SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (BP) – Southern Baptist churches in the Robertson County Baptist Association have partnered together to sponsor education programs in Spanish for Hispanics in the community to receive either their High School Equivalency or a certificate in Biblical Studies.
A recent ceremony was held for graduates of both programs at Grace Baptist Church in Springfield on Sunday, July 11.
Luis Lopez, associate director of missions for ethnic work at the association, said the program provides the opportunity for churches to make a tangible impact on the Hispanic population in the community and show they care about helping them.
“The beauty of it is the opportunity people have through the program to see the churches being interested in their development and their growth,” Lopez said.
The high school program equips Hispanics in the community to pass the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test), which is an exam similar to a GED in which participants can receive a state-issued High School Equivalency certificate.
The HiSET has been the standard High School Equivalency exam for the state of Tennessee since 2016.
Lopez said the churches in the association engage the community and welcome any adults over 18 to participate in the program. The association sponsors the program and covers the full cost of registration for each participant to take the exam as many times as they need to in order to pass the exam.
Churches in the association also partner to offer weekly preparatory classes taught by volunteers from the churches for students in the program. The volunteers are generally native Spanish speakers with teaching experience who instruct in a variety of subjects needed for the exam.
Other volunteers in the churches participate by offering their church as a meeting space, preparing meals for students and sponsoring student exam costs. All 35 churches in the association are involved in some capacity with the program, and only one of those churches is a fully-Hispanic congregation.
According to Lopez, more than 60 people of all ages have passed the HiSET exam and received their certificate since the program started in 2016.
“When we first started we never thought that we would graduate that many people, but it has been a blessing to see the opportunity people have had to get their high school diploma.”
Lopez provided multiple examples of participants overcoming adversity to receive their equivalency certificate.
One woman had no education higher than a fourth-grade level, and made it all the way through to pass the exam after multiple attempts. She is the first person in her family to graduate high school.
Another woman enrolled in the program after her youngest daughter tragically died in a car accident right before graduating high school. The woman had never finished her own high school education and entered the program with a promise to dedicate her certificate to her late daughter.
The program not only provides an opportunity to help with education for Hispanics in the community, but it also provides the chance to share Gospel truth.
Lopez said people who enroll usually have a unique story and their own reasons for seeking to receive an equivalency certificate.
Some graduated high school in their own countries, but have found it difficult reaching a certification in America due to the language barrier. Other participants never finished high school as a youth and are now seeking an opportunity to receive more education.
Lopez noted no other programs in the area offer the preparatory course for High School Equivalency in Spanish. This factor alone has led many non-believers to enroll in the association’s program.
Regardless of who enrolls or their reasons for participating, Lopez said the church volunteers are not shy about having Gospel conversations.
“At the beginning of the class, we ask people why they want to get their diploma, and everybody will have different motivations,” Lopez said
“There have been some that have been very reluctant at first to talk about faith. We share with them from the beginning that we’re all volunteers, that we love the Lord, and we take the Bible very seriously when it says that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. That has opened conversations about following Jesus Christ and becoming a Christian.”
Several people have come to faith in Christ as a result of these conversations.
In addition to the high school program, the association also sponsors a Bible institute—the Baptist Center for Theological Training (Centro Bautista de Capacitación Teológica), which Lopez said aims to “develop leadership among the local churches.”
The program started as an opportunity for Spanish speakers, but due to demand, a program was developed in English.
Participants take courses in systematic theology, Old and New Testament, evangelism, missions, hermeneutics and homiletics.
Lopez said the Bible institute program takes about three years to complete, and the second graduating class will receive their degrees this year.
He said 15 participants have graduated from the program with many now serving in ministry both inside and outside of the local association.
Lopez said he is thankful for the way the programs have allowed the churches to reach Hispanics in the community, and highlighted the importance of diversity in the Church.
“(Diversity) is important because it’s a mandate,” Lopez said. “We’re all called to reach everyone. Until we reach all people groups the Great Commission will not be completed. I think our world has gotten smaller, and our neighbors are from different backgrounds. We need to reach out to them in the name of Jesus.”
Further, Lopez acknowledges no one church in the association could do this project on their own and that cooperation among churches is vital both locally and throughout the convention. “Together we can do so much more, and cooperation is what the ministry of Jesus was all about. Making disciples is not a one church possibility, it takes all of us to make the Great Commission a reality.”