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One-on-one relationships listed among keys to Hispanic outreach

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Building one-on-one relationships is one of several principles Southern Baptist Hispanic leaders have developed for reaching the divergent people group whose common bond is that their ancestors lived in the wake of the Spanish conquest. But even in this, care must be taken.

“We have some tremendously passionate and interested folks who want to reach Hispanics, but to just run out there from a non-Hispanic worldview, they could damage the fruit God has for us,” cautioned Bob Sena, manager of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s Hispanic church planting unit. “Guys, before you evangelize, be sensitive. Know what are some of their worldviews, cultural distinctives and background so you can more contextualize the message you are giving.”

Sena gave two examples:

“There’s a high reverence and almost Bible-idolatry among Hispanics,” he said. “We were taught as we grew up that the Bible was supposed to be respected. I have been in communities where an evangelist has come in and slapped the Bible — which to some Hispanics is like slapping Jesus in the face.

“And in the typical Anglo community, we slap a guy on the back and say, ‘Hello, Joe. How are you?’ Hispanics are very suspect. They’re wondering why someone from another culture has come to them. On first meeting, you haven’t earned the right to say, ‘Hello, Joe.'”

Where time is taken for developing relationships, the gospel can be easily shared, said Rudy Hernandez, president of Southern Baptists of Texas state convention. He challenged Anglos to reach out to Hispanics in their community, noting, “Hispanics need to have not only a welcome but an invitation. We would bring the number of the unreached way, way down if Anglos would do this.”

Hernandez advocates an impact-building succession of printed materials when reaching out to Hispanics: gospel tract in Spanish or English (have both available for them to choose their preference) on a first contact; bilingual Scripture portions on the next; New Testaments for those who make a profession of faith; and a complete Bible when they are baptized.

Other principles cited by Hispanic Baptist leaders for successfully reaching Hispanics:

— Reach out in English or Spanish, depending on which language is more natural to the person being ministered to.

— Understand cultural heritage that affects behavior, such as a strong reverence for the Bible.

— Focus on ministry opportunities to children and teenagers who are open to evangelical witness that meets their needs, such as Vacation Bible Schools and relationship-building pizza/Bible study parties.

— Develop relationships with adults that lead to witnessing opportunities, and invite them to participate in small-group Bible studies, since Hispanic adults often are unfamiliar with and curious about the Bible.

— Provide a connection for Hispanics with other Hispanics of similar culture and background, since Hispanics enjoy relational bonds and close family ties.

— Provide worship experiences Hispanics feel comfortable participating in, whether they speak Spanish or English, such as music with a Latin flavor and exuberance.

— Provide training that develops leaders from among the laity who may not have a solid educational background.

— Disciple converts thoroughly, so they are equipped to pass on the gospel message when they return to or have contact with people from their homeland.