The effectiveness of cell groups in reaching Hispanics, the need for quality discipleship materials in Spanish, and family pressures experienced by Hispanic believers were among the topics discussed at the first meeting of the Hispanic Advisory Council February 3-4 on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Facilitated by co-chairman Bob Sena, members discussed with Executive Committee President Frank S. Page ways in which the Lord is currently moving among the Hispanic communities they represent—Mexican, Cuban, European, South American, Central American, Caribbean, first generation immigrants, and native-born Americans. The Council was appointed by Page following the September 2011 EC meeting.
Among the "best practices" for Hispanic ministry, several Council members representing various regions of the country—Jonathan Santiago from upstate New York, Frank Moreno from Florida, and Fermín Whittaker from California, as well as Salomón Orellana from New York City and Jorge Meléndez from Chicago—pointed to the effectiveness of cell groups in evangelism and discipleship. In addition to cost efficiencies of meeting in homes, Luis López of Nashville credited the natural hospitality that is part of the Hispanic culture as a major factor for Hispanic church growth through cell groups.
The Council also discussed the greatest community needs Hispanics face. Members agreed that the greatest need is for quality educational opportunities, including access to inexpensive ministerial training. Yolanda Calderón pointed to high rates of domestic violence, often the result of unemployment or underemployment, while Orellana added that rehabilitation services are a great need in the urban setting where he lives and works. Jason Carlisle noted the high incidence in human trafficking and highlighted fears many Hispanics have over current US immigration policies. Elías Bracamonte noted that though many immigrants are in the United States legally, the presence of family members who are in the country illegally produces tension, conflict, instability in family life, and even feelings of guilt.
In addressing congregational needs, Gus Suárez pointed to the need for quality discipleship materials written in Spanish. Pedro Avilés noted that many Hispanics face family pressures and even persecution when they receive Jesus Christ and desire to be baptized as believers.
Roger "Sing" Oldham, EC vice president of convention communications and relations, gave the Council an overview of how churches can embrace a cooperative relationship with the Convention. He also reviewed the ethnic study committee report adopted by the SBC in June 2011.
Co-chairs Daniel Sánchez and Sena provided an open forum with Page under the heading, "If there is one question you would want to ask the Executive Committee, what would it be?" Moreno thanked Page for setting up the weekend meeting, saying, "We have your ear and your heart." While most questions centered on such topics as "How do you see us moving forward from here?" and "How do we retain our identity as Baptists?" Santiago asked Page and Oldham, "How can we pray for you personally?" Dividing into two groups, the council gathered around them, laid hands on them, and spent time in concentrated prayer for these EC leaders.
At the close of the meeting, each member was asked to gather information from specific groups in the Hispanic Baptist community. The input will be forwarded to Sena and Sánchez, who will then communicate with Page and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, through Oldham and Ken Weathersby, NAMB presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations.
Members participating included Daniel Sánchez, associate dean, Fish School; director, Scarborough Institute of Church Growth; professor of missions, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Bob Sena, Hispanic evangelist and conference leader; church planting consultant, NAMB (retired); Pedro Avilés, director of evangelism, Puerto Rico Baptist Convention; Elías Bracamonte, pastor, Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida, Topeka, Kansas; president, National Hispanic Baptist Fellowship; Jason Carlisle, director of Hispanic mobilization, IMB; Yolanda Calderón, writer and conference speaker; California director of ConPaz, a ministry of restoration for women; former recording secretary with national WMU; Luis López, director, Lifeway International & Espanol; Jorge Meléndez, Hispanic church planting strategist, Illinois Baptist State Association; Frank Moreno, director, language division, Florida Baptist Convention; Salomón Orellana, pastor, Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor, Hempstead, New York, and Iglesia Bautista Luz De Las Nacion, Hempstead, New York; president of the New York/New Jersey Hispanic Baptist Association; Jonathan Santiago, associate director of student evangelism, Baptist Convention of New York; Gus Suárez, professor of church planting; director, Center for North American Missions and Church Planting; director, Hispanic Doctor of Ministry Program, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Fermín Whittaker, Executive Director-Treasurer, California Baptist Convention.