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Hispanic unity gaining momentum as SBC Dallas nears

UPDATED, 3 p.m., Friday, April 20

DALLAS (BP) — Conversations about unity will be part of several Hispanic meetings in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 12-13 annual meeting in Dallas at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

“A good number of Southern Baptist Hispanic leaders are beginning to look at the future with more intentionality and see the need for more unity and collaboration among us,” said Luis Lopez, associate director of missions for ethnic work with the Robertson County Baptist Association in middle Tennessee.

“We must intentionally work in words and deeds to positively impact the church’s unity,” said Lopez, who was a member of the Hispanic Advisory Council under the SBC Executive Committee from 2011-2014. Lopez currently is a member of the EC’s Convention Advancement Advisory Council and a featured columnist for BP en Español, the Spanish-language edition of Baptist Press.

This year in Dallas, unity primarily will be envisioned; at next year’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., it may be increasingly evident — particularly as a Hispanic Baptist Leaders’ Council takes shape and various Hispanic groups plan for a single meeting in tandem with the convention.

Creation of the council reflects a consensus among leaders of various Hispanic organizations who attended a gathering in December in New Orleans as part of the Executive Committee’s initiatives to broaden ethnic Baptists’ participation in Southern Baptist life. Currently, more than 3,400 Hispanic churches and missions are part of the SBC, reflecting a diverse cultural heritage of more than 20 countries.

Hispanic leaders are slated to meet again in November to set the Hispanic Baptist Leaders’ Council in motion with key objectives and a working structure.

In Dallas, Hispanic Baptists will have several opportunities for fellowship, networking, discussion and prayer:

— AVANCE, the highlight Hispanic Baptist event in recent years, will convene in Rooms A309-310, Level 3, of the convention center from 7:30-9 p.m. Monday, June 11, as a time of “fellowship, networking and prayer” with light snacks, said Bobby Sena, Hispanic relations consultant with the SBC Executive Committee, looking toward “a smooth transition for next year’s combined meeting of all Hispanic fellowships and networks.” AVANCE’s theme this year is “Time with God and the brethren.”

— The Church2Church fellowship (De Iglesia a Iglesia), formed last year during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, will meet from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday, June 10, at Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida in Dallas.

— The National Hispanic Fellowship of Southern Baptist Churches (Confraternidad Nacional de Iglesias Hispanas Bautistas del Sur), the oldest Hispanic organization in the SBC, will meet from 1-5 p.m. Monday, June 11, in Rooms A306-307, Level 3, of the convention center.

— The Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (Alianza Hispana de Pastores Bautistas), launched in 2015, will meet from 8-10 a.m. Tuesday, June 12, in Rooms A309-310, Level 3, of the convention center.

‘We will be stronger’

Unity “matters to God. Jesus Himself prayed that we may be one — ‘I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one,'” Lopez said, citing John 17:23 (CSB). “As Hispanic Southern Baptist churches, we should follow the example set by the Master.

“When we let our differences divide us” on such matters as “dwelling on the past, pushing our own preferences and personal agendas and fighting over secondary things, we become less effective,” Lopez said.

“When we are united, we can carry on His mission better. To share the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations, to care for those in need and to encourage and admonish one another in our heavenly Father is so much easier when we do it God’s way.”

Robert Lopez, co-founder of the Church2Church fellowship, voiced appreciation for former EC President Frank Page “for the inclusiveness he set in place. The ethnic initiatives he was instrumental in implementing must live on.

“Thanks to his effort … we are now coming together like never before,” said Lopez, lead pastor of Centro Christiano Vida in Ocala, Fla.

Despite the tendency to want the spotlight, Lopez stated, “We need to hold on to each other and do low-profile ministries without having to be on the front page…. We have excellent leaders who have been empowered to do an exceptional job and we need to join them and follow them as they perform their roles.”

Augusto Valverde, president of the National Hispanic Fellowship, described unity as “always important and vital to accomplish great things. I believe that we are stronger when we are united, that’s the heart of Jesus.”

Whenever criticism and division occurs among Hispanic leaders, “we need to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness and learn to love and respect each other to reach this intrinsic unity that we need so much as the people of God.,” said Valverde, lead pastor of Iglesia Bautista Un Nuevo Amanecer in Miami.

“We must not see the victories of our partners as rivalries. Let’s join in their joy! Their triumph should be my triumph and their defeat should be mine too,” Valverde said in comments translated from Spanish.

Felix Cabrera, co-founder of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance, said cooperation is “an essential belief and value of Southern Baptists” in “making Christ known to the ends of the earth.”

“As Christians first, and as Hispanics second, our focus needs to be the glory of God, not our glory,” Cabrera said. “If each Hispanic leader continues working and serving to make Christ known and focus on the glory of God, serving our churches and reaching our communities, we will be stronger.”

