, NV 89031.

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  • Erin Roach