NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“What does Jesus see when He sees the Hispanic multitude?” missions professor Daniel Sanchez asked in opening the Hispanic Consortium Oct. 1-2 in Nashville, Tenn.
Sanchez, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and leaders from various other Southern Baptist entities gathered in a modest banquet hall at LifeWay Christian Resources to discuss ministry to the millions of Hispanic people currently living in United States and around the world.
Sanchez correlated Jesus’ experience with the lost multitude in Matthew 9 with the current needs and condition of the Hispanic multitude in today’s culture.
“When Jesus sees the Hispanic multitude, He sees a multitude that continues to grow rapidly,” Sanchez said, noting that the Hispanic population grew 11-fold from 1950-2007, from 4 million to 45.4 million. Since 1980, the population has tripled and is projected to triple again by 2050, he said.
This growth hasn’t been accidental, Sanchez said, in regard to ministry possibilities for the Southern Baptist Convention.
“The fastest growth of Hispanics is happening where Southern Baptists are the strongest in the lower Southeastern quadrant,” he noted. “This leads me to ask, ‘Is this a coincidence or is God up to something?!'”
Sanchez continued on, reflecting on the physical needs of the Galilean multitude and saying, “Jesus sees a needy Hispanic multitude — needy from a standpoint of physical needs.
A third of Hispanic children live in conditions of poverty, while many Hispanics are exploited, Sanchez said. “They feel unprotected. They’re fearful. They feel the burden of seeking to help the people back home, from whichever country they come. And they have dire physical needs.”
Turning to the spiritual needs of Hispanics, Sanchez said, “Many Hispanics know of Jesus only as a helpless baby in the arms of Mary or as a dead Christ. That’s the only thing they know about Jesus. They do not know the living Christ. They do not know that they can have freedom from guilt of sin; relief from the fear of judgment; joy in their relationship with Jesus Christ. They live often a life of ritual that is empty and leaves them like the sheep — lost and confused.”
Sanchez related the openness of the multitude in the Bible to the receptiveness of Hispanic Catholics to the Gospel of Christ.
“Hispanics are responding more to the Gospel than ever before in the history of this country,” Sanchez said. “Surveys indicate that between 20 to 25 percent of Hispanics are in the category of evangelical or Protestant. When I was a little boy, I remember hearing that 2 percent of us were evangelical.”
Citing a recent Pew study, Sanchez said 42 percent of Hispanic Catholics have a favorable opinion of evangelicals, while 50 percent of all Hispanic Catholics are seeking a more personal and direct relationship with God than they find in their religious practices.
“This says to me that they are more receptive for the Gospel than ever before,” Sanchez said.
In contrast, Sanchez noted from the same Pew study that 36 percent of Hispanic evangelicals have an unfavorable opinion of Hispanic Catholics. Quick to confirm that doctrinal differences are important, he encouraged evangelicals to see the Hispanic multitude through the eyes of Jesus with compassion.
“In the pit of His stomach, Jesus felt the pain of the multitude,” Sanchez said. “I wonder if our biggest challenge would not be our own Hispanic family, to feel the compassion of Jesus. Getting our own church members to be trained and to be wise about the way in which they present the Gospel.”
In the Matthew 9 story, Sanchez also said Jesus saw a leaderless multitude, people as lost sheep. Just as Jesus encouraged prayer for workers to send to the harvest, Sanchez encouraged consortium members to re-double their efforts in prayer, realizing that they may be the answer to that prayer by working together to minister to the Hispanic population.
“My prayer is that as we think of the Hispanic multitude, we will see it through the eyes of Jesus and we will truly respond, knowing that the same Savior who gave us this challenge will be with us every step of the way. And in the future, thousands of people will thank the Lord because we were faithful.”