Evidences of Southern Baptist unity in Hispanic outreach, Cabrera said, can be seen in “more Hispanic churches being planted, more Hispanics leading or serving in different areas in our convention, more Hispanics in our seminaries doing master’s or doctoral studies” and, now, the Hispanic Baptist Leaders’ Council that will seek key goals “we can work on together.”

Insights in Dallas

Apart from the AVANCE fellowship, a number of speakers are scheduled by the other Hispanic organizations:

— The Church2Church fellowship will feature Ramon Osorio, Hispanic church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board.

Robert Lopez described the Church2Church fellowship as “a network of Baptist churches, united by the same purpose, to implement the strategies of the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board in the area of evangelism and church planting, through increasing the Cooperative Program,” Southern Baptists’ channel for missions and ministry support across the U.S. and globally.

“We exist to foster a healthy relationship between the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention in partnership and cooperation with the convention’s entities,” Lopez said, along with fostering “the participation of our leaders in denominational life through the SBC’s committees and ministries and the Great Commission.”

— The National Hispanic Fellowship will feature Jesse Rincones III, executive director of the Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas; Mike Gonzales, director of Hispanic ministries for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a featured columnist with BP en Español; and Oliver R. Martinez, lead pastor of Iglesia Bautista Getsemane in Fort Worth.

Also, Valverde said seven Hispanic churches in Dallas will join in an evangelistic crusade in their communities, June 4-10, working in tandem with Hispanic volunteers from across the country and the International Commission ministry. The campaign will culminate with a Night of Victory on Sunday, “expecting hundreds of new converts and believers reconciled with God.”

Valverde, who has been elected five times as the group’s president since 2002, said the fellowship emphasizes “the need to recover the vision for the Great Commission and evangelize to the ends of the earth, and to grow in Hispanic national unity.”

— The Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance will feature J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Hance Dilbeck, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; and Otto Sanchez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ozama in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Cabrera described the alliance as “a network of Hispanic Southern Baptist pastors who want to see Christ exalted and His Word proclaimed in the Hispanic community and in Spanish-speaking congregations.”

Lifeway Español also has scheduled a leadership session from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, in Rooms A130-131, Level 1, of the convention center. Presenters will include David Sills, Christian missions and cultural anthropology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ramon Medina, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church en Español in Houston; and Ariel Irizarry, LifeWay’s director of Hispanic ministerial relations. Pre-registration is required at sbc2018liderazgo.eventbrite.com, with seating limited to 100 and no more than four attendees per church.

‘We need to be present’

Leaders of the various organizations are united in the value of attending the Hispanic sessions and the SBC annual meeting.

“Attending the SBC annual meeting is a great opportunity to fellowship with other Southern Baptists around the nation,” Luis Lopez said. “It provides a local pastor a chance to see how God is working in our convention to fulfill the Great Commission. It gives pastors the opportunity to connect with other leaders, not only in their own state but throughout the nation. It is a time to be encouraged and encourage other ministry partners in the work of the Lord.”

Robert Lopez of the Church2Church fellowship noted, “If we have any concerns about issues related to the SBC, then we need to be present at the annual meetings — number one, to inform us better; number two, to express our concerns; and number three, to have us count and have representation.” Many Hispanic Baptist pastors are not well-informed about “the many aspects of SBC and need to get closer to the core of our convention,” which will help build unity and fortify pastors in their biblical theology, he said.

Valverde told Baptist Press, “I am Hispanic Baptist. I do not speak or understand English, but I’ve always attended the SBC for the last 25 years, and do you know why? Because I want to see my brothers and sisters and worship the Lord together. I rejoice with my brethren.”

Cabrera noted that Hispanic Baptists “cannot forget that our congregations have been greatly blessed by the Southern Baptist Convention, through our state conventions and each of the SBC entities and seminaries.

“Most Hispanic work begins with the support of a mother church, associations, state conventions and/or the North American Mission Board,” Cabrera continued. “Through the Cooperative Program, millions of dollars have been designated to reach the growing Hispanic community here in North America and Puerto Rico. Many Hispanics have been prepared in our seminaries through scholarships or discounts. And in most of the natural disasters which Hispanics have faced, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and NAMB’s Send Relief have responded and given us a hand.

“However, we must not forget the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 12:48: ‘… Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required….’ Each Southern Baptist pastor must understand the importance and value of the cooperative work that unites us in the Southern Baptist Convention and join it.

“I do not think it is optional; I believe it is a moral duty that each Hispanic Baptist pastor and our respective messengers needs to participate in each annual meeting,” Cabrera said. “We are part of the family and we need to be present.”