MIAMI (BP) — The sandy beaches of Key Biscayne will serve as an inspiring picture of South Florida as people from multiple races, cultures, ethnicities and generations unite for a day of picnics and festivities at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Saturday, May 5.
The groups are part of multicultural Florida Baptist churches in the area that are working to build bridges between the different ethnic communities in Miami and Dade County.
Noel Lozano, pastor of Turning Point Baptist Church in Miami, said he and other multiethnic pastors have been meeting for nearly a year, discussing how best to reflect the unity they share as a family of believers. Those discussions have led to the “One Family” event May 5, bringing together 15 churches from different cultures — including Hispanic, Haitian, Brazilian, African American and Anglo — that organizers think will draw a crowd of 400 to 500 people.
A beach baptism will be held in the morning in what Baptists regard as an outward expression of a life-changing faith. The Miami-area churches, part of the Florida Baptist Convention, are among more than 3,000 churches around the state participating in beach baptisms this weekend and throughout the summer as part of the convention’s Acts 2:41 Beach Baptism emphasis.
Alberto Ocaña, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Northside in Hialeah, said in his 19 years at the church he believes this is the first time several multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual churches have come together at the beach to celebrate what it means to be united in the Gospel.
In fact, Lozano said it could be the first time these different communities have united for any reason.
Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida convention, said the unity of the church is evident through the “One Family” gathering in Miami and will continue through the weekend as churches across the state flock to Florida’s beaches to celebrate baptism.
Green, recounting the impact of past Acts 2:41 Beach Baptism initiatives, noted, “Last year more than 1,500 people were baptized during the Acts 2:41 emphasis. The gathering of churches across South Florida in one location for baptism brings us together as the church.”
Erik Cummings, pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Carol City, who has been a part of planning this event, said it takes intentionality to get past comfort zones and reach out to people who are different than oneself.
“With as diverse as South Florida is, you see a lot of activity but it’s taking place in ethnic silos,” Cummings said. “Coming together won’t organically happen — you can’t get away from intentionality.”
John Voltaire, pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Kendall and Haitian church catalyst for the Florida convention, leads one of the Haitian congregations participating. Voltaire believes the multicultural celebration is just the beginning.
“My prayer is that when all the cultures come together, we will impact the community in even bigger ways,” Voltaire said.
Lozano hopes this event will mark the start of real change, not only in the church but in the greater Miami area.
“We would like to see every wall we have between us torn down,” he said, noting that it’s important for the people of Miami-Dade County to see the church leading the way to unite the community in spite of differences in skin color, language or background.
And, Lozano reminded, the next generation is watching.
“We need to show them we love each other and it doesn’t matter how we look,” he said. “They don’t want to hear what we have to say as much as they want to see what we do.”