ROCKVILLE, Va. (BP)–It’s time for Southern Baptists to take stock of the tremendous contribution Hispanics are making in the world of missions — and for Hispanic Baptists to “rise up” and use their cultural gifts in missions around the world, a missionary to Latin America told Hispanic Baptist leaders.
“When I see what God is doing among the Hispanics, I realize that … we are not here in the United States because of political or economic situations. We are here because God has a plan to reach a lost world,” said Jason Carlisle, a missionary to Uruguay who was raised in Latin America and now helps mobilize Hispanics for world missions.
Carlisle addressed 29 Hispanic Baptist leaders who met with International Mission Board staff, including President Jerry Rankin, for a dialogue at the board’s Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va., Dec. 9-10.
Participants came from states with large Hispanic populations like California, Florida and Texas, as well as from smaller Hispanic pockets in states like Pennsylvania and Alabama.
The dialogue acknowledged the dramatically increasing significance of Hispanics in the United States.
The Latino population in the United States has grown 38 percent since 1990, while the overall population has increased a mere 9 percent, according to Newsweek magazine. By 2005, Hispanics are projected to be the largest minority in the country — representing nearly a quarter of the total population.
By harnessing God’s gift of Hispanics at home, both North American and international missions will benefit, Carlisle said.
“The United States is in a spiritual crisis … . We’re falling apart. Hispanics have something to give the United States. We have to rise up,” Carlisle said. “If we use kingdom principles, we make the powers of darkness tremble.”
The program included presentations by IMB staff, question-and-answer periods and an extended dialogue with Rankin. Participants also heard testimonies from Benjamin and Barbara Herrera, recently appointed missionaries to Mexico, and Olga Nava, missionary in residence and adjunct professor at the Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio, Texas.
More than 50 Hispanic missionaries currently serve in 25 countries around the world. About half serve in Latin countries like Argentina and Mexico, but the board’s regional leaders say missionaries like Pablo Zorzoli, International Service Corps worker in France, and Joe and Gloria DeLeon in Russia are experiencing good success among their target people groups.
The dialogue stressed strengths of Hispanic missionaries, such as strong family traditions and easier acceptance by some other people groups.
Richard Hernandez, pastor of Antioquîa Mexican Baptist Church and president of the San Antonio Hispanic Fellowship in Texas, noted that Hispanics often are more readily accepted than Anglos because their physical characteristics can help them blend into Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian crowds.
And because Hispanics are familiar with discrimination, other minorities view them with an emotional connection — that they are “one of us.”
“Just because of who we are, doors open to us,” he said.
Hernandez experienced this acceptance firsthand on a mission trip to India with a group of Anglos. He was immediately well received by the Indian nationals and given additional flower leis and a special handmade gift.
“Why are you doing this to me?” he asked, tears in his eyes.
“You are one of us,” they replied.
Some Hispanics have historically struggled with discrimination at the hands of Anglos or even other Hispanic subgroups. But Don Kammerdiener, the board’s executive vice president and former missionary to Colombia, assured participants the time is ripe for Hispanic involvement.
“There have been days when you have not been well accepted in this country,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that … the day has arrived when you are full partners in all God has called you to. And today we look forward to the best day we’ve ever had.”
Hispanic leaders spelled out three specific changes they hope to see in the board’s programs: intentionality about involving Hispanics in missions, production of quality promotional and language materials and more Hispanics on staff.
Rankin said he looked forward to a growing partnership with Hispanics in missions.
“We were thrilled to be able to share our Great Commission vision with Southern Baptist Hispanic leaders and strengthen our partnership for mobilizing Hispanic churches for joining us in our global task,” he said. “There is a readiness to move from being a mission field to joining in the missionary role as a growing constituency among Southern Baptists.”
Anthony Ahaev, language church extension director from California, said Southern Baptists could tap into the Hispanic resource by accepting people without trying to change their culture.
Frank Moreno, director of Hispanic church planting from Florida, wants to see dialogues more often — even once a year.
Rose Zamora, WMU language consultant from Alabama, said agency leaders should talk to Hispanic pastors.
“When I was working as an associational Sunday school team leader in Fort Worth, Texas, training Hispanic Sunday school leaders, I could send a letter, send a follow-up letter and make a phone call right before a meeting — and if the pastor made one announcement, I’d have the same response. They have that kind of impact.”
She felt the dialogue was definitely a move in the right direction.
“This has saved (the board) three years of work,” she said. “They have developed relationships with key leaders and pastors … . (The board has) listened to them voice their opinions — and they have been heard.